Who’s Eating Out?

Date posted: March 27, 2017


The most frequent restaurant diners aren’t who you think.

By Rieva Lesonsky

If you own a restaurant and think the news of a better economy is going to drive consumers to your establishment, you might want to think again. According to a Gallup poll released in December, while 61 percent of Americans ate dinner out at least once a week last year, that number is essentially unchanged from 2008 (when it was 60 percent) and down from 66 percent in 2003.

If you want to boost traffic to your restaurant, there are specific demographics that you should cater to, if possible. Obviously, the more money people have, the more they eat out. Of consumers who have household income (HHI) less than $30,000, 44 percent dined out once a week, compared to 67 percent of those with HHIs of $30,000-$74,999 and 72 percent of those who bring in $75,000 or more.

Perhaps less obvious, you should appeal to young people. Seventy percent of those aged 18-34 dined out at least once a week last year, compared to 65 percent of those aged 35-54 and 50 percent of those 55 and older. And even those Millennials who don’t earn a lot tend to go out to eat a lot. Sixty percent of those who make less than $30,000 still dine out weekly, compare to 77 percent of middle-earners and 78 percent of those earning $75, 000 or more.

If you’re targeting frequent diners, know that 20 percent of Millennials go to restaurants three or more times a week, as do 19 percent of those 35-54 and 11 percent of the older crowd. In all, 16 percent of Americans dine out at least three times a week.

We’re not talking about chump change here. Gallup says restaurants rang up about $782 billion in sales last year—4 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Gallup advises restaurant owners to keep an eye on the less-than-traditional competition, such as meal prep services, smartphone apps that make takeout easier, and high-quality food bars at grocery stores.


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