How many times did you eat out or order takeout for lunch last week? Two, three, or more? Chances are good you can recall how much you spent on lunch in the past week, but how about the past year? We looked at how much Americans spend on lunch and compared the cost and health benefits of different options.
Whether you make lunch at home, get takeout, or eat at a restaurant, lunch money is an integral part of your budget.
Average Lunch Spending
A Visa survey shows that Americans spend $2,746 on lunch annually. That works out to an average of $53 a week, but of course, some in the survey are spending much, much more than that.
Those who ate out frequently for lunch were spending $9,000 a year or more just for a midday meal. Luckily, the data demonstrates that making minor changes to your lunching habits is a way to save money over the year. This could be great news for people hoping to trim their spending but unsure where to begin.
Sit Down Meals vs. Fast Food
According to data collected by Numbeo, the average meal at a major fast-food brand costs approximately $8.00 per person, while the average for an inexpensive sit-down meal is around $15 (excluding tip or alcoholic beverages.) If you are lunching at higher-end restaurants, you could expect to pay $40 to $100 per person before tip.
To make a profit, restaurants charge about a 300% markup on the items they serve. You’re paying for service and convenience. In many cases, you could make a $15 meal in a restaurant for $4 to $5 at home.
Making Lunch At Home
By contrast, the average meal prepared at home costs around $4 for groceries – a $4 to $11 savings per person per meal. Put another way, a $15 restaurant meal is about 325% more expensive than a $4 meal you prepare yourself.
Working From Home
Over the past year, the number of people working from home has skyrocketed. However, working from home isn’t enough to curb lunchtime spending. Many turn to take out as a more accessible alternative to a homemade lunch.
Although we don’t have current data on the average cost of a takeout meal, you can expect it to cost around the same amount as the restaurant, plus delivery fees and tips. Additionally, many people get regular take-out meals to support local businesses and tip extra as a goodwill gesture to restaurant workers.
A Bankrate survey shows that 62% are tipping more than usual among those who choose takeout, and 21% are tipping much more than usual.
How Much Could You Save If You Packed Your Lunch for a Year?
Let’s say you stopped eating out at lunchtime for an entire year! In 2021 there are 261 working days. Assuming you take eight paid holidays and ten paid vacation days a year (the average amount for American workers), you would need 243 lunches.
Eating at home instead of fast food could save you $972. If you skipped inexpensive, sit-down restaurant meals for a year, you’d save up to $2,673!
Who Spends the Most on Midday Meals?
The Visa survey showed that men outspend women by 60% because they tend to eat pricier lunches. They are also more likely to dine out.
- Men eat out 2.1 times/week and spend $24.93
- Women eat out 1.5 times/week and spend $15.56
Do Healthier Lunches Cost More?
Not necessarily. Healthy food may cost more than processed food at the grocery store, but buying healthy food and cooking it at home is still cheaper than an equivalent meal at a restaurant.
Studies show that people who prepare meals at home consume fewer calories than those who eat out regularly. They also tend to eat a wider variety of fresh foods and fewer processed fats and sugar. These alone are not reliable indicators of health, but they are a part of the equation.
Lunchtime is one of the few times during the workday when you can take a break, decompress and unplug from work. While many choose or are required to work through lunch, getting away from your desk for a meal can be a great way to get much-needed downtime.
Taking lunch out of the office usually means dining out, but due to COVID-19, many are working from home, and dining out simply isn’t an option. To make matters worse, a surprisingly large percentage of people aren’t taking lunch breaks at all.
In 2020, A survey of 2,000 Americans who work from home discovered that 29% take no meal breaks during the workday! Six in ten also reported feeling guilty for taking ANY kind of break.
Making Lunch a Priority
Although it’s easy for lunch to take a backseat during the workday, experts agree it’s too important to skip altogether. Skipping lunch can lead to poor concentration and increased stress. The impact of frequently skipping lunch probably isn’t worth the money you save.
Ultimately, taking a midday break to have a meal and take your mind off of work should be a priority no matter what you eat. Whether that meal consists of a homemade lunch, leftovers, fast-food on-the-go, or a restaurant meal will be up to your budget and needs that day.