The True Value Of Dining Out

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 18, 2009
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Have you noticed the recent increase in magazine and newspaper articles applauding the behavior of frugal families? Admittedly, we are living in trying times, and it makes good editorial sense to find clever and inexpensive ideas that will appeal to those trying to save money.

But what irritates me is the growing number of comments I read from the frugals who dismiss eating out as a complete waste of time and money. “Why would I pay $12 for a pasta when I can make it at home?” asked one penny-pinching mom the other week. “Whenever we go out we share one entrée and only drink water,” boasted another. I’ve even read “advice” from someone suggesting people take a Ziploc bag of grilled chicken to restaurants to add to a vegetarian meal. “I split the meal in half (one extra meal to take home) and add the chicken from my bag,” writes Ms.-Miser-and-Proud.

I’m all for saving money. Our family is no different from most when it comes to cutting costs these days, but eating in a restaurant is so much more than just about filling up and fleeing with the feeling you’ve somehow got one over on the owners.


Restaurants are a strong and vibrant part of our community. They are places to eat, part of our culture, and providers of service, entertainment and, for the most part, great value food.

Yes, you can make a bowl of pasta at home for under $12, but you can’t, I promise you, make a bowl of fresh linguine with basil pesto sauce the likes of which you’ll find at Donato Loperfido’s Pasta Basta restaurant, for example. Flour, eggs and oil might not be too expensive, but add the locally grown basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese flown in from Italy, and imported olive oils, and I challenge you to make the dish for under $20. And that’s even if you had the recipe or the expertise.

And what price time? There’s getting to the store, shopping, getting home, unpacking groceries and cooking - and we haven’t even reached cleanup time yet.

And with so many “kids eat free” programs, coupons, discounts, early bird specials and fabulously priced, family-oriented restaurants like Macaroni Grill around, not to mention hundreds of ethnic restaurants (you definitely can’t make it cheaper at home), there are many ways to save money and have a good time without insulting restaurant owners and staff.

And to those who delight in leaving small tips, stealing the silverware and sharing appetizers instead of entrées, I ask this:

Who do you think you’re stealing from, dotcom billionaires who don’t need the money? Rich waitresses who’re only working for fun? In my world, the people running restaurants are simply working hard to make a living, just like you. Truthfully, most of them work longer and harder hours than we do. Restaurants deserve our patronage when they offer good value and good service - and on our island, there are hundreds that fit the bill.

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