At some point in 2015, Americans started spending more money at bars, restaurants and takeout food than they spent on groceries. That's a first. And according to Quartz, no one cooks anymore — which seems odd because cookbooks continue to sell, recipe blogs get tons of traffic and there are plenty of cooking channels on television and online. So what's going on?
At the end of 2014, spending for dining out and groceries was just about even: $50.475 billion at restaurants and $50.466 billion on groceries, according to American Enterprise Institute. But, as Quartz pointed out, that small gap of just tens of thousands of dollars increased to billions of dollars over the next year. By the end of 2015, Americans had spent $54.8 billion dining out and $52.5 billion on groceries.
Is it true no one cooks anymore? Obviously that's an exaggeration. People still cook, or at least they buy groceries to eat at home. (Some may say opening a box of frozen pizza and putting it in the oven is cooking, while others may disagree.) If people still do buy and eat groceries, what's to account for the increase in dining out? A big part of it has to do with the change in the American lifestyle, a change that's been decades in the making.
Part of it, according to New York Magazine, is the increase in women working outside the home. When the adults in the home don't walk through the front door until it's time for dinner, taking the time to cook becomes more difficult. That makes perfect sense to me, although a decade ago, it might not have.
I must admit, I used to think getting dinner on the table shouldn't be too hard for working adults, particularly ones who had to feed kids. When I first started writing this blog back in 2009, I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote part-time. I can imagine the type of advice I might have given if these statistics had been released then. "Plan ahead, do bulk cooking on weekends, freeze meals, make the slow cooker your best friend and get the kids to help" would have definitely been part of the advice. And, while those are all great ways to help anyone stick to a budget and eat healthy meals at home, I now know life can get very full and those things may not always happen, despite the best intentions.
I'm now a full-time independent journalist and a single mom. While my office is based in my home, I do a lot of my work outside the home. I also work many more hours than I used to, both inside and outside my home office. Getting dinner on the table every night is much harder now than I would have imagined. I'm not one to keep detailed budgets, but I know I spend more on food at restaurants now than I used to, even if it's just at the local pizza parlor. (I doubt I spend more on eating out than I do on groceries, though.)
But an increase in the number of working parents isn't the only reason more of our hard-earned cash is spent on dining out. Other reasons include the millennial generation that eats out 3.4 times a week compared to 2.8 times a week for non-millennials. Plus, a stable economy and a decrease in gas prices means people have a little more cash in their pockets to spend at restaurants.
The price of groceries has something to do with it, too. As large grocery chains compete for customers, they keep their prices low. Perhaps it's not that people are eating out more now than they did a year or two ago. Maybe it's that restaurant prices have increased while grocery prices have not, accounting for a faster increase in restaurant spending.
This change in food spending isn't happening only in the middle and upper class. The 20 percent of Americans in the lowest-income bracket spend a chunk of their income eating out — 16.6 percent of it. This doesn't necessarily mean they spend more on dining out than on groceries, though, and their reasons for eating out often have more to do with limited time (working multiple jobs or lack of reliable transportation , says Market Watch.
As spending more eating out is happening across all income brackets, I'm curious. Are you spending more at restaurants than you have in the past, perhaps even spending more in total on restaurants than you do on groceries?