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In any given month, I am likely to review my finances and wonder, perhaps even out loud, why I consistently spend so much money eating out at restaurants. After that, a vague feeling of guilt sets in, and things seem a little hopeless. Don't get me wrong - we're not talking unpaid bills and bounced checks, but the cost of dining out still adds up enough to warrant attention. I'm guessing I'm not alone in this respect, so I'll share some of the rationales that offer me a little comfort. I'll warn you that some of these reasons may sound somewhat contrived (if not downright pathetic), but they help to paint an overall picture that dining out is actually quite a noble act if you consider the following:

Restaurants generally use fresher food than you do.
A successful, busy restaurant usually gets fresh meat, seafood, and produce shipped in twice a week at the very least. Some restaurants even deal directly with farmers, ranchers, and fishermen to ensure the best quality and freshness.

When calculated per meal, restaurants use less water and energy, and generate less trash.
If everyone in the neighborhood is firing up their ovens, appliances, and dishwashers to cook a meal that will only feed one to five people, a restaurant that feeds hundreds of people each night out of one kitchen is definitely more efficient in that respect. Most consumer food products also contain substantially more packaging per serving than food used by restaurants. Restaurants typically use trash compactors, grease traps, and recycling bins to help reduce environmental impact. Some restaurants even make sure their leftovers go to homeless shelters instead of the landfill.

Dining out supports a diverse economy of goods and services.
This is especially true for locally-owned restaurants, where the money they take in has a fair chance of making it back into the surrounding economy. Restaurants require a wide variety of job positions, both skilled and unskilled, and they offer one of the few remaining career paths from minimum wage to management and other high-paying jobs. Obviously, some restaurants treat their employees better than others, so it is up to you to reward the fairer establishments with more of your business.

Restaurant dining means fewer distractions.
Obviously, your mileage may vary with this one, but when you don't have to cook or clean up, and you're not competing with your television and your telephone (you do turn your cell phone off in restaurants, don't you?), there's probably a better chance of meaningful interaction between you and your dining companion(s).

You are more likely to try new things at a restaurant.
Whether it's a new ingredient, or just a different style of cooking it, most people just aren't adventurous enough to try to cook something they've never tasted before. However, with a polite and helpful waiter offering encouragement, people will try all sorts of things to broaden their culinary horizons.

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