Large Portions and Doggie Bags

There’s a small family-owned restaurant that Sarah and I take our family to regularly. We like the employees and the owners there and have become something like “regulars,” as it’s a place we’re comfortable taking our children to for a pleasant and peaceful meal.

Anyway, as we were examining the menus during our last visit, I was distracted by the prices on some of the offerings. They had a “small” and a “big” version of many of their dishes (I don’t remember the exact term they used for each column).

Most of the prices were the same in each column – a small dish was $8.99 and a large dish was $12.99.

When we ordered, Sarah ordered as she usually does, choosing the large dish. Her plan, as usual, was to eat about half of it, then put the rest into a doggie bag to take home and then take for lunch the next day.

I usually do the same thing, but this time I chose the small dish instead, which would give me about half the food.

Sarah raised an eyebrow. “You’re turning down a really easy four dollar lunch there,” she said.

She had a good point. If you assume that a person will order the “small” plate and finish the whole thing for a single meal, or they could order the “large” plate, eat only half of it, then eat the other half for lunch, that other half is “worth” the difference in value between the small and the large plates – in this case, $4. (In reality, it’s $4.28 because of the sales tax in our area.)

We like the food at this restaurant. There’s no question that the leftovers would make for a really tasty and easy lunch. I’d just grab my leftover container, pop it in the microwave, and then I’d be eating in just a few minutes.

When I thought about it a little more, though, I wasn’t so sure it was a bargain.

Right now, I’m eating an egg sandwich I made myself for lunch. It consists of a piece of bread, a poached egg, and a little bit of salt and pepper. The total cost of this sandwich is about a quarter. If I wanted two, the total cost would be about $0.50.

Yesterday for lunch, I had a bowl of soup from the freezer. My estimated cost of that bowl of soup is about thirty cents.

Both of these items were really easy to prepare – the soup was pulled from the freezer to the refrigerator a few days in advance, then microwaved just like leftovers. The poached egg involved me boiling water for about ten minutes and cracking an egg into a small cup.

It doesn’t really add much work to the equation for me to fix my own lunch rather than heat up the contents of a doggie bag.

Yet even at this family restaurant, though, the contents of that doggie bag is costing me $4 more than just making my own lunch.

This thinking has convinced me that I shouldn’t order the “large” portion at that restaurant any more.

I consider the “small” portion to be reasonably priced, considering it’s my largest meal of the day and it’s eaten at a restaurant with table service. I don’t mind paying that price at all.

However, when I tack on a few more bucks to essentially get another meal to take home with me, that extra meal amounts to leftovers and is costing me several bucks.

Sorry, I don’t want to pay several bucks for leftovers.

The purpose of eating leftovers is to provide a cheap meal and to avoid waste. Buying the “large” portion at the restaurant is either wasteful (if you don’t eat it all) or it’s not particularly cheap compared to other easy lunch options.

If a restaurant gives you large portions by default and you can turn part of it into a future lunch, then that’s a great deal. Since you would have already ordered the large plate anyway, the lunch you get is a free bonus.

However, if you’re paying extra to get a “large” plate so that you can have lunch the next day, think carefully about that choice. You might just be spending $5 without getting any real benefit.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...