On a recent warm Miami summer evening, my wife Lily and I ducked into a neighborhood burger joint as part of one of those date nights they say all couples should have. Now with a baby on the way, we’ve been watching our spending more closely than usual, since we know we’re definitely going to have more expenses soon.
So as part of this increasing frugality, I’ve basically stopped ordering drinks at restaurants, unless we’re with friends. With that in mind, and as I looked over the delicious-looking burger menu, I glanced at the beer prices and had a sudden realization: beer is quite possibly the biggest waste of money at restaurants. Here’s why.
Beer Prices are Obscenely Jacked Up
Do you ever see beers for $2-3 at restaurants anymore? Kind of hard to find, right? (At least in big cities). Here’s part of what looks to me like the typical beer prices at a nice place in a pretty part of town:
The ones with the red star are 12 ounces. Let’s compare the price of a high alcohol beer like the Coppertail Unholy Trippel with what it costs retail.
You can buy a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles at Total Wine for $10.99:
Per bottle, one bottle costs about $1.84 at Total Wine. At the restaurant, you’re paying $9 (over four times as much for the same high-alcohol beer).
But I’m not done. Bear in mind that, at the restaurant, you’ll have to tip your server. So, it’s $9 plus 15 or 20%. Even taking the 15% number, the total cost of this beer comes out to $10.35!!! At those beer prices, you could almost buy an entire six-pack for what you pay for a single bottle at the restaurant!
Not Just in Miami
To make sure this is not just a Magic City phenomenon, let’s do a second comparison. I found a Total Wine and a restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut. Here are some beer prices for the restaurant:
Zeroing in on the Sam Adams ’76, the cost per ounce is ~44 cents. Plus 15% tip, it’s almost 51 cents.
How much does Sam Adams ’76 cost at the local Total Wine?
It’s about $1.42 per can, which comes out to about 12 cents per ounce. So, at the restaurant, you’re paying over four times as much. Wow.
Why I Find These Beer Prices Absurd
Listen, I know a restaurant has lots of expenses. But unless they’re brewing their own beer, I find it really hard to pay four times as much for a product identical to what I can buy at the store. After all, mixed drinks are also very expensive at restaurants and bars, but at least there, the bartender’s skill is a factor. Sure, I can make a vodka tonic at home, but it entails more effort on my part than just buying and opening a beer. I have to buy two or three different ingredients, clean up more stuff afterwards, etc.
For more involved drinks, this logic has even greater force. It’s very hard for me to make a complicated, froufrou margarita at home. So, at least with that, I feel like I’m paying for a product that was made by someone who had to learn and practice a skill. With a beer, they’re just bringing it to my table.
Summing It Up
I’m not saying I’ll never order a beer again at a restaurant. I’m just saying I’ll be far more suspicious of the prices, and try to save my drink splurges for cocktails I can’t easily make at home.
Tom @ Dividends Diversify says
I must have missed it somewhere. I didn’t know you and Lily were expecting a new addition. Congrats!
I really agree with your article. Alcohol will run up a restaurant bill dramatically. I’m the only drinker in the DD house, so when we eat out locally, I do my drinking at home before we leave. Then Mrs. DD drives.
I can have a Tito’s on the rocks and a couple premium beers at home for $3-4. That can easily be $30 at a restaurant with tip and tax. And I’ve found the buzz I get is exactly the same. 🙂
The Rich Miser says
Thanks, she’s our first! I still order drinks at restaurants, though I’ve dramatically cut down on it from back in the day (when I could order 3 drinks or so). Now, I usually order none, and occasionally one. They really run up the bill. I like your pre-drinking idea 🙂
Dan K says
Buying alcohol at a restaurant is outrageous. It’s been known to happen where our alcohol bill is half the check. Now, when we go out to eat it is at a place that has a special on buckets of beer (5 for $6). Can’t be that. It’s better to drink with friends at home. Got to save that money!
The Rich Miser says
Indeed, I’ve had that experience too, though now I usually know better 🙂 Yup, 5 for $6 is a good deal! Like you, we now tend to drink with friends at home.