Eating Out Versus Cooking at Home

Many of us enjoy eating out, but when budgets are tight, is it an expense that we simply can’t justify? Cooking at home can be fun and is certainly cheaper, but can it ever have the ‘treat’ factor of going to a restaurant? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both options and see if we can get to the bottom of it all!

Healthy meal

Cooking at home

You don’t have to pay for labour costs, which automatically makes a significant saving. The cost of eating in a restaurant not only incurs the cost of someone cooking your meal and tidying up after you, but also - understandably, as they are running businesses - a profit margin as well. If you are cooking for a family at home then it’s possible, once children are old enough, to use a rota system for the chores involved so that everyone gets some time off occasionally (and there’s no need for a profit margin!).

You can be more flexible with timings when you eat at home. I have two very young children and they eat their evening meal at 5:30pm, whereas my husband and I don’t eat until 8pm. Obviously we can accommodate this at home, but finding a shared mealtime to suit everyone is trickier in a restaurant.

If you are dining out as a family with young children, this can (and I speak from experience) sometimes be a little stressful. Children don’t necessarily understand that you are paying more than usual for a restaurant meal for them and it can be galling if they don’t eat it because they’re too keen on people-watching, colouring or just because the food isn’t what they expected. Which leads onto the next point...

At home, you can make meals exactly to suit your family. Whilst I’m definitely not advocating pandering to every tiny preference at each meal, you can certainly cater to the fact that you know your children well and are therefore able to provide a healthy, well balanced meal without spending time poring over menus and worrying about how new dishes will be received.

When catering for yourselves, you have the option to batch bake (cook larger quantities of your meals and then refrigerate or freeze them for future use) which provides extra meals for your family and saves you money as well. You get to eat exactly the amount you want (restaurants will serve the same size portion regardless of whether you’re especially hungry or not feeling like much) and hold onto all the leftovers if appropriate, making it more cost-effective.

Cooking at home can be an enjoyable experience in itself. Everyone is different, but personally I really like having the opportunity to experiment with new recipes and techniques and to make adaptions to meals that are well-worn favourites to just ‘see what happens’. There’s definitely a time and place for this, but the fun and satisfaction of cooking for yourself shouldn’t be completely discounted.

Eating out

There’s no denying that eating out can be a real treat and for this reason it’s a common way to celebrate special occasions. At these times, we don’t mind if things cost a little more because we’re there for a reason other than just to feed ourselves and the social aspect of eating out is lovely, particularly as restaurants will have the facility to cater for larger groups than is usually possible in someone’s home.

Eating in a restaurant is a great way to sample new and unusual cuisines. To cook some of these dishes yourself would take a huge amount of planning and preparation and may involve using techniques and ingredients with which you’re not familiar. Procuring and purchasing these specialist ingredients can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if you’re not planning to eat like this very often.

There are often good deals available, particularly for chain restaurants, if you sign up to emails and receive advance notification of them. It’s also worth checking voucher, discount and daily deals sites to see if they are offering promotions for your favourite places.

As previously mentioned, restaurants come into their own when catering for larger numbers, for example, a birthday celebration with extended family. This is not only due to the fact that they have the tables, chairs, and other essentials necessary for a meal, but also because they can charge separately for drinks. If you were having to provide all the food and drink for a large meal at home it would be easy to run up huge costs. If you all eat in a restaurant it becomes much easier to split the bill and let everyone share the costs.

Clearly, there are occasions when eating out can be cost-effective, but the majority of the time it’s going to be cheaper to eat at home. However, getting a take-away can be a good compromise - it’s sometimes slightly cheaper (there is no VAT on take-out food) and it feels special, but you can provide your own drinks at home and there’s less washing up to do!