Reading About Restaurants
As I have often written, I subscribe to over a dozen print publications at home and another two dozen or more at work. My profession is economic and business development, and I am considered an expert in all things related to those two by both my employers and clients. And I am.
Part of remaining an expert at things related to business development, such as what specific businesses and industries are expanding, which ones are contracting and which ones are, in fact, dying or near-death entails that I read a dozen or more trade publications per month. I have neither the time nor the inclination to read everything that I subscribe to, but enjoy flipping through them at work and at home and reading one or two articles in each that pique my interest.
In the December/January 2017 issue of one of those publications, Midwest Real Estate News, Dan Rafter writes that eating out has become such a cherished activity, the average U.S. resident dines out four to five times a week according to a Colliers report in his article entitled “Expect food to continue to drive retail growth in 2017.” The online version has a slightly different title.
The way I think and operate when I read a reference to another report or study, is that I typically search out the quoted study myself. Also, I know quite a few retail and industrial brokers affiliated with Colliers, and I also receive their industry reports quarterly and leaf through them, so I know that they are professional and detail-oriented.
I ended up reading the Colliers report entitled “Appetizer or Entree: How Food Continues to Fuel Retail” from a this past December, highlighting habits and trends of the American dining public. As Rafter wrote, Colliers also gave the number “four to five times.”
I did some further research and read four additional articles. An interesting article on Fox News from April of 2015 reported that, for the first time, Americans spent more dining out than on groceries per the Department of Commerce. Much of this was attributed to Millennials in the article, not necessarily us middle aged Middle Class folks who tend to grocery shop and prepare food at home somewhat more often.
The second article that I read was by the popular restaurant rating company Zagat. Every year, Zagat publishes a report on the State of American dining and its 2016 report states that “we asked surveyors how many times a week they go out to eat (not counting breakfast) and ended up with a national average of 4.5 times per week. At the high end, Los Angeles surveyors eat out the most frequently (5.2 times per week), while the country’s least frequent diners live in Boston at 3.8 times per week.”
I also found a blog by one Dr. Nick Gerlich, a professor of marketing at West Texas A&M University. On his post of January 21st, Dr. Gerlich reports that the average American dines out 4.2 times per week, or slightly less than 18 times per month.
Finally, I read a February 1st post on the University of California at San Diego’s publication, The Guardian. The article is entitled “I’m Lovin’ It: Why Americans Dine Out” and is written by Annika Olives. She writes about the social factors of eating out: “Getting food together, whether with friends, family or romantic interests, is a common event in American society that is widely accepted. People may also eat to try new foods or experience a different culture. Surprisingly, a good portion of vacation destinations center around a restaurant.” Her article also cites the Zagat survey, citing the 4.5 times per week number.
My Own Family
I am the one in our marriage who goes over the checking account statement every month. Maybe I will go into more detail some day, but let me just state that my wife is better at many things than I am, but I am better at handling the finances.
Both my wife and I make most of our purchases with our bank-issued debit cards, but we pay as credit cards, signing for the vast majority of them, thus affording greater protection.
As I have been doing this honor for nearly the full twenty-plus years of our marriage, I can tell you that this Middle Class Guy and his family are basically right on target for this 18 times per month.
In many of the books that I have read in the past fifteen months or so in what I call the “Change Your Way of Thinking/Improve Your Life/Become Wealthy” genre, the authors urge the reader to eat out less. Eating out 18 or more times per month instead of doing more grocery shopping and preparing your own meals puts a serious dent in your budget and, as some authors of books and magazine articles (and bloggers) contend, is one of the factors that may keep you and me from becoming wealthy.
After all, when I was growing up in my own Middle Class family, eating out once per week or so was a treat, not our normal way of eating. We went to a local pizzeria near our house that has been around for over fifty years many times, we ate at a Chinese restaurant that we loved but has now been gone for about fifteen years a lot, and we went to a buffet at Ponderosa once or twice per month.
For the many years that I have been reviewing my own family’s bank statements and paying mine and my wife’s credit card payments, I can state that our family is probably within twenty percent of the 18 times per months most months. Some times we eat together and other times we eat in subgroups, maybe my son and I a few times, maybe my daughter and wife a few times, maybe me and my wife a few times, maybe my wife out with her friends a time or two, and me out with my friends maybe once per month if I am lucky.
Also, I must add the caveat that we do not often “eat out” at a restaurant, but more often pick up food on the way from point A to point B, which I also count, considering that it comprises fifty percent or more of our family’s “dining out.”
Remember that we live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, but many of the places where we eat exist wherever you, my dear reader, live too. Our leaders are, in no particular order besides what comes to mind are:
- Lou Malnati’s
- Jersey Mike’s
- Dairy Queen
- Panda Express
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- a local tacqueria
- a local Italian beef restaurant
- a local Thai restaurant
There are many other places where we stop, perhaps in a town where our daughter is having a dance competition, or when we are visiting the Big City (Chi-Raq). I also have three or four places that I eat at regularly in the town where I work.
When I look at our leader board, it dawns on me that it is not very many places. Yet sometimes I see three or four charges in a month at Portillo’s, even if I have not had the pleasure of eating there in over a year. I do stop at Jersey Mike’s three or so times per month on average, and my wife and I typically stop at Panera separately, but only get little things there like bagels and coffee.
Also, we order Domino’s delivery a few times every month, so how do we count that?
We have gone out together to Bonefish Grill about once per month since November, all four of us.
In years past, we ate a lot at places that still exist, but not near our house, such as Old Country Buffet and Applebee’s. My wife used to take our kids to Red Robin a lot, but not so much any more.
Sometimes we go on vacation, like twice last year for one week each time, to Arizona last spring break and the U.P. last August. During both vacations, we ate nearly all of our meals out or picked up food to bring to our lodging.
I mentioned the statistic last weekend when our son was home from college, and he stated that he eats 20 meals out per week when he is at school, but I did not count that. I told him that eating at the cafeterias at college is like eating at home when you are there, even though they dink us about ten bucks per meal day after day after day. When he leaves campus and goes to Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings or some unique places that he likes, we count that. When he goes out to breakfast with his girlfriend both days of the weekend, we count that.
Like I said, it is highly unscientific, but altogether, my family is not so far off of the 18 times per month average.
What Are We Going to Do About It?
I will be honest. Probably nothing.
Even though we are striving to help pay for our two children to go through their undergraduate years without incurring any debt, while at the same time paying +/- $10,000 per month to keep our Middle Class operation going (including eating out or carrying out from restaurants), while also trying to stash some money away “for retirement,” we will most likely continue eating out at this pace.
I try hard not to stress out too much about money. I have enough anxiety about a wide variety of stressors in my life but admit that having enough money is one of the biggest.
If I could order my family to eat out less, I would, but we do not work that way. I was not elected or appointed as boss of our family and, as I have written and will write more about, we are often very busy so even though I was successful in keeping my family from eating any McDonald’s for quite a few years, my wife often buys our daughter junk food from there while driving her from band practice to dance rehearsals. We often purchase tacos from our favorite taqueria on Saturdays when our son is home. We love the food from our favorite Thai place and get it every other weekend. There is also a local Middle Eastern food place that we like to get pitas, falafels and schwarma from once per month or so. You add it all together, and it really does add up.
It would be hard for me to estimate how many pizzas we have picked up from Lou Malnati’s since December, but I plan on looking it up soon for an upcoming post.
Would I rather not spend $500 or $600 or $700 per month or whatever it is on picking up food and dining out? I don’t know.
Judging by the statistics reported about our fellow American diners, I know that we are not the only family that does this and my bet is that you are in the same boat insofar as eating out too much.