Related BLS programs | Related articles
May, 2000, Vol. 123, No.5
Let's do lunch: expenditures on meals away from home
The restaurant business is clearly one of the most important industries in the United States today, regardless of the economic measure used. For example, in 1995, nearly one-third (31) percent of all employees in retail trade worked for eating places (restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias, and refreshment places).1 More recently, in 1997, retail sales from eating places amounted to $222.0 billion, or nearly 9 percent of total retail trade ($2,566.2 billion). The figure is all the more impressive when compared with total nondurable goods sales ($1,508 billion). More than $1 in every $7 spent on nondurable goods in 1997 went to eating places.2 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey,3 more than 71 percent of all "consumer units" (or families)4 reported buying meals at restaurants, carryouts, and other eating establishments during an average week in 1997.5 The average annual expenditure was about $1,477 per family,6 or nearly 31 percent ($4,801) of total expenditures for food.7
Changes in family income, number of earners, age of reference person, and other demographic factors will undoubtedly influence future spending for meals away from home.8 To understand and anticipate the effects of these potential changes, it is important to analyze not only the types of consumers who are purchasing these meals away from home, but also the types of meals they are purchasing. This article examines expenditures for meals away from home for several demographic groups using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey. In addition to family characteristics, this survey collects data on four categories of meals purchased from restaurants, carry-outs, and other eating establishments (henceforth referred to as "meals away from home," or "eating out"). These categories are: breakfast and brunch; lunch; dinner; and snacks and nonalcoholic beverages.
This excerpt is from an article published in the May 2000 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
Read abstract Download full article in PDF (56K)
1 Data are from the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998, 118th ed. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998), table 1276, "Retail Trade—Establishments, Employees, and Payroll: 1990 and 1995"; see also table 1279, "Retail Trade—Sales, by Kind of Business: 1980 to 1997" for a definition of eating and drinking places.
2 Table 1279, "Retail Trade—Sales, by Kind of Business: 1980 to 1997."
3 The Consumer Expenditure Survey is the most detailed source of consumer expenditures collected by the U.S. Government. The survey results are taken from two components: the Diary survey and the Interview survey. Participants in the Diary survey receive an instrument in which to record their expenditures for 1 week. At the end of that week, the original instrument is replaced by a new instrument, in which the participants record expenditures for their second (and final) survey week. In the Interview survey, participants are visited once every 3 months for five consecutive quarters, at which time they are asked to recall expenditures during the reference period for various items. When published, results from both surveys are integrated into a single tabular format. The data for meals at restaurants, carryouts, and others are selected from the Diary survey.
4 A consumer unit is the standard unit of comparison in the Consumer Expenditure Survey. In general, a consumer unit is defined as members of a family related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangement; a single person living alone or sharing a household with others but who is financially independent; or two or more persons living together who share responsibility for at least 2 out of 3 major types of expenses—food, housing, and other expenses. Students living in university-sponsored housing are considered to be separate consumer units. In this article, the term "family(ies)" will be considered "consumer unit(s)."
5 Data are from the Diary component of the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
6 The 95-percent confidence interval for this figure extends from about $1,426 to about $1,528, or $1,477 ± $51.
7 Data are from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, integrated results. (This includes expenditures from both the Diary and Interview components of the survey; therefore, no confidence interval estimate is available.)
8 The reference person is the first person mentioned when the respondent is asked to "Start with the name of the person or one of the persons who owns or rents this home."
Related BLS programs
Current Population Survey
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
The changing food-at-home budget: 1980 and 1992 compared.—Dec. 1998.
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers