The survey by Visa Canada suggests 60 per cent of Canadians eat out once or more a week, spending a national average of $8.80 each time. Sixty-one per cent spend between $7 and $13, while nine per cent sometimes go as high as $25.
Ontarians lead the pack in eating out — 20 per cent buy their lunches three or more times a week — while Quebecers, Albertans and British Columbians tend to brown bag it. A full 50 per cent of Quebecers pack their lunch every day.
And all those meals add up over time. After tax, eating out three times a week at $8.80 a pop could add up to about $20,000 after 10 years, warns Andrew Rice, with Toronto-based Stewart and Kett Financial Advisors.
"Is it really that much of an inconvenience [to pack a lunch]?" he asked.
But for many, the expense is offset by convenience.
"It comes down to time," said Adam Hepp, a university student working at Royal Bank for the summer, who bought lunch at a McDonald's in a Toronto food court on Tuesday. Work, his evening classes and the daily commute to and from Hamilton keep him busy from about 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
"Then I get home and sleep. I just don't have the time to sit down and make lunch," he said. "I probably would if I could. It's a lot healthier and saves money."
Rooma Para, an IT specialist and recent immigrant from Pakistan, says she almost always brings her own lunch, largely because she wants to know what's in it. On Tuesday it was a mix of chicken, spinach and rice with a bit of cucumber, eaten in a sunny downtown park.
"People don't cook at home in Canada," she remarked. "But it's the way I was raised. I prefer homemade food even over five-star dining out.""Maybe once a week I treat myself but if I were to start dining out every day I know I wouldn't enjoy it," she added.