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How the average person can save money quickly and easily

Tricks Restaurants Use to Pad the Tab

rd-4Everyone knows that the cheapest way to eat is to do it at home. The consumer who “dines in” can control the ingredients, quality and timing of the meal. Calorie conscious folks can keep track of their intake without being tempted by the chocolate lava cake. It’s a win-win.

The restaurant industry brings in an estimated $123 billion dollars a year in the U.S. alone. Dining out is fun but knowledge of how you are being manipulated with the tricks restaurants use to pad the tab can make you a savvier diner.

Tricks Restaurants Use

Convenience: Frequent restaurant patrons surveyed by Cornell University said that they would eat almost all of their meals at home…if someone else did the shopping. When you add in the time and effort to schlep to the store for basil a trip to Denny’s starts to sound pretty good. Restaurants know this and are padding the tab with expanded curbside service.

Originally the purview of throwback drive-ins (think Sonic) restaurants such as Ruby Tuesday, Olive Garden, and the aforementioned Applebee’s, offer to bring your order to your car for an extra price. Sure you can go in and get it to go for the same price as always. But the curb is superb for the diner in a hurry. Figure an additional 10% “service charge” rd-1for your friendly server to walk, oh about 20 yards.

Selection and Quality: The selection offered in a restaurant is impressive. The kitchen at home is far less equipped than the restaurant kitchen to satisfy the desires of a family that may consist of a gourmand, a dieter, a voracious teenage boy and a vegan with lactose intolerance and sensitivity to gluten. Restaurants can safely charge an average of 14% more for “specialty” selections that match these various needs.

Quality may be a different story. In 2007 cleanliness standards for restaurants were “clarified.” Too many establishments were getting dreaded “B” grades for cleanliness and receipts were falling. Since 2007 the grades have gone back up. One wonders if the restaurants are cleaner or did the grading get less stringent?

Camaraderie: The era of the family sitting around the dinner table to discuss their lives has been over for a generation. After school activities, creeping job-ism that makes the workday last all evening, social media and the individualism of the modern family leaves a trip to the restaurant the only time the family might look into each other’s eyes. Restaurants tap into that market by offering children’s specials and “Kids Eat Free” programs. Be careful that you read the conditions. “Kids Eat Free” is usually only available with purchase of a full-on entrée. That may be more than you were planning on spending for you and Junior together. It’s another way that restaurants pad the tab.

Gourmet? Restaurants have learned that diners will pay 12% more if certain words are used. Among tricks restaurants use are these buzz words: “Gourmet,” Luscious,” and “Cajun.” In many states there are no laws mandating that any ingredient except salt and pepper be included to make a dish “Cajun.”


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