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Dining "In" or dining "Out": where do you spend?

We eat simply, for the most part. When we want something on the high-end, we cook it ourselves. When we want to have something not-cooked-by-us, we usually opt for soups and sandwiches on the road. I have many friends who do the opposite: noodle casseroles for two weeks and then a very expensive steak dinner out, with high-concept desserts.

What do you CHs do?

If I want scallops for the three of us, I will buy 9 scallops and do a Provençal preparation with some salad. To get Coquilles St. Jacques a la Provençal for three in a restaurant would cost me waaaay more than my weekly food budget. If I want a submarine sandwich, I would have to buy all the bread, meat, cheese, veggies, etc., to make it at home, and truly spend more than I would for three 6-inchers from Subway for our impromptu picnic by the river. Yeah - maybe they’d be better ( or a LOT better) if I’d make them at home, but I’d be dealing with the sandwich makings for a couple of days, and everyone would get sick-to-death of subs. I know it costs less to eat in versus eating out, but it’s spring, and we’ve got to weigh our treats accordingly!

What do you do, Chowhounds? High-end *in* and low-end *out*, or the opposite. I’m curious. My budget doesn’t allow for high-end *out*, but I still like the occasional*out* meal, even if it’s sandwiches on a riverbank.

I’m curious as to where we spend our money - “in” or “out?”

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  1. Both. Most of the food money goes on ingredients to cook at home, where I make dishes that would span the range of restaurant menu prices. When we do go out, which is maybe once a week or two, the price range depends on the occasion, or on the type of food we want, or on what's available. But I tend to avoid eating out things I could easily make at home. That keeps me out of a lot of Italian restaurants.

    1. We spend a lot on both. We eat out 4 nights a week on average at about $100-$125 per meal. And then we spend probably $75-$100/week just on food. My husband buys too much when he shops and I have a thing for cheeses and pricier meats, seafood and convenience items (like the Fage 2% individual servings with honey or fruit on the side). We also spend a lot on wine...both at home and out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        WOW! You must have a lot of good restaurants in Richmond. Not only would $400-$500 in dinners each week break me, there aren't enough good restaurants in Greenville to go out at that price level 4 times a month, let alone, 4 times a week.

        OTOH, my grocery bill is worse than yours....I have to cook dinner + I also have a "thing" for Fage and overpriced cheese.

      2. both. That said, when eating out, we eat v.ery high occasionally and very low end quite often

        Steak, scallops etc that we both like and can do well, we do in. Things we are super fussy about we do in like cheese, chacuterie, a lot of wines, fruits.

        Shrimps, certain fish preparations that only one of us likes, we tend to eat out.

        Things that are high effort and available cheaply around us we eat out often -- though our taste is peasant when it comes to decor etc. It's not worth the effort to make injera, shiro wat and goman wat at home when we can eat it out for under $35. Similiarly sushi . . . I'd spend a fortune on the best rice experiments etc when in 3 minutes or less we can be at any number of good places and eat for decent prices. Some thai dishes fall into that 'too much trouble to make at home and low cost out' category. As do wings. Some chinese food preps really need a high heat stove and we don't have one in our rental right now.

        because of what we like when we eat in and the low cost of good food around us to eat out, eating in is often about the same cost as eating out.

        2 Replies
        1. re: orangewasabi

          I'm with orangewasabi. I eat out at least 4-5x a week but I typically dine at low to moderate priced places serving good food. I find that sometimes when I buy all the ingredients it ends up costing equal or more expensive than eating out and then it may not turn out as tasty. Luckily, in NYC there are plenty of options for affordable dining. What I do cook at home are what I refer to as "village" food aka homestyle, family recipes, simple "peasant" food that I can't find in restaurants. I try to keep my food budget however, (breakfast lunch & dinner, in or out) to $100 a week.

          1. re: moymoy

            The purchasing ingredients to cook in thing is dicey in terms of economy. If you're shopping for one meal, I think its easy to spend something approaching what you might spend at a midlevel place. To make home cooking more economical, you've got to take a long view and stock the pantry, etc and look for deals.

        2. At home its 100% me cooking 97% of the time using good ingredients and with 98% no processed foods--largely because they're unavailable here. The reason for eating in is that I have to eat out more than I want when I'm on work trips, which is a lot (although far less than before our daughter was born). We would eat out more if there were restaraunts that could do something better than I could easily do at home.

          1. low end in, high end out, sort of. We do dinner in 6 days a week, eating mostly simple, low-cost dishes. One night we go out to a moderate-priced dinner where I get my scallops fix.

            1. I favor el cheapo "street food" when I eat out, so I'll travel to far off places for the best thing under $10, but I find that more often than not I'm disappointed with the food in more expensive places. As conceited as it may sound, I feel that I could do a better job at home than some of the higher ticket places I've eaten...with the exception of unusual cuisines with unfamiliar methods. So I usually reserve most of my food budget for really good ingredients.

              4 Replies
              1. re: ballulah

                I also seem to be disappointed with the food at (relatively for me) expensive places. I feel I'm paying for the atmosphere rather than quality ingredients and cooking expertise.

                1. re: tom porc

                  Although, it must be said that I've had some rather good luck with high end dining lately.

                  1. re: ballulah

                    I'm with you B, the change of seasons have made some chefs very creative. Over the last two months I can only think of one fair meal at a high end. I have dinner and a meeting in LA next week, can;t wait to see where the tongue leads.

                    1. re: jfood

                      Are you a steak person, jfood? Have you been to Mastro's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills? Not sure if it was the festive fun, the company, the excellent wine, or the very good food, but I really enjoyed the meal I had there when I was in LA in February. Upstairs was a party, downstairs was more sedate...my group was upstairs and we had a blast. It's a few doors down from Spago.

              2. We're on a budget and therefore don't eat out high-end except on special occasions. We grocery shop on a budget too, selecting the basics carefully and picking up the more unusual items when they look really good and/or on sale. So, most of our money goes to eating in.

                However, we do spend too much on drinking out. Once a week I meet the girls for drinks after work. And once or twice a week my SO and I go out for drinks after dinner. We have a number of professional jazz and blues musician friends and we are friendly with a number of bar/restaurant owners, so we like to support them. It adds up, even though we usually get a free round.

                1. Both. However, I cook most of my meals because it is healthier and I know what's going in it. In terms of cost, it would probably be cheaper and more convenient to eat out as I try to buy organic items and wild fish whenever possible. But there's nothing like a home-cooked meal.

                  Sometimes we want to eat food that we can't properly prepare at home, such as brick-oven pizza or foie gras in a sauce of a zillion ingredients. Or we just don't want to cook. We probably spend about about 20% of our meals outside.

                  In terms of our overall budget, we probably spend a greater percentage of our budget on food than most Americans. But we live very simply, not buying tons of things that we have no use for. Many of my clothes are ten years old (because I try to buy quality as opposed to trendy). We don't have the latest high-tech gadgets (though my husband has really been pushing for a plasma TV). We both value food in our lives, and are willing to spend the money, both dining in and out, for high-quality foods that nourish us and give us joy.

                  1. Hard to put into "high" or "low". We eat well every night.

                    After traveling for 25 years jfood wanted to see little jfood off to college and switched assignments for a year so I am home 95% of the time now. So we have a good feel over the last few months. M&M Jfood eat out 1-2 per week and always a good resto ($25-35 entree range) We cook all the other nights and the menu is fish 3-4 times, chicken 3-4 times and meat 1-2. Fish is salmon at least one; shrimp at least 1 and then the other two depends on what the fishmonger has. Steak is either skirt, hangar, filet or PH. Chicken is well, chicken.

                    We usually have the 3pm call, "so what do you want for dinner?" And we take it from there.

                    1. Both "in" and "out", though we do not tend to go to extavagant places when eating out..We prefer ethnic food when eating out, as I find that you really cannot reproduce ethnic foods at home, or at least to my satisfaction....At home, we use quality ingredients in cooking...But, for example, I really prefer the best steaks when cooking them at home, and often, it costs practically as much at home, as if we go out...We tend to eat at home when it comes to burgers, and just regular everyday food, because I can usually make them as well if not better than most restaurants...Again, we tend to eat out, the things that cannot be reproduced as well at home....

                      1. Def. both and our routine varies a lot depending on the time of year. We food shop daily and enjoy fresh seasonal whole foods when cooking in. We look for the same when dining out OR search for culinary "surprises" from restaurants who offer menus we would not attempt at home.

                        20 years ago we would have dined out nearly every meal. It became less of a treat and we stopped altogether for a long stretch. Learned more about wine during the hiatus.

                        Today, we are far more curious about the next great food find by dining out at independent restaurants and cooking much smarter at home.

                        Although I'm not usually one to clip a coupon, the art of the early-bird, week day special or grand opening is NOT lost on dh and me. Coupled with a decisive choice to eat earlier and lighter these dining choices are more appealing to us now.

                        Interesting question!

                        1. I'm single and living alone, so I do tend to eat out a fair bit, and rarely go too high-end when I do so. When I cook at home, a lot of the time I'm either messing around with stuff in the kitchen (in a lot of ways, I've still got a lot to learn about cooking) or cooking for other people, so I tend to go a little higher-end on home cooked food (for example, I'll generally do steaks at home rather than eating out.)

                          1. I cook more often with expensive ingredients rather that go to a restaurant that uses expensive ingredients. I'll admit it: I'm poor. And I can feed 4-6 people well for the cost of one person's similar meal in a restaurant. That said, when I cook, I am extremely reluctant to try cooking something I have never tasted before. I feel like I am reaching for someplace, whose location is a mystery to me. I don't mean that I refuse to try new recipes, but rather entirely new kinds of food.

                            For instance, I have never had fois gras, but I'm curious. I have a gift card to a store that sells it, among many other tasty things. But not knowing anything about the substance, I have a feeling that I would butcher the job, taste it and still not necessarily know what people talk about when they rave because I haven't experienced it properly.

                            It reminds me of the sailor who brought a tin of tea home to his mother after he had sailed to China and back in the early 1700's. He explained that it was a special treat, and tasted wonderful, but had never seen it prepared. Mom, awed by the very costly gift that only rich people could afford, had never tasted it. So she put a quart of water in the kettle, stirred in a cup of tea leaves and boiled it for an hour.

                            Oh, and re the sandwich makings. I have no problem ordering a quarter pound of sandwich meats at the deli counter. Sure they stare sometimes, but it's the amount I need. And when it comes to prosciutto, I order it by ) 0.15 pound. Yep. That's about 6 slices and all that I want, thanks.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: thinks too much

                              We usually dine out for Ethnic foods and BBQ because most of the things we like there are time consuming to make. We especially like Indian and there's no way we want to spend to the time on all that prep and all the ingredients needed. We almost never order out steak or fish as those are extremely easy to prepare at home. I can buy a really good quality pound of fish for under $20 that will feed both of us, that'd be an expensive meal in a restaurant. Same goes for steaks.

                              1. re: Rick

                                Half the fun of cooking, IMO, is working around whatever is on special and in season and developing some meals around what ever those ingredients are. I just bought some walleye on special today - can't wait to cook that up - like others, I trust myself with some meats more than I do most restaurants around here.

                                I also love doing things like, "let's see if we can mimic this $15.00 dish for $3.00 per serving." It's not that hard if you're creative.

                                I do like cooking Indian and I have all the spices in the cupboard... it's not all that bad, maybe because I'm used to it. And I find that a working knowledge of Indian/Mexican/West African cooking affords me a much wider repertoire for using cheaper cuts of lamb or chicken which you can still make into a stellar meal (I'll take a rogan josh over a pot au feu most days).

                                When we go out it's more often for convenience and we try not to spend a ton - Outback to bistro food. The splurges are maybe once every three months and generally because the chef has a couple of sig dishes we want to try.

                              2. re: thinks too much

                                Jfood orders 1/4 pound all the time. Gardened all day and wanted to chill and mrs jfood wanted some shrimp. went to grocer decided on size and asked for "5 of those." when jfood makes sauce, "one thick slice of pancetta". A cheese steak for lunchon a saturday, 1/4 pound of rost beef beef and three slice of provalone." when the grocer packages 2 filets and jefood needs only one, ask the butcher to split the package.

                                the grocer doesn't care why should jfood?

                                1. re: jfood

                                  Absolutely. Just as in good cheese shops, you order what you're going to eat. That can easily be "3 slices of X" or "1/8th of a pound" or whatever it is you like. If we all shopped like this more, we'd all be better off.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    ttm, I agree with your practice and with jfood and ccbweb: delis and deli counters the world over are used to people ordering 3 grams of this, 5 grams of that... Buy your six slices of prosciutto with pride. Those counter people aren't staring, they're pleased to serve people who know what and how much they want!

                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      I've been to cheese shops that have a minimum block of cheese they will sell you. There's a place in Chicago that doesn't cut smaller than half a pound. And fish stores, I have found can be equally picky, especially with kids behind the counter. Shimp is easy to purchase in small amounts, but fish steaks, not so much. I've even had the kid behind the counter tell me patiently that he can eat a pound of tuna steak in one sitting, so what's my problem? It's a good thing that the fish is worth it.

                                    2. re: jfood

                                      I will very very often ask for a specific number of slices when ordering prosciutto!

                                  2. Definitely out! I cook to save money; otherwise, I wouldn't cook at all (you'd agree if you ate my food... poor DH!). I was just looking at the receipt for the veggie lasagna I made last week. It cost $14 ($3 for spinach, $4 for mushroom, $1 for noodles, $3 for ricotta cheese, $2 for mozz. cheese, and $1 for garlic/onion). Although I knew it fed the three of us for two dinners and one lunch, I exclaimed, "That cost $14!" which of course is the price of only ONE piece at a restaurant! The problem was that I knew I could buy the Stouffer's tray for about $8 (although triple the calories). I've gotta lighten up (in more ways than one).

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: boltnut55

                                      Couldn't a gree more. One lasagne into eight slices, great midweek meal. couple of frozen meatballs from Rao's recipe and some cento sauce, probably cheaper than a Big Mac.