Monday, August 14, 2017

Out to eat

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This is the third summer I’ve spent working at a restaurant and in total worked at 3 different establishments. It’s a nice break from teaching but also keeps that cash flow trickling in. I’ve learned a few things working at these restaurants but the main takeaway that keeps entering my mind is this: eating out typically is not worth it in terms of value, practicality and deliciousness. Let’s dive in.

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Let’s start where everyone would suspect I would start: “When I lived in Thailand, I would eat out 3 times a day, could pay for dinner with friends and it wouldn’t hurt my wallet and they would make meals I could essentially never compete with.” Basically none of those hold true in Canada. When was the last time you picked up a bill for dinner and drinks for you and a few friends? What would you say that cost you? Over $200 if it wasn’t breakfast? I had a table the other week come in for lunch and gave me just under $700 cash for a family of about 10 or so. I understand that everyone needs to eat and eating out can be convenient but spending $700 on lunch doesn’t seem like the best way to allocate our financial resources. On the other hand, some people are extremely wealthy and can take the hit but I have a feeling most people eating out can’t afford it but make it happen anyway.

“I was at this restaurant. The sign said 'Breakfast Anytime.' So I ordered French Toast in the Renaissance.” - Steven Wright

Putting the astronomical price aside, most food I eat in and around Toronto isn’t so spectacular that I think I couldn’t put in a similar output given the time and effort. I paid $7 the other day for a smoothie at vegetarian spot and it tasted awful (not surprisingly) but while I’m sure it was good for my health, I can’t help but think they are making a fortune off of people trying to look and feel good. How often do you go somewhere and the food absolutely blows you away and was reasonably priced? I feel like it is rare. Even getting half off at the restaurants I’ve worked at, I still don’t feel like I’m getting value. 

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You know a place where this bad food for a lot of money has gotten completely out of control? Wonderland. $9 for a hot. $10 for a hamburger. Are people millionaires? Millionaires are avoiding Wonderland because staying away from those places is one reason they have millions of dollars. I somehow managed to only buy a small treat for my nephew and ate a late lunch right after leaving the park the other day but a family of 4 could easily spend $150 on food for the day. The life hack for Wonderland is bringing a cooler, getting stamped on your way out, eating fruit and whatever it is other humans eat for lunch then going back into the melee for round two after everyone has eaten.

“Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.” - Henry Youngman

I’m sure you can think of exceptions of a delightful little Indian restaurant down the road with terrific service or your favourite Polish pirogi joint that gives you extra dipping sauce for free but as a general rule, going out for dinner solo, date wise or a large group of friends is a terrible idea; there I said it. What’s your suggestion then Mr. I Hate Restaurants? I have a few:

1-Picnics are underrated. Grab a picnic basket, blanket, a few beers or a bottle of wine, cheese, crackers and other snacks and you are off to the races. Sit near the water or in a park and rattle off the best questions you can think of to whoever it is lucky enough to experience this picnic experience with you.

2-BBQ at home, homemade pizzas, breakfast for dinner nights or whatever fun theme you can think of. Buy what’s on sale, plan your meals ahead, take part of the meal prep Sunday rage and join the thrifty is 2017.

3-Eat a bunch of samples at Costco and call it a night.

4-Move to Thailand where the food is cheap, legit and won’t disappoint you like that taco food truck people in the office think is good.

5-Potlucks. Everyone needs a go to potluck dish. Mine is 7 layered taco dip. 

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Add in reservations, tipping, potentially terrible service, parking, lunar eclipses and the odds are increasingly stacked against you. Am I wrong? Completely off base? Unlikely but tell me how I could be mistaken and your suggestions for eating in this country. SUMMER!

Exceptions: Being extremely hungover, occasional birthday/special occasion, convenience of meeting on a patio for a few drinks, needing to feed children quickly, all you can eat buffets. There's also a fancy grilled cheese spot in Shanghai called Cheese Co that owns my heart. Porchetta & Co in Toronto is also can't miss. Exceptions exist but as a general rule, value found elsewhere. 

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“I eat at this German-Chinese restaurant and the food is delicious. The only problem is that an hour later you’re hungry for power.”   
Dick Cavett