How much “Value” in a “Value Meal”???


I occasionally treat the crew to some fast food… for a change of pace, for convenience, for a treat with MSG :) and all kinds of hard to pronounce ingredients. While we are more likely to opt for fried chicken, spicy at that, we do occasionally go for burgers or even pizza. Recently, a fast food chain has been in the press and totally in your face with their roadside billboards offering their “value meal” which includes one chicken drumstick, grilled, one portion of rice, half a kalamansi and chilies. Not sure if it comes with a drink. They do offer vinegar as a dip. This is NOT the unlimited rice version. It retails for PHP49. So I wondered just how much value was in the value meal. In the West, the rule of thumb is that food cost is roughly 1/3 or less of the price of the dish. If you can manage to get the food cost to say 25%, and customers still flock to you, then you have the beginnings of a great business… But that ratio takes into account higher rent, wages, and other costs involved in food businesses (insurance, compliance, etc.) in other parts of the world. So out of curiosity, I decided to try and replicate the “value” meal and see what it cost to make.


I marinated grocery (Rustan’s, at that) purchased chicken legs for about 1 hour. I also added chopped lemongrass, garlic, etc. If you want the legs to be juicier, brine them for a couple of hours before marinating them. Next, I put them on a charcoal grill for a few minutes. Served them with a heaping serving of rice, and in the photo below, added a small portion of lechon pancit. So what did it cost? Roughly PHP10 for the chicken, and PHP3.50 for the rice. If I were buying in bulk, these prices would go down, so I am estimating that the “value meal” actually cost roughly PHP13-14 total in total food costs. No rent, no people, no advertising, no clean-up, taxes, etc. That is roughly 28% food cost. Bingo!


The purpose of this post? To illustrate just how much we are all paying for convenience. Many of the folks who purchase “value meals” are likely to think they are often a bit short on funds in general, and yet, for convenience, they opt to eat out often, paying a substantial premium for the privilege of doing so. Frankly, there sometimes isn’t that much real “value” in a “value meal”… at least in my personal opinion. And I know, some of you are aware that I am involved in the food business, so let me just go ahead and tell you the average food and ingredient cost of a Zubuchon is roughly 60-68% of the retail price. And since we turn them by hand, our labor costs exceed nearly all of our peers as well. No wonder we haven’t attracted buyers with billions wishing to acquire us. Hahahaha. If you add the pancit, the total cost of this pictured meal would not exceed PHP20 for the meal. Oh, and commercial iced tea is one of the cheapest drinks you can make, at roughly PHP2-3 pesos per glass ingredients cost, if I recall correctly.


35 Responses

  1. You are right, value meals are not always “value”but convenience. Unless its the $1.00 hamburger.. and you are just eating for 1.. well, its cheaper to buy than make it yourself. My hubby prefers my cooking, he said he is willing to spend more for my groceries, than in restaurant where his eating “habits” is guarded. I am glad he loves Pinoy Dishes, but sometimes.. I like to go out.. because I need a break, not just from cooking & serving, but also cleaning..But at certain times I go out coz I really cannot replicate a certain dish.

  2. Every Saturday, I cook our meals for the following week for the fact that this is much cheaper than buying fast food or eating in a resto. Store them in the freezer and heat them up on the day the dish is scheduled to be consumed. The downside is I only have Sunday as my day of rest. :)

    P.S. we still dine out once in a while :)

  3. A value meal containing a drumstick, rice and pansit would be priced above 40 pesos even in nameless carinderias here.

  4. I had a small snack stand at a bazaar before and yes the raw materials for a food business is cheap, however the additional costs for rent, labor, marketing, etc. still made up a significant portion of the overhead. I had to close it down when the average net earnings were only around 10% of the overhead. I wish I had thought of selling Ice Scramble/ Skrambol then. Tubong Ice Scramble is the new Tubong lugaw.

  5. Wow, thank you for bringing this to our awareness. I really appreciate it. I definitely agree with your opinion regarding food cost. And I think, one of the reason why people flock to get value meals is they don’t have enough time to prepare for the meal themselves.

  6. yes, exactly! and iced tea, especially the “bottomless” type, is one of the cheapest things there is, but bottomless costs something like P40 here.

  7. Well convenience is a value, for a minimum/daily wage worker (whom i assume is the target of a Php49 value meal) there’s real value in not shopping/marinating/grilling your chicken, cooking your rice, washing the dishes and cleaning-up. With all that time saved, that can be translated to other “valuable” items in his life–sleeping, recharging for the following day, having time to talk to the family, having a little entertainment, etc.

    i guess it boils down to how one defines value.

  8. Erich, yes, I guess convenience does have value. But I could readily argue that on one’s day off, one could easily prepare 4-5 meals if not more in less than an hour and stock them in the fridge. So not only would it take very little time, one would save a lot. I think the much ballyhooed “I don’t have time” is a weak excuse. I used to work 80-90 hour weeks in NY, commute by subway to work, had my own tiny apartment, and I still found the time to cook many of my evening meals and some of my lunches, do all my laundry and ironing, eat healthily, keep my room and bathroom very clean, shop in markets, and entertain say 2-3x a month. And yes, after a decade of hard work and frugal expenditure, I managed to retire with a reasonable nest egg… So it depends what people are really doing with their time…

  9. If one takes the extreme example and spends say an “extra” PHP100 a day for “convenience” then in a month they would have spent an extra PHP3,000 or roughly 1/2 the cost of the lowest amortization for the purchase of your own (albeit tiny and distant) home! If instead you put the PHP100 a day (escalating to say PHP200 a day after 10 years, and say PHP300 a day after 20 years), then after 30 years total, assuming say just 7% annual compound interest, you would have close to if not more than PHP500,000 in savings. In the process, they would also consume dozens of kilos worth of MSG and saturated fat over that 30 year period, and probably eat less healthily in general. :)

  10. MM, I saw in the Yummy Magazine December issue on page 91 re Zubuchon…wow with prices to say the least. (napa dalawang beses ako na magbasa) ‘coz the prices stated inclusive of freight charges… wow, we can really taste the famous lechon here in Manila now… but can we ask for the contact numbers of where to order?

  11. sophie, contact numbers were on the final page of that article… but here they are anyway…During office hours: 032-236-5264 and our cell: 0917.627.4761. Please order early for the key holiday dates as we have limited production… Thanks.

  12. I find value in cooking my own meals because I don’t have to worry about how my food is being prepared in the back kitchen of a restaurant, especially fast food restaurants. Some of us also find value in putting our skill, creativity, and love into the food we prepare for our family. I think if people knew some of the horrid, many times unsanitary conditions, their food was being prepared in they would start taking the time to prepare their own food too. I also love to eat out, but one of my favorite restaurants has an open kitchen where you can actually watch the cooks prepare your food : )

  13. I love cooking my own food just for the mere fact that I myself cook it (i can make it healthier to boot!). Now, i occasionally do eat at fastfood restaurants (love my pizza, burgers and jolly spaghetti!) and although there is a new campaign going around that MSG indeed is not harmful to you (as we were previously led to believe by past generations?) we can’t deny that too much of something is bad, especially in fast “food” which which I believe uses an exponential amount of the stuff and other not so likable ingredients… give me herbs, spices and salt anytime!

    Thanks again for the post MM! :)

  14. I wonder if it would be cheaper and healthier to replace the pancit with a simple local green veg — like bokchoy/sitaw, etc. That ‘value’ meal definitely has loads of simple carbs , salt , fat and MSG if you translate it to a fast food operation.

  15. even back in the states, when we used to live there – i don’t really go to fast food joints. i couldn’t stand eating greasy food. it makes my stomach turn. anyway, value meal just means convenience. convenience that you won’t have to decide which food to get with what. i don’t drink sodas so that, alone, is a loss for me – if i get a value meal. i agree. you really don’t save much.

  16. The basic argument in this discussion assumes you know how to cook or are willing to learn how to cook and invest time and resources in the learning process.
    I learned how to cook at 48 and I am now 61. How I wish I could turn back time and learn the skills much earlier. I could have cooked great meals for my kids as they were growing up instead of just relying on the barbecue or the myriad takeout places in the large city we lived in.
    My son now has a busy career in New York City and lives by himself. He just goes to any of the thousand of Mom and Pop ethnic take-out joints that New York is so famous for.

  17. it helps if you make the effort to learn how to cook and know the market prices for your food. i started cooking after college and now cook as a way to relax after a long day in front of the computer. it also helps that one of my best friends is a chef. once he showed me an excel file showing a breakdown of the costs of making a dish in a fine dining place he used to work for. they accounted for EVERYTHING. even the cost of the salt and pepper used to season a dish. i was shocked how much the cost of ingredients actually was compared to the selling price but then again, in retrospect, the basic cost of the products doesn’t take into account the talent/education of the chef who made the dish, the european glassware, the ambiance etc. etc.
    i like eating out to get inspired and try recreating the same dish at home.

  18. Forfeited savings and eventual health expenses are certainly enough reason to consider squeezing in more time to cooking one’s family’s own food much more often than eating out. Aside from the computation of forfeited lump-sum savings you made, imagine what a major medical bill (or bills) could do to the family, not to mention the suffering that sickness can mete, if we eat out , eat fastfood and processed food more than we should.

    It’s a struggle for us to cook more at home, and to cook more of the healthy yet tasty food rather than the processed ,”fastfood” kind., what with both my wife and I working, and with 4 young kids, and no househelp. I’m very fortunate that I have a wife who can whip up a really good meal quickly, but it will help if I cook more often myself.

    That’s why blogs such as yours MM are so helpful. You’ve shown you can eat fine-dining quality yet healthy (except for the pork – ha ha! ) food at “fastfood” prices (or thereabouts) in the comforts of your own home, with passion and creativity, and enjoy the whole process with family.

    Better start adding that extra P 500,000 savings …

  19. MM, off topic. I learned the value of brining from you and love its effects specially on the gambas recipe you gave. My question is how do i approximate the additional salt/soy sauce that i will use if i will marinate the chicken later?
    Thanks! and Merry Christmas!

  20. passive observer, I would guess simply reduce the amount of time that you marinate in soy/other sauce, and or reduce salt by about 20%. The brining makes the chicken juicier and depending on length of brine, saltier… If brining chicken parts, just brine them for a couple of hours, no need to leave them in longer than that…

  21. I live alone and find that shopping for supplies can be quite expensive, since I have to buy tingi. If I buy in bulk, much is ruined by spoilage. When I do the math, for my case at least, buying cooked food (from canteen/carinderia type places) turns out cheaper. But I still enjoy cooking for myself. I’m unable to do it as much as I want, and at times, cooking my own meals becomes some form of indulgence.

  22. I’ve tried cooking seafood linguine in my condo one day. The restaurant where I used to order this dish is just a stone’s throw away from my condo, just to see how much food I can make with the cost of 1 serving of seafood linguine (P400). I doubt the restaurant ever used Extra Virgin Olive Oil on their dishes, but I want my homemade dish to be perfect. So I bought linguine, frozen assorted seafood, tomatoes and herbs. Again, my budget is P400. I cooked for an hour, and the yield comes to 6 servings of high-end restaurant-quality seafood linguine everybody’s quite happy to eat. Cost to make is P66/serving. Resto charges P400/serving, plus taxes and tableservice. Yum!

  23. i think it would also be good to show the total cost of the meal considering other costs, like transport to the grocery, electricity/gas/uling, equipment, etc.

  24. It really pays to know how to cook good food. With soaring prices of everything, I personally think I don’t get good value for restaurant food ( talking about restos where you spend P700 to P1,000 per head )… because of scrimping on ingredients. I’d rather make the dishes myself. But, I like to go to restaurants sometimes so I can replicate at home the dishes I like or when I’m too tired to cook for an occasion. Otherwise, it’s baon of home cooked meal everyday and twice a week of baking. Rather spend on high quality ingredients and use the right quantity. I guess if one has a family, one is inspired to cook however tiring or time consuming it can be.

  25. Yeah, you’re right, Marketman, there’s not necessarily enough value in a value meal at commercial places. We do a lot of cooking at home and there’s a lot of value in this.

    Cooking together is bonding time, e.g. sitting around the table wrapping dumplings and chatting. Cooking in itself is pleasurable, not a chore as some would see it. Sharing a home-cooked meal with family and friends is immensely satisfying. Value is not limited to saving money but also covers priceless things.

    Good post!

    P.S. Noticed with the chicken skin, as with the chicken skewers (another post), perhaps there’s not enough oil on the grill? Also, I usually add oil in the marinade, prevents drying and improves flavour.

  26. “Value” comes differently for every person. i have learned that cooking meals if way cheaper than eating out plus you have the benefit of knowing of goes into your food. i wished i have learned that a long time ago so i could have saved at least a quarter of my salary that was eaten up by eating out. my mom once told me that i should just cook my food for the week every weekend. but i thought it would be eating so much time. i guess mothers do know what’s best for us. thanks for sharing this insight, MM.

    that’s what i like about this blog. you just don’t learn about recipes, you get to learn things about life as well.

  27. I’ve long discarded the idea that there is “value” in “Value Meals”. Now, my main criteria for eating out is that the food must taste good and that I’ll feel full after eating. I no longer care how cheap or expensive it is as log as I am getting my “value” out of it.

  28. Absolutely, “value” is sometimes associated with convenience but cooking in the comfort of your home is indeed cheaper. but if you want to eat but without breaking your wallet try some good finds about good food at reasonable price and also healthy.



Subscribe To Updates

No spam, only notifications about new blog posts.