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The real cost of dining out

Bundle: Parents go out more than you might think, dinner with the grandkids is a struggle, and where you live matters. A lot.

By Janet Paskin Feb 18, 2010 1:01PM

Among the obvious budget busters, dining tops the list. A week's worth of homemade grilled-cheese sandwiches costs about what you'd spend on the same lunch at the diner. Add tax and tip, and you're looking at a 25% surcharge, not even considering profligate splurges like -- gasp! -- a Pepsi.

Data from MSN partner blog shows, not surprisingly, that as people make more, they spend more on dining out; as they make less, restaurants command less of their dining dollar. Here's what is shocking:

Married couples with kids spend more on restaurants than married couples without kids. So much for the perception that having kids puts an end to the occasional night out. Parents spend an average of $279 a month on restaurant food; non-parents spend $242, saving $444 a year. (In the graphic below, for households that make $50,000 to $75,000 a year, it's a $18 monthly differential.) Parents, are you more aware of the need to go out on the town once in a while -- with or without the kids? Or are you spending the extra money to have the privilege of not cooking dinner one night a week?


There's a reason the grandkids may balk at dinner with their grandparents. They don't like the same places. None of them. Given their druthers, 18- to 25-year-olds (solid blue in the graphic below) will spend their dining dollars at McDonald's, Subway, Starbucks, Panera Bread or, for sit-down dinner, Chili's. The 65-and-over set (in stripes, below)? Olive Garden, Applebee's, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel and Outback. In fact, seniors are the only demographic for whom McDonald's and Starbucks don't crack the top five. Does a Big Mac lose its appeal in retirement?

When it comes to dining out, where you live matters. A lot. Spending on restaurants varies widely all across the country. As just one example, residents of Austin, Texas, spend almost $200 more per month on dining out, on average, than people who live in Seattle. That makes for some head-scratching patterns: The monthly restaurant spending for an average Austin household with an annual income between $40,000 and $50,000 is about $455. In Seattle, a household has to earn twice as much to hit that spending threshold. How much are you spending on dining out? Where do you go? (And if you want to find out if that's more or less than your neighbors -- or if you'd save money by moving -- you can do that on Bundle.)

Table for two, please! More from Bundle on eating out:

Editor's note: Janet Paskin is Bundle's managing editor. She will report back regularly to MSN Money about spending trends and how America spends and saves. She can be reached at

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