It's Saturday night and you're ready to treat yourself.
You said you'd only order an entree at dinner, but that beet salad at the table nearby and the special appetizer of the evening are both too tempting to resist. And if you're sharing the bill, why not? Then there's the first glass of wine, the second glass of wine — it's the weekend! — plus the customary 20% tip.
Oh, and skipping dessert? The s'mores cake here looked ah-mazing on Instagram; there's no way you're saying no to one final indulgence.
Before you know it, you've blown your weekend budget on a single dinner, even before tomorrow's ritualized brunch. But were your purchases worth it? To make the most of your dining-out money, you'd be wise to avoid certain restaurant selections with ridiculously high markups. Here's what not to order:
If you've ever grabbed a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc for $14 at your local liquor store and later saw that exact same bottle on a restaurant menu for $55 or more, you know what this is about.
And no, the restaurant isn't getting some exclusive, special-edition bottling not available to consumers. Restaurants buy their wines wholesale — which means that $14 bottle may actually be closer to $10/bottle for a case of 12 — but state taxes and fees can add a steep surcharge. Add in the costs of renting, staffing and insuring a restaurant, and that bottle of wine just got much pricier.
According to Wine Spectator, the typical markup on a bottle of wine is twice the retail price or three times the wholesale price. This varies by restaurant, which is why you might see the exact same bottle at different rates on various menus.
If you're ordering wine by the glass, know a standard bottle of wine fills six 4-ounce glasses, which can help you calculate the value of a single serving. You should also keep in mind that restaurants vary their pour sizes, anywhere from 4-6 ounces to perhaps even more generous amounts — although a typical pricing structure for a glass of wine is the cost of the wholesale bottle. Ouch. Maybe stick to BYOB night?
Soda and beer
Don't think you're saving money by opting for beer or soda over wine. Sure, they may cost a few dollars less, but you're still indulging the high markup of these items.
According to Business Insider, restaurant soda clocks in at an average 1,150% markup, with mixed drinks charged at the same elevated rate. Of course, you probably don't have access to a wholesale soda machine at home, but would you really be willing to spend $12.50 on a typically $1 can of Coca-Cola?
Bottled water is also an indulgence, with a typical 2,000% markup; domestic beer's 694% markup is nothing to scoff at. Consider making an exception if you're traveling in a region with beers you can't get elsewhere or have never tried before — dining is about the experience, after all — but consider looking for the same brand at a local supermarket after dinner.
Shots and mixed drinks
Save the celebration with shots until you're back home. As one bar owner explained to New York magazine, shots are where the money's at: A $10 bottle of vodka yields 18 to 20 shots, which can bring in at least $100 before tips.
Thanks to that alluring green mermaid, we've become accustomed to throwing down $3 for a simple cup of coffee without batting an eye. Business Insider reports a 2,900% markup on coffee purchased away from home, with the average home-brewed mug of java costing just 10 cents to enjoy. A pound of coffee beans makes about 36 8-ounce cups, so you're getting much more value with a standard $8 bag of store-bought coffee.
Even with premium coffees — like Starbucks' Gesha blend, which retails for $7 a cup — a half-pound of beans sold at $40 makes each cup you brew at home worth about $2.22.
Here's a quick econ lesson: You're at the grocery store, where a pound of pasta costs $1.29 and a pound of grass-fed steak costs $11.99. Now you're at a restaurant, and a pasta with marinara sauce costs $18 and a skirt steak is on the menu for $24. Which is the better deal?
Unless the pasta is a super-special homemade or imported variety in a mind-blowing sauce, you're getting so much more for your money by throwing down a few extra bucks for the steak (unless you're meat-free, then, by all means, go for the pasta). Most restaurants price their pasta dishes at six to 10 times the cost of what it takes to make them, according to City Pages. Plus, a pound of dry pasta yields about three pounds of cooked pasta, so you're essentially paying for water weight in that steamy portion of restaurant noodles.
As ATTN and other news outlets have pointed out, buying a bowl of edamame pods is a complete waste of money. Not only can you buy an entire bag of frozen edamame — usually at least double the portion of a restaurant serving — at the grocery story for about $3, when you're eating edamame, you're throwing away the shell and getting very little edible food. If you're going out for Japanese and know you'll be craving edamame, consider pre-gaming at home with some microwaved soybean pods.
Sure, you already knew guac was extra, but did you know how much extra? The guacanomics are rough, guys.
At $2 for an avocado — we're rounding up generously here — and some diced onions, tomatoes and cilantro, it's hard to justify paying upwards of $12 for a bowl of guacamole, even if it is alluringly plated in a molcajete with some oily chips on the side. Then again, life is short and guac is easy to share with friends — and totally delicious — so evaluate the dip's value at your own discretion.
See above, and remember that the labor involved in making avocado toast is nominal. You're lucky if you get even half an avocado smashed on your specialty bread. Plus, did we mention the average price of a wholesale avocado is about 50 cents? Do yourself a favor and make your own avocado toast at home.
Steak, chicken and other proteins are already expensive to produce, so an enormous markup would make them pretty much unsellable to the average customer. Eggs, however, have earned their title as the most marked-up protein at restaurants.
Ever seen the option on a brunch menu to add two eggs, any style, for $4? Ever bought a dozen eggs for less than $4? At a restaurant, you're typically paying anything from five to 10 times the cost of a retail egg — per egg — and that doesn't even account for the wholesale discount. Keep in mind that unlike some other foods, eggs can be labor-intensive to make and can't be prepped in advance, so some of the elevated cost is going to the cooks at the egg station who are busy perfectly poaching those yolks for you.
Pancakes (and waffles)
Like pasta, pancakes are made from cheap ingredients such as flour, water and eggs, with maybe some milk or buttermilk whisked into the mix. You could make pancakes for about $1 at home or spend upwards of $10 on a stack of restaurant pancakes.
On behalf of diners everywhere, we apologize for ruining restaurants for you. But if you're still conflicted over what to order next time you dine out, keep this old adage in mind: Only order what you can't make at home. If you make a mean guacamole, skip it — but if you can't poach an egg for the life of you, it may be worth the splurge.
Of course, you could always invest in cooking lessons...
Correction: Feb. 21, 2017
A previous version of this article misstated the restaurant markup price on soda. A $1 can of Coca-Cola would, with the average restaurant markup, cost $12.50.