My family and I just got back from eating out at a restaurant that used to be out of our price range. We’d go in, sit down, take one look at the menu, and realize that we were going to blow our dining out budget big time. Nevertheless, we’d remain in our booth, ordering not only our main entrees, but also an appetizer and a dessert – our two favorite courses. When we’d leave, we’d walk out with multiple to-go boxes, which would remain in our refrigerator – largely uneaten – until trash day the following week.

Spotting The Problem

At first, I didn’t care about our blown budget. I’d look at the leftovers (going bad) in my refrigerator and think, “That budget-busting dinner was definitely worth it; we basically got two dinners for the price of one!” But that line of thinking only got me so far, especially when we’d pitch those leftovers without eating them. What good was paying for “two dinners” if we were going to let one rot in the fridge? It’s like going to the grocery store, spending a fortune on fresh produce or meat, only to let it spoil. It’s a waste of money. On top of that, we could have gone to the grocery store and prepared those same leftovers as fresh meals for far less than we were spending at the restaurant.

But It’s Sooooo Good!

The problem was, my husband and I particularly enjoyed eating out at this restaurant. There were many reasons for that:

  • Large portions – Whether or not we were eating those leftovers, we still felt like we got a lot of food for our money
  • Creative entrees – Do you ever get bored of eating the same old burger or pasta dish at the restaurants in your area? Me too. That’s why, when I find a place with unique dining options, I tend to go out of my way to go back as often as possible
  • Family-friendly atmosphere – It’s a rare restaurant that gives me creative menu options, large portions, and an atmosphere that is not only kid-tolerant, but kid-friendly – a must if you’re eating out with a toddler and a preschooler


In previous visits to the restaurant, we’d start by ordering our favorite appetizer, an entree for every member of our family – including kids’ meals for our two children – and a dessert. By the end of the meal, we’d have spent more than $50 with drinks, tax, and tip factored in. We left full (sometimes too full), and also feeling guilty.

The changes to our dining habits started on a whim, and it wasn’t mine – it was my husband’s, who’d obviously grown tired of hearing me whine about the price of the dishes. At first, his suggestion – to buy one of the priciest and largest items on the menu – infuriated me; I was already frustrated at my budget-busting ways, and here he was exacerbating the problem! Then he clarified his idea: that we purchase this large entree and split it.

We did some mental math, trying to figure out if that one dish had enough to feed our entire family. Ultimately, we decided it could, as long as we ordered an extra side of broccoli to appease our veggie-loving son. We still ordered an appetizer – old habits die hard – and pledged to eat all the food on our dinner plate (well, as much as we could). After the main course, we found ourselves full enough that we didn’t end up buying an overpriced $8 piece of chocolate melting cake. Here’s the receipt:

  • Appetizer: $6.99
  • Main course: $14.99
  • Extra side of broccoli: $2.00
  • Plate sharing fee: $1.00

Because we ordered water to drink – which isn’t out of the ordinary for my family, since we don’t drink soda or juice – our subtotal came to just $24.98. After tax and tip, we walked out of the restaurant $31 poorer. Still above our $25 weekly goal, but well below the $50-some we were used to dropping at the same establishment.

The Take-Home Lesson

I learned several lessons from this scenario:

  1. Leftovers don’t necessarily make up for overdoing it on the menu selections, especially if you don’t eat them.
  2. Large portions can work in your favor; instead of taking those leftovers home, simply share them with another member of your party.
  3. Plate sharing is a viable option at restaurants, specifically those with large portions. Some restaurants will charge you a small fee for plate sharing, but many won’t bother – especially if you’re sharing your meal with small children.
  4. Supplementing your main course with side dishes – which tend to be some of the most moderately priced options on the menu – can help flesh out your dinner.

Reader, do you ever share large portions at restaurants with others in your party? Which restaurants do you find are the best for doing that?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke