9 Surprising Reasons It's Cheaper to Go Out to Dinner Than Order Delivery

This is an excellent excuse to get out of the house...

busy restaurant view from the outside window
Updated June 6, 2024
Fact checked

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

It’s a Friday night, and you’ve had a long week. The fridge is empty, but the last thing you want to do is get dressed and go out to dinner. So you pick up your phone, open your go-to food delivery app, and decide on Chinese food. A few clicks later, your tab is somehow $60 for an order of General Tso’s and wonton soup.

“It would have been cheaper just to go to the restaurant!” you exclaim as you pull out your best cash back credit card.

And you might be right. Prices on delivery and take out have skyrocketed in recent years, so much that it might be cheaper to dine in an actual restaurant on occasion. Here are nine surprising reasons you might be better off getting dressed and heading out for dinner.

If you’re over 50, take advantage of massive discounts and financial resources

Over 50? Join AARP today — because if you’re not a member you could be missing out on huge perks. When you start your membership today, you can get discounts on things like travel, meal deliveries, eyeglasses, prescriptions that aren’t covered by insurance and more.

How to become a member today:

  • Go here, select your free gift, and click “Join Today”
  • Create your account (important!) by answering a few simple questions
  • Start enjoying your discounts and perks!

Important: Start your membership by creating an account here and filling in all of the information (Do not skip this step!) Doing so will allow you to take up 25% off your AARP membership, making it just $12 per year with auto-renewal.

Become an AARP member now

Delivery minimums drive up orders

SFIO CRACHO/Adobe delivery man giving food to woman

If you’re ordering just for yourself, then a sandwich and a side of fries might be all you want. Yet the $15 delivery minimum means you have to add to your order. Before you know it, a simple $12 meal balloons to $25 before fees and a tip. The delivery minimums are designed to make the stop worth it for drivers, but they work against people who would otherwise have a small order.

Delivery fees add up

Tricky Shark/Adobe delivery boy walking on street

When you order delivery, the restaurant sets a delivery fee. This is usually a few dollars and it’s charged through the platform that you used to order. Let’s say you order a $6 McDonald’s burger, but there’s a $4 delivery fee. All of a sudden, before you even get to tax and tip, you’ve increased your total by 66%. This makes a huge impact, especially on smaller orders.

Service fees sneak in

Odua Images/Adobe man delivering food to woman

On top of the delivery fee, there’s often a separate service fee. This isn’t a tip, and it’s not delivery. Instead, it’s to help cover operating costs. Typically, this is the fee that offsets the commission that the platform charges the restaurant. But it can add another several dollars to your total order.

Resolve $10,000 or more of your debt

Credit card debt is suffocating. It constantly weighs on your mind and controls every choice you make. You can end up emotionally and even physically drained from it. And even though you make regular payments, it feels like you can never make any progress because of the interest.

National Debt Relief could help you resolve your credit card debt with an affordable plan that works for you. Just tell them your situation, then find out your debt relief options.1

How to get National Debt Relief to help you resolve your debt: Sign up for a free debt assessment here. (Do not skip this step!) By signing up for a free assessment, National Debt Relief can assist you in settling your debt, but only if you schedule the assessment.

Try it

Automatic gratuity isn’t made clear

New Africa/Adobe Delivery man receiving tips from woman

Most people are happy to tip their delivery drivers. These people are making their lives easier, often on the busiest nights or the evenings when you just don’t want to go out in the bad weather. The delivery drivers deserve those tips — but sometimes it isn’t made clear that gratuity is already included so you end up double tipping. And that’s on top of both the delivery fee and service fee.

Delivery apps are no longer in startup mode

Daisy Daisy/Adobe Driver Delivering Online Takeaway Food Order

People became used to low or no delivery fees in the early days of apps like Uber Eats. But now that those platforms are out of startup mode and are shifting towards a more sustainable business model, it’s become clear that those cheap prices were part of a customer acquisition plan. And now the prices are climbing back up to where they should have been.

Delivery is seen as a luxury service

DAVID/Adobe man unpacking food packages at home

While most people like ordering delivery on occasion, it is a luxury service. Someone is coming to your door to hand-deliver your food. It might seem like it’s less glamorous than going out to dinner, but it’s actually a pretty sweet situation if you think about it. But that’s why it has extra fees that drive the price up.

Some third-party platforms have higher prices

Sundry Photography/Adobe Doordash logo outside office

You might be paying more for take out or delivery based on the third-party platform that you use. Prices aren’t always consistent from platform to platform, and you could end up paying more for your butter chicken, depending on which app you decide to open up that day. It’s always worth checking to see if prices vary.

Restaurants have to cover third-party platform commission

OceanProd/Adobe Ubereats sign on restaurant window

Restaurants run slim margins. While it might seem like they’re staying busy, it’s not a business that’s known for printing money. Add in a third-party ordering platform that’s taking a 20% or more commission on an order, and the restaurant is going to feel the pressure to cover that cost. That leads to you paying more when you order.

You’re paying for your time

vitaliymateha/Adobe takeaway food containers on table

Even if the cost of ordering delivery does add up to more than dining in, sometimes you have to consider the cost of leaving the house. Between gas, parking, and even just your time and energy to put on clothes, sometimes the few extra dollars you’ll pay for delivery are worth it. Delivery fees are all about paying for convenience, and that’s exactly what you’re getting when you don’t even have to put on shoes.

Earn cash back on everyday purchases with this rare account

Want to earn cash back on your everyday purchases without using a credit card? With the Discover®️ Cashback Debit Checking account (member FDIC), you can earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month!2

With no credit check to apply and no monthly fees to worry about, you can earn nearly passive income on purchases you’re making anyway — up to an extra $360 a year!

This rare checking account has other great perks too, like access to your paycheck up to 2 days early with Early Pay, no minimum deposit or monthly balance requirements, over 60K fee-free ATMs, and the ability to add cash to your account at Walmart stores nationwide.

Don’t leave money on the table — it only takes minutes to apply and it won’t impact your credit score.

Apply for a Discover Cashback Checking account today

Bottom line

bernardbodo/Adobe african american friends eating food together

To try to save a few more dollars on delivery, you can take advantage of the unlimited delivery programs that many of the delivery platforms offer. For $10 a month for each platform, you can get free delivery on all the DoorDash, GrubHub, or Uber Eats you want. Unfortunately, though, those service fees aren’t going anywhere.

Choice Home Warranty Benefits

  • First month free
  • Protection for unexpected expense
  • 24/7 claims hotline
  • Network of over 15,000 technicians

Author Details

Heather Bien

Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.