You Won’t Believe How Much Delicious Food I Got for Just $7.99 at IKEA

IKEA food
Penny Hoarder writer Kelly Smith eats an Ikea frozen yogurt cone outside the Tampa, Fla., Ikea store on June 23, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

I grew up going to a regional wholesale store with my mother on the weekends. I recall the store’s slimy hot dogs and burnt pretzels that made my stomach churn.

On top of that, the smell was always rank. The only way I can describe it is as a cross between cardboard, stale soda pop and sweat.

When I first heard the buzz around IKEA toying with the idea of making stand-alone cafes, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.

I asked myself, “People go to IKEA just to eat? That’s kind of… gross.

Maybe I’m a bit pompous when it comes to food, but something about eating at a retail store turns me off. No thanks.

Eating at IKEA: Not a Choice, but a Lifestyle

Since the Swedish store’s opening in 1958, it has expanded into multiple countries including the U.S., Italy, France, the U.K., Japan, Russia and more.

The store itself has been open for decades, and the IKEA food phenomenon is nothing new, either.

The first IKEA restaurant opened in 1960. Since then, its dining concept has grown to produce monumental sales. FastCompany reports that IKEA Food had a whopping $1.5 billion in sales in 2013.

People all over the world have been enjoying the famous IKEA meatballs, lingonberry sauce, perfectly prepared salmon and more for longer than I’ve been alive.

The more I learned about the food’s popularity (“You mean, some people go there to just eat? They don’t even shop?”), the more I began to feel like a big loser for never eating at IKEA.

A quick search on Instagram made it hit home for me. I typed in #ikeafood, and the more than 54,000 results were somewhat mind-bending.

For example, I saw a post from a family that took its dad to IKEA for his Father’s Day lunch. They chose it because it was their “fav” place to eat.

I made my dad a grilled cheese (without the crust).

Then, I saw a post showing off a masterpiece spread: fried fish, a colorful salad, meatballs, waffles, sausage, hash browns, french fries… and more.

And it was gorgeous.

The accompanying text read, “Saturday breakfast.” You know, because Saturdays are meant for leisurely strolls around IKEA and eating food that looks straight out of Julia Child’s kitchen afterward.

Maybe I was out of touch when it came to IKEA’s food. Maybe.

My Quest to Eat at an IKEA Restaurant

In all fairness, I’m not the only person in this universe who thinks eating inside a store is a little… strange.

My co-worker, email marketing specialist Colleen Rice, admitted to having “always” feared IKEA’s food.

When I asked her exactly what about it scared her, I found her mindset was the same as mine.

It’s the same reason why I don’t go to the little cafeteria thing at Target or the creepy McDonalds in Walmart (if I went to Walmart),” she said. “These are not stores for dining — at least, per American standards.”

One of my other co-workers, though, is passionate about IKEA food.

Sharon Steinmann, director of photography, swore to me the food was top notch.

“We love how we can get a healthy meal everyone enjoys for under $20 for the three of us including dessert and coffee,” she said. “It’s consistently good and super family friendly.”  

When I told her about my childhood nightmares of disgusting warehouse food, she insisted IKEA was different.

“Other warehouse stores seem to only offer junk food like cheap pizza and hot dogs, so I’ve never eaten at those places,” she said. “[But IKEA] is a huge difference.”

She and her family make it their No. 1 choice for Sunday dinners, and it’s the only place that serves a meal her 22-month-old son, Ezra, will consistently eat.

She also told me it was dirt cheap.

That got my attention.

If I could (supposedly) eat like royalty for an insanely low price, did it matter that I was dining in the corner of a giant warehouse store?

I decided to find out.

Is IKEA Food Worth the Hype?

Penny Hoarder writer Kelly Smith holds a Swedish veggie ball plate with mashed potatoes, green beans and lingonberry jam at the Tampa, Fla., Ikea store. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

There’s something thrilling about driving to IKEA. Common thoughts include:

Am I going to get lost this time?”

“How much money can I spend here before I go bankrupt?”

“Will anyone notice if I take a nap on one of the couches?”

This time, though, my only thought was, “Will I get food poisoning?”

As I entered the cafe midafternoon on a Friday, it was packed.

There were old people, young people, entire families and even single diners all huddled over their trays or sipping coffee. Some chatted while others smiled and stared out the floor-length windows. I peeked at their food, and it looked appetizing.

So, I grabbed a tray and started my way down the food line. I opted for veggie balls (I’m a picky eater) topped with a Thai coconut curry sauce, and served with fresh steamed vegetables and rice.

Oh, I also got a drink and dessert.

I was shocked when I got to the cashier and it only cost $7.99 with tax.

I sat down and took a look at my food. It looked more than edible — it looked delicious. And it smelled good, too. My plate was a far cry from my childhood nightmares of our local wholesale store.

My Final Thoughts on IKEA Food

After I finished my food (every bite of it), I came to a few conclusions:

  1. IKEA’s food tastes amazing. The cuisine isn’t limited to strictly Swedish fare. If you’re not into salmon, some options include chicken tenders or pasta. Who doesn’t love pasta?
  1. Not only is IKEA’s food delicious, but it’s inexpensive. I ate an entire meal for less than $8, and entire families eat for under $20. Steinmann spent just $18.99 to feed herself, her husband and their son. Since they’re IKEA Family members, they got free cappuccinos, too.
  1. Eating at IKEA isn’t weird. There’s so much more than hot dogs and pretzels, though IKEA serves both downstairs. This is real, sustainable food. IKEA pledges to serve “food you can trust” and requires its supplies to have special quality programs in place. To maintain quality, IKEA hires independent agencies to perform surprise audits on its suppliers.

It also makes sense to me why so many other people dine there.

There are kid-friendly areas throughout the cafe, and there’s also the IKEA Family loyalty program, which is free to join.

As an IKEA Family member, you’re eligible for product discounts, price guarantees, free coffee, occasional free meals for kids and more.

Looks like I’ve turned over a new leaf. I see plenty of IKEA meals in my future.

And no, IKEA didn’t pay me to write this post.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.