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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

When a restaurant meal sounds too expensive, but you still want to have a restaurant-type celebration . . .

Our quasi-frugal birthday celebration this past weekend

This past weekend, we celebrated both my husband's and my birthdays. Our birthdays are 6 days apart. Now that everyone's schedules so much more complicated, we just lump the two birthdays together for celebrating. 

Last month, we began talking about eating in a restaurant to celebrate. In case you hadn't guessed by now, dining out is exceedingly rare for us. Anyway, we talked about which restaurants all 6 of us might enjoy. We have a favorite, locally-owned Greek place that we all enjoy. I went online to check their menu prices, and man oh man, has there ever been some inflation. I knew I wouldn't enjoy the meal if I was thinking about the final bill the whole time. 

After about an hour of brainstorming with my family, we decided to just do a Greek meal at home. However, I didn't want to be the one cooking, and I didn't want my daughters to be saddled with a lot of unfamiliar and time-consuming cooking. That's when I thought to check the website for our local restaurant supply. Between the restaurant supply and WinCo we could pick up everything we'd need to put together gyro sandwiches, a tossed salad, fried mushrooms, and baklava for 6 of us with minimal effort (my daughters put it all together) and for less than half of what a comparable meal would have cost at the little Greek kafé near us. As a bonus, we had a bunch of leftovers, notably the seasoned gyro meat. 

This is what we bought:

5-lb box frozen cooked and seasoned gyro meat
6 ct pita bread
10-oz tzatziki sauce
large head Romaine lettuce
3 Roma tomatoes
1 red onion
12 ct frozen baklava
1 box frozen breaded and fried mushrooms

Everything was delicious. And my daughters were even able to push a birthday candle into my and my husband's baklava. So no "wishes" were lost by not having cake. And as I mentioned, we have a lot of the flavorful meat slices left in the freezer. Our Friday pizza nights just became Friday gyro nights (until the gyro meat is gone, that is).

One of the shocking discoveries I've had shopping in a restaurant supply store is how much pre-prepped items they sell. My guess is that many restaurants are using these items to speed up production and shave costs on kitchen help. This makes a lot of sense. For example with our Greek dinner, I can't imagine how involved it would have been to actually make baklava from scratch or the amount of time saved with the meat, all seasoned, cooked, and sliced for us. Knowing this, when my family next wants a restaurant style meal for a celebration, we can buy some ready-to-assemble ingredients from the restaurant supply, and put in a little effort on our part, to save about 50% the cost of a comparable meal out and not suffer any taste or quality.

Not as cheap as a scratch-cooked meal, but much more enjoyable for the cooks and without the high price tag of a restaurant.


  1. What a very good idea for a special dinner! Restaurant prices have really gone up and we have to get more creative than ever these days.

    1. Hi Nana,
      I know. I can't believe how expensive it has become to eat in a restaurant in the last 1 to 2 years. You're right, we just have to be more creative.

  2. What a great idea! This way you had your own special spot often in a restaurant you are among so many others that your conversations aren't private. Plus, you can linger as long as you desire at home. Sounds not only economical but very pleasant! Thanks for sharing and happy belated birthday to both of you!

    1. Hi Linda,
      Thank you for the birthday wishes!
      I like your perspective. Indeed, it was more pleasant to linger and converse in relative quiet, instead of having the noise of a restaurant. My daughters set a nice table for us in the dining room, too. So it was lovely setting, too.

  3. What a great idea to have yourGreek dinner at home! Happy birthday to both you and your dh.

    1. Thank you, Belinda. I think we enjoyed the dinner as much as if it had been in a restaurant.

  4. Your dinner sounds wonderful. I love gyros, but rarely have them. We do a spring birthday dinner and a fall dinner. In the spring we always go to a place about 15 miles from here. Their prices have really gone up so we are staying in town this year. It should be slightly less expensive anyway. In the fall we do a more casual dinner because the vegan dd has a fall birthday and we only have a couple restaurants with vegan options, both more casual. Neither dinner is cheap by any means, but we all look forward to it.


    1. Hi Diane,
      You've come up with a great solution to do spring and fall birthday dinners, covering everyone that way and lessening the expense overall. I hope your family enjoys the in-town alternative for your spring birthday dinner as much as the other place. It feels like inflation has priced my family out of most restaurant meals.
      Happy spring birthdays to your family!

    2. There’s 7 of us, 8 counting my oldest dd’s teenage foster child. There are 3 in April, then 2 in sept, one in oct, and one in Nov. Dh is in July so I’m not sure where he fits in lol. Then there’s Mother’s Day and our anniversary in May. It’s just too much to do individually! We’ve done it this way for years now.


    3. You're right, that's a lot of celebrating to try to do one occasion at a time, Diane. I'm so glad you've found this better way to do it all.

  5. That's a great idea. Now you have me wondering if I can get gyro meat at our restaurant supplier. Will you make your own pita bread? I've made naan many times ( has a great recipe) but I've never tried making pita.

    I hear ya on the sticker shock for eating at restaurants. We are more likely to eat out when we are out of town. We've found that the restaurants in the small town where my son goes to college are more reasonably priced than the ones close to me. Mexican restaurants often have a la carte offerings which you can purchase more reasonably, if you do decide sometime to venture out to a restaurant.

    My husband and I are meeting for lunch tomorrow for an anniversary celebration. The restaurant is part of the teaching program for a culinary institute in town in which the students practice their skills on customers. The prices are much less expensive than they would otherwise be for food of this caliber. It can be hard to catch the restaurant when it's open, as they follow a school schedule, but it's a fun experience. I enjoy talking with the students (who do the cooking, waitstaffing, etc., under close supervision). We are fortunate to live where we have this opportunity--if you do have a similar facility in your locale, I recommend trying it.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I usually do make our pita bread. But I wasn't willing to do for our birthday celebration. If you want pita just for gyros, it's pretty easy. If you want them to puff up for pocket bread, I've found the homemade pita has a good bubble, but one side has a thin "crust" while the other has a thick "crust", which means the filling may bleed through on the thin side. I haven't looked into improving my pita, though. I'm sure someone else has found a way to make great pocket bread.

      I love the concept for the student-run restaurant. I'll have to look around and see if there's anything like that in our area.

      Happy anniversary to you and your hubby! Enjoy the lunch out.

    2. When my son was in high school, he took a restaurant management class where they learned among other things how to cook for a crowd. They didn't have a restaurant, but we used them a couple of times to cater dishes for big picnics. The food was delicious and the prices were good.

  6. Happy Belated Birthday, Lili, to you and your husband. I'm going to have to find out where the restaurant supply stores are around here. It sounds like there are a lot of good things there.

    1. Thank you, Live and Learn.
      Costco or Business Costco might carry many of the same restaurant items that I bought at our restaurant supply.


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