People spending more of their food budget at restaurants

Don Ames
December 18, 2017 - 8:04 am

A much larger percentage of Americans' food budget is now going to restaurants than to the grocery store.

Consumer trends have shifted in the industry's favor, with now almost $1 out of every $2 spent on food allocated to restaurants. That's up from $1 out of every $4 in 1955, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Why are we so willing to spend our money dining out?

"I think it's because a lot of the other things that you might want to spend money on, or might cross your mind to spend money on, are junk and fleeting," says WWL's food and restaurant critic, Tom Fitzmorris. "Whereas, a restaurant evening, first of all, gets you off of cooking and cooking for everybody in your house."

And, we've apparently come to enjoy being taken care of.

"People like to go out to eat in restaurants because they are served in restaurants," says Fitzmorris. "That really is the number one draw for restaurants. It's the service aspect of it."

So much so that dining out seems to have become a much more popular way to take our meals these days than eating at home.

Of course, we have a lot more choices now than we've ever had before.

"In New Orleans, we have almost twice as many restaurants now as we had the day before Katrina," Fitzmorris says. "People are dining out in more different kinds 
of restaurants and spending more money. There's no question about it. It's a long-term trend." 

And the trend continues to be fed by a changing customer base. Restaurants love millennials because young diners don't mind splurging on a great experience with their friends. And the establishments that have learned how to cater to them are thriving. 

"There are a lot of restaurants that are doing very, very well because they're brand new," Fitzmorris says. "That's something else that the younger diners really go for, is new restaurants, as opposed to places that have been around for a long time. But, nobody's going broke."

This summer, nearly 30 New Orleans area restaurants closed, including long-running establishments like Manhattanjack, Cafe Giovanni and Il Posto. On balance, though, 2017 saw more openings than closures.

Sales in Louisiana’s restaurants this year are projected to be $8.9 billion.

And, it's not waning. Already accounting for 10 percent of employment in the state, the restaurant and food service industry in Louisiana is expected to add another 17,400 jobs in the next ten years, for a total of more than 225,000 workers.

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