We all know that restaurants need to account for wages, bills and make a profit; that's why they're there. But which menu items are you paying more of a premium for? Check these out.
You could pay around £10 for a plate of salad leaves, a few cubes of feta and a sprinkling of diced onion and olives. Add a scattering of a 'gourmet' ingredient like smoked salmon or truffles and you could almost double that price. While you can enjoy more unusual flavour combinations at restaurants than you do at home (lobster and truffle oil, anyone?) it's pretty easy to knock up most salads yourself and save some money.
Fresh pasta might seem a luxury but it's surprisingly easy to make. You just need some '00' finely ground Italian flour, eggs and salt and pepper - all fairly cheap and basic ingredients. Some restaurants will toss it with sliced mushrooms, garlic and butter and charge around £8 per bowl.
If you're going to have that sweet and sour chicken, you've got to have rice too, right? But you could be paying hugely over the odds for your foil carton of rice. One portion of plain, boiled takeaway rice can set you back around £3.40 — and around 50p more if you want it fried with an egg. You can pick up a kilo of rice from the shops for around 40p. Just think how many portions of egg-fried rice you could make out of that.
[Related video: How to make egg fried rice]
Pizza dough is made from bread flour, yeast, water, a little salt and sugar. It's kneaded, rolled and proved before a quick blast in a hot oven strewn with toppings. But you could be forking out almost £20 for a large circle of dough with a few handfuls of vegetables, grated cheese and a slosh of tomato sauce. Home-made pizza is cheap to make, but in a restaurant you're paying a premium for convenience.
Two or three scoops of ice cream in a restaurant can set you back about £4 and when you take into account the fudge sauce, nuts or honeycomb scattered on top, you could still be paying over £1 per scoop. Ice cream served in restaurants is usually of better quality than some of the supermarket stuff, but remember that there, you can still buy a whole 500ml tub of best-quality ice cream for around £4.
Pesto might seem complicated to make, but it's basically just a handful of basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts, whizzed up in a processor or blender. You can buy all the ingredients cheaply enough in your weekly shop and make it at home for around 40p per serving. But because it's perceived by some to be difficult to make, like bread — it can appear on the menu as a luxury (and more expensive) ingredient.
It's not just alcoholic drinks that are big earners for the restaurants. We found one restaurant charging over £3 for a pot of tea for one. That's a standard tea bag with boiling water. The price of the same tea bag at home? Around 4p. Also, expect to pay around £2 for a 330ml serving of Coca-Cola, even though you could get a 2-litre bottle of it for less. And remember, when your glass is first filled with ice, there's less room for the cola. And you thought they were being generous offering free refills…
Wines and champagnes
Wine and champagne in supermarkets and off-licences is branded, labelled and is exactly the same as you can order at a restaurant. Just expect to pay a lot more for them. We found some restaurant wines going for 300% more than the price of an identical bottle at the supermarket.
Wine blogger Steve Slatcher of the Winenous blog told us: "In restaurants wine is typically marked up at about the same rate as food ingredients, and appears on the wine list at around three times the retail price. However, there is a lot less work and expense involved in serving a bottle of wine than there is in food preparation, so wine sales effectively subsidise the food - good for teetotallers, but bad for those who appreciate more expensive bottles."