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Saving Money at Fuddruckers: What’s Too Frugal?

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This past weekend my wife and I organized a bit of a date night. We saw No Country For Old Men. (Quick thought on it: Weird ending, without spoiling anything, it seemed to "yada yada" over what should have been the best part of the movie.) We also went to dinner to Fuddruckers.

Fuddruckers is an interesting choice for a "date night." It's not a candlelight dinner by any stretch. However, since we both enjoy the burgers it suffices as a cheap dinner. I couldn't help, but think that if we wanted to push the boundaries of frugality, we could have eaten extremely cheaply. Without further ado, I present you the ultimate frugal Fuddrucker's guide...

When at Fuddruckers, you have to think burgers. That's what they do the best. While they have veggie and turkey burger options, they sell more beef burgers than anything else. The price of burgers escalates in a non-linear situation a 1/3lb burger was $4.39, a 1/2lb burger is $4.99, and a 1 lb burger is $7.39. I was originally going to go with a sensible 1/3lb burger, but the 1/2lb burger was too tempting for an extra 60 cents. I didn't add any cheese at additional cost - their condiment bar has a Cheez Whiz equivalent, which is surprising good on a burger. With the 1/2lb burger, I decided to forgo any sides like fries or onion rings. Instead, I had a large tomato slice on the burger. With a drink, I had my meal complete. My wife went for the veggie burger and fries. However later she would say that the veggie burger didn't keep her full very long and wasn't worth the $6.49.

This got me thinking about how we might maximize their dollar at Fuddrucker's if we wanted to push the ethics of accepted restaurant behavior:

  • Burger - If you have two people, you could order the 1 lb burger for $7.39, cut it in half and enjoy the equivalent of a two $4.99 burgers. Does this push the limits too far? How is it different than buying a medication that is double strength and then splitting the pills in half?
  • Make a Free Salad - The condiment bar includes everything for a nice salad. There's lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, peppers, and pico de gallo. Maybe I exaggerated the nice part, but definitely a better salad than some I've gotten.
  • Free cheese - As I mentioned before, there's no need to splurge for cheese on your burgers - get the nacho cheese from the condiment bar
  • All You Can Drink Soda - The soda is serve yourself and all-you-can-drink. If you have two people, you can easily share a soda.

If you did all these you'd have a nice appetizer and dinner for two for around $9.00 (including the drink). Part of me thinks that if restaurants are going to price burgers disproportionately, they are inviting people to take advantage. However, I still feel very odd about taking all these steps. How about you, what's going overboard?

Last updated on January 13, 2008.

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36 Responses to “Saving Money at Fuddruckers: What’s Too Frugal?”

  1. I understand a lot of people feel weird about splitting a dish, but I have no problem doing that since the portions are so out of control. Until restaurants scale back on portion size (which won’t happen) and price it out accordingly, I will continue to split a meal and save not just my wallet but also my health.

  2. Traciatim says:

    I agree with WC. Regularly when fast food joints have something like two burgers, fries, and a drink on a special my spouse and I will go for one meal and each have a burger. I figured most people just buy extra strength medication and just take one, since most people I know take two regular strength anyway. I wouldn’t buy extra and split because your dosage would be inconsistent.

    We do this sometimes out at the mall too, since prices and portions are made for 400lb eating competition champions.

    Though there is somewhere I draw the line. All you can drink Soda/Pop is meant for one person. It’s all you can drink, not all you and a friend can drink. If you buy a non-refill, share all you want. If two of you are drinking and it’s all you can drink, just get your own. Of course, since they charge $1.99 for something that costs them something like $0.15, then I can see why you would share.

    Using the condiment bar to make a salad? That’s taking more than your fair share. If it doesn’t fit on your burger, don’t take it.

    P.S. The veggie burger doesn’t keep you as full because your body can actually digest it properly and efficiently.

  3. JBM says:

    My parents started doing this regularly and my wife and I also started splitting meals. It’s mostly at restaurants that we know have huge portion sizes.
    A lot of restaurants have started charging for splitting the meals.
    But I would have to say the easiest way to save money when eating out is to not buy a drink. I will take water and save at least $1. We didn’t even look at the price of drinks and were charged $2.50 per drink the other night!

  4. Lily says:

    My boyfriend and I frequently share food, but we usually order 2 entrees. I don’t think there are problems with the free salad or free “cheese” schemes, as long as you ordered something else. I suspect you’d be thrown out of the restaurant if you went there, ordered a soda, and made a meal of the condiment bar.

    As for splitting the burger, I think it’s perfectly fine to split entrees. However, in New York (not sure about elsewhere since I never saw this in Texas), some restaurants charge a fee for sharing entrees. This might make it almost more cost effective to get indidividual entrees than to split them. I suppose Fuddruckers doesn’t charge this fee?

    I do have a problem with sharing a single refillable soda. I actually don’t think the restaurant loses much revenue from this, since soda has such a high mark-up and since two people sharing one refillable soda could be just the equivalent of a single really thirsty drinker. However, from the customer perspective, couldn’t the same reasoning (it’s unlimited refills, so what’s the difference between two people sharing and one person getting twice as much?) could justify two people sharing one person’s all-you-can-eat buffet order. I dunno, maybe I’m alone here.

  5. Laura says:

    We usually like to get two entrees so we can sample the other’s choice. :) I don’t see a problem with splitting the burger. As long as you don’t go overboard, it’s not a big problem. I think the condinment sald is a bit much.

  6. You should skip the cheese regardless of price for your waist.

    Sharing the burger is fine. Sharing the soda is not. You can order water if you want to be frugal without any ethical questions.

    Using the condiment bar as a mini salad bar is iffy.

    I would say that a good rule of thumb is that if you must ask if something is ethical, it is probably not. And if you must consult with a lawyer ahead of time, it certainly is not.

    Obviously you had your doubts about the ethics of this or you would not ask. Also, as you read the comments, remember you can ask on the internet if stealing something is OK and some people will respond that is just fine.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    Traciatim: As a former hospital pharmacy technician, I have to say that pill split – due to cost is a common and accepted practice. It’s not done in the case were people would take multiple pills, but done where there’s a 25mg pill and a 12.5mg pill – and the 12.5mg is 95% of the price of the 25mg one.

    Lily: I should have mentioned this, but Fuddruckers is counter service. They call a number, you pick up your food and sit where you want. It’s informal enough that it would seem really odd for a sharing fee.

    Refills: I haven’t really thought about this in depth. We often order the super-mondo gulp Diet Coke for take out. The price is often just a few pennies more than a small. Thus it’s easy for us to think about sharing a drink. If you go to Burger King and order that big version, but don’t choose to get refill is it still wrong to split? It seems to me the answer to that is no.

  8. RateLadder says:

    ROFL… you guys notice all the caveats. “if” must be in the article 5 times.

    Lazy you trying to tell us something…

    Your secret addiction to cheese whiz, perhaps?

  9. Lazy Man says:

    Personal Loan Portfolio: General rules of thumb are good, but they have a way of having exceptions. Splitting food is commonly accepted in France for instance. Why is there sometimes a fee for it in the United States? This is why I ask.

    I hope that I didn’t imply that I was stealing from Fuddrucker’s.

  10. Joseph Sangl says:

    Splitting the 1# burger is a necessity if you are truly frugal! Plus, it has to be fun watching that burger be put together!

    How does this meal figure in to the “Lazy Man and Health” blog? :)

  11. I am a huge fan of splitting meals! It just makes sense. It’s better for you because you eat the same amount of food but you don’t waste any. I mean think about it. How many times have you gone out to eat and had quite a bit of food left over?

    The free salad is a bit much. I’m sure they would not be very happy about that. That’s crosses the line to cheap.

  12. Kiran says:

    My girlfriend and I split meals relatively frequently. Most of the ‘big orders’ at restaurants are for the 300 pound guy, together we weight 280!

    Most common is getting an appetizer and then the big dinner. Why not get the nicer dinner and split instead of each getting something less nice … and end up spending more?

    Don’t feel guilty.

  13. Jon says:

    mmm….fuddruckers….brings back some good memories.

    Our family (2 adults and 2 kids, ages 3 to 5) regularly go out to eat for less than $10 at ‘order and sit’ type places. Chipotle or Qdoba is our favorite one…Qdoba regularly has a buy one entree, get a second one free deal. My wife and I split a burrito (they’re huge) for one entree, then the kids split a cheese quesadilla for the freebie. Wife and I split a drink, although I rarely have more than a sip or two and the girls will drink water. We generally fill the pop up with lemonade or something for the girls on the way out to take with us and you have about a $9 meal for 4 people and the kids love it! Truly frugal!

  14. Lazy Man says:

    Joseph Sangl: Good call. I have plans for talking about about the health side on Lazy Man and Health later on this week.

    Jon: Awesome trick. I need to find a Qdora near me – never heard of it.

  15. rstlne says:

    Fuddruckers usually has melted cheese at the condiments bar too, so you can turn regular fries into cheese fries. When I eat at Fuddruckers, I dip the bun from the burger into the cheese and pretend that it’s fondue.

  16. Sue says:

    While I have no problem sharing a meal with my partner, I would like to say that unless traveling, we seldom dine out. We prefer to save dining out for special occasions such as our anniversary mostly because the food becomes so tiresome and it is not very healthy. I am an excellent cook (even if I do say so myself) and I like to know what is in my food. If a person must be frugal, why are they dining out at all? You can make a much better, much healthier, more romantic dinner at home than at some burger joint. If they are sharing simply because the restaurant serves a much larger portion than what they can eat, that makes more sense.

  17. RateLadder says:

    I’ve been to a qudoba in KY. Pretty darn good.

  18. cut out the soda.

    it contains phosphoric acid which leaches the calcium out of your bones and teeth.

    plus the markups on it on the hundreds of percent!

  19. plonkee says:

    From my trip to the US about 6 weeks ago I’d say that I’m surprised anyone can manage to eat a whole portion of food. Split the burgers all you like. All you can drink soda might be a bit much but I won’t tell if you won’t.

  20. sfordinarygirl says:

    I had a similar conundrum as a child when ordering from Wendy’s 99cents value meal. You can order a side salad or a baked potato, each are 99 cents and they let you dress the potato at the salad bar. So I added extras to the side salad and got in major trouble by the cashiers. What I don’t understand is why they leave the salad bar so open for anyone to access. Heck, why not skip ordering the salad and just stock up at the salad bar.

  21. escapee says:

    What’s too frugal? Eating insects, that’s what- forget being cheap at Fuddruckers :-)

    http://www.alternet.org/story/73621/

  22. Ryuko says:

    I’ve seen restaurants that actually used a condiment bar as the salad bar. tacky. I wouldn’t do it myself… at Fuddruckers, maybe, considering what they have. Nothing wrong with splitting a 1lb burger. My wife and I do it at Carl’s. The give you something like a half gallon of soda and 3 potatoes’ worth of fries in their “medium” meals anyway. I’ve never been brave enough to order a large. Last time we got 2 meals at Carl’s, we ended up giving half the fries to one of the bums sitting outside the place. Not only does it save money, but much healthier. I’d still get the cheese, tho.

    If you REALLY want to be frugal, take her to Burger King. I got two adult meals for less than $9, and we live close to your location. Dates involving fast food got more common after having kids…

  23. Mrs. Micah says:

    Cheap dates you enjoy are the best. In your situation, I expect we’d split the 1lb burger and each get a soda. Maybe split a large fries too. I wouldn’t feel as comfortable refilling the soda if there were two of us. But if all we drank was the large soda with no refills, that’d be ok.

  24. Mister E says:

    Sharing one all-you-can-drink drink and refilling it is theft plain and simple albiet pretty small potatoes. What if I go in with 4 or 5 friends, is it ok to share one drink amongst all of us? Where is the line? All you can drink means just that, all YOU can drink, not you and however many people you come in with. It’s no different then going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and paying one fare and taking food for 2. There is no problem that I can see with sharing the drink if you don’t refill it though.

    Making a salad from a condiment bar is walking a pretty fine line but I wouldn’t do it.

    That’s just me though, your mileage may vary.

  25. I ALWAYS split my meal at a restaurant with my significant other. Portions are just too big for one person. I don’t think I would do the other things you mentioned, that might be taking it too far, but there is nothing unethical or even abnormal about splitting an entree between two people.

  26. I agree with Mister E above. I wouldn’t mind doctoring up the burger, but turning condiments into a meal might go beyond its intended purpose (what do you mean I can’t drink the wholesome nutritious free ketchup instead of ordering food??)

  27. LM: “General rules of thumb are good, but they have a way of having exceptions. Splitting food is commonly accepted in France for instance. Why is there sometimes a fee for it in the United States? This is why I ask.”

    As I mentioned, I see no problem with splitting a plate of food (the burger). It is much healthier for you than eating a full plate at most restaurants. The rule of thumb was just posted as a general suggestion for most ethical situations. I have a feeling that you know the answers to each of these items yourself without having to ask for feedback.

    LM: “I hope that I didn’t imply that I was stealing from Fuddrucker’s.”
    After a few of the “frugal” posts that I have read lately on various websites, I did have to wonder if the “ifs” were your way of saying “I have a *friend* who…” I am glad to know that you did not ask for a box for your salad from the condiment bar and two to-go cups for your one soft drink. ;)

    MM: “But if all we drank was the large soda with no refills, that’d be ok.” I must admit to doing this when a restaurant charges $0.10 extra for the hulk-size soft drink.

    About the buy one get one free meals — there are many restaurants that offer this special and almost always on the same day of the week. My favorite Mexican place does this on Tuesdays and a great sandwich shop has the special on Sunday. Keep a list of the restaurants who offer this deal by the day of the week handy and you can eat nearly any day of the week as Jon suggests.

  28. Patrick says:

    My wife and I always split a burger when we go to Fudrucker’s. We usually split a milkshake as well. The portions are just too big for either of us to comfortably eat. The total cost for a large burger, fries, and a shake comes to about $12 or so, which is slightly more than fast food, but tastes so much better. I wouldn’t split a soft drink with free refills there, and I wouldn’t make a salad from the salad bar; I just think that might be crossing the line.

    We often split meals at other restaurants as well, depending on the occasion, our company, and what we want to eat. It’s a great way to save a lot of money and prevent ourselves from eating too many calories!

  29. Jayne King says:

    My Dad used to work in corporate for Fuddruckers and I can tell you that they have no problem with someone ordering the 1 lb. burger and splitting it with someone. They’re just glad you are there in the first place. They do kind of frown on sharing drinks, however. But, as long as you’re not really going overboard with the refills I don’t think it poses any real moral dilemma based on the price of the drink to begin with. They are still making money.

  30. Perry says:

    You can get a $9 meal by buying two 1/2 pound burgers and drinking water. Plus there is no need to debate the ethics of the act.

  31. You’re not just paying for the food at Fuddruckers… you’re also paying for the cost of occupying a few square feet of their space for an hour or so, plus the cost of preparing and serving the food. (Well, you do have to tip the server, but he or she also gets paid a base wage by the restaurant.) So I wouldn’t go overboard with the check-trimming strategies… in the long run, if Fuddruckers doesn’t make enough money from its customers, they will either raise their prices or tear down the restaurant and put up a Staples in its place.

  32. Patty says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with loading up @ the fixin’s bar. Is there a sign prohibiting this? If not, you’re all set. I’ve never been to a Fudruckers although I’ve been to other such places and I have had a healthy salad along with my paid meal. You can even mix some of the condiments to make interesting salad dressing concoctions! I’ve NEVER felt guilty about it either.

    It’s nice for them to offer a veggie burger. Another *cheap* option is to order a bun and a slice of cheese and pile on the fixins…it’s been done before.

    The soda issue in no problem in my opinion. You pay for the cup and, in fact, I think the price of soda is highway robbery. What’s the difference between person A who will consume 3 cups of soda during their dining experience and person B & C who drink a combined 2 cups (or even 3) cups? At least you aren’t bringing an empty bottle to covertly fill, along with the purchased cup, on the way out the door (believe me, this has been done before).

    The thing is, it all evens out. A certain % will take a modest amount of toppings, others will make a salad and, others won’t even bother. I’m sure these businesses aren’t suffering. Otherwise, they would shut down the fixin’s bar or impose regulations on it. In these situations, I really feel it’s all about how tight you are with your concience and using discression when employees are looking.

    P.S. at least you’re not talking about taking a spare roll of TP, a handful of paper towells, or filling up a bottle of liquid soap in the bathroom. However, I do think it’s OK to grab a couple extra napkins for later…..

  33. wayward says:

    It’s good to see that I’m not the only one who makes the “free” salad at Fuddruckers. Or makes the nacho cheese-wiz burger. :-)

    I’ve never gone as far as splitting the 1lb burger or sharing a soda, but I usually get the water.

  34. Webomatica says:

    Splitting a soda or even a meal is a fair idea. I think I’d hold back on creating a salad from the fixings bar.

    I can totally justify this sort of thing because the prices for beverages at most restaurants are a total rip off – especially when you know a liter bottle is expensive from what is basically water and sugar.

  35. Rory says:

    “from what is basically water and sugar.”

    It’s not even sugar. It’s High Fructose Corn Syrup, an industrial sweetener that our bodies may or may not metabolize the same way as sugar.

  36. MomCat says:

    What do you think the Cheez-wiz at Fuddruckers is for? It’s to put on your food! You can put it on your burgers, your fries, or even your salad made out of burger toppings. I remember going there once with a bag of tortilla chips and making nachos. (Yes, I had bought a burger too). Lately the local Fudd’s now offers nachos. (They did not at the time of the story.)

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