Enjoy Food

How to Order Takeout + Delivery Smarter

Aly Walansky  |  April 4, 2022

It’s convenient. It’s delicious. But every time we eat it, it’s eating into our budget. Here’s how to save.

We all have those weeks that either haven’t bought groceries or just don’t feel like cooking, and we find ourselves eating out or ordering takeout every night. After all, why go through all the trouble of cooking and cleaning when we can simply have our favorite foods delivered to our door? Whether we love sushi, pizza, or Vindaloo, it can be at our door within minutes. 

And yes, time is money, we’re busy, and convenience is sometimes a must — but when we indulge too often, we risk busting our budgets with all that deliciousness. According to data from sales platform Toast’s first-ever Restaurant Trends Report, takeout and delivery sales increased 59% from Q4 2019 to Q4 2021, and they remain elevated today. The problem is, we’re paying quite a shocking premium for this convenience. Using delivery apps often involves a host of added delivery fees and service charges, and the same dish that may cost $12 at a restaurant could cost double just to have it delivered a few blocks. To add insult to injury, that food is often cold or soggy when it gets to us, so we’re paying double to have it be half as appetizing. That doesn’t sound remotely like a good deal, or a good idea.

Here’s our rundown on how to order takeout + delivery smarter, and enjoy it when we want, without letting it put our finances at risk. 

Change your mindset

Getting a handle on our takeout and delivery habit first involves setting forth a clear budget. We don’t have to cut out takeout altogether, but we could think about making it a special treat after a long week. “A budget is not an object of torture, but your plan to help you get what you really want,” says personal finance expert Neale Godfrey

Food delivery has grown 300% since 2014, and the pandemic only fueled the growth, says Godfrey, “By Friday, many people ‘have had it’ and just want to curl up with a meal that is delivered. But, is it worth it to spend up to 90% more on that meal?” says Godfrey.

You can fight this urge by just committing to making delivery a special treat, rather than the default when you just don’t feel like cooking. 

Be mindful of what you are really spending

Delivery apps are expensive. The restaurant may charge more than they would if you were picking up the order yourself, many delivery apps and services add their own fees, and you’ll likely notice random “service fees” or “convenience fees” popping into your order, with no clear answer as to where they came from. In fact, there might even be additional fees if the order is small, or for the driver. (Yes, you should always tip your driver, but sometimes a driver fee is also added on top of your tip.) 

Ultimately you have to decide if delivery is truly worth the price you are paying, and if that price truly fits into your budget.  When figuring in your weekly or monthly expenses, how much do you decide you can afford for the cost of convenience? Make sure that delivery and takeout meals are listed alongside your restaurant meals as a “want,” not a “need.” (Don’t let the fact that you’re eating the meal inside your home make you make you forget that you paid just as much for it as you would a restaurant meal!) 

It’s also helpful to order takeout smarter when you do. For example, avoid third-party apps when possible. (Uber Eats notoriously charges a lot more for delivery than you might pay if you simply called the restaurant directly.) But if you are going to use an app, do your research. ChowNow, for example, focuses on fair and transparent relationships with their restaurants and diners through their commission-free marketplace. Here’s a look at some of our other favorite money-saving tips. 

Look for deals

Check with your credit card company to see if the card you use offers any food delivery partnership perks. “Some credit cards partner with different food delivery companies to offer passes for things like free or discounted delivery,” said Credit Karma’s financial advocate and Chief People Officer, Colleen McCreary. Delivery fees can add up after a few orders and if this is included in your list of credit card perks, take advantage of it. 

Go through the restaurant directly

Before you order from an app, call the restaurant directly and see if they deliver. “Many will gladly take you up on this because they won’t get a cut taken out of the order total, and you can avoid any of the delivery app’s fees,” said McCreary. (Also, if the restaurant is just a few blocks away, consider picking it up yourself… I mean, who doesn’t love a stupid walk for their stupid mental health?) 

Always search for a promo code

“Before you press “order,” do a quick Google search for the restaurant, or double check the app to make sure you haven’t missed any promotions that save you a certain percentage of your total bill,” said McCreary. There are sometimes even random dates or holidays —  think, “National Guacamole Day” — where you can get a few dollars off an order. In any case, it’s time to readjust your thinking about online coupons: Googling for promo codes is not just something you should do when shopping for clothes or home goods, for example. Your Thai iced tea might also be available at a bit of a discount. And we call that a win, too. 

Compare apps before you order

You may be surprised to find that prices for the exact same dishes can vary depending on the app you’re using. “Many restaurants partner with multiple delivery apps, so if a meal seems expensive, compare the prices on a couple other apps to make sure you’re getting the best deal,” said McCreary.

There’s nothing wrong with ordering a pizza every now and then, or a giant hero on game night — just try to make this a rare treat and not a habit. Your wallet (and your body) will thank you.

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