Restaurant foods that are ripping you off

The cost of your tab versus the best value for your buck. In these budget-tightening times, more people are looking for ways to save on costs — and that includes keeping an eye on the bill when dining out.

But price alone may not be the best indicator of value on a menu, experts say.

Take pasta, for example. While it is generally one of the least expensive items on the menu — compared with, say, steak — the plate of pasta is where the restaurant generally makes more profit. This is because of the low food costs associated with bulk ingredients such as pasta and rice in relation to other higher quality or specialized foods that you may not be able to find at the grocery store. 

So how to get the best value when dining out? “Choose labour-intensive, time-consuming, complex dishes, that call for hard-to-find ingredients,” New York-based restaurant consultant, Clark Wolf, told Forbes. “If you can whip it up yourself in 20 minutes with stuff from your kitchen cupboard — do that,” he says.

Brunch is also profitable for many restaurants, since popular items such as eggs, French toast, waffles and pancakes are relatively cheap to prepare. Here is Forbes’ list of some of the top foods not to order in restaurants if you want more value for your money.

7 restaurant foods that are ripping you off

Gourmet hamburgers. Restaurants often add high-end ingredients like foie gras and truffles to the basic burger to glam it up — and hike the menu price. The catch? Many restaurants are so stingy with the luxury ingredients that it doesn’t justify the price increase. If you’ve got a burger craving, experts say, it’s probably better value to stick with a good old-fashioned, all-beef patty.

Spaghetti with meatballs. As mentioned, low-cost pasta is a proven way to boost a restaurant’s profits, and similarly, the ground beef used to prepare meatballs are considerably cheaper than whole cuts — especially when you combine it with breadcrumbs, minced vegetables and plain old tomato sauce. As restaurant consultant Linda Lipsky told Forbes: “When I was the manager of a restaurant, I wanted the customers to order spaghetti and meatballs because it cost me 90 cents a plate to make, and we sold it for $6.75 with salad and bread. I didn’t really want them to order the steak!”

Edamame. It’s a tasty appetizer, but you pay considerably more for the simple bowl of soybeans in a restaurant  than you would at the grocery store. According to the Forbes report, restaurants buy frozen edamame for about $1.95 a pound — or less than 50 cents for a 4-ounce portion, which they can sell for about $6. Another boon for the restaurant is that there’s little prep involved; generally the pods are simply blanched and tossed with seasoned salt or soy sauce.

Guacamole. This is another example of a basic dish that’s fairly easy and inexpensive to make at home. Restaurants, however, can make a big profit on guacamole particularly at eateries where it is prepared tableside and served it up in traditional molcajete stone bowls. All that “authenticity” is an attempt on the part of the restaurant to add value — and a few extra dollars to the price.

Shrimp Caesar Salad. Shrimp may have the reputation of a higher quality food, but chefs have a lot of cheaper options when using shrimp — such as factory-farmed shrimp from Thailand or shrimp ‘pieces’ — which often means they aren’t of good quality and worth the price increase on the menu. And the remaining ingredients — romaine lettuce, croutons and vinaigrette — cost the kitchen very little.

Pancakes. Pancakes are also made with cheap ingredients — basically, flour, eggs, milk and leavening agents — so this is another meal to make at home instead. (With pancakes, the most expensive item on your plate is likely the maple syrup!) Other low value brunch foods include waffles, French toast and omelets.

Chicken Noodle Soup. It’s great comfort food — but not great value when you order in a restaurant, considering that one chicken along with plenty of noodles and some carrots and celery can yield a huge pot of soup. One portion can cost a restaurant a mere 30 cents to make, experts say.

For more on the Forbes report, go here.

Do you agree with this list? Let us know in the comments.


How to stretch your food budget
Curb your food cravings
10 ways to save on groceries
Comfort food on the cheap
Entertaining on a budget