More People Are Choosing to Dine Out. Here's Why.

How much are guests spending on restaurants? More than they used to.

If you gave your bank account a look right now, what percentage of it would you see was spent on restaurants?

As someone in the restaurant industry, the number likely wouldn't surprise you. But for those who aren't, the number might surprise them and show that they've been eating out a lot more than they used to.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spent an average of $3,459 on takeout, in-restaurant dining, and fast food meals in 2018. And according to a report by Nielsen, the total amount of money spent on food “away from home” (vs. at home) has risen 94% since 2003.

In a Harvard Business Review study, researcher Eddie Yoon found that Americans fall into one of three groups:

  • 15% of people said they love to cook
  • 50% of people said they hate to cook
  • 35% of people are ambivalent about cooking

As a result – and because there are more ways than ever to order food – more people are choosing to eat out… or get food delivered right to their doorstep. This could spell trouble for the grocery industry, or it could result in a significant change in the way we shop. Either way, home cooking as a pastime is evolving, and so is the restaurant industry.

Why? Let’s dive in.

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Lines at Restaurants Are Becoming a Thing of the Past

Whether the queue is full of office workers waiting to place an order at a busy lunch spot, families are waiting to get seated at a casual dining establishment, or servers are lining up at the POS terminal to send orders to the kitchen, restaurants are always full of lines.

There are plenty of patient people out there, but many just hate waiting in lines – especially when they’re hungry. And for those people, it might seem "easier" to stay home and eat whatever’s in the fridge. But there are a number of technologies that help restaurants cut down on lines (AKA line bust), meaning hungry guests get the food they want faster.

  • Automation: Kiosks allow guests to walk into a restaurant, place an order via a screen, and receive their order. It’s as easy as that.
  • Optimized space: Many restaurants are optimizing their space to allow for different eating styles. Most restaurants and cafes now give guests the ability to order ahead through an online ordering platform and then pick up at their convenience.
  • Handhelds: Handheld POS systems allow restaurant workers to take someone’s order in the line, instead of at the register. Same goes for servers, who can use handheld POS systems to take orders and payment right at the table, so they can avoid running back and forth between the table and a terminal.

You Can Have It Your Way — Literally

A 2014 report from the market research firm NPD Group shared that, since 2001, under 60% of meals eaten at home been cooked at home. The NPD study can be found in this article the Washington Post.

People like choices and autonomy, and many working professionals these days crave convenience more than anything else. Cooking at home takes time, money, and often a certain prowess that some just prefer not to master.

The exception, of course, is meal kits, which have changed the landscape for people who wouldn't necessarily classify themselves as home cooks over the past few years.

At the end of the day, though, what makes a restaurant more convenient? Many features in restaurants, especially fast casual dining restaurants, help guests get their food fast.

  • Kiosks: On many kiosks, customers can place orders through a touchscreen, easily customize their selections, and route their orders directly to the kitchen.
  • Online Ordering / Delivery: Guests can order delivery through online ordering platforms easily, on their phones and computers, and earn rewards and loyalty points. When these platforms save guests' credit card info, it becomes even more convenient.
  • Order Ahead: Order-ahead apps allow guests to order food to be picked up at the restaurant. It’s a quick and easy practice for the lunch rush.

Hospitality Is King

In 2007, Danny Meyer wrote the book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. In it, he wrote:

[A hospitalitarian is] someone with a very high “HQ”—or hospitality quotient. It’s someone whose emotional makeup leads them to derive pleasure from the act of delivering pleasure… Don’t judge a restaurant by the honest mistakes it makes; do judge a place by how effectively and thoughtfully it strives to overcome those mistakes! People will generally forgive an honest mistake when someone takes responsibility for it with genuine concern.

Danny Meyer

CEO & Founder, Union Square Hospitality Group

This concept of enlightened hospitality, or the feeling of delivering a product that is special in a restaurant, still rings true today. Rather than hinder, technology can actually enhance the restaurant experience. Devices like handheld POS systems usually give servers more time to interact with guests, leading to more tips and a better guest experience.

The Future of the Restaurant Industry Is in Your Hands

With more people choosing to eat out than cook at home, the restaurant industry is thriving. But with a move to cafes and restaurants, the industry will have to continue to adapt and stay on its toes.

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