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Eating Cheap at the Deli

The other day my wife and I were out running errands. It’d been a long day, so we decided to splurge and go out for a meal instead of cooking at home. We stopped off at a local restaurant, and while I won’t mention names, the price range was lower than L’Etoile but higher than McDonald’s. I ordered soup and a sandwich; my wife got the soup and salad—no drinks. We placed our order, waited for the food, ate, waited for our check, waited for the check to be picked up, waited for the credit card to come back, and left. For this meal we paid $27 not including tip, and spent around two hours time—mostly waiting. The service wasn’t bad either, it’s just how it goes in any restaurant that is moderately busy—after all, it was dinnertime. But it got me thinking. How much time could I have saved and how much money would I have spent for the same meal at the Deli? I would have been driving down Willy Street to get home anyway, whereas to get to the restaurant we had to drive about 15 minutes out of our way, navigate the college crowd and construction, and then take East Johnson home during rush hour.

So I did some math

We each got about 16 ounces of soup, the salad was roughly 1/3 pound, and then there was the roast beef sandwich. At current Deli prices, this would have cost us 16 dollars, no tip, and about 15 minutes tops. Our soup would still be warm when we got home, and our meal would have been comprised of almost totally organic ingredients—the exception being the La Brea bread my sandwich would have come on and the mustard. We would have had enough left over for drinks, dessert, and probably a treat for the dog for the same price we paid to sit and wait for our food.

A challenge

Well, okay, that was a pretty simple meal. So it should be fairly inexpensive to replace it at a grocery store. Could I eat for less than what I would pay at a restaurant if I was getting an entrée? I decided to see how many meals I could put together for us cheaper than I got at the restaurant. My self-imposed rules: at least 1/2 pound of entrée for both of us (I like leftovers), as organic as it could be, no sale prices, at least one side dish of 1/3 pound, and enough money leftover for cheese. All I had to do was keep it under 20 bucks.

I started with some Vegan Pot Pie for my wife and Meatloaf for me. A half-pound each comes to $7.50. A side order of Mac ‘n’ Cheese for me (no, I’m not the healthiest eater) and for my wife some Butternut and Beet Hash—new total, $11.83 and a full belly. Enough leftover to eat for lunch, and to buy almost of pound of Irish Dubliner for me and Lucy (aforementioned dog).

Meal number two was Indian food day. Chicken Vindaloo for me, Cauliflower Curry (Aloo Gobi) for Jen—8 bucks. Potato Chickpea Stew for both of us on the side and the total is 12 dollars. A quick menu check online and I find a local Indian restaurant with Chicken Vindaloo for $10.95 per person. I think I’m coming out ahead—this time we’ve got enough leftover for more than half a pound of French Delice de Bourgogne.

This was getting too easy. At this rate I could feed twice as many people and still not match the price of the simple meal I had at the restaurant. So, I decided to add in a dessert. This time it’s Rosemary Chicken for me and Ratatouille for Jen. The chicken was pretty big, so it came in at 3/4 pound. Total price: $10.74. On the side, I go for Spinach and Feta Orzo and for Jennifer the Beet Salad—she’s just trying to make me look bad now—so for dessert we each grab the Pumpkin Bread Pudding and I make her eat most of it. Total cost: $20.24...over my limit, but, hey, I got an extra quarter pound of chicken and two desserts. I’m claiming it as a victory, I’m still almost $7 under the restaurant meal and I didn’t have to tip! I can’t let Lucy go home empty-handed, so we’ll still snag a half- pound of Moo Bear Muenster—local and artisanal cheese and it only sets me back $2.75, still a victory.

The comforts of home

I think by this time, I’ve made my point at least to myself. We’ll still go to restaurants—don’t get me wrong. I love having great food brought to me by a knowledgeable waitstaff (Dobhan comes to mind), but eating at the Deli can get you a restaurant-quality meal for waaay less than actually going to a restaurant. Not to mention I get to choose the doggy bag fillings, and save not only gas but also a whole lot of time. A typical trip to the Deli took me about 20 minutes—including time to look around (although I’m at a bit of an advantage there over most people), getting served (disadvantage here, they always make me wait until they’ve helped everyone else—mostly because I tell them to), and checking out. We had our meals at home, although you can eat at the Co-op, so we could eat our food in our sweats and slippers. I always feel weird doing that at a restaurant.