Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Chik-Fil-A $29 Family Meals?

Is this a good deal for $29 plus tax?  I don't think so.

Convenience foods are a big deal today.   People claim they are "too busy" to cook or even shop, so they stop at a chain restaurant and buy bags of food for "takeaway" and the go home and much it all down.   Yes, it is convenient, no it isn't very cost-effective.

$30 a meal, with tax, for a family of four is more than double the price of making a meal yourself, or even buying a semi-prepared meal.   Chik-Fil-A is jumping into the "takeaway" market to tap into the lucrative dinner trade.   We see the cars lined up around Chik-Fil-A at lunchtime.  But at dinner time, less so.  People are less likely to have "fast food" for dinner than they are at lunch, so many fast-food restaurants are trying to move up-market to the "fast casual" or "family dining" space.   You can understand why Chik-Fil-A is making this move - or at least this experiment.  There is money to be made here.

As I noted in my meal kit mathematics posting, you can make at home, a meal that Blue Apron sells for $10 a serving, for under $5.  So for a family of four, you are talking $20 or less, about 2/3 what Chik-Fil-A wants for dinner.

And if you think saving $10 a day is chicken-feed, add that up over time - it comes out to hundreds of thousands of dollars, if invested ($368,916.60 to be precise, if invested for 30 years at 7%).   If you are underfunding your retirement and buying convenience foods, well, you have no one to blame but yourself, right?  Oh, right, you want your meal-to-go today and the government (meaning me, as a taxpayer) to bail you out later on.  Sorry, no sale.

Not only that, the prices I quoted are for the fancy Blue Apron meal, which you can probably beat in preparing an equivalent Chik-Fil-A meal - with about as much convenience.   You can buy a whole roasted chicken for $4.99 at Wal-Mart, that you can take home and serve.   Mac and Cheese?  This is one of the most inexpensive foods in the United States - and easiest to prepare, if you can boil water.  Heating a can of beans?  How hard is that?  A package of dinner rolls?   A buck at most.

It is funny, though, when you say "$29 dinner" it sounds like a lot of money - at least to me.   But if you look at the "ticket" on most people going through the Chik-Fil-A drive through, odds are they are spending close to $10 each for lunch, if not more.

Let's do the math on this, using the Internet for price comparison:

Chik-Fil-A "family meal"
One entree (chose ONE):
12 chicken strips
four chicken breasts
30 chicken nuggets
 Two sides (choose TWO):
bacon baked beans
mac and cheese
a fruit cup
a side salad
kale and broccolini
 Eight mini rolls.
Total cost:  $29 without restaurant meal tax (!!) or $7.25 per serving.
Now consider stopping at your Neighborhood Market and spending as much time as you'd spend in line at Chick-Fil-A, picking up a basket of items:
Whole roasted Wal-Mart rotissery chicken $4.99
Baked Beans, 16oz.  $1.48
Fancy Premade Salad Mix - $3.63 
Hawaiian Rolls (8)  - $1.88

Total cost:  $11.98 without grocery tax (far less than restaurant tax!) or $2.95 per serving.
Hell, for that price, you could buy two whole chickens and a bottle of wine and still be less than Chik-Fil-A.   You'd probably have better and more food as well.   I chose a fancy salad "kit" and Hawaiian rolls.  You can buy rolls for less than what I am showing and a more plebian salad.  Or if you went with mac-and-cheese (as shown in the photo), well, that is ridiculously cheap.

The "hassle factor"?   Well, you have to nuke the beans, serve the chicken, pour the salad into bowls.  About the same amount of labor you'd have to do with take-out food, unless you are just going to gorge yourself in the car on the way home (you laugh, I am certain there are people who do this - eating a meal for four by themselves).

So in terms of work involved, you can eat for a lot less for about the same amount of "hassle" it takes to wait in line at a busy fast-food restaurant and schlep food home.

If you want to hassle, you could buy chicken breasts at SAMs club, freeze most of them and cut your chicken cost in half.   You could prepare your own salad from individual ingredients, or your own kale and brocollini or whatever.   The point is, home-prepared foods, even quasi-convenience foods prepared at home, beat restaurant meals by more than 2:1 in terms of cost.   And yes, this is a lot of money, for the middle class.

And don't tell me "you can afford it" because if you are really rich, you have your own live-in chef, and aren't eating dreck from Chik-Fil-A.  Please, don't pull pretend rich on me.  I've seen it too much.

Are all take out foods a raw deal?  Well, of course they are - no one can buy ingredients, pay people to prepare them, pay overhead on a store, and make food for less than you could.  This is not to say that I never, ever get take-out foods, but only that I rarely do.  I'd save the take-out for foods that are more difficult to prepare at home.  Indian cuisine or American Chinese or Thai.   Fun things you do once in a while as a treat.   Grilled chicken breasts and baked beans?   I don't think that warrants $29.   Not in my book, anyway.

Americans - going broke one credit card charge at a time, using restaurants as their kitchens!