What’s on the Menu?

Pre-pandemic, household spending on eating out was trending upward, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2017, Americans spent $3,365. In 2018, $3,459. In 2019, $3,526. However, due to Covid and the ever-changing restaurant regulations, 2020 spending dropped to $2,375. That aside, the ten years leading up to 2019 saw food and drink sales reaching over 773 billion U.S. dollars. Eating out was fast becoming a staple to the American diet before Covid came along. Has that changed? I predict that 2021 will show a nice recovery large in part as a show of support to one of the hardest hit service industries. However, some pandemic trends may be here to stay.

Looking for activities to pass the mundane hours of stay at home orders, cooking for the family became fun again!  A well-appointed kitchen with professional-grade appliances and storage areas for specialty items and equipment were on must have lists. Planning and preparing the evening meal could involve the whole family! Specialities were claimed and signature dishes developed. “We’re having Eleanor’s famous apple pie tonight!” Ever seen the movie Kate & Leopold? My favorite scene shows Leopold sadly gazing at his pitifully unappetizing dinner and musing,Where I come from, the meal is the result of reflection and study, menus are prepared in advance, timed to perfection. It is said, without the culinary arts the crudeness of reality would be unbearable.”

Welcome the Foodie in 2020 and beyond. A gourmet or foodie doesn’t see food as a means to an end. Food is art, edible luxury. Social media accounts are rife with examples. The experience of eating, making, or displaying food during the home-bound time during the pandemic spawned new cooks eager to create something picture worthy. Not a bad thing when you realize that to make a profit, restaurants charge about a 300% markup on the items they serve. You’re paying for service and convenience. In many cases, you could make a $15 meal in a restaurant for $5 at home with a little time and effort.

Who is willing to still pay for this convenience? Analyzing the demographics of “Food Away from Home” showed distinct patterns across generations regardless of the year. Members of the Silent and GI generations were not the big spenders in this category. Whether it was dietary concerns or mobility issues, age-related health constraints were factors. Additionally, as a generation raised during a period of war and economic depression, they tend to view eating restaurant food as a luxury.

Making up the largest percentage of Americans that eat out are the younger generations, spending 44 percent of total food expenditures on food away from home. Convenience is the name of the game for these folks. The rise in smartphone food app users and food delivery services have a lot to do with the explosion, especially during the pandemic. Take for example the Millennials, aged 26-41. This tech comfortable age group cut the cable cord early adopting to on demand streaming services. They choose access over ownership, often delaying big purchases for “right now” conveniences. Ever look for wedding gift options in their registry? So much for the cooking gadgets, high end coffee machines usually make the top of the lists I’ve seen! But there is hope for them yet. My youngest provided me this image from a recent visit with friends. Home made pasta. I’m thinking the time to prepare and make was worth the effort. “Buona Mangiata”

We’ll explore more about this topic and age related viewpoints in future blog posts. 🙂

You may also like