Americans Eating Out Less: Study

NEW YORK - A majority of Americans will eat out at restaurants less over the next three months, according to a survey of 1,000 people released yesterday in conjunction with the RBC Capital Markets Annual Consumer Conference.

While this came as a concern for economists, it might be good news for supermarket operators -- assuming that the 54 percent of survey respondents who aren't eating out as much represents a growing number of Americans who are cooking more at home.

"Volatile stock markets, declining home values, higher energy costs, and overall concern about the economy are reducing Americans' appetite for dining out," said RBC Capital Markets equity analyst Larry Miller.

According to the study, even 35 percent of those Americans with higher household incomes ($50,000 or more annually) said they would eat out less, and 62 percent of Americans making less than $25,000 annually said they would eat out less.

The study is the first of a series of regular reports on the restaurant industry that RBC Capital Markets said it will release quarterly.

This first survey showed that Americans already have tightened their belts. Two in five acknowledged that they are dining out less frequently today than six months ago.

Consumers that cut back tended to fall into one or more of the following demographics: females, Generation Y/Baby Boomers, household incomes under $50,000, unemployed, Northeast U.S., and Southern U.S., said RBC Capital Markets.

The 11 percent of consumers that said they increased their frequency of eating out were predominantly male, aged 18-29, single, and prefer fast food.

According to Miller, the concerns about the economy among Baby Boomers helps explain the relative weakness in casual dining, as they are the core users.

When asked what they are willing to spend their money on now compared to six months ago, 40 percent said they were less willing to order higher-priced entrees, appetizers and desserts, compared to 26 percent who were more willing to do so.

Despite busy lifestyles and irregular schedules, most Americans say they still manage to eat breakfast at home. A full 74 percent eat breakfast at home, and a further 11 percent skip breakfast altogether. McDonald's (seven percent) is Americans' leading choice for breakfast out, with most of the remainder (five percent) eating at restaurants, coffee shops, and other sit-down venues.
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