Hospitality

Is Take-Out the Great Equalizer?

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The Gist: ⅓ of US adults turn to take-out or restaurant dining on a regular basis. Those most likely to dine out include Gen X-ers and those earning less than $50k a year.


When late afternoon rolls around, the question on most people’s minds is, “What am I going to have for dinner?” This age-old concern never fails to require a fair amount of brain wracking and an occasional last-minute trip to the grocery store on the way home. One way of skirting that hassle is to order take-out or sit down in a restaurant. But is this a popular option? And who exactly is choosing to stay out of the kitchen, these days? We thought we’d take a look.

Currently, 33% of US adults report going out to eat once a week. Just under ⅓ (27% to be exact) rarely or never go out. This means that “moderately” and “rarely” are the two most popular options when it comes to dining out. However, 19% of respondents eat out twice a week and 21% of respondents eat out three times a week or more.

Certainly, this is news that meal delivery apps should be happy to hear. These are strong numbers that should not be overlooked, especially as they could speak to the growing interest US adults have in getting their food with as little effort as possible.

Historically, home cooking has been considered a gendered activity. But, our data paints a different picture.

Although men do have a slight majority in dining out three times a week or more, women take the lead in eating out once a week. We could essentially say it’s a draw, with both men and women enjoying the perks of restaurant dining or take-out. And while 55% of US adults who rarely or never go out to eat are women, that still leaves 45% of men who are also eating at home.

All of this to say, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to appeal to a more gender neutral demographic of home cooks.

Of course, age could also impact one’s decision on how to get dinner on the table. And our data shows this to be true.

Simply put, Gen Xers are dining out the most. This demographic makes up 40% of those who eat out three or more times a week. There are several factors that could contribute to this. It could be that this age range has landed in that sweet spot of having enough spending money to afford it, as well as a long list of to-dos, with their kids, job, home, etc. It could be something else. But whatever the case, this group edges out all the rest.

Most people would assume that eating out frequently would be pricey, but is there an actual correlation between eating out and making more? The answer is not quite as simple.

Yes, 57% of those who never or rarely eat out are making less than $50k a year. But, if we stopped there, we would miss the very nuanced trend taking place below the surface.

In all of the other dining out categories, our low-income earners are actually the most represented. 37% of those who eat out three times a week or more are earning the lowest incomes in the country. And while the frequency of dining out does increase for our highest income earners, their percentages still lag behind.

There are, of course, many reasons why an individual may choose to eat out. Maybe it is for the luxury of having someone else prepare your food or the ambiance of the dining room, but most importantly might be convenience.

To take this one step further, we looked into the types of restaurants people are choosing when they eat out. What we found is that, while independent or local restaurants seem to attract the biggest numbers, fast food options are in high demand for those eating out three or more times a week.

With the rise of fast casual and the abundant, affordable options available, it may make sense for someone short on time–perhaps due to multiple jobs or navigating a 9-5 and a side hustle–to prefer picking up something for dinner, on the go. This possibility brings a new perspective to the conversation on how we eat, posing the question of whether eating (and cooking) at home is a new form of luxury?

One of our insights into healthy eating offers another thought. 23% of people who eat out three times a week or more say their biggest obstacle to healthy eating is that they don’t have enough time. This indicates there may be more room for casual, healthy chains to appeal to these time-strapped and maybe cash-strapped individuals.

In 2018, it seems eating out is not going away any time soon. The real test here is to see which companies can successfully appeal to this highly diverse crowd of diners so that everyone who chooses can make the most of their evening meal.

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