Teaching money lessons at a restaurant

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
A waitress brings a cart of dim sum to a table of customers at Chatham Square Restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York. According to Hamm, a restaurant outing can be a great opportunity to teach kids about the economics of food and service.

A few nights ago, our family went out to dinner at a local restaurant. On the occasions when our family does eat out, our children are usually pretty excited for the event, as it’s a change of pace from eating at home every evening. They’re usually really observant and spend much of the meal asking questions of all kinds and chattering like crazy.

What made this meal different? For the first time, our oldest son really began to notice the prices on the menus. He looked through the prices and connected them with his allowance, noting that even the children’s offerings were more expensive than what he received for his weekly stipend.

This screamed “teachable moment” to me, so we started talking about the costs of food.

The first thing we did was we started talking about what the cost of a meal in a restaurant actually covers. Of course, it covers the food you receive, but it also helps pay for the service (the people preparing it and bringing it to your table) and the building as well as (hopefully) a tiny bit of profit for the business owner.

We started to break down his meal’s cost in a fairly inexact way. His children’s meal was $3.95, so we decided that out of that $3.95, the waiter would get about a quarter, the people in the kitchen would get about seventy five cents, the manager would get another quarter, the building would get another fifty cents, and the people that owned the restaurant would get a quarter. That meant his food should be worth $1.95 or so.

So, when he received his food, we tried to estimate the cost of it. His meal consisted of scrambled eggs, two pieces of bacon, and some mixed fruit. We figured that the scrambled eggs cost about forty cents, the two pieces of bacon also cost about forty cents, and his fruit cost about sixty cents (obviously, we were estimating here). That left us with a food cost of about $1.20, leaving about $0.75 left over (which we eventually decided would go to the bills we hadn’t thought about, like napkins and ketchup).

As we were eating, we talked about the cost of making that same meal at home. We would have roughly the same food cost – a little over $1.20 for the food. We’d also have a bit of an energy cost, so we tossed in another ten cents, making $1.30.

So what about that difference between $1.30 and $3.95? Obviously, that extra $2.55 is what we save by eating at home.

Of course, eating at home has other costs, too. We have to prepare the food ourselves and clean up the dishes ourselves. Is that worth $2.55?

At first, he wasn’t sure whether it was worth it or not, but then Sarah pointed out that we usually make a meal for all five of us at once and if we were saving $2.55 on each of five meals, we would actually save a bit under $13.

That changed his mind – it seemed like real savings.

Then we talked about the real moneymaker – beverages. Sarah had a Diet Coke which cost $2.49 with unlimited refills. The children each had milk, which cost $0.99 per cup. (I had water, so we didn’t include that part.)

At home, if Sarah had two cans of Diet Coke over ice (which is probably roughly equivalent to what she drank at the restaurant), that would cost us about $0.50, as we can get a can of Diet Coke for $0.25 if we buy a large pack. Similarly, if we buy a gallon of milk for $3.50 at the store, we’d use about a third of it on what the kids drank, cutting the cost down to about $1.16 instead of the $2.97.

In other words, we would have saved about $4 overall just on the beverages. Sure, we would have had to wash the cups and pour it ourselves.

Our son then decided that “restaurants are expensive” and wondered why we would eat there.

Our answer? Sometimes, a restaurant is a nice treat. It means we don’t have to prepare it ourselves and we don’t have to do the dishes.

However, when we choose to do those things at home, we do certainly save a significant amount over going to a restaurant. This meal alone would have easily saved us $20 if we had just prepared the same thing at home, and if one of us could have prepared it in an hour (which could have easily been done), then that’s $20 more for us to use for other things.

“So every time we eat at home we’re saving $20?” he asked.

“More or less,” I replied.

“Then we should always eat at home!” he said with a big smile.

Lesson learned. Now the trick is for this idea to stick with him for the long haul.

The post Teaching Money Values at a Restaurant appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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