Some items come at exorbitant prices, given what they cost to prepare and what you get for your money. Steer clear of these tasty temptations.
1. Gourmet burgers
When diners spot a fancier version of a familiar item -- like a burger -- on a menu, they're willing to pay a high price for it, explains restaurateur and consultant Jody Pennette.
2. Spaghetti with meatballs
There's nothing like low-cost pasta to bulk up a restaurant's profits -- and a little goes a long way, because pasta expands as it cooks. One pound of dry spaghetti will yield almost 3 pounds of cooked pasta. That's right -- you're paying for water!
Walk into a Japanese restaurant hungry and you're likely to order the $6 bowl of soybeans, or edamame, to tide you over while you ponder the menu. Next time, avoid the temptation. Restaurants buy frozen edamame for $1.95 a pound or sometimes even less if it's from a chain.
The rule "don't order what you can make at home" definitely applies here. And you should be especially wary of eateries that make your guacamole tableside and serve it up in fancy traditional molcajete stone bowls.
5. Shrimp Caesar salad
Large Atlantic shrimp, factory-farmed medium shrimp from Thailand and shrimp "pieces" are just a few options available to chefs for this salad -- and of course they come at different prices.
6. Stack of pancakes
When you order the pancakes at brunch, it's the kitchen crew that gets the last laugh. They combine flour, eggs and milk (buttermilk if you're lucky) with some leavening agents, griddle cupfuls for a few minutes on either side, then charge you up to $10 for a dish you make at home every other Sunday for less than $1 a portion.
7. 'Fruits de mer' platter
Restaurants love to dazzle diners with spectacle and drama because it gives them leverage to inflate the check. And there are few things more dazzling than a towering, three-tiered platter of shellfish sitting on a bed of ice -- with an accompanying sky-high price tag.
8. Chicken noodle soup
One chicken can yield a huge pot of soup, especially if coupled with a little bouillon for an extra boost of flavor, plenty of noodles and some carrots and celery for good measure. One portion can cost a restaurant just 30 cents to make, yet it will be featured on menus for around $4.95 -- and often more.