Thinking Out Loud

September 28, 2014

“We Don’t Go To Restaurants”

Eating Out

Depending on your social/church circle, it’s possible you’ve heard the phrase, “We don’t go to restaurants;” or even use it yourselves. Usually there are one of three underlying convictions at work behind the statement:

  • a sort of righteousness associated staying away from those places; which presupposes that every Waffle House is a seedy sports bar
  • a financial decision based on good money management, and rigid budget, or a distinct savings goal like a new car or new house
  • a stewardship decision which is spiritual at its root, but is coupled with a personal assessment of what constitutes a poor use of funds

There’s no denying it, there’s little in a restaurant you can’t make at home much cheaper, and there are some categories where the restaurant makes huge profits, such as appetizers, side orders, and drinks both soft and hard. Of course, there are also things that you can’t make at home at all, and the wisdom of ordering something that’s too labor intensive, involves esoteric ingredients, or involves the use of techniques or cooking appliances you don’t own is often your best use of the time and money spent eating out.

Stewardship and wise financial management are both good goals, but in the first category, sometimes people over-spiritualize their passing on both fast food and slow food and do so in a way that leaves other feeling somewhat judged. The usually not verbalized response would be, “What, you go to Applebee’s? And you call yourselves Christians?”

It’s an almost Puritanical approach that usually also involves not going to movies or sporting events, ether; but can run to things like not purchasing a book or CD or treating yourself to a wall-hanging for the front hall.  In the extreme, it leaves no room for hobbies, recreation, or just plain fun; it denies the possibility of fun or even smiling, let alone laughing.

Let me be really clear, the financial reasons for staying away from fast food at lunchtime are valid, and the consequential behaviors resulting from stewardship are not to be condemned. You do better at the grocery store, and you do best shopping the outside aisles of the grocery store. However even there, I think people deserve a treat every now and then, and treat can be defined differently; like the couple we met at the burger joint who were there to celebrate their first anniversary.

So where does your household land the plane on this one?

Image: The Atlantic (click to link)




  1. Of course Sunday Swiss Chalet after church is the exception

    Comment by Ralph — September 28, 2014 @ 8:23 am

    • I have to explain this one, as only a very small percentage of my readers are Canadian. Swiss Chalet is a sit-down restaurant that serves barbecued chicken along with a dipping sauce that is addictive. It’s a bit of an institution in Canada, with a handful of American locations.

      For my U.S. readers, substitute “Cracker Barrel.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 28, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

  2. Going out to eat is a treat for the cook of the house (which in our case is me). I consider the extra expense as paying someone else to do the shopping, prep, set the table, serve, and clean up. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be the home maker and enjoy making nutritious and interesting meals for my husband and sons. But I also love to hear those words “Let’s eat out tonight”. We limit it to once a week, and usually share the event with friends so that it is an occasion rather than a simple default. And as a PS, Paul, is the graph % represent income level? How many people are being fed per bar? Thank you and God bless you!

    Comment by yokedwithhim — September 28, 2014 @ 9:47 am

    • Yes, the graph is the average annual food spending for the highest, lowest and middle “quintile” (20% bracket group) so to get weekly numbers you would divide by 52. The family size isn’t directly relevant, but I suspect that in the highest group there is some food being thrown out. (Have you ever noticed that on television, families don’t finish their meals? They just get up and walk away and the food-half-eaten plates are then cleared.)

      If you click the graph it takes you to the article, where the paragraph about this graph notes:

      Deep inside the numbers, you see some pretty spectacular differences between rich and poor families’ eating habits. The richest quintile spends about 4X as much as the poorest in general– but it spends 6X on alcohol, 5X on dining out, and 3X on food. The most important difference between rich families and poor families when it comes to food spending isn’t really what they eat, but where they spend their food money. Poorer families eat much more at home. Richer families spend more money (but a similar share of their income) dining out.

      I am completely on board with your idea of making your restaurant experiences social. There’s a Chinese Food place where we live that does a $6.50 all you can eat lunch (plus buy-9-get-1-free-meal) and at those prices we can actually treat other people. We’ve done this a few times, and I know that some of these people make twice as money (or more) than I do, but it’s a gesture that gets the event happening and we’ve never regretted doing this.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 28, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

  3. When I was growing up we traditionally went out to restaurants for Sunday lunchtimes after church, and then Sunday evening we would just have light sandwiches. This allowed my mom to have a ‘day off’ from preparing the family meal, as well as doing dishes, and I have always felt this was a very good way to represent sabbath values for a homemaker parent. In England, where my wife is from, the Sunday tradition is ‘roast dinner’ (ie. roast chicken or beef or ham for lunch with all the trimmings, not unlike a scaled-down version of thanksgiving dinner). This, to me, has represented the opposite values — the mother (usually) of the family is expected to prepare the most elaborate meal of the week, creating a mound of dirty dishes that have to be cleaned in the process. Sure, the meal is wonderfully delicious and it can be a focal point of the day, but it comes at the expense of significant labour, and at its worst it can reinforce the idea that a person’s value is in what they do, not in who they are.

    Comment by Mike — September 29, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

    • Thanks for your comment; you raise some excellent issues. My earliest memories involved this type of lunch preparation, and I remember the great relief it was when ovens added timers; since the person preparing the meal was also expected to be in attendance at both Sunday School at 9:30 and the main service at 11:00 AM. It’s a miracle that mothers everywhere were able to pull this off, but in hindsight it must have been both stressful and exhaustive.

      Of course, I can almost hear some detractor saying, ‘Yes, but back then women were homemakers and had all week to prepare.’ Perhaps Sunday meals like you describe were the impetus for women to seek employment outside the home!!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 29, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

  4. […] On my own blog this week, getting inside the culture of restaurant-abstinence. […]

    Pingback by Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud — October 1, 2014 @ 5:04 am

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