On the True Value of a Forgotten Restaurant Meal

Readers, a quick reminder: during the month of May I’ll be featuring articles from Casual Kitchen’s archives. Enjoy! As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.


On the True Value of a Forgotten Restaurant Meal

I had an interesting moment of clarity about the true value of restaurant meals when I recently went through a pile of credit card receipts from a year ago. In that pile were receipts from fifteen or so restaurants we had been to in mid-2008.

These dinners were from barely a year ago, and yet I hardly remembered any of them. Heck, I couldn't even remember the names of some of the restaurants, much less what kind of food they served. And yet the aggregate cost of these culinary experiences was hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

You'd think after spending all that money I'd remember more of these experiences, but sadly, I don't. The ones that really stuck in my mind boiled down to a couple of really fancy restaurant meals we had, Laura's 40th birthday dinner, and the spectacular all-you-can-eat ribs we had last fall during our visit to Belgium. That's three or four restaurant meals--out of fifteen.

In complete contrast, I remember nearly every dinner party I've hosted at our home, going back many years. Those dinners were all truly salient and meaningful experiences, full of fun conversations, good eating (well, I did make the food after all!) and good times with friends. And yet the entire cost of all the food--for everyone--for a dinner in our home was usually far less than what Laura and I would end up spending on just ourselves for the average forgettable restaurant meal in this forgotten pile of receipts.

Readers, get ready, because here's the punchline of this article: you will completely forget most of your restaurant meals, making them an utter waste of money. Only a select few of your dinners out--the ones with particularly special circumstances--will stick in your mind.

Moreoever, you'll get more value from your experiences by going out to eat only for really, really important occasions. Otherwise eat at home. And host lots of dinner parties. You'll spend a lot less money, and you'll probably keep more meaningful and salient memories.

What is the point of spending extra money on an experience if the odds are you'll end up forgetting all about it?

Readers, what do you think about the value of forgotten experiences?

Read Next: Two People, Fifteen Days, Thirty Meals. Thirty-Five Bucks!

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Meghan said...

I agree! I'm a big fan of family style communal get togethers. Not quite a dinner party, since I and most of friends have babies/young children, but I make the main and one side and others bring sides, beverages, dessert, etc.

chacha1 said...

Dan, your point is well taken, but as a full-time working woman who has somehow assumed all at-home cooking duties (not by choice I might add), a restaurant meal (or takeout!) serves a valuable purpose in my life:
it gives me a g******ed night off.

Glen said...

I am wondering if your retention was higher when you were a guest at someone's home rather than a restaurant?

Marcia said...

This is funny. When we bought our house in 2004, we were cleaning out the garage in our rental (our house does not have a garage, so much purging).

I found a credit card statement from years before, when I was in the Navy living in DC. Single (engaged), and hubby had already left the city.

I ate out. A LOT. My bill for that month was $1000, and most of it was eating out. Some days I ate out breakfast, lunch and dinner.


These days, we eat out rarely, but it occasionally becomes a convenience. I walk and do errands on my lunch break, and yesterday I walked past the restaurants. The brewery, the natural health food restaurant, Mexican, sushi, sandwiches, bakery. Sometimes, I really just want to stop there because I do ALLLL the cooking, and it feels like a treat.

But the reality is, the night before this day I'd steamed some veggies and cooked up rice and chickpeas in the rice cooker - so lunch was waiting for me back at home (and cheap and healthy too!)

So I like saving money, but I must admit, chacha1 has a point. It's kind of a break to get a night off.