Consumer Price Index: Has Inflation Made It Cheaper to Dine Out Than Buy Groceries?

Portrait of an elegant man with shocked emotions holding very long shopping list while buying food in the supermarket.
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Normally, it’s cheaper to make your meals at home than to dine out. But with inflation running at its highest rate in more than 40 years – and food prices particularly susceptible to price spikes — these are not normal times.

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Depending on where you live and what kind of food you’re partial to, it might be cheaper to dine out right now than to buy groceries and cook at home. According to the federal government’s most recent Consumer Price Index report, the food-at-home index (groceries) for September 2022 rose 13% from the previous year, while the food-away-from-home index (dining out) climbed only 8.5%.

A separate report from Wells Fargo citing CPI data found that the cost of food at restaurants and other vendors rose 5.8% from November 2021 to August 2022, compared to a gain of nearly 10% at food from grocery stores or supermarkets, CBS News reported.

A deeper dive shows that prices for some grocery items have hit record highs in recent months.

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Average retail ground beef prices stood at $4.94 a pound in August, according to a recent blog on the Beef2Live website. That was up 5 cents from the previous month and 47 cents from a year earlier and represented the highest retail price for ground beef on record As of Nov. 8, retail ground beef prices have averaged $4.80 a pound so far in 2022.

Data from the St. Louis Fed show that the average cost for a boneless chicken breast soared to a record high of $4.747 a pound in September, up from $3.726 in January and $3.517 in September 2021.

Compare those prices to some of the deals you can get at cheap fast-food places. As previously reported by GOBankingRates, Taco Bell has four items on its Cravings Value Menu for $1, including the Spicy Potato Soft Taco and Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito. Menu items like the Fiesta Veggie Burrito, Beefy Melt Burrito and Chipotle Ranch Grilled Chicken Burrito have recently sold for only $2.

Wendy’s offers a 4 for $4 meal that includes a Jr. Cheeseburger, four-piece spicy or crispy Nuggets, Jr. Fry and a value-sized drink. The chain also offers the $3 breakfast, which consists of two items: an egg-and-swiss croissant topped with sausage or bacon and a small seasoned potatoes.

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Burger King recently promoted a $6 deal that includes two Whopper Jr. Sandwiches and two Small French Fries at participating U.S. restaurants when you use the BK App or bk.com to order from the “Offers” section of the menu.

If fast food is not your thing, Panera Bread has promoted a variety of $7 “Value Duet” deals featuring soup and a salad or sandwich, according to the Cheapism website. The Olive Garden has advertised $9 lunch favorites on weekdays featuring soup, salad and breadsticks, while Chili’s has similarly promoted $9 lunch deals.

Meanwhile, you might also find it cheaper to eat out on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day than to cook at home. As CBS News noted, holiday-friendly food staples bought at stores — such as eggs, flour and fruits and vegetables — rose nearly 15% between November 2021 and August 2022, and turkey prices are expensive amid a shortage of birds tied to the avian flu.

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“The CPI is basically telling us the cost of inflation at the grocery store is exceeding that of eating out,” Wells Fargo specialty crop analyst Brad Rubin told CBS MoneyWatch. 

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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