Restaurant Spending Up but Visits Flat

Family eating at home, photo by
Consumers remaining at home. Photo by

CHICAGO – Spending in foodservice establishments has risen by 3 percent in the year ending in April 2015 compared to a year ago. That gain in spending is despite the flatness of consumer visits, according to researcher The NPD Group.

Restaurants are strongly challenged in enticing diners. Four out of five meals are prepared and consumed at home. Worse yet, the trend is that home meals have been on the rise for several years, reports NPD's ongoing food consumption market research.

Spending is up due to restaurant price increases that take into consideration rising food and operation costs. That play between costs at home and a restaurant meal is dynamic. Eating out historically has cost more than an in-home meal by three times or more. At the same time, the share of consumer dollars spent on food at home compared to food away from home has been close to 50/50 for several years. The relationship between inflation for food at home and food away from home tends to provide a short-term benefit to one side of the food space or the other. That pricing disparity is currently giving foodservice a very slight advantage, reports NPD. In 2014, the average cost of a restaurant meal per person was $6.96; the estimated per person average cost for an in-home prepared meal was $2.31.* The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that foodservice spending exceeded grocery spending for the first time ever, but the research didn't include spending at big box food retailers.

In spite of lower gas prices, foodservice visit growth remained stalled — traffic has been declining to flat for the past several years —in the year ending April 2015 period compared to year ago. Annual per capita foodservice visits are at 190, which is down 3 visits per person per year from 2013. Young adults are the heaviest group of restaurant users. Since the Great Recession, Millennials have cut back dramatically on their visits to and spending at restaurants. Adults, ages 25 to 34, who are more likely to have families, have cut back the most on restaurant visits, making 50 fewer visits per person per year over the past several years. Additionally, the youngest adults, ages 18 to 24, made 33 fewer visits per person per year in 2014 than they made in 2007. Based on NPD's food consumption research, Millennials ate 8 more meals at home last year compared to prior year while all others ate one additional meal.

"It's a battle for share within the foodservice industry and a battle for food dollars between in-home and away-from-home dining," says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "In order to grow, foodservice manufacturers and operators need to have a clear understanding of consumer expectations and then they need to meet those expectations. If they don't someone else will."

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