Personal finance experts often recommend cooking at home as one tactic to save money and stick to a budget. Restaurants charge roughly 300% more for any given meal than it would cost to cook the same dish at home, according to an article at SoFi.com.
It’s still true that you can save money eating at home. But you may not be saving as much as you were previously, based on the most recent Consumer Price Index report, released May 11, 2022, by the Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics.
The food away from home index, which includes full-service meals at restaurants, limited-service meals and food at employee sites and schools rose by 7.2%, not seasonally adjusted, year-over-year. It jumped by 0.6%, after rising 0.3% in March 2022. The CPI for full-service meals showed its largest increase since 1997 (the year the index was introduced), rising 8.7%. This is indicative of more people enjoying restaurant meals and gathering for celebrations with family and friends as pandemic-related restrictions have lifted.
Meanwhile, the index for limited-service meals rose 7.0% in the past year. In the category of “food away from home,” only the index for food at employee sites and schools continues to fall. The 30% drop reflects free lunch programs offered in schools as part of pandemic stimulus packages, as well as employers offering free food to employees as a retention tactic in this tight labor market.
It’s not just eating out that’s gotten more costly. The food at home index had its largest 12-month increase since November 1980, rising by 10.8%, year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted. It is the 17th month that the food index has risen.
Based on the CPI, you would have paid 0.6% more than in March to eat in a restaurant or get take-out in April, but you would have paid 1% more to buy groceries and cook at home. Considering that it remains roughly 300% more costly to dine out, you’ll still save money cooking meals at home. But you may need to budget more for groceries than you’re used to spending.
Restaurant dining also comes with added, sometimes hidden, costs. As restaurant checks increase, tips for servers grow proportionately. Even if you tip the standard 15% to 20% of your bill, you’ll be paying more as the bill is more expensive. But some restaurants have also raised “suggested tip” amounts, sometimes to as much as 35%, the New York Times reported.
Other restaurants are adding gratuities of 15% to 20% onto the bill, while still leaving a spot for guests to write-in a tip amount. If you don’t read the bill carefully, you could be tipping more than you intended. In an article on the phenomenon of “tipping fatigue” published in mid-April 2022, The New York Times reported, “In some cases, restaurants are adding service charges and gratuities to the bill that some diners may not notice right away.”
The prevalence of suggested tips on tablets at the point-of-sale may also place more pressure on patrons to tip during takeaway transactions than a tip jar on a counter would.
Of course, if you’re dining out you should make an attempt to tip generously. Although restaurant wages have risen from $13.96 an hour in January 2021 to $16.2 in March 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, tips have factored into that increase. Just be aware of how much you are paying and, if you are feeling the crunch of inflation, consider saving money by eating more meals at home.
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