“Since when does a salad for lunch cost $11 in New York City?” said Bundle CEO Jaidev Shergill. As we try to budget our money and keep unnecessary spending at a minimum, food becomes a major player in keeping our wallets full (or empty).
In order to save money, many people make their own lunches or bring leftovers from the night before to work. A survey by the placement firm Accounting Principals revealed that 66 percent of all American workers spend about $2,000 per year on lunch—because many of us buy instead of bring.
If you value lunch as a way to break up the day and socialize with colleagues, you’re going to have to learn how to beat the pricey Make-Your-Own-Salad phenomenon. We looked at the breakdown of the $11 salad and just how these merchants hike up the cost of vegetables in a plastic bowl.
The make-your-own-salad boom has spawned hundreds of local lunch joints specifically catering to those on-the-go workers who want an in-and-out type of lunch. This trend has become so popular because it’s personalized, quick, and healthy. From “premium” ingredients to limits on the number of items, it’s easy to rack up a hefty bill when it comes time to swipe your credit card. Unsurprisingly, according to Bundle, these salad shops’ highest traffic days are weekdays.
Sprout Café, a salad-centric shop in Palo Alto, CA, has an outstanding Bundle score of 90 and an average spend of $13—its main menu item is the make-your-own-salad. We begin with the choice of a full salad or a half salad, whose prices are a mere $1.45 in difference. When looking at the two prices, it seems to be worth it to go with the bigger salad because it’s just not that much more money. It also seems like you’re getting a great deal. The natural progression is to choose your lettuce first—but at Sprout, if you want arugula, you’re going to have to shell out an extra $0.50. After some research, however, this extra charge makes sense considering arugula is some of the most expensive lettuce you can buy in grocery stores. The next step is to choose your ingredients.
Let’s keep in mind that as of now, without any ingredients, a full arugula salad with no ingredients is already $7.45. You can choose up to six regular ingredients at no extra charge, but each additional item is $0.50. In the mood for Applewood smoked bacon, avocado, or shaved Parmesan? Be prepared to pay $1.00 each for these “premium” ingredients. Other optional ingredients that fall under the steak, poultry, and seafood categories can cost up to $4.95 extra, including pepper-crusted seared tuna. What seems to be just another salad ingredient can actually put your salad’s price over the edge. Last but not least, you must choose your dressing (if you’d like “extra” dressing, you’ll pay an extra $0.50).
In total: A full arugula salad ($7.45) with six regular ingredients (no extra charge), two premium ingredients (+$2.00), and one grilled portabella mushroom (+$1.95) will total $11.40 (without tax).
Chop’t, a salad lunch shop in New York City, has a high Bundle score of 81 and a typical cost of $11. Its base lettuce salad is $6.99, and again, arugula is an extra $0.49. At Chop’t, each customer gets four free “choppings”—a.k.a. “regular” ingredients, and each additional chopping is an extra $0.49. Moving on, we examine our “premium” ingredient options. If you’re craving cheese, edamame, organic tofu, egg whites, or slivered almonds, be prepared to pay for it. Thankfully, the salad dressings are free.
In total: A mesclun mix salad ($6.99) with six choppings (+$1.00), two premium choppings ($3.98) will total $11.97 (without tax).
So, where does the $11 salad come from? Now you know, and now you’re—hopefully—able to cut costs when you crave a quick leafy lunch.