What’s better than some delicious restaurant appetizers to kick off a nice meal out? Money in your wallet, that’s what. But sadly, the starters section of the menu tempts many patrons. You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” But because we care about you and your bank account, we’re shedding some light on certain apps you definitely shouldn’t waste your money on.
As Jody Pennette, founder of CB5 Restaurant Group, explained to Forbes, there’s a reason restaurants have been able to successfully raise the price of appetizers over the past two decades. “This has gone under the radar because people form their perceptions of value by looking at the price of entrees,” Pennette says. “Restaurants keep mains as competitive as they can, knowing they have leeway in other parts of the menu.”
So remember, if you can whip it up at home with ingredients sitting in your pantry, it’s best to steer clear of these tasty temptations while dining out.
1. Macaroni and cheese
Because macaroni and cheese falls into the pasta category, we’ll use some numbers we found on AOL. A bowl of pasta — that particular article is talking about pasta as an entree — typically costs the restaurant as little as $1. Yes, one measly dollar.
But how much are the folks of this fine dining establishment charging you for this appetizer? They do know their customers are well aware of how cheap a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese is, right? Or, better yet, here are some recipes you can make yourself. Because when it comes to ordering macaroni and cheese as an appetizer, it’s just not worth it.
Next: This is always a crowd favorite.
Who doesn’t love a good basket of fries? They’re just about one of the most addicting finger foods of all time. Delicious, salty, and simply irresistible, an order of fries is typically a crowd-pleaser for the whole table. But be careful of these tantalizing potatoes, as they’re often served as a side with a full entree anyway, especially if you’re at a burger joint.
Next: These are really, really tough to turn down.
3. Mozzarella sticks
We get it, guys. Mozzarella sticks are basically the quintessential app that everyone in your party is sure to love. It’s always a hit, so what could go wrong? Well, in terms of your wallet, a lot. For example, let’s take a look at a huge chain made famous for its low-cost, greasy, fried American fare. At TGI Friday’s, an order of fried cheese will run you about $9. But did you know they sell the exact same brand they serve in the restaurant at the grocery store? That’s right; you can get an 11 ounce box of frozen sticks — plus marinara sauce — for just $3.99.
Next: One more fried contender for you
4. Onion rings
Yet another star of the fried favorites menu, onion rings are also not worth the money. A few slices of deep-fried onion served on a plate? There’s no way this appetizer comes close to being worth the price tag most restaurants charge.
Next: Let’s take a turn toward hipster town.
5. Deviled eggs
Basically, the antithesis of your casual dining fried fare is the stuck-up deviled egg. Although you might not consider this appetizer common fare, ask any hipster within a 10 mile radius of Austin, Denver, or Nashville, and they’ll tell you otherwise. But be careful when you’re at these uber-cool, small-plate, hole-in-the-wall-yet-totally-gourmet spots. The mark-up in price isn’t always worth it. According to Priceonomics, an egg comes in at around 20 cents.
Next: Is it ever possible to pass this one up?
It would almost be sacrilegious to go out for Mexican and not order chips and guac. It’s like going to an Italian joint and not eating garlic bread (more on that in a minute). But sadly, that’s what you should do. According to Forbes, restaurants pay 50 cents to $1 per avocado, yet some have the audacity to charge $14 for a bowl of tableside-prepared guacamole. Despite this information, though, we don’t expect you to actually stop ordering guacamole at Mexican restaurants — because who are we kidding?
Next: Yes, some restaurants actually charge for this.
7. Bread basket
Believe it or not, some restaurants are actually charging for bread these days. Given the state of the economy, though, we can’t say we’re all too surprised. We are, however, annoyed. Shouldn’t bread come free no matter what? Sadly, the answer is no.
If you’re dining at a place that charges by the basket, just do yourself a favor and skip it altogether. Seriously, it’s just bread. Not only could it ruin your appetite by the time your meal comes, but it’s certainly not worth the cost.
Next: You’re better off making this at home.
How do you know that tomato soup didn’t come straight from a Campbell’s can? Well, you could ask your server, but even if they tell you it’s made in-house, it doesn’t justify the ridiculous price tag. Soups are fairly easy and inexpensive to make. Some broth (super cheap) and some veggies will typically do the trick.
Plus, the amount of soup you can make at home will end up costing far less than what you paid at a restaurant where you’re only getting a single cup or bowl. However, if you make it at home, you’ll be eating it for days, maybe even weeks, depending on how big a pot you have.
Next: Skip this appetizer, and you’ll be much happier in the end.
A staple at most Japanese restaurants, edamame sure does seem like the perfect start to any Asian meal. But heed caution with this one because the customers aren’t the only ones who love it; the restaurants make a killing with each and every serving they sling.
According to The Huffington Post, edamame runs a restaurant about $2 a pound. “To prepare your appetizer, they take some out, steam them and add some simple salt to the dish,” the publication writes. “In the end, you may end up getting charged up to $8 for some beans.” So yeah, it’s probably not the best deal for the consumer.
Next: This next one is a no-brainer.
10. Bottled water
Of course, this doesn’t fall into the food category, but it’s still worth mentioning. Often, before you’re even offered a menu, the server will ask whether you’d like tap, bottled, or even sparkling water. And unless you live in a place where tap water is absolutely, 100% bad for you, it’s best to decline the fancy stuff. Naturally, it’s a great way to up-sell the customers; just make sure you’re not falling victim to the ploy.
Next: Calling all Italian food lovers
Small, shareable pizzas (Margherita-style comes to mind) are common on some starter menus. But don’t jump too fast. In reality, you’re simply being nickel and dimed by the restaurant before you’ve even had the chance to order your main course. According to AOL, a medium pizza costs around $2.60 to make. Now, does the menu pricing resemble anything even close to that number? Probably not.
Next: Basically the same, but kind of different
On the same note, let’s talk about the starter pizza’s more sophisticated sister: flatbread. Really, it’s nothing more than a flat piece of bread with some toppings and/or sauce drizzled on it, so why are you paying out the you-know-what for the stuff? Take the appetizer at California Pizza Kitchen, for example. An order of flatbread comes in at about $7.50. When you consider the fact the actual bread part of it all is probably no more than pizza scraps from the day, it’s no wonder this one made the list.
Next: If you’re eyeing this one, just order it as your main dish.
The reason nachos made the list has less to do with the actual ingredients and more to do with the quantity of food you actually get. Since we’re talking about appetizers here, nachos are probably not the best choice before your meal, as they’re often served as a huge portion. However, the dish is a great option as your main course.
“Appetizers are often bigger portions [than] people realize,” Anthony, a restaurant employee, told Business Insider. “More often than not, people ask me to pack their entree to-go if they order an app and something else small, like a salad. Skipping a main dish could easily save you $15 or more.”
So next time you’re staring at the nachos on the menu, just ask whether you can order them as your main course. That way, you won’t waste the main course when you’re too full to finish even half of it.
Next: These are tasty but still a waste of money.
14. Brussels sprouts
We get it, Brussels sprouts are delicious. Plus, they’re a healthy option when you’re comparing them to the likes of mozzarella sticks and onion rings. Although you might have your eyes set on them, don’t be too quick to jump on the Brussels bandwagon. They’re just not worth the price. Why pay $11.50 for an order of roasted Brussels sprouts at Ruth’s Chris Steak House when you can buy a 2 pound bag for under $4?
Next: Don’t waste your money on this rip-off; just make it yourself.
15. Chips and (just about any kind of) dip
Flatbread and spinach dip. Pita bread and hummus. Chips and salsa. You name it, it’s a rip-off. Even if you’re at a spot that specializes in this particular kind of cuisine, such as a Mexican or Indian restaurant, there will be a major upcharge. And it’s not one you need to waste your precious pennies on. Instead, just buy a tub of hummus or jar of salsa, and have an at-home tapas night of your own. It’ll be cheaper and likely have a way better ambiance. Plus, you can wear sweats, which is always a plus.