Creative Destruction

February 16, 2008

Eating Out

Filed under: Business — Brutus @ 5:28 pm

MSN Money has a brief article, by now rather old (two years is definitely old — shoot, one month is old by journalistic standards), examining the economics of eating out vs. preparing home-cooked meals. Based on a fatuous calculation of the “costs” associated with preparing food at home (time spent shopping and preparing plus the food itself) the article finds that it’s cheaper to eat out.

This is a bizarre conclusion. The reduction of the complex of activities involved in eating to a business calculation is myopic in the extreme. In fairness, other considerations are given some attention, too: the health of restaurant food, the size of portions, and the obesity epidemic in the U.S. But the bottom line for this article appears to be getting oneself fed — as though the most efficient ways of getting that done both monetarily and in time are the best ways of calculating value — in order to return to productive activity, that is, making more money. I suppose eating while working is the most economically efficient way of getting fed by the logic of this article. Or perhaps just forgo eating at all.

It’s worth remembering from time to time that it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. Although not all meals can or should be extraordinary culinary experiences, the entirety of shopping, preparation, consumption, and clean-up offer an enjoyable process that isn’t well suited to an economical analysis by efficiency experts. Notably absent from the article, for example, is the value of sharing a meal in all its aspects. That’s why people host dinner parties. If it were merely about strapping on the feed bag, there are certainly less taxing ways of filling one’s stomach.



  1. the entirety of shopping, preparation, consumption, and clean-up offer an enjoyable process

    OK. Come do it here for me, then, because I hate all of the steps except for the consumption part. (OK, sometimes it’s fun to cook. About once a decade, when the servants have the night off.)

    Comment by Robert — February 16, 2008 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  2. depends on what/where you eat. if you eat expensive sushi and huge raw oysters and lobsters and prime steaks at the chop house every day, then eating out can get quite expensive. if you eat at mcdonald’s every day, then eating out can be cheaper than preparing your own big macs and chicken nuggets, but you’ll end up lying in bed all day ‘cuz you’ll be so morbidly obese. i did not read your referenced article ‘cuz i don’t do reference articles, but i think that preparation time was also calculated in monetary value.

    Comment by talcott dining — February 16, 2008 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

  3. On the rare occasions when I eat at an expensive restaurant, meaning the food is good but not as good as what I eat at home, it wastes almost as much time as money.
    Maybe I’m more restless than most. Usually, however, the time the wait staff allows for drinks, appetizers, entree selection, specials, seconds, etc.,irks me. Their instructions most likely are to push the drinks, appetizers, coffee, and desserts. I don’t drink alcohol and won’t pay four dollars for a cup of herbal tea. Moreover, I prefer to converse without competition from a party of eight heavy drinkers two tables over.

    Comment by Kathleen Maher — February 17, 2008 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

  4. “Their instructions most likely are to push the drinks, appetizers, coffee, and desserts.”


    that’s how they run up the tab, esp. on alcoholic drinks. more tips for them. have some sympathy. these waiters need to pay the rent, too.

    -confessions of a former cricket waiter

    Comment by asia house cricket — February 17, 2008 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

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