Food is an integral part of American society. We make memories at the dinner table. We fall in love over a cup of coffee. And we spend a lot of money doing it.
In 2015, Americans spent almost $55 billion at restaurants and bars. For the first time, that amount surpassed money spent on groceries ($52.5 billion), proving that we are eating out more than we're eating in our own dining rooms.
While this may partially be due to the lack of inflation on food (even Whole Foods took a price cut recently), dining out can be just as much about convenience for working Americans as it is a social pastime. Restaurant prices boast a 300 percent markup over the cost of their ingredients used to make the meals.
Considering 60 percent of Americans don't have enough in their savings to cover an unexpected expense of even $500, eating out can seem like a luxury.Using menu information posted to Foursquare, we found out which U.S. states gave us the best deals on dining out… and which ones might just break the bank.
The Average Cost of Dining Out
The average American enjoys dining out at least 4.5 times each week. Of course this varies from person to person based on their location and age. Depending on where you're dining out and how often, the tab can add up.
Dining out doesn't have to cost an entire paycheck, and it seems the Southern states know that. Americans from Texas, Florida, and Tennessee spend only 13 percent of their total budgets on food–equating to more than $6,000 a year.
In Cranston, Rhode Island, and Little Rock, Arkansas, the average menu price was just $8.76. They aren't the only places you can find some grub for less than $9, either. Rochester and Syracuse, New York, Tucson, Arizona, and Plano, Texas also earned top spots for the lowest average menu prices.
Loving food doesn't come cheap. Some of the most iconic foodie cities in America also happen to have the highest menu prices. If you get hungry while visiting Paradise, Nevada (close to Las Vegas), the average menu price might be double what you'd find in Little Rock or Rochester – $16.02. Other popular vacation spots like Miami Beach ($15.33) and Manhattan ($14.37) had menu prices nearly as high.
Saving Money on Your Food Favorites
If you're planning a trip, the cost of food at your destination would be good to know so you don't overspend. On the other hand, you might also want to know where your foodie favorites are the least (and most) expensive across the country.
Our interactive tool lets you search by your favorite food to see where it's the cheapest.
Big fan of Mexican food? Spoiler: The best deals are in Northern California. Looking for the cheapest pizza? It turns out it's not in New York. Don't be afraid to venture off and try something new!
Play with our interactive to learn more.
Regional Menu Prices
Mouse over to see where your state stands
So which states have the highest menu prices? It turns out it’s not the same states where Americans are earning the highest incomes.
In Hawaii, the average menu prices were higher than anywhere else in the country, at $13 an item. In Nevada, where the median salary is just over $33,000 a year, menu prices were almost as high at $12.82. In those states, eating out four times a week might cost you $52 – or $208 a month-per person. Just behind Nevada were New York ($12), Alaska ($11.99), and Washington State ($11.23), where regularly ordering out could cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars each year.
States where dining out doesn’t have to cost an arm (or a leg)? Our study of Foursquare menus found 11 states where the average menu price was less than $10 an item. Michigan won the top spot, with an average menu price of $8.82, followed by Wyoming ($8.98), Utah ($9.33), and Arkansas ($9.47).
Cheapest Food Cities, by State
Even the states with some of the most expensive menu items (one sushi restaurant in New York City costs $595 per person) have cities where the average menu price is more than affordable.
While some of our best restaurants focus on award-winning chefs or impressive menus, America hasn't forgotten that there is beauty – and deliciousness – in casual dining.Our research of Foursquare menus found the cheapest cities to eat out, from Alaska to Maine and everywhere in between.
In Alabama, the least expensive city for dining out was Birmingham. Known for everything from soul food to Italian, the average menu price in Birmingham was just $9.12. In Portland, Maine, where seafood is the name of the game, the average menu price was $9.94.
Wherever you live (or are planning to travel to), eating good local food doesn't have to be expensive.
The Best Value for American Classics
While everyone has their own opinion on what comfort food is the best, we can all agree that we associate it with family and friends, with memories of being young. Food stirs something within us. Even the smell of certain foods can cause a rush of emotion. Among the most popular comfort foods in America?
Tacos, pizza, and burgers.
These foods may have been influenced by other cultures but are now distinctly American. But where are these foods the cheapest and most expensive?
On the Pacific Coast, tacos and pizza are more expensive than anywhere else in the U.S. At $11.05 for tacos and $13.01 for pizza, on average, it might be worth checking out online reviews before sitting down to eat. The New England area came out on top for the most expensive burgers in America. And the East South Central region (including Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky) had the lowest average prices for all three menu items.
Monitoring Your Expenses
Whether you're dining out because you don't have time to cook or because you're craving dinner from your favorite restaurant, too many nights out can really add up. And if you're dining in with food delivery services, the cost can be even greater when you factor in delivery fees and minimum order prices.
No matter which way you slice the bread, just remember that dining out is supposed to be a fun experience and not a burden on your pocketbook. From understanding your credit score and credit card options to finding the right loans for your home, car, school, or that well-deserved vacation, CreditLoan can help you navigate your finances with ease.
We used the Foursquare Menu API to sort menu items and prices across the U.S. We categorized menus based on the name of the menu, section, and keywords found in the item descriptions. All specific beverage items, menus, and menu sections were excluded from our results to focus on food items. Some items that could ambiguously contain beverages in the price may still be included in our interactive map. To exclude extreme values in the case of non-labeled vintage wines and user entry error, we excluded all food items above $100.
Additionally, we excluded all menus and menu sections classified as sides or extras, as well as all items under $1. We only looked at cities with at least 50 food menus and 1,000 menu items. Further breakdowns of food types were limited to matches with at least five items matching that description in each location.
Fair Use Statement
Don't want to share a good (or cheap) meal alone? We welcome the sharing of this study on your website for any noncommercial use. We only ask that you ensure a link back to this page, so your readers can see our study in its entirety.