The ease of food delivery — particularly in the UAE — is a lure like no other. It was back in my Dubai infancy when, for matters of convenience, lack of crockery and an unfettered need to try everything, I summoned my breakfast, lunch and dinner with a swipe. Dangerous. You’d be hard pressed to not find someone who hasn’t at some point done the same.
According to Food for Thought, a UAE Food and Beverage and beverage report carried out by the market research firm KPMG in 2017, 60 percent of UAE consumers use an app to order food delivery — a huge number compared to the US, where it’s 18 percent. By the 2018 report, 86 percent of food operators in the UAE were listed on delivery apps, and 32 percent were getting more than a quarter of their revenue from them — up from 21 percent the previous year. And while the average takeaway order total was pegged at Dh40 in the 2018 survey, the actual average cost of food in the order was just Dh10.
It’s all a very slippery slope.
After three months of back-to-back deliveries, I got it out of my system and stopped because I had sampled every possible category of cuisine. That, and I was severely in the red. I mean if my bank account could speak, it would have said, “Um, do you ever cook?”
That’s when project “stop eating out and learn how to cook — you’re 27” happened. After a gentle start with canned goods and comically charred toast, I soon graduated to full blown Come Dine With Me dinners – my eating-out habits naturally waning in the process. Along the way, I have become fitter, healthier and more knowledgeable about food and nutrition.
So, if you don’t know where your dirhams are going or have a digestive system that is begging for mercy, here’s how you can streamline your eating out habits.
Check your bank balance regularly
If you’re wincing at the thought of doing this already, that says loud and clear you’re probably spending too much on convenience meals. There’s a reason why you don’t want to check your balance and that’s because you know it’s going to hurt. By checking your balance, you’ll see just how quickly the figure goes down with every transaction. Institute a “no ordering in” policy at the beginning of next month with a fresh new wage cycle, and glean from your progress from the financial results at the end of the month.
It always helps when someone else slaps and shakes you to account. Have a system in place with an accountability partner or a friend (a very headstrong, no-holds-barred kind of a friend) who knows what your goal is and checks in with you at regular intervals to keep you on track. Or you can sign up for cooking classes where you are expected to turn up – anything that requires commitment will definitely whip you into shape.
Make your favorite takeout meal at home
I am obsessed with Acai bowls. Problematically so, because while the typical price of around Dh35 might seem benign, it’s not. As is the case with any take-out meal, the delivery fee always messes with your mental math. I was ordering my beloved peanut butter Acai bowl almost every day. Now, after finding the right recipe and ingredients, I make it myself, with all the trimmings, for a fraction of the price.
Be realistic about what you task yourself to cook though, particularly if you are a beginner. If you go in at the deep end at the beginning, you will incinerate your meal and your defeatist disposition will deal with it by way of Deliveroo.
Get the basics down first, bookmark your favorite recipes, perfect them and soon enough you’ll be ad-libbing a la Julia Child. You might find your supermarket outgoings are high in the initial phase because your pantry is probably lacking the requisite items needed for most dishes. But once you haul in those mainstay ingredients and your kitchen begins to look like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson had a cook-off, your weekly food shop cost will reduce nicely.
Keep emergency freezables on hand
The beauty of cooking meals for more people than are present is that you get to freeze things and have them as leftovers — which is quite literally the experience of reaping what you sow. You’ve done the hard work of buying and cooking the food, now all you have to do is eat it! If you think about it, that’s kind of like ordering in, at least by way of ease, without the tug on your balance. But for hangry situations or those days where everything goes hideously wrong, have some emergency frozen pizzas, lasagna, enchiladas or anything else that requires no more than some heat to prepare.
Repurpose that extra money
If you’ve managed a month of not eating out, your bank balance should be looking pretty shiny. Now, think about where you want to see that extra cash going. Personally, mine has been divided between semi-savings and pad-locked savings. The former is for travel, the latter is for future-proofing my life by having a big enough float to carry me when things may sink.
In addition to saving money, curbing your eating out habits buys you a lot of freedom — both financially and emotionally. Kickstart a do-it-yourself cooking operation and trust me, it will turn out to be an accidental happiness project.
Featured photo Shutterstock
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.