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The American Way of Dining Out Research Paper


Introduction

For most Americans, dining out is a favorite pastime. Americans dine out when celebrating an event, when on a date or just to have a new dining experience. But, in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 economic downturn, people are dining out less often, instead preferring to eat at home to save money. This trend is already having a toll on hotels and restaurants. Nevertheless, on average, American’s prefer eating out to eating at home.

A survey by the United States Department of Labor [DoL] found interesting facts about the American’s way of dining out. A significant proportion of the respondents (63 percent) reported having dined out at least once the previous month with 53 percent of them dining out in fast food restaurants, 18 percent in full-service restaurants and 9 percent in other food restaurants (DoL Para. 2).

What is worrying, however, is that most of the foods consumed away from home tend to be energy rich but less nutritional compared to home prepared foods.

Though patrons may not like to eat unhealthy foods, they opt to eat out due to convenience, diverse meals on offer or simply for entertainment reasons. The argument presented in this paper is that, when it comes to eating out, Americans neither base their dietary choices on nutritional quality of the meals nor do they consider their budgetary constraints. Their restaurant choice and frequency of dining out is based on the prospects of entertainment, convenience and a variety of dishes on offer.

The Americans’ Restaurant Expenditure

Nutritionists advise people to adopt healthy eating habits, which, along with physical exercises guarantee a healthy and quality life. However, it is not clear whether this message and the consumers’ desire for a healthy life influence their eating behavior or dietary choices when eating out.

The Department of Labor reports that, on average, the daily energy intake of an American when eating out rose from 18 percent in 1994 to 32 percent in 1996 (Para. 3). This indicates that eating out increases one’s caloric intake significantly. The same survey established that consumer spending on restaurant foods had increased with consumers, in 1996, spending over half of their dietary expenditure on restaurant foods. The rise in the number of consumers eating out implies that dining out is a preferred pastime for most Americans.

With regard to food expenditure, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that, on average, in 2010, restaurant spending by each American stood at $2,505 (DoL Para. 5). In comparison, in the previous years, 2009 and 2008, the average restaurant spending was $2,619 and $2,698 respectively (Para. 7). The drop in consumer spending in 2010 is attributed to the 2007/08 economic downturn. Nevertheless, Americans enjoy dining out often as opposed to eating home-cooked meals.

Consumers attribute their eating out habits to public suitability, entertainment value and availability of many dishes in restaurants. However, from the DoL statistics, eating out increases the consumers’ calorie intake, as restaurant foods tend to be calorie-rich but nutritionally deficient. Eating out more often increases one’s body fat level in adults leading to elevated body mass index. It is no wonder eating out has been associated with obesity and overweight especially in adolescents.

A survey by Technomic Inc. that interviewed a number of restaurant owners found that most restaurants are not keen on providing healthy foods for their patrons. They do not feel that providing healthy meals would increase the number of customers visiting their establishments. Some held the opinion that “most customers’ attitude is ‘when I go out to eat, I want to eat what I want’” (33). Nevertheless, the hotel executives felt that creating consumer awareness about eating healthy would help in the management of obesity.

To manage obesity, which has become an epidemic, nutrition educators have employed a number of approaches to promote healthy eating out habits. They educate consumers on nutrition and healthful diets that one can get in restaurants when eating out.

They sometimes incorporate aspects of consumers’ preferences, convenience and entertainment when providing the nutrition information to influence their eating behavior. One such campaign technique is the “5 A Day” program that encourages Americans to eat a minimum of five servings of vegetables/fruits daily (Stewart et al. 522).

The “Power of Choice” program is another example of these programs that aims at educating adolescents to eat healthy and engage in physical activities to stay healthy (Stewart et al. 522). Although these nutrition-education programs have the potential of promoting healthy eating habits among Americans, their impact largely depends on the patrons’ own knowledge on nutrition and whether they apply it when making choices on the type of restaurant or food to eat.

Is Eating Out Healthy?

The statistics given by the United States Department of Labor show that more Americans prefer eating out to eating at home despite the low nutritional quality of restaurant foods. But, what factors influence Americans to continue to eat out despite the increased health risks associated with fast-foods?

From an economic perspective, a consumer’s preference and nutrition knowledge would affect his or her dietary choices. Thus, consumers who have knowledge on the nutritional value of foods would be expected to evaluate restaurant foods before placing an order. Food prices also influence the consumers’ dietary choices.

Besides income and food prices, the consumers’ demographic characteristics can be used to explain the trends in consumer behavior. In the American context, psychological factors such as attitudes, information, perceptions shape consumer behavior, and by extension, the demand for restaurant foods.

In light of this, it is clear that the Americans’ rising demand for restaurant foods is shaped by the desire to eat healthy in a convenient location that provides entertainment value. Thus, when choosing among eating in a restaurant, eating at home and eating in a fast-food café, an individual will often consider each option’s entertainment value and convenience. Consumers with limited funds and/or time will tend to choose the option that is cheap but offers greater pleasure.

The Americans’ way of eating out can be explained using the traditional economic theory. This theory describes how consumers make decisions when they have limited product information at their disposal. The FDA specifies that “if a restaurant claims that a particular menu item is ‘low in fat’… then this requirement is satisfied by adding: ‘low fat – provides less than 3 grams of fat per serving” (Technomic 8). However, the FDA does not require restaurants to disclose a meal’s specific nutrient content.

Therefore, restaurants can choose to give the complete nutrient content of the foods sold or simply provide the mandated information. Nevertheless, if the majority of consumers want menu items with healthy nutrient content, the hotels/restaurants may give the complete nutrition information of the foods sold.

As restaurants always compete for customers, marketing themselves as providing healthful foods can give them a competitive advantage. Some popular restaurants voluntarily give complete nutrition information of the foods they sell.

A good example is the Subway restaurant, which supplies the caloric content of its popular sandwiches and compares them with the sandwiches sold by the other restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King. McDonald’s and Burger King, on the other hand, give pamphlets containing the details of the nutrient content of foods sold. However, other restaurants provide no such information making healthful eating away from home almost impossible for Americans.

The incomplete nutrition information provided by most restaurants can be attributed to the need to retain consumers as knowledge of a meal’s dietary composition may affect demand for foods with undesirable nutrient content. Thus, when little information is provided, the consumers cannot make an informed choice when eating out.

However, those who have nutrition knowledge can assess the nutritional quality of the products sold by restaurants. Even for those who prefer to eat at home, they are motivated by the need to save money, not to eat healthy.

Therefore, it can be argued that, most Americans’ eating out choices (where to eat, what to eat and how frequently to eat out) are largely dependent on entertainment and convenience, not on the nutritional value of the foods. In view of this, people with a good understanding of nutrition can effectively determine the restaurant food types that are healthful compared to those with little or no nutrition knowledge.

The Economics of Eating Out

Although a third of Americans report reducing how often they eat out, 1 in every 10 people in America dine out more often (DoL Para. 4). A further 70 percent of Americans cook at home to cut down their food expenditure while another 57 percent believe that eating out is an unnecessary expense.

Interestingly, about 29 percent of Americans claim to have reduced their expenses in other areas to sustain their eating out habits (Para. 6). These statistics imply that Americans’ restaurant spending has, to some extent, been affected by the sluggish economy. Therefore, Americans have not changed their dining out habits; they have only reduced how often they eat out. The economic downturn has seen more Americans eat out less often with some shifting from eating in major establishments to casual food outlets.

Now with constrained budgets, many Americans have resorted to eating at home and when eating out, price consideration takes the center stage. They prefer casual restaurants when eating out because their prices are often low. This explains why popular casual restaurants have gained in profits over the past few years while the profits of full-service eateries have declined. For instance, The Cheesecake Factory gained 2.44 percent in profits while the McDonald’s profits declined by 12 percent in 2010 (Technomic 9).

The implication here is that consumers are increasingly becoming selective with regard to where to eat out due to budget constraints. But, what drives eating out habits besides prices? It is evident that cravings for exotic and foreign cuisines, restaurant location, entertainment value, healthy dishes offered and variety of food choices motivate Americans to eat out as opposed to cooking at home.

This indicates that the American way of eating out is not influenced by the need to eat healthy. Rather, entertainment value, convenience and variety of dishes available in restaurants drive many Americans to dine out in restaurants.

Conclusion

Dining out in restaurants is a favorite pastime for most Americans. Most Americans prefer to eat out to eating at home because restaurants offer convenience, in terms of location, they offer a variety of meals/dishes and most offer entertainment for patrons.

Despite the recent economic downturn and the poor nutritional quality of fast-foods, most Americans still enjoy dining out. Therefore, until Americans recognize the high nutritional value of home cooked meals, eating out will continue to be the norm, as fast-food restaurants continue to rake in profits.

Works Cited

Stewart, Hayden, Blisard, Noel, Jolliffe, Dean and Bhuyan, Sanjib. “The Demand for Food-Away-From Home: Do Other Preferences Compete with Our Desire to Eat Healthfully?” Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 30.3 (2005): 520-536. Print.

Technomic, Inc. Trends in Healthier Eating and Fruit and Vegetable Usage in Chain Restaurants. Wilmington, DE: Produce for Better Health Foundation, 2006. Print.

United States Department of Labor [DoL]. Economic News Release: Consumer Expenditures– 2012. Web. <>.

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IvyPanda. (2019, November 28). The American Way of Dining Out. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-way-of-dining-out/

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"The American Way of Dining Out." IvyPanda, 28 Nov. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-way-of-dining-out/.

1. IvyPanda. "The American Way of Dining Out." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-way-of-dining-out/.


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IvyPanda. "The American Way of Dining Out." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-way-of-dining-out/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The American Way of Dining Out." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-american-way-of-dining-out/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The American Way of Dining Out'. 28 November.

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