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We Leave the Cooking to Others

Survey reveals why we choose to dine out

This article is a brief abstract of our exclusive study that takes the guesswork 
out of food service advertising and marketing.

Download the complete 2017 Southwest Food Service Marketing Report


You may get differing opinions, but according to Jan Whitaker in Restaurant-ing through History, America’s first restaurant was Julien’s Restorator, which opened in Boston in 1793. Whitaker says that the restaurant “presented diners with a written menu from which they could choose, and charged them only for what they ordered rather than following the prevailing custom of providing a buffet-type meal at a set price.”

Whether or not Julien’s Restorator was the first American restaurant, customers likely chose it for the same reasons as today: they probably didn’t want to cook or know how to prepare food. Ditto our food service survey respondents who revealed preferences for restaurant industry ads.

When asked their top reason for choosing to dine out, 1 of every 3 consumers said they don’t want to cook (28%), don’t have to time to do it (3%) or “can’t cook” (2%). No wonder there seems to be food advertising everywhere and a restaurant on every corner.

The second most cited reason for dining out was to be with others—19% to spend time with family, and 12% to be with “other people.” The days of nuclear families eating dinner at the same table have been disappearing for years—only 50% of us eat together at home on a regular basis. Anne Fishel, a professor at Harvard Medical School, laments this fact:

“Twenty years of research has shown that family dinners are great for the brain (enhancing preschool vocabulary and raising test scores), body (improving cardiovascular health in teens and lowering the odds of obesity) and spirit (reducing rates of behavioral problems, stress and substance abuse).”1

But in some ways, restaurants (and bars, let’s admit) are the places where much of the socializing-while-eating takes place. We take the family out for dinner. Co-workers head to a local eatery for lunch or stop at a bar after work for happy hour. Olive Garden has recognized this in its Never Ending Family Table branding: “We’re all family here, so pull up a seat.”

Although 26.2% of survey responders have at least one child age 17 or younger in the household, only 1% identified “I have children” as their top reason for eating out. However, having children is certainly related to the 19% who chose spending time with family as their motivator for eating at a restaurant. And because younger palates prefer different cuisine than their parents, the 8% of potential customers who chose “more food choices” may have been thinking of their children.

 In their own words:

Survey responders said...

  • On McDonald’s: “Everyone knows “I’m Loving it,” and they are kid friendly. Also, they have Ronald McDonald House.”

  • On Wendy’s: “They have the most impressive tweets on Twitter.”

  • On Jack in the Box: “Their advertisements are direct, fun, believable, motivating and make me want to visit a location to check out the menu."

  • On Burger King: “They send coupons.”


1: The Washington Post, “Five Myths About Family Dinners”

2017 Southwest Food Service Marketing Report

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This article is a brief abstract of our exclusive and authoritative study that takes the guesswork out of food service advertising and marketing. Rather than speculating about what will drive consumers to action, we've asked them.

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