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Restaurant Industry Dining Trends In 2024

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

The restaurant industry is constantly changing. By leveraging data, restaurant owners and managers can gain valuable insights into customer behaviors, preferences, and market trends. These allow you to make informed decisions that can better serve your guests and boost profitability. Whether you are a seasoned restaurateur or a fresh entrepreneur, understanding guest preferences can help you thrive in this ever-competitive industry.

Join us as we explore these trends and how these insights impact both diners and restaurateurs in 2024.

Quick Insights

  • 89% of Americans have dined out at a restaurant at least once in the past 30 days

  • Women were almost twice as likely to never order an alcoholic beverage at a restaurant when compared to men 

  • A higher percentage of alcohol drinkers order cocktails (24%) at bars or restaurants than even beer (22%) or wine (20%)

  • When going out to dinner Americans were more likely to order an appetizer (26%), than an alcoholic beverage (18%) or dessert (13%)

  • Women commonly order fewer appetizers, desserts, and drinks, showcasing a preference for lighter dining experiences

  • Breakfast/brunch (5%) was by far the meal that Americans dined out for the least, far less than lunch (17%) or dinner (75%)

  • Valentine’s Day (52%), New Year’s Eve (42%) and the Super Bowl (34%) were the three occasions throughout the year that Americans go to bars or restaurants

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Diners’ restaurant trends data

Ready? Let’s dive in deeper. 

89% of Americans have dined out at a restaurant at least once in the past 30 days

The start of the year can typically be a slower time for restaurants. However, our recent survey paints a more encouraging picture. 89% of those we surveyed have dined out at least once within 30 days. This is great news for restaurants and bars as business will likely continue to pick up going into the spring.

When diving deeper into the demographics of these diners, we found that older Americans (Age 54+) were more likely not to have dined out in the past 30 days (18%). This presents a positive opportunity for food service businesses aiming for higher tabs, as older Americans are also least likely to order an alcoholic beverage. In fact, 29% of those aged 54 and above stated that they never order a drink when dining out.

It also appears that males are dining out more frequently compared to women. We found that 29% of males enjoyed dining out at restaurants five or more times within the past 30 days, while only 17% of females fell into this category. 

Now that you know who your customers most likely are, how do you increase their check sizes? One option is to look at menu trends and focus on menu engineering. Menu engineering leverages continuous data about the profitability versus popularity of individual restaurant menu items. This process then helps you understand which menu items are most profitable and how to structure those items across your menu to increase sales. For more information check out this article.

Women were almost twice as likely to never order an alcoholic beverage at a restaurant when compared to men 

In 2024, “Dry January” was wildly popular, especially with Gen Z. When going out to dinner at a restaurant, 17% of Americans never ordered an alcoholic beverage. Furthermore, women were almost twice as likely to never order an alcoholic beverage at a restaurant when compared to men (21% vs 12%). But don’t be discouraged, providing alternative options can improve overall customer experiences and lead to an increase in check sizes. One solution here is mocktails. Remember your bar doesn’t sell alcohol, it sells experiences. Your guests can still enjoy their night at your bar or lounge even with a mocktail.

However, we’re not saying alcohol is out of the restaurant industry trends. 40% of Americans between the ages of 35-44 are drinking at least every 5/10 visits. Moreover, 23% of your 25-34 year old guests are always drinking when they dine out. For these guests, one way to boost sales is by posting on social media. 76% of high-volume bars analyzed by Toast regularly post across social channels. Two apps your guests are likely active on are Instagram and TikTok. Your restaurant business should consider showing off your most beautiful beverages on your socials, post about specials, and remind your followers about happy hour deals.

For more social media ideas for your specific restaurant brand check out our social media guide.

A higher percentage of alcohol drinkers order cocktails (24%) at bars or restaurants than even beer (22%) or wine (20%)

After promoting your incredible bar offerings on social media, let’s consider what your guests will be ordering the most. A higher percentage of alcohol drinkers in America order cocktails (24%) at bars or restaurants than beer (22%) or wine (20%). Specifically, females most commonly ordered cocktails (33%), while men chose beer (36%). The cocktail bandwagon is decently consistent regardless of age, as even 45-54-year-olds prefer them as their top choice (29%).

When it comes to slightly older guests, it seems that their preferences for beverages at dinner lean towards the non-alcoholic side. 48% of guests aged 54 and above expressed a preference for non-alcoholic options. Interestingly, these guests are also twice as likely to visit a restaurant for lunch or breakfast as opposed to dinner. Therefore, consider diversifying your beverage offerings during brunch to cater to these guests. Provide a range of both boozy and non-alcoholic options. This way, you have the potential to not only cater to the preferences of your older guests but also increase check sizes.

We’re not leaving out the wine connoisseurs! Diners who order wine the most (22%) are between the ages of 35-44. Surprisingly, they’re also more likely to be male (21%) compared to women (18%). As we mentioned, this is because women are ordering cocktails most often (33%).

To keep supplying guests with the drinks they enjoy, restaurant owners should consider prioritizing technology that will enable staff to provide quick service. High-volume bars and lounges understand the importance of leveraging technology to streamline operations. That’s why 100% of the high-volume bars analyzed in a separate Toast survey use Toast Go® 2 handheld POS systems. On a busy night, it’s not uncommon for a new drink order to not make its way into the POS system until its server has completed multiple other tasks. By embracing new technology, restaurants can save time and ensure that guests receive their drinks promptly, enhancing overall customer satisfaction.

When going out to dinner Americans were more likely to always order an appetizer (26%), than an alcoholic beverage (18%) or dessert (13%)

Okay, enough about booze. Let’s discuss appetizer and dessert trends. Overall, about 40% of diners are ordering an appetizer at least half of the time (5/10 visits), and 26% are always ordering them. We found that males are (31%) more likely to always order an appetizer relative to females (21%). Similar to our wine enthusiasts, guests ages 35-44 are ordering appetizers most often (30%). So if you get a table of late millennial or early Gen X men, be prepared to suggest your favorite apps.

Whether you’re a fast-casual restaurant or a fine dining establishment, always recommend appetizers to guests. However, the best appetizers for restaurants vary wildly depending on cuisine type and menu construction. Appetizer recipes are just as important to develop as others. No matter how great the entrees are, guests will always remember a restaurant’s bad artichoke dip. Consider also using ingredients you already have to limit food waste. To learn about the most profitable appetizers for your specific restaurant from Italian to Thai, check out this article.

Women commonly order fewer appetizers, desserts, and drinks, showcasing a preference for lighter dining experiences

Females were more likely to never order a dessert relative to males (16% vs. 10%). This was a common trend throughout our survey results. It seems that overall, women are more restrained when going to a restaurant. To reiterate:

  • Women were almost twice as likely to never order an alcoholic beverage at a restaurant when compared to men (21% vs 12%)

  • Males (31%) more likely to always order an appetizer relative to females (21%)

  • Females were (16%) more likely to never order a dessert relative to males (10%)

To effectively target women and boost their engagement with your menu options, it's essential to understand their dining habits. First, women tend to favor lunch as their primary dining-out choice, surpassing men by 2% (18% compared to 16%). Additionally, like men, dinner remains the most frequented meal for both genders, with 75% opting for dinner. Therefore, it’s important to consider women’s preferences for your lunch and dinner menus.

Women also exhibit greater sensitivity to lower restaurant ratings, with a higher threshold for exploration. If a restaurant falls below a 3.5-star rating, women are less inclined to give it a try. In summary, women place significant emphasis on your restaurant rating, as well as the offerings on your lunch and dinner menus. To effectively cater to this demographic, consider incorporating sustainability into your dining trends such as plant-based menu options, given that on average, twice as many women as men identify as vegan.

Breakfast/brunch (5%) was by far the meal that Americans dined out for the least, far less than lunch (17%) or dinner (75%)

Dear breakfast: we’re so sorry. Breakfast/brunch (5%) was by far the meal that Americans dined out for the least, far less than lunch (17%) or dinner (75%). This doesn’t mean guests aren’t going out to breakfast at all, it’s just that they’re more frequently going out for dinner, which isn’t surprising. This could also mean that instead, they’re grabbing breakfast takeout, such as bagels or breakfast burritos to go.

Brunch still has some regulars. As we mentioned earlier, older Americans (54+) were twice as likely to go to a restaurant for lunch or breakfast when compared to younger diners, but the least likely cohort to go to dinner. Gen X and Boomers unite! Furthermore, men are slightly more likely to dine out for breakfast/brunch compared to women (6% vs 5%).

One way to get guests into your restaurant in the mornings is through loyalty programs. 79% of Gen Z love the idea of customer loyalty programs and 60% think all brands should offer loyalty programs. One incentive to incorporate is to reward guests with a complimentary breakfast drink or appetizer after a certain number of visits. By doing so, not only will guests be encouraged to visit for breakfast, but they may also develop a taste for your menu selections. This approach has the potential to bring in repeat business and contribute to an increase in breakfast sales.

Valentine’s Day (52%), New Year’s Eve (42%) and the Super Bowl (34%) were the three occasions throughout the year that Americans go to bars or restaurants

Why is all of this data so relevant right now? Because we’re also embarking upon some of the most popular dining events of the year. Valentine’s Day (52%), New Year’s Eve (42%), and the Super Bowl (34%) were the three occasions throughout the year that Americans go to bars or restaurants for most. Valentine’s Day was the most popular overall with 54% of females and 51% of males planning to go out. Did you know that guests spend more than double (108%) on steaks on Valentine’s Day overall compared to the annual daily average — $191,000 vs $92,000? In order to get the most out of this Valentine’s Day, check out this data on popular menu items last year.

Females were still less likely than men to go to bars and restaurants for the Super Bowl, Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and New Year’s Eve. For these slower occasions at your restaurant consider implementing online ordering deals. This way, when guests choose to celebrate at home they can still cater their parties with your delicious menu. For example, offer a large-side chicken wing takeout special for the Super Bowl. Chicken wings are the most popular game day food in NFL cities during the season — with a 25% increase in average order volume on Sundays in the season compared to Sundays out of the season.

Set your restaurant up for success with proper restaurant trends

Understanding guest preferences in the restaurant industry is crucial for restaurant owners and managers to make informed decisions. The trends outlined in this article, such as the popularity of certain occasions like Valentine's Day, can guide restaurant owners in tailoring menus, promotions, and guest interactions to maximize customer satisfaction. By staying updated on these trends, leveraging technology, and incorporating strategies like social media promotion and loyalty programs, restaurants can stay ahead in the competitive post-pandemic restaurant industry.

Survey methodology 

Toast conducted a blind survey on this topic of 850 U.S. adults ages 25 and older on January 24, 2024. Respondents were not made aware that Toast was fielding the study. Using a standard margin of error calculation, at a confidence interval of 95%, the margin of error on average is +/- 3 - 5%.

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