JACKSONVILLE, Fla., and CHICAGO — Since 2011, consumer spending in the foodservice channel has seen significant growth, with U.S. diners now spending an average $144 per month on food prepared outside the home—$25 more than two years prior—according to new research published in the third edition of The Why? Behind the Dine.

This annual report from Acosta and Technomic reveals this spend represents 35% of U.S. diners’ total monthly food budget, a jump of 5 percentage points from last year.

“Along with an increase in spending on food prepared outside the home, the market is also seeing a surge in the variety of dining options available, from different types of cuisine to new ways to eat off-premise, such as ordering delivery from sit-down restaurants,” said Colin Stewart, senior vice president of Acosta.

“The rate of consumers dining at restaurants over the last year has leveled off, but look beyond face value and you will see diners’ dollars are now being spread across various out-of-home channels, not only concentrated at dine-in establishments,” said Jennifer Passmore, regional vice president of Technomic. “In fact, many diners anticipate spending even more on food prepared outside the home in the coming year, and they will have a full menu of dining options to choose from regularly.”

Here are four key factors that are greatly influencing consumer behavior …

1. More than a meal

Total U.S. diners surveyed agreed that time spent dining out is both valuable and enjoyable, even more so than the year prior, illustrating how experiential factors frequently drive dining decisions.

  • 66% of diners agree they view mealtime as a valuable time to connect with family or friends.
  • 64% of diners say they love trying new restaurants.
  • 63% of diners agree that visiting restaurants is a form of entertainment for them.
  • 45% of diners consider themselves adventurous eaters.

2. Generational differences

Spending on food prepared outside the home varies greatly across generations, with millennial and Gen X diners taking the lead.

  • 42% of millennials’ monthly food budget—more than any other generation—is spent on food prepared outside the home. This is 7 percentage points above the percent of the monthly food budget spent by total U.S. diners on food prepared outside the home.
  • 35% of Gen Xers’ monthly food budget is spent on food prepared outside the home.
  • Over the next year, 53% of millennial diners plan to eat more meals outside the home.

3. More service options

Dining in restaurants remains the most popular format for eating out, but compared to the year prior, more diners report using carryout, delivery and drive-thru options, with convenience being a primary motivator.

  • The rate of U.S. diners who ate in a restaurant’s dining area in the past three months has remained steady year over year at 82%.
  • 70% of diners ordered carryout from a restaurant over the past three months, while 67% ordered from a drive-thru, and 50% ordered delivery food in that same time period.
  • 56% of millennial and Gen X foodservice dollars are being spent “off-premise” (such as through carryout or delivery).

4. Driven by social media

The digital world serves as a catalyst for dining decisions: U.S. diners research options online and continue the conversation on social media by posting reviews of their experiences.

  • 49% of diners look for coupons/offers online for restaurants.
  • 46% of diners often read restaurant menus online before going there to eat.
  • 61% of diners on Facebook follow restaurants to learn about new menu items and for coupons/offers.
  • 28% of diners with kids indicate they often tell family and friends about their restaurant experiences on social media, with many including photos of their meals.

Conclusions

“There’s no question that dining out is in,” said Stewart of Acosta. “However, restaurant owners and foodservice operators need to consider what they can offer diners beyond good food. This can include focusing on factors that create a unique dining experience by differentiating elements such as the atmosphere, convenience and ways to connect with others.”

The third edition of The Why? Behind The Dine study was fielded in December 2016 in partnership with Technomic Inc., using a random sample of 1,500 U.S. diners. Click here to access the full report.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta is a provider of integrated sales and marketing solutions for major food and nonfood manufacturers, distributors and operators across all away-from-home meal channels. Chicago-based Technomic is a Winsight company that specializes in fact-based food industry research and consulting.