Food inflation: Skyrocketing grocery prices make it cheaper to eat out than dine in

Let’s eat out!

Inflation has driven up supermarket bills so much that, in some cases, it’s more economical to dine in a restaurant than it is to shop and cook.

“Grocery prices increased 13.1% [in the last year] whereas food away from home prices increased substantially less than that — at about 7.6%,” David Ortega, a food economist at Michigan State University, told The Post.

“Consumers are seeing the price of groceries rise much more than the price of restaurants or fast-food establishments,” he added.

That 5.5% gap is one of the largest we’ve seen in recent years, Ortega said, while the 13.1% increase at the grocery story is the largest grocery-cost increase seen since early 1979.

Grocery store prices have increased more steeply because they’re more directly impacted by rising food costs and supply chain issues, while with restaurants, the cost of ingredients is only a small part of the bill.

Cooking at home is less economical than it used to be. Many restaurant chains are taking advantage of that.
Getty Images

“In a restaurant, [customers are] paying for more than just food; you’re also paying for the labor, you’re paying for rent, utilities, those types of things,” said Ortega.

What does that mean for meals at some favorite chain restaurants? Have a look at the cost of cooking in versus dining out at four popular spots.

Applebees steak with sides

Steak from Applebees is about on par with how much it costs to make at home.
Steak from Applebees is about on par with how much it costs to make it at home.

An 8-ounce sirloin steak with broccoli and mashed potatoes at the Times Square Applebees will set you back $25.99, while making the meal at home will cost you about $24. You can purchase a similarly sized sirloin at the grocery store for about $12, but the ingredients for the sides add up.

The Consumer Price Index shows potato prices have increased dramatically — 8.6% — something Ortega attributes to cost of production and droughts on American farms out west. Adding in the 16.9% increase in milk (about $4.49 per half gallon) and 20.2% boost for butter ($3.49 for 8 ounces) needed, plus garlic, broccoli, and steak sauce, you’ll come out close to, if not over, $25.99.

Cheesecake Factory pasta carbonara

It’s cheaper to cook the indulgent egg-pasta-bacon dish at home — but not that much cheaper. At the Cheesecake Factory in White Plains, the dish goes for $20.50, while making it yourself is approximately $15.62. It’s the bacon and eggs that will really cost you at the market. “Eggs are 38% higher than last year,” Ortega said, mentioning an avian flu outbreak that’s affected about 40 million American chickens and other fowl in recent months.

The cost of making carbonara at home is nearing restaurant prices nowadays.
The cost of making carbonara at home is nearing restaurant prices nowadays.

Bringing home the bacon also isn’t cheap: The cost of the porky indulgence is up 9.2% because of labor costs, per Ortega. And, by the time you add the olive garlic and cheese, you might as well go out. Plus, Cheesecake Factory also offers free bread, whereas a French baguette costs about $4.

Chili’s baby back ribs

Oh baby has the price of pork gone up. Chili's famous baby back ribs can be the better bang for your buck.
Oh baby has the price of pork gone up. Chili’s famous baby back ribs can be the better bang for your buck.

Ribs are a clear example of a dish that’s much more economical to eat out than to make yourself. A full rack of Chili’s famed baby back ribs goes for $21.69 in Glendale, Queens, while it costs about $27 to make them at home. Pork prices have shot up 7.6%, with a full rack of baby backs selling for about $10 at Whole Foods. But it’s the hodgepodge of dry rubs and flavor powders that push this divine swine over the edge. In total, they will run you just over $15.

Ortega notes that “spices, seasonings, condiments are up 14%” due mainly to “transportation costs and an increase in demand [being] a big factor.” That’s in addition to sugars and barbecue sauce, along with a 28% upsurge in propane costs if you plan on firing up the grill. Plus, the Chili’s entree comes with two sides as well.

Sweetgreen salad

Making your own salad is costly nowadays. Sweetgreen's "guacamole greens" entree is pictured.
Making your own salad is costly nowadays. Sweetgreen’s Guacamole Greens salad is pictured.

Not even salads are safe. Thanks to a 17.6% rise in chicken costs due to that same avian outbreak and an 8% boost in lettuce prices, items like Sweetgreen’s Guacamole Greens salad — which sells at $12.95 at the Columbia University location — are more cost-efficient than a roughly $14.25 home rendition. A pound of chicken breast retails for $10 so you’re using about $2.50 worth of the poultry for a single salad.

Meanwhile, lettuce goes for about $3 per head, while one large avocado sells for $2.50. Mix that in with the recipe’s shredded cabbage, tortilla chips and vinaigrette, and you’ve got a compelling reason to order up and save yourself some hassle.

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