When We Think Eating Out is Worth It, and When We Don't

Kitchen Diary: Anne in South Carolina

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What does the guy sitting on the edge of the Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde have to do with going out to eat? He's my husband. We used to eat in restaurants a lot, when we were dating, before children, before we turned 30 years old, a magical time when money seemed like something you should just spend. A few years later, we were still young, but broke, married and totally responsible for the future of a small but world-rocking young human. Unless our own parents were buying, we ate at home, and learned to really appreciate beans and rice.

Now that we can afford to go out every now and then, I still like to make sure it's worth it.

One of the first things we did when our finances improved was add a Friday night out to our weekly schedule. We took the children — by then there were two — and found restaurants that were good, but reasonably kid friendly and affordable. Our finances improved a little more, and we were able to afford babysitters and real meals, without kids. Freedom!

Then the kids got older, and we enjoyed their company. Adventuresome eaters with lovely manners, they are amazing dinner companions. We began including them on our Friday night dates. The end of the school and work week was a great time to reconnect and eat something delicious that no one had to prepare or clean up.

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Then last year, my husband and I took a whirlwind five day trip to Normandy and Paris for a family wedding. With no children, we were able to see and do so much. Our short vacation seemed a lot longer, in a good way. Among other things, we were able to linger over meals, long enough that the daylight of our first course gave way to dusk by the second, and moonlight by the third. And no one asked for a bite of the single, delicious crème brûlée we shared, so we didn't have to eat fast to get our share.

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Life with three children, several jobs, and more activities than I can count gets hectic. At the end of a long day, it's tempting to go out, just because we can, and I'm feeling too lazy even to put together a ten minute, ten dollar dinner. A meal out will take just as much time. For the five of us, even a pizzeria dinner can cost $60. I've made a conscious choice not to go out by default. These days, we only head to a restaurant if it will be a lot more fun than eating at home.

Takeout gets the same treatment. A couple of weeks ago, we planned early in the week to order Chinese from a favorite local spot. Finally, the big night arrived, and the children had each checked off a favorite dish on the menu. I was ready to make the call and go pick up our long awaited dinner. Then I learned about a clogged toilet. None of the children, two of whom are capable of plunging, would help. Everyone was a little whiny, including me. We had perfectly decent leftover soup in the fridge, so what was the point of spending money on dinner? (I must admit the toilet plunging also put me off food a little.) We saved our takeout plan for another night, when we could really appreciate it.

When eating out is a possibility, I ask myself a few questions:

1. Is this going to be a lot more fun than staying in?

2. Is everyone in a good mood and ready to enjoy each other's company? Because we can sulk at home, for a lot less money.

3. Do we want to include the children or should we leave them home with sandwich fixings and linger over our own meal? (Bonus: We no longer have to pay a sitter, so this is a lot more affordable than it used to be!)

In short, how bad do we want it? Just because we can afford it doesn't mean it's a necessary expense.

How often do you eat out? And are you more likely to do it for convenience or fun?

(Image credits: Anne Wolfe Postic)

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