Listen, I get it. The decision to order takeout is rarely rooted in economics. It’s more about convenience, not having to do the dishes, familiarity, a sense of comfort or fulfilling a distinct craving. If you’re someone, however, who defaults to ordering takeout, and especially delivery, more often than you think you should — it’s me, hi — you might already be feeling the impact of all that food on your bank account. Making meals at home is typically a more financially sound option over dining out or getting delivery. This is not news. But it prompts some questions: What if you were to learn how to make your takeout favorites at home? Would being able to make yourself a spicy chicken sandwich or pad Thai actually encourage you to cook more?
We previously did the math to find out how much you’ll save buying groceries from Costco or Trader Joe’s (spoiler: it’s a lot). We did even more tabulations to see if meal kits were still more expensive than buying all the groceries yourself (spoiler: just barely).
For this exercise, I considered eight relatively easy-to-execute dishes that represent some of America’s favorite takeout dishes, then tallied the grocery and delivery receipts for the respective bottom lines, and more importantly, the difference between them. So now the big question is: How much can you actually save by making your takeout favorites at home?
The most popular takeout items
Googling “most popular takeout in the US” will yield any number of sites that claim to have calculated such stats, so I consulted several of them and then focused on those items or cuisines that appeared over and over again. “Chicken” mysteriously tops the list of the most popular takeout in America, without much context as to what form the chicken might take. I think it’s fair to assume that a lot of takeout chicken is fried, though, whether on a sandwich, as wings, whole chicken pieces or even fingers. If you can relate to the impulse of frequently ordering (probably fried) chicken, and especially if even reading that sentence made you reflexively pull up Seamless on your phone, I have one strong piece of money-saving advice for you already: Invest now in an air fryer. (Seriously, with small options as low as $50 you will save yourself beaucoup dollars in the long run.)
Other takeout favorites that I tackled here include pizza, burritos, burgers, fried rice, pad Thai and macaroni and cheese.
Takeout vs. making it at home
|Spicy chicken sandwich||Chicken tenders w/ fries||Deluxe cheeseburger combo||Pepperoni pizza||Chicken burrito||Chicken fried rice||Chicken pad Thai||Macaroni and cheese|
|Serving size||1 sandwich||1 order||1 order||1 large pizza||1 burrito||1 quart||1 order||2 cups|
|Savings versus takeout||$2.21||$8.39||$9.06||$5.59||$10.15||$4.18||$5.03||$7.56|
|Savings versus delivery||$8.54||$16.26||$19.16||$14.35||$20.30||$9.31||$12.98||$19.25|
Takeout vs. making it at home: How I calculated
Utilizing comparable recipes to takeout favorites that can be easily found online, I sourced grocery store prices via conventional stores in my area (Astoria, Queens) to tabulate the costs to purchase the items needed to make those recipes, going for the path of least resistance wherever possible (i.e. prepared pizza dough and pizza sauce instead of concocting them both from scratch).
I scaled the costs according to the amount that is actually needed of any given item for each recipe. If you’re starting with an empty refrigerator and pantry, you will have to spend more upfront, that’s true, but over time if you become savvy at fakeout takeout, you’ll be starting with many things you already have in stock at home. Whenever possible, since the theme is cost savings, I used generic brands over store brands.
Takeout/delivery prices for comparison were sourced via Seamless or Uber Eats. I defaulted to fast food or fast-casual chain menus to compare prices, which is outlined more specifically below under “dish by dish.” You can imagine even larger savings, then, if you’re typically ordering from local restaurants or bars that are not chains. Tax and tip were also factored into the bottom line, since that’s the reality of delivery, amiright? (I have been known to spend $20 on a slice of carrot cake once all the fees are accounted for just for the convenience of having it brought to me.)
Several notes about these metrics: In many cases, the delivery cost was inflated due to a number of factors, usually a delivery fee charged by the restaurant on top of the tip you’d add for the driver. This is why I also noted the cost of the item alone, should you actually be carrying it out from the store yourself, and not sitting on your couch waiting for it to be delivered to you. (It’s me again, hi.)
Also, since I was looking at the cost of just that one item, any delivery fee charged by the restaurant would usually be amortized over multiple items, presuming you’d ordered more than just one thing, and in some cases, the delivery fee is waived if you spend more than a certain amount of money. If the reality of your life, however, like mine, is that you’re far too willing to ignore those kinds of costs in order to fulfill a craving or make your life easier, and you’re just in it for that one spicy chicken sandwich, for example, then my numbers reflect the real-world cost of having just that one item delivered to satisfy your whim.
Dish by dish: Where are the biggest savings?
Spicy chicken sandwich
Working with “chicken” as a guide, I went with what may be becoming America’s favorite sandwich and compared the cost of a Popeye’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich with the home-cooked version. If you’re typically grabbing it at the drive-through, while the savings here are still close to 50% if you were to make it at home, that only amounts to about $2. While every little bit counts in today’s economy, I’m willing to concede that it might not be worth it. If you’re getting it delivered, however? That one little sandwich more than doubles in price. Even given the price of gas, I’d probably get in the car and go get it myself.
- Cost for takeout: $4.99
- Cost for delivery: $11.32
- Cost to make at home: $2.78
Chicken fingers with fries
Again I went with Popeye’s here, but you can assume even greater savings if you’re ordering a basket of chicken fingers and fries from your local sports bar. I opted here for frozen chicken tenders and frozen fries as the DIY version, partly because I believe in the almighty power of the air fryer, and also because I’m not insane. Who in the real world is cutting potatoes from scratch and deep-frying chicken at home in order to save a buck or two? You’re looking at about $8 in savings if you were to have picked up your meal rather than make it at home, or about $16 for delivery.
- Cost for takeout: $10.99
- Cost for delivery: $11.32
- Cost to make at home: $2.78
Deluxe cheeseburger combo
I based the figures here on McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese combo, which includes fries and a soft drink. Second only to throwing some frozen tenders and fries in the air fryer (or oven, if you’re not yet a convert), griddling a burger patty doesn’t really require much effort. And for your minimal effort, you can stand to save almost $20 if you resist the urge to have it delivered. Pro-tip: I freeze hamburger meat in 4-ounce portions in freezer bags, already smashed into a patty, which takes very little time to thaw. Also a bonus here? Your fries will probably still be hot and crispy having not sweated it out in the bag during the delivery ride.
- Cost for takeout: $13.69
- Cost for delivery: $23.79
- Cost to make at home: $4.63
In keeping with the path of least resistance, my figures here were based on a Papa John’s large pepperoni pizza, versus making one yourself with grocery store pizza dough, premade sauce, already-shredded mozzarella and pepperoni rounds. Every one of those elements, though, can be even less expensive if you’re committed to really going for it from scratch. (Look up a pizza dough recipe that utilizes beer for one of the best cooking hacks ever.) Even with the quick version though, you can save between $10 and $15 by fulfilling your pizza craving at home.
- Cost for takeout: $15.49
- Cost for delivery: $24.25
- Cost to make at home: $9.90
Chicken fried rice
There’s something to be said for the economics of ordering from your local Chinese restaurant, especially depending on how many meals you can make out of a quart of fried rice. (If the answer is one, no judgment.) Then again, there’s something to be said for how easy fried rice is to make, especially since you can customize it with whatever meat and veggies you have on hand. The only really necessary ingredients are rice, eggs, and soy sauce. The savings are more modest here, but still not insignificant, and you can keep about $10 in your pocket for 10 minutes of your time at the stove. (In addition to my love of air fryers, if you’ve got a good rice cooker thing going, this is also going to come in handy here.)
- Cost for takeout: $11.75
- Cost for delivery: $16.88
- Cost to make at home: $7.57
There are savings to be had here if you’re willing to make yourself a pollo burrito at home, yes, but I must concede that there are certain X factors that may make Chipotle burritos worth their weight, one of those factors being the sheer weight of fillings the staff seem committed to giving you. Also, I don’t even know if you can find a Chipotle-size tortilla in a conventional grocery store. (They are literally a foot wide.) The other X factor for me is the variety; you’ve got to get a lot of ingredients lined up to really approximate the Chipotle experience. That being said, a modest, doubtlessly better-for-you burrito made at home can save up to $20 over getting a Chipotle burrito delivered.
- Cost for takeout: $14.25
- Cost for delivery: $24.40
- Cost to make at home: $4.10
Chicken pad Thai
Admittedly, pad Thai is going to involve some more specialty ingredients than you might already have on hand, like flat rice noodles and fish sauce. Having cooked pad Thai in a culinary education setting, however, I appreciate how this recipe utilizes several pantry-staple workarounds that circumvent the need for even more specialty ingredients such as tamarind paste or palm sugar. It’s a little more involved than fried rice, but there are certain bragging or self-congratulating rights that come along with making pad Thai from scratch, in addition to the nearly $13 in savings.
- Cost for takeout: $11.50
- Cost for delivery: $19.45
- Cost to make at home: $6.47
Macaroni and cheese
Panera is one of the most oft-copycatted fast-casual chains when it comes to their recipes, and mac and cheese top the list. We’ve previously brought you ways to fancy up your boxed macaroni and cheese, but if you want a truly decadent experience, a copycat version of Panera’s will set you back just over $5 in groceries, amounting to a savings of between $8 and $20 over if you were to pick some up or have it delivered.
- Cost for takeout: $13.29
- Cost for delivery: $24.98
- Cost to make at home: $5.73
Bottom line: Takeout and delivery are freakin’ expensive
By my calculations, on average, cooking your takeout staples at home amounted to about a 50% savings over ordering those same items as carryout, and a shocking 75% savings if you’re routinely getting them delivered. (Delivery fees and driver tips are no joke, y’all.) Let’s say, conservatively, that you ordered each of those eight items once over the course of a month — that’s getting takeout or delivery about twice a week — the overall savings compared to carryout was just over $50, and the overall savings versus delivery was… wait for it… $120. In one month. Now parse that figure out over the course of 12 months if you are in fact someone prone to getting delivery more than once a week — that’s $1,440 in savings over the course of the year. Imagine what that might get you. (Certainly, an air fryer must be in order, yes?)