Finances & Money

Wasting money on 2 entrees

Quick question: Would you pay $6 for two choices (plus rice) at the Chinese take-out, or $5 for one choice (plus rice)? What if you got the same amount of food for each option?

Let me explain. At the Reagan Building here in D.C., there is an eatery “City Lights of China Express”. I eat there probably once per week (I love the tofu). Now, on their big banner menu hanging right in your face, you have 2 options:

1 entree = $4.99

2 entrees = $5.99

When they serve up the 1 entree, the fill up one half of the to-go container with rice, and the other half with the entree (e.g. tofu or General Tso’s chicken). But for the 2 entree option, do they give you a full portion of each entree?


You get 1 entree in one-fourth of the container, the other entree in another fourth, and rice in the other half. Basically, you’re paying an extra dollar to have a variety in your meal, not for more, or better, food! Honestly, 1 entree is more than enough food to fill your belly, so I don’t need 2 full entrees. But they have very clever pricing to make you think you’re going to get more for your money. They could easily drop the 1 entree option, lower the price on the 2 entree option, and then if you want all of one dish, just ask for 2 servings of it instead of splitting between two choices.

I don’t blame them for their pricing. But the extra cost for them to put down one spoon and pick up another to dish out the second entree is not worth $1 more. It’s all consumer psychology at play.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Yes, but variety is the spice of life. Portraying it as though you’re getting double for only $1 more is dishonest, but I might be willing to pay $1 more in order to have a sampling of two entrees. My wife and I often cut our meals in half and trade for variety’s sake — if I were alone, I’d be willing to pay an extra $1 for the server to do this for me.

    Then again, there’s no economic reason why the restaurant shouldn’t provide this service, free of charge… Except people are willing to pay for it. If you’re not, then simply go with the single entree. If enough people think like you, they’ll possibly begin offering the two entrees for the same price.

  • I’m with Jason Dean here, which is probably why I prefer to hit the buffets when I go for chinese food 🙂 A little of this, and a little of that, make $5.95 for a buffet lunch worth it to me, plus they put out sushi. That coupled with the fact I usually have the worst time picking just one entree, would make it worth it tome. It’s all about what the marketplace will support, and judging from the fact it is still on the menu, others feel the same way.

  • “But the extra cost for them to put down one spoon and pick up another to dish out the second entree is not worth $1 more.”

    I disagree with you here.
    $1 is 20% increase on a $4.99 meal.

    Outside the discussion of whether it’s worth it for the user, they can increase their revenue by 20% by picking up another spoon.
    That’s totally worth it from a business point of view.

  • Ahhh, it’s all a clever marketing ploy. Score one for the restaurant. Now that you know their game you can make your own cost-benefit analysis every time you eat there. You can most likely do this in your head, but bring a paper and pencil just in case! 😉

  • MoneyNing: No, it’s not reasonable. If it costs them extra to make more items, then factor that into the cost for a single item and do away with the option for 2 items. Or just leave the price for the 2 items and do away with the option for a single (as I mentioned). When I pay a dollar more for a second entree, I’m expecting more food. I don’t need to extra food, but I expect it 🙂

  • Here’s how you can get the variety of two entrees while paying the single-entree price: Go to the restaurant with a friend. You can order one entree and your friend can order the other entree. Then later, the two of you can swap half of each entree.

  • It’s a way of getting $6 out of the people who are willing to pay $6 for a meal, while not losing the business of the people who are only willing to pay $5 for a meal. Lots of places do this sort of thing.

  • It absolutely is reasonable to charge more. The 2 entree item is a different product than the 1 entree item. You pay different amounts for coffee versus soda, and for shrimp versus chicken. You’re not paying them what the food costs them, you’re paying them what they think the market will bear.

    Apparently many consumers are willing to pay more for variety. You aren’t.

    What is definitely unreasonable is for *anyone* to tell someone else how to run his business or what prices it is ok to charge.

  • Clever: “If it costs them extra to make more items, then factor that into the cost for a single item and do away with the option for 2 items.” – now, that wouldn’t be called good marketing, would it? 🙂

    $1 is for variety for those who are willing to pay. And as long as people are willing to pay the restaurant will continue with the scheme.

  • Anonymous, I can tell anyone how to run their business. They don’t have to listen. I’m the customer.

    You, however, at least got it half right. People are willing to pay for it, but not me. But that doesn’t mean it’s fair pricing FOR THE CONSUMER.

    People, this was a commentary on the psychology of pricing, not who has what right. Go take a nap so you’re not so cranky.

  • It *is* clever pricing, but I think I would frequently pay the extra dollar without considering it “wasted” money – rather it’s money invested in my health. I would get two entrees, one with protein and the other being steamed vegetables. I’d rather bring my own healthy lunch from home, but we’ve been eating out a lot more lately…

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