8 Reasons You Overspend on Takeout Food

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Smiling woman receiving bagged takeout food from delivery man on a bicycle
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Takeout food kept a lot of people fed (and a lot of restaurants open) during the COVID-19 pandemic. And we’re still mighty fond of having other people cook for us and not having to leave the house.

A 2023 study from foodservice company US Foods found that 57% of Americans opt for takeout versus a sit-down experience. Respondents enjoyed both the convenience and the ability to wear comfy clothes and watch TV while they eat.

Cynics might suggest another reason: Eating in a restaurant often means a tip of 20% or more, whereas some people don’t tip for takeout. Yet that to-go meal can get mighty expensive either way if you use a delivery service like Grubhub or DoorDash, due to delivery fees and extra charges adding to the total bill.

If you’re going the takeout route, keep costs down by avoiding these mistakes.

1. You overlook cash back

Young man in glasses using a laptop
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What you should be doing: Did you know you could earn rebates on more than just goods you buy? You could be earning it on takeout orders, too.

Certain delivery services, such as Instacart and Grubhub, can be accessed through cash-back shopping sites or apps like Rakuten. It won’t be a huge amount; typically, you’ll get 4% as a new user and 1% for subsequent orders. The sites sometimes have promo codes that will further bring down the cost of your supper.

Sometimes you’ll find a much better deal; for example, Ibotta recently showed 40% back for new Uber Eats customers and 30% back for new Postmates customers.

But even if all you get is 1% back, every little bit helps. That US Foods survey noted that the average respondent spends $166 a month on takeout. Over a year’s time, your cash-back would amount to nearly $20.

2. You ignore the markup

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What you should be doing: When you can, compare delivery costs against menu prices. (If the restaurant publishes its menu on its own website, even better.)

A writer for CNET looked at the price of seven popular items at midrange restaurants, and compared takeout and delivery costs. The average meal cost was $12.90. After app service charges, delivery fees and a tip, the average cost was $21.80, which is 69% more.

Could be worse: An analysis from The New York Times found markups as high as 91%. That’s a lot more than anyone should pay for a medium pepperoni pizza.

As The Times explains:

“When you order through a delivery app, you pay multiple parties, including the driver and the companies that offer the apps, like Uber Eats and Postmates. In some cases, you pay the restaurants extra fees as well.

Some restaurants hike the prices of food ordered for delivery. And most of the popular apps charge a delivery fee and cram tax and extra service costs into a single line on the bill, making it difficult to notice the inflated costs.”

Before you order, do the math and decide if it’s worth it.

3. You have it delivered

Upset woman with paper bag
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What you should be doing: Pick it up yourself. That’s why we call it “takeout.” It’s not as convenient, of course, but it’s definitely cheaper than paying someone to drop it at your door.

As noted earlier, some people don’t feel they should have to pay a tip to pick up a bag of food. However, the U.S. tipping culture continues to evolve; the Emily Post Institute says that you should kick in 10% for an extra service such as curb delivery or “a large, complicated order.”

Do you really expect a restaurant employee to run outside in lousy weather for free? Or a waiter to take 15 minutes away from their sit-down customers (thus potentially hurting their tips) to wrap and bag your book club’s enormous food order?

Besides, companies are having trouble keeping employees in these days of the Great Resignation. As the “Mister Manners” columnist for Today.com pointed out, fairly compensated workers are more likely to stick around. In other words, tipping for takeout is one way to help your favorite eatery stay open.

4. You double tip

Man who made a mistake
pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

What you should be doing: Check your itemized cart before you place the order.

Some delivery services automatically add a recommended tip to the order. Unfortunately, you may just as automatically hand the Uber Eats driver some cash.

Happy driver! But your wallet might feel a little glum. Before you order from a service, research their tipping rules.

5. You order ‘just one more time’

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What you should be doing: If you use delivery services more than a couple of times a month, you could save by subscribing.

Depending on the service, you might score $0 delivery fees plus a reduction in service fees to as little as 5% (rather than as much as 15%).

A website called Ridesharing Driver notes that if you use a delivery service only once a month, a subscription might not pay for itself. Again, do the math before you push the button.

Note: Sometimes you can get starter subscriptions for free through your TV service, credit card or even another subscription (for example, Amazon Prime members can get a free year of Grubhub+). Look around for such deals before you sign up.

6. You throw out the receipt

Throwing money away
Atsushi Hirao / Shutterstock.com

What you should be doing: Always check the receipt! And not only to verify you paid what you thought you did.

Some restaurants print the link to a “How’d we do?” survey on their receipts. Answering the survey will get you some kind of reward, such as a percentage-off or BOGO coupon for your next order. There might also be a promotion inside or stapled to the food bag.

7. You pay with a debit card

Person shopping online
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What you should be doing: Pay with a rewards credit card.

Earn a rebate on stuff you were going to buy anyway? Sounds good to us.

Bonus points, so to speak, if you choose a rewards credit that offers the best rates for cash-back on restaurants or food in general. (Pro tip: Supermarkets are constantly upping their “takeout foods” game.) You could earn as much as 5% back every time you order Pad Thai.

If you need help finding the best rewards cards, visit the Money Talks News Solutions Center.

8. Your orders are small

woman holding taco
Marcos Castillo / Shutterstock.com

What you should be doing: Order larger portions on stuff that works as leftovers.

Why order a small or medium pizza when you can get a large? Extra slices can be frozen for future fast meals, and as any college student can tell you, leftover pizza makes a surprisingly good breakfast now and then.

If your favorite local restaurant sells huge pasta entrees, buy one and immediately put half of it into the freezer. It can be the basis of a brown bag lunch later on, which also saves you money. Bonus: You don’t feel overstuffed from eating the entire giant slab of lasagna.

No matter what kind of food you’re ordering, you’ll be paying one delivery fee for more than one meal.

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