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April 10th, 2014

by Total Food Service

Eating Out or Cooking!


The options with consuming a meal are endless.


Whether you like to cook, one does not have time, your thinking is it's cheaper to cook your own meal or not, or you must eat healthy. The choice is yours.

If you had the opportunity to visit "The International Restaurant and Food Service" this March you would know that without question there are numerous choices and convenience options that one has when either eating out or cooking a meal. I know the show is all about increase transaction counts and check averages but there are those products that simplify cooking a meal.

I went to the show with my sister-in-law who loves to cook. She never talked about going out to eat after we left the show but all she talked about were the new dishes she could prepare. I found this interesting since I am sure most of the vendors were not thinking this way.

Maybe we can rename the show the “International Consumer, Restaurant, and Food Service” show….

There is no doubt that the average working person is facing more time restraints with carving out time to eat. However, with food trends focused on healthy eating the challenge has increased. It may be obvious that eating out is less time consuming but when you factor in travel, options, expense, and nutritional options the obvious may become a little blurred. Considering the cooking option, there is time related to buying the food, cooking the food, then the cleanup time. If you're one of those people who like to cook like my sister-in-law, it becomes, me time and relaxation. I would venture to think this feeling may not be the norm.

Reviewing the cost of eating out versus cooking, the Bureau of Labor Statistic had some interesting information. The CPI for food from July 2013 to January 2014, was 1.1% for overall food purchases, food at home increased by .5%, and food away from home increased by 2%. If you are a food contractor and your client contact was based on a CPI index then you may ask for a 2% food increase.

If you look up the overall CPI index for food and beverage in 2011 the CPI was 3.6%, 2012, 2.5%, and 2013, 1.4%. The good news it seems that our food inflation is in check and headed in the right direction. But are we? I mentioned the trend of eating healthy. With the flock of these new claimed healthy items, have we just increased the consumer food budget, not to mention the food operators’ budget in part of the trending healthy food craze?

In a recent article published by USA Today by Nanci Hellmich, the USDA states that the cost of feeding a family of four for a week ranges from $146 to $289. Using $289.00 as the example this means each meal costs $3.44. Although breakfast cost less and many families use school programs to supplement lunch expenses, 3.44 is a relative low number. I'm certain if a family went out to eat just for dinner a couple of nights the cost would be a lot higher.

The question remains what should I do, eat out or cook. In my humble opinion and based on working in the hospitality profession for over 35 years and a adjunct professor, my advice would be to plan your meal options as you would your daily or weekly work itinerary.

As a business owner, my advice would be to design menus that are aligned to your targeted audience and adjust your menus to capture new customers who are looking to get out of the kitchen.

If we are just going by the cost of raw food there would not be any argument as to why one would not eat at home but with the consumer saying; "I'm tired of being the only one that cooks," I don't have time to cook a big meal every night; it is easier to just order out." My family prefers to eat out; when I cook at home, they complain" there are a lot of credence and support for dining out.

Margins are tight and competition is fierce but the hospitality business is a hidden competitor and that is the home cook. To create value for this segment we need to deliver options that delivery, healthy meals, value, variety and cost effective options for the family. Time is money and business understand this – the reality is families are now factoring time as an expense.

To our family cooks of the world – we’re interested in hearing your thoughts and to let us know what you would like to see from your local restaurant…


Please send your comments to Andrew Catalano.

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