HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Dining Out, is it becoming more of a luxury?

Chowhounds, I'm curious...With prices on the wholesale level going north, and top restaurants in my area north of Manhattan pushing some entrees close to the $40. mark (cocktail prices notwithstanding), is dining out becoming more of a luxury, or is it still a convenience for your family in this economy...is anyone feeling the pinch...has anyone actually started cutting back a bit?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I guess it depends on what your definition of dining out is. I find that in NYC, it's cheaper to eat out sometimes than cook.

    1. Interesting question. I'm British and it's often thought restaurant costs are higher in Europe. Eating out is usually thought as more of "an event" and not really a "convenience".

      However, outside of high-end London restaurants, $40/£20 for a main course would be considered quite expensive, elsewhere in the country. By way of further example, we recently ate at our nearest Michelin starred place (1 star) - nibbles; amuse; starter; main; pre-dessert, dessert - total was under £50/$100 each ( tax is included in that and tips are at 10%).

      It certainly would seem as though, if US prices are increasing as you say, thos eof onn the UK board might have to reflect on when we advise what is "expensive". I'm curious to see how this thead deveops with your compatriots.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        Wow. A meal at a Michelin starred place for under $100 each! That would be pretty damn hard to come by in Berlin, where appetizers at such places can ring in between 25 and 35 € ..... sigh. And here I thought going out to eat in England with the strong pound (how do you make the pound sign on a mac?) would be much more ruinous...

        1. re: linguafood

          Hey lingua,

          Press option+3 at the same time. I find that accent marks, etc. are far easier on Macs. On PCs one must memorize four digit combinations for each combinations of accent mark and letter, plus different codes for capital letters, it's absurd.

      2. I am dining out less often and usually at a less expensive place. I find myself cooking at home more often too.

        1. I think it's about choices and one's family dynamics. We're empty nesters and rarely vacation and for us "dining out" is very important (and not just because of the food). We don't go to movies, we do spend a lot on food at home (especially wine, cheese and meat) but we spend less than the average family in other areas (lower percentage of housing costs, etc.)

          1. I am definitely feeling the pinch. For many reasons, I am trying to cut back a bit on eating out all the time. The food and wine dollars have to be more carefully managed than in the past. I can definitely eat much more cheaply by cooking at home and opening a nice bottle of wine from our fridge. We still spend a significant portion of our "spending money" on nice meals out, but we are trying to choose our restos more carefully, and we aren't going out just because we can't be bothered to cook. Dining out has become more of an event, a luxury as you say. The nice benefit of this is that we are eating a bit more healthy these days, and we are enjoying cooking and shopping together.

            1. Great question considering the US economy and disposable income. I find that eating out is more of an "event" and we are becoming a bit pickey as to service, food, and ambience. If we now decide to eat out, we check Chowhound and newspaper reviews and look for good value at places we want to try. I have always cooked most meals at home and we(husband and I) go out 1-2 times a week. It is our form of entertainment. We honestly seem to appreciate the luxury more now of our meals out. I haven't noticed many empty tables so some places may be just be easier and cheaper than preparing a feast at home. I also believe that dining out is becoming a broader activity than just satisfying hunger.

              1 Reply
              1. re: foodseek

                >>>I also believe that dining out is becoming a broader activity than just satisfying hunger.....It is our form of entertainment.

                SO very true. Around about the time restaurants here reached $50. a person, dining became 'entertainment' for us too. I limit eating out to once a week and won't go to the 'uber fancy tiny food on a pretty plate' places. As a longtime Westchester resident, I find it interesting that even high priced places pack them in, thanks in no small part to our being a mini-NYC.

                And for all these reasons, I am now more intolerant of bad restaurants.

              2. Yes, starting about four years ago, I mostly stopped going to high end restaurants. Not worth it anymore.

                1. I have noticed that chains have got more expensive pro rata - now it seems impossible to eat at any chain (forget the MickeyD's type chains) but Applebees, Cheesecake Factory, Pancake Houses, Longhorns etc seem to be around $15-20 a head. Just went for a deli lunch, house salad, bagel and lox, coffee and a soda and it was $30 for 2. The other night we went to our local dive bar for 2 beer,2 glasses of wine, chicken tenders and fried fish strips and that was $40.

                  1. On a day off, Dh and I eat lunch out at restaurants; usually a bit less $ and a late lunch can turn into an early bird/price fix and actually stretch our $. We certainly BYOB more now than ever. Don't always order dessert and lastly when allowed we share/split dinner. We always loved rotating our plates to enjoy a little "taste" of everything but now we'll share (takeout too) to extend our dining out dollars. Come to think of it, we have started going to restaurants that participate in dine around specials more lately as well.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: HillJ

                      Great thread... we are spoiled in Vancouver because of the restaurant prices in general having been so reasonable for so long. Even the highest end spots here seem to be within reach of more diners (although I should note that we tend to favour what might be deemed budget to mid-range restos). There was an interesting article in our "city" magazine recently that foretold the impending end of these low prices and bemoaned Vancouverites' expectations that all food should be inexpensive. So far I haven't seen this effect, and we certainly have not curtailed our dining out, knock wood.

                    2. I've started to do big grocery shoppings for the first time in 15+ years. I don't mind spending the money for a great life affirming meal, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of logic behind some of the pricing.

                      It's clear there is a new generation of establishment which isn't interested in doing volume sales, especially when they are upping their prices in relation to increased overhead rather then take a hit on their profit margins. It's an issue no matter if you're talking about $300 dinners, or raising the slice of pizza to $4. They're not just passing the increase on, they're inflating it too!

                      It's a great time with the foodie boom, and food press like never before....people want to eat good food and pretend they're in the know and having some experience....but most places are taking advantage of their customers. I feel like the level of skill, presentation, artisanal approaches have increased while the quality of food/service in general has diminished. I'm having more bad meals these days then ever before...and the prices are making it less tolerable, so I stop experimenting, and stop giving places a second or third chance. I'm also finding myself holding grudges against well known chefs, because their brand name isn't even consistent. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Well said.
                        And in total agreement about stopping giving restaurants second and third chances to get it right.

                        1. re: shallots

                          >>And in total agreement about stopping giving restaurants second and third chances to get it right.


                        2. re: sugartoof

                          "I'm having more bad meals these days then ever before"

                          Here in NY I totally agree. There's nothing I hate more than eating out and feeling that my own cooking is so much better AND so much less expensive!
                          Dining out has become more of a luxury for us, but luckily that is due more to life changes and choices we've made than to lay-off's etc.
                          (We bought a co-op and I'm taking a year off to stay home with my baby)

                          Sugartoof - I also find I'm worried about "experimenting", I always seem to be disappointed. My biggest pet peeve these days is when trying new places we always seem to be kept waiting up to (or even over) an hour for our table even when we have a reservation. This means sitting at the bar drinking. I'm starting to think it is being done on purpose to make money on the bar end, because it happens even when places aren't overly full!
                          I used to be much more relaxed when dining out (pre-mortgage and pre-baby) but lately I hate it when I have to wait more than 15 minutes, and then the food is mediocre to boot. So our solution is to stay home or only go to places we trust.

                          1. re: SweetPea914

                            SweetPea914, I too am trepidacious about trying new places, especially since hubby is a meat and potatoes kind of guy.

                            That said, I recently went to an Italian restaurant (thanks to someone on this board) that is one of the best in Westchester County. I made up a list of 'must try' for 2008, and hope to have a few more gems by year end on my 'regular' list.

                            Congrats on the co-op and the baby, by the way.

                            1. re: dolores

                              Aren't you going to share the name of this wonderful Italian restaurant with me??!
                              Now that the weather is warming, I'm sure we'll be going out more than we have been. I need to update my own "must try" list.

                              1. re: SweetPea914

                                SweetPea, see the Tristate thread. There are a few kinks to be worked out re the issue of reservations and timing. The food is heaven, though.

                                It's Spadaro, in New Rochelle, NY. The recommendation right now is to try them during the week. Enjoy!

                        3. We haven't been able to eat out regularly for years. And now we're not going out for drinks as much either. The other night we broke down and went to dinner at our local joint. I purposely chose a $18 entree over the $26 one I really wanted.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: mojoeater

                            Yeah, some of these drink prices are silly. I understand a well crafted drink is an art, but a $12-$18 price tag is an entree.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              >>but a $12-$18 price tag is an entree.

                              Yes, sugartoof, it used to be. Since some places can GET $12. or $14. for a drink, they will.

                              I can't remember the last time I saw a $12. or $18. entree.

                              1. re: dolores

                                I did last night at Edo's Squid in Richmond, VA. Several very good ones including veal marsala. It's also one of the few local places that is completely slammed on a Sunday night (or any night of the week).

                                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                  Sorry, Janet. I should have qualified that with 'in New York'.

                          2. Not really a luxury, but we are being more selective regarding when, and where we eat out. I have been cooking more meals at home, and have cut back on dining out to 2 times a week, down from approx. 4 times before gas prices went well above $3.00/gallon.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: swsidejim

                              $3/gallon. Green with envy!

                              Where I am a US gallon would cost the equivalent of $8.25.

                              1. re: Harters

                                Harters, we are feeling our own economic pain right now in the U.S. and while it is all relative I do appreciate your perspective from Britain...Thanks!

                                1. re: gutreactions

                                  Indeed. And my apologies for veering off-topic. I had just filled the car with petrol this morning and paid over £40 for the first time. That's a pretty reasonable meal for two here. Grrrrr.


                                  1. re: Harters

                                    with fuel over $3.17 a gallon my fill ups have gone from $50 each to $60 each. I fill my trucks gas tank 3 times a week. From $600 a month to $720 a month just for gas.

                                    It has cut into the going out budget a little bit.

                            2. With 4 kids in college, we never dine out except when we visit them, 3 states & 2 countries, and then we eat out all the time on regional specialties. Famine and then feast! Costa Rica in 10 days!

                              1. Having a family of four to feed, dining out is definitely a luxury. We haven't been out to eat in months other than ordering a takeout pizza from a local joint close to home. Just buying groceries is expensive enough and I see price increases every time I go shopping.

                                1. Unfortunately, yes. Dinner for two with drinks runs over $100. We've taken to going out for lunch instead.

                                  1. I have always considered dining out to be a luxury as in comparison to what I know I can spend cooking for myself, even an inexpensive meal at a local hole-in-the-wall with a drink and tip costs more. I eat out for the experience, the atmosphere (even a hole-in-the-wall has a vibe I cannot get in my own house) and, yes, I don't have to clean dishes afterwards. I go out quite a bit and though I can afford it I still do damage control by having a range of restaurants I enjoy that are at different price points and limiting the $40/entree places to once a week.

                                    1. Holey cow. $40 entrees? Even before my husband went back to school and we had 2 incomes, we didn't spend that much. I guess I'm a cheap date. Prefer a big bowl of Pho for $6. We eat steak at home since I find I can make it better than most steak houses (can't afford high end places). The fact that we can even eat steak at all still makes us richer than so many people in the world. We only eat out now when I get home late - like tonight ($20 for Chinese takeout from our favorite local place which we walked to - in Phoenix) - or when we go out for a special night, like for sushi. We don't buy drinks - not even sodas - to keep the total down. Would rather spend it on the food. ;)

                                      1. I don't mind spending money on GOOD food... what I object to is paying any bloody amount of money for crap.

                                        It's one thing leaving a restaurant and saying "that wasn't too bad, but I could have done better".

                                        What I REALLY object to is leaving a restaurant
                                        (as I did recently...http://www.chowhound.com/topics/470129 ) and being utterly UTTERLY disappointed.

                                        It was only $50 (AUD) but it was swill.

                                        It's not more of a luxury, but "luxury" food is getting harder and harder to find.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: purple goddess

                                          I agree purple goddess. Which is why I am getting more 'fussy', I guess, and want good manners and respect in a restaurant from all the staff as well as good food and a good drink. Oh, and I absolutely, positively, do NOT want to be rushed.

                                          Thinking on it, it's the only time I speak out in a restaurant. I expect a two hour dining experience in a restaurant, and all the other factors are variable.

                                          It's too bad, that dining has become 'such' a luxury, but I guess things change, don't they?

                                        2. Yes, with EVERYTHING going up - taxes, insurance, fuel, groceries - but our incomes not so much, dining out is something we are doing much less of. But what I have been doing more recently is spending a little more on really fine ingredients to cook with at home so there are compensations. I'm baking even more too which means lots of good stuff to eat at home. And I'm really happy about the pending arrival of warmer weather here in Jersey 'cause I am really looking forward to messing around on the charcoal and gas grills this year. I know there's lots of fun to be had at home with my family cooking up delicious food and I doubt we'll even miss going out that much.

                                          1. Eating in general is becoming more of a luxury. Milk, eggs, bread prices are going thru the roof. And if you are Asian, price of rice has gone up 30%.

                                            13 Replies
                                            1. re: PeterL

                                              >And if you are Asian, price of rice has gone up 30%.

                                              What if you are not Asian? :-)

                                                1. re: PeterL

                                                  The extra 10% must be to cover the cost of converting it. What's up with that Uncle Ben's stuff???

                                                  1. re: moh

                                                    Millions of Bangladeshi's east Uncle Ben's.

                                                    Actually Uncle Ben's is parboiled rice. Unhusked rice is parboiled, dried, then husked and milled. The parboiling drives otherwise lost nutrients into the grain. Healthier than normal white rice. The preferred rice in parts of South Asia.

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      Dang, Sam, I learn a new thing every day! It's healthier than regular short grain white rice? Is it healthier than brown rice too?

                                                      I must admit, even if is healthier, I don't think I'll be able to switch. I prefer the texture and taste of regular white rice. I have a weak will.... But thanks for the information!

                                                      1. re: moh

                                                        For unknown reasons, parboiled rice has been available here in Colombia for the past few years. I buy parboilied and white, cook a 50-50 mixture.

                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          In bad economic times (and increasingly in good), I rely on three moneysaving strategies to stretch the dollar:
                                                          -Go for lunch rather than dinner.
                                                          -Go for soup and salad.
                                                          -Make a meal of starters.

                                                          It helps that I've become a soupaholic in the last year of so. Luckily, most really good chefs love a good soup and take pride in it.

                                                          1. re: Thefoodczar

                                                            Yes, lunch is a great option. There are some excellent lunch specials for very reasonable prices. The other nice thing is that the portions at lunch tend to be more reasonable in size, and I find I don't overeat as much if I go out for lunch instead of dinner. (I also don't overdrink as much!) All in all, a win-win situation as far as my diet and wallet go.

                                                        2. re: moh

                                                          Parboiled rice is an ancient process, btw, not some new fangled thing invented by the avuncular Benjamin, who only got dibs on the term "converted". It's a wonderful thing people shouldn't sniff at. IIRC, it's also the preferred style rice in, of all places, France, after jasmine rices.

                                                          1. re: Karl S

                                                            This is why I read this board, to learn. But it is hard to get used to this style of rice when I was brought up with the white fluffy short grain stuff. I shall try to stop sniffing at it!

                                                            1. re: moh

                                                              "white fluffy short grain" - rice? fluffy doesn't go with short grain, usually.

                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                Using the word incorrectly! You are correct, fluffy isn't quite the right word. I am trying to describe the mouthfeel. When I eat converted rice, the grains are distinct, and they have an "al dente" texture. Short grain rice feels "fluffier" in my mouth, softer and less dense.

                                                                1. re: moh

                                                                  I know what you mean, moh. :) I remember being little and staring in horror at the Uncle Ben & Minute Rice commercials where they proudly displayed their rice falling off the fork in individual grains. So bizarre, and very unlike the usual stuff that came out of my rice cooker every day.

                                              1. Such an interesting thread, I had to read it. I live on Long Island, and work as a mortgage loan officer, so money and people's spending habits are my life. That being said, I have found that food in the supermarkets has become so much more expensive lately, whether I do what I consider my weekly shopping trip, or stop for dinner things that weren't bought, it is always more than I expect. When we go out for dinner, usually on a Saturday night, it is more of a social event than anything else, but we do like to go places where we expect the food to be great, and would really like the service to be good too, which sometimes it isn't. We have tried (or rather I have, because hubby is not one who ever tries to economize or watch our spending) to do less take out, which is what I consider a convenience while working, and less Friday night out dining, which we always refer to as our "date night".
                                                The other issue is that I do love the high end Manhattan restaurants, but when I walk away after paying $500 for dinner, I feel so guilty about those who can't spend $500 on a year's worth of food.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: robinsilver

                                                  That reminds me, in the past when the economy has been in the dumps, people turned toward alcohol and comfort foods. I think that's traditionally been the case. The restaurant industry seems to be moving more towards luxury high end experience dining the likes of which never existed in such abundance before... so it should be interesting to see what happens. People are still buying luxury items! I kind of think the food industry is more volatile then Real Estate right now... though that would obviously result in increased retail vacancies, and so on and so on.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    And that would explain my dinner of Merlot and ramen noodles.

                                                    1. re: southernitalian

                                                      LOLOL!! And my dinner of Chardonnay and Prima Donna cheese!

                                                2. Unfortunately yes. My husband just informed me the other day that we are spending way to much $$ dining out and apparently we are cutting back to once a month. We love dining out as a hobby so it is going to be really hard. That means I have to come up with some interesting new meals. If we didn't drink our bill might be a little smaller but he added up the dining expenses for 1 month and it totaled $350. ( 4 resto visits, usually 2 ppl at nice places).EEEEK! I know it is way different in bigger cities but we are living beyond our dining means. We could pay off the credit card bills in one year at that rate. So yes, this horrible economy is affecting our dining pleasure.

                                                  1. The way food prices have skyrocketed over the last year or so, simply EATING is becoming a luxury! For a while we were starting to go to nicer restaurants once a month, but we've drastically cut back on eating out because so much more of our not-particularly-large food budget is taken up just buying regular groceries.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Kajikit

                                                      We visit restaurants once or twice in a month.
                                                      We have not actually started cutting back as we love trying out different varieties of food in different restaurants.
                                                      And I can't dedicate much time to try new recipes at home.

                                                    2. Is it just me, or have I noticed prices actually coming down in some places, both high and low end...it must be tough for restaurant owners since I know their wholesale prices have been going thru the roof from rice to steak...

                                                      1. Lots of restaurants near us have obviously been feeling the pinch, and are advertising special deals to get butts in the seats. We've been giving a couple of them a shot, especially any place with a 50% off wine deal. MA/RI doesn't allow corkage, so those 50% off nights are really wallet-friendly to us, since our wine bill is usually much, much more than our bill for two vegetarian meals.

                                                        1. We're seeing a great change in dining out habits in our area north of N.Y.C...Do you personally feel going out to eat is discretionary spending or a necessity?

                                                          1. Oh for sure. Since dining out is becoming rarer for me I am more careful about where I go and less willing to gamble. Chowhound really helps with that. And as some other posters have said, I am being a lot more conservative about my regular grocery shopping too. The bad economy is somewhat curtailing my adventurous urges. Time to finally make that homemade rice pudding I've been meaning to learn how to do.

                                                            1. I'm too tired to cook some weeknights, so we still go out to eat twice a week, but we're a lot pickier about where. I noticed that my favorite restaurants have a lot more availability for last-minute and weekend slots on Open Table than they used to.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Claudette

                                                                Went to one of my fav comfort food places, in my rotation, years ago the place was mobbed with lines in the waiting area, now you can walk right in. I see this a lot.