There’s nothing like low-cost pasta to bulk up a restaurant’s profits — and a little goes a long way, because pasta expands as it cooks. One pound of dry spaghetti will yield almost 3 pounds of cooked pasta. That’s right — you’re paying for water!
Meatballs are also inexpensive to prepare: Ground meat, which is considerably cheaper than whole cuts, is padded with breadcrumbs and minced vegetables and simmered in plain old tomato sauce. “When I was the manager of a restaurant, I wanted the customers to order spaghetti and meatballs because it cost me 90 cents a plate to make and we sold it for $6.75 with salad and bread,” says restaurant consultant Linda Lipsky. “I didn’t really want them to order the steak!”
The rule “don’t order what you can make at home” definitely applies here. And you should be especially wary of eateries that make your guacamole tableside and serve it up in fancy traditional molcajete stone bowls.
All that “authenticity” and traditional preparation comes at a cost, a trick that restaurants use to “add value” — a few extra dollars — to the price of an otherwise relatively basic dish. Restaurants pay about 50 cents to $1 for a single avocado but will charge a party of diners up to $14 for a bowl of tableside-prepared guacamole with tortilla chips, salsa and other additional but inexpensive flourishes.
Chances are, the shrimp in your Caesar salad traveled halfway across the world and aren’t of great quality. In fact, they probably cost the same as, if not less than, the mass-produced chicken that is the other, less expensive option for this salad. But because we think of shrimp as being a higher-value protein, we’ll pay more for it. As for the romaine lettuce, the croutons made from yesterday’s leftover bread and the cheesy vinaigrette, they cost the kitchen mere cents.