It's pretty obvious that preparing meals at home is cheaper than going out to eat at restaurants. But the price gap between cooking and dining out is growing larger. This means you'll be saving more money than you used to by opting to stay at home, and—apologies, because this is a total bummer—paying more by comparison for the convenience and fun of dining out.
As the industry publication Nation's Restaurant News recently pointed out, federal data shows that average prices for food eaten at home in January actually fell 0.5% year over year. It is highly unusual for grocery prices to fall, or even remain flat: The 20-year historical average for the rate of inflation in the category is 2.5%. And yet, on the backs of price decreases among supermarket staples like beef and eggs, which soared to record highs last year, groceries in general are cheaper compared with this time a year ago.
However, the same cannot be said for restaurant prices, which rose an average of 2.7%—notably higher than the overall inflation rate of 1.4%—during this same time span.
While the increase is based on rising prices at restaurants across the board, a deadpan-but-spot-on "Diners Are Too Expensive" post published this week at Gawker made the case that this kind of eatery in particular is overdue for a pricing adjustment:
Diners should drop the price of all their items by three dollars. Food prices are a sensitive thing. They’ve gotten a little bit out of whack. No big deal; just fix it. We’ll keep on coming and pretend like this inflationary period never happened.
Of course, there are reasons why restaurant prices have inched up during a time when many ingredients on the menu have gotten cheaper. "Because restaurants are so labor intensive, labor costs are a bigger concern for that industry. So rising minimum wage and other labor costs are putting pressure on operators to keep raising prices," Nation's Restaurant News noted. A general reluctance among restaurants to never, ever, ever decrease menu prices once they've been raised surely must also be a factor.
Americans love eating out restaurants. Either that or they hate the grind of cooking, eating at home, and packing their own lunches for work and will do almost anything to avoid all of the above. No matter what the reason, the net result is that we're eating out more often, and the increase in spending reflects it. Last spring, sales at restaurants and bars surpassed those of groceries for the first time since such data has been tracked starting in 1992.
Still, the obvious danger in the restaurant industry is that more people will stay home as they feel it's harder and harder to justify paying a premium to go out to eat—especially if it's just for a quick, mediocre meal at the local diner.