Americans Want to Eat at Home

Changing American meal habits are putting pressure on restaurants and fast-food operators.
September 13, 2018

NEW YORK – Blame it on Netflix, Blue Apron, home grocery delivery, crushing student debt and the growing focus on healthy eating, among other things. Research from NPD Group shows that 82% of American meals are prepared at home, which is more than were cooked 10 years ago, Bloomberg reports.

The last peak in restaurant visits was in 2000, when the average American dined out 216 times a year, a figure that dropped to 185 for the year ended in February, NPD said.

Despite reports of rising U.S. restaurant sales at big chains, such as McDonald’s, increases are being driven by price hikes, not additional diners. Traffic for the industry was down 1.1% in July, the 29th straight month of declines, according to MillerPulse data.

Eateries, faced with higher labor and rent costs, are passing these expenses along to customers, which in turn makes home cooking even more economical. McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Shake Shack and Wendy’s all have raised prices in the past year.

While dining out always has cost more than preparing food at home, the gap between restaurant eating and home cooking is widening. Supermarkets are looking more attractive to budget-minded millennials, who are starting families.

Meal kits, delivery and new appliances that speed up meal prep also make it easier to stay at home. Meal-kit companies, such as HelloFresh and Blue Apron, have had mixed success. Discount grocery chain Aldi recently announced more meal-to-go options; Kroger bought Home Chef, and Walmart Inc. has teamed up with Gobble to sell 15-minute dinner packs.

Currently, Chick-fil-A is testing chicken meal packages at 150 of its Atlanta-area restaurants. Customers can grab one at the drive-thru for $15.89 and make their own chicken parmesan or enchiladas at home in 30 minutes.

“Ten years ago, you had to chop your own onions,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus. “Today, you can go into any grocery store, and most of them sell pre-chopped fruits and vegetables. If the biggest driver for eating out was that it’s simply more convenient, that problem is now being solved by a variety of different products and services.”