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Americans' Dining-Out Frequency Little Changed From 2008

Americans' Dining-Out Frequency Little Changed From 2008

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Six in 10 Americans ate dinner out at least once in last seven days
  • 16% were frequent diners, eating dinner out three or more times
  • Eating at a restaurant strongly related to age and income

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' propensity to eat at restaurants is little changed from a decade ago. Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults recently reported they ate dinner at a restaurant at least once in the past week, similar to the 60% found in 2008. The rate was a bit higher before the 2007-2009 recession, including 66% in 2003.

Thinking about last week, how many nights did you eat dinner out at a restaurant of any kind?

Eating out is big business in America, comprising 4% of the U.S. gross domestic product. More than 1 million dining establishments accounted for an estimated $782 billion in sales in 2016. These results provide a good indication of real-world changes in Americans' dining habits.

Gallup's trend is based on polling conducted in December of each year, with the most recent survey fielded Dec. 7-11, 2016. The question does not specify what types of restaurants respondents should consider in their answer, and thus could include fast food and the rapidly growing fast-casual sector, as well as more formal sit-down experiences. Regardless, any variation in how different respondents define what constitutes a "restaurant" likely would be constant over time.

Fairly consistent with past years, 45% of all Americans reported going out to eat one or two times during the past week. A much smaller proportion -- 16% -- ate out three or more times.

The trend suggests that frequent restaurant dining has been fairly steady, fluctuating between 15% and 18% since 2003. Meanwhile, occasional dining dipped from 49% in 2003 and 2005 to 42% in 2008. It remains slightly lower today, at 45%.

Frequency of Eating Dinner at a Restaurant in the Past Week
  Dec 11-14, 2003 Dec 5-8, 2005 Dec 4-7, 2008 Dec 7-11, 2016
  % % % %
Zero times 34 35 40 38
One time 29 29 28 26
Two times 20 20 14 19
Three or more times 17 15 18 16

Naturally, there is a strong relationship between income and dining out. The percentage eating at a restaurant at least weekly rises from 44% among those earning less than $30,000 in annual household income to 67% among those in the middle income group and 72% among those earning $75,000 or more.

Eating Dinner at a Restaurant in the Past Week, by Household Income
  Less than $30,000 $30,000 to $74,999 $75,000+
  % % %
Zero times 56 33 28
One time 19 31 28
Two times 16 20 23
Three or more times 9 15 21
At least once (total) 44 67 72
Gallup, Dec. 7-11, 2016

The frequency of dining out is also related to age. Seven in 10 young adults -- those aged 18 to 34 -- ate dinner out at least once in the past week, compared with 65% of those aged 35 to 54 and 50% of those aged 55 and older. In addition, roughly twice as many young adults (20%) and middle-aged adults (19%) as older adults (11%) report more frequent dining excursions.

Eating Dinner at a Restaurant in the Past Week, by Age
  18 to 34 35 to 54 55+
  % % %
Zero times 28 35 50
One time 31 26 22
Two times 21 20 17
Three or more times 20 19 11
At least once (total) 72 65 50
Gallup, Dec. 7-11, 2016

Income Less of a Factor for Young Adults

In analyzing these relationships using combined Gallup data since 2003, it appears that income differences in dining out are most apparent in those aged 55 and older. Among this group, the percentage eating out at least weekly tumbles from 73% of those in the highest income group to 38% of those in the lowest.

The income-related drop in weekly dining is slightly less steep among middle-aged adults, falling from 74% to 46%. It is far less pronounced among young adults, dipping from 78% to 60%.

Eating Dinner at a Restaurant in the Past Week, by Age and Income
% At least once (total)
  Less than $30,000 $30,000 to $74,999 $75,000+
  % % %
18 to 34 60 77 78
35 to 54 46 65 74
55+ 38 57 73
Based on combined Gallup polls from 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2016

Bottom Line

Americans' options for eating dinner continue to expand, including a few that could undercut the restaurant industry: meal preparation services that deliver fresh ingredients and recipes to your front door, smartphone apps that streamline food takeout, and high-quality food bars available at many grocery chains. The relative stability in the percentage of Americans eating out is thus a positive finding for the restaurant industry -- perhaps a testament to the expansion of higher-end fast-food chains that provide good value for the extra expense, as well as convenience and the social benefits of eating out.

The good news for restaurants is that young adults are among their most frequent customers and that even young adults with lower incomes find a way to eat out multiple times a week. How well restaurants do in the future could depend on how well they retain these customers into middle age as financial pressures to cut back typically mount.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 7-11, 2016, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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