What you need to know

Americans currently spend roughly $5 of every $10 on food at restaurants. This report serves to explore in-depth what drives restaurant usage, focusing on the process by which consumers choose restaurants that they will order food from (via drive-thru, takeout, or delivey) or eat in at. This report explores how factors such as food options, promotions, ambiance, amenities, service, social media, and other restaurant characteristics affect consumers’ dining-out decisions.

In this report, Mintel will specifically answer the following questions;

  • What types of restaurants are consumers visiting? How much do they spend at limited-service restaurants (LSRs) versus full-service restaurants (FSRs)? Do they prefer dining in or ordering food via drive-thru, takeout, or delivery?

  • Do consumers change their behaviors when choosing a restaurant for everyday usage as opposed to special occasions? If so, how different are behaviors between light and heavy restaurant-goers?

  • Other than good prices, food, and service, what do consumers want to see at restaurants? And what deters them from eating out?

  • How do consumers learn about restaurants that are new to them? And how influential is social media and referrals in the restaurant selection process?

  • What kinds of menu characteristics and options do diners find attractive?

  • What matters most to consumers when it comes to trying a restaurant for the first time?


This is a new report for Mintel in the US, however, this report aligns with Mintel’s Eating Out: The Decision Making Process, UK, July 2013. This report also builds on the analysis in Mintel’s Dining Out: A 2014 Look Ahead - US, January 2014 and other reports on the LSR and FSR market. This report covers both (LSRs and FSRs), focusing on how restaurants can stand out from their competition and ultimately garner the attention of consumers who are seeking to eat food from outside the home for both everyday and special occasions.

Data sources

Consumer survey data

For the purposes of this report, Mintel commissioned exclusive consumer research through GMI to explore consumer behavior as it relates to eating restaurant food and choosing restaurants to eat at or order food from. Mintel was responsible for the survey design, data analysis, and reporting. Fieldwork was conducted in April 2014 among a sample of 2,000 adults aged 18+ with access to the internet.

Mintel selects survey respondents so that they are proportionally balanced to the entire U.S. adult population based on the key demographics of gender, age, household income, and region. Mintel also slightly oversamples, relative to the population, respondents that are Hispanic or Black to ensure an adequate representation of these groups in the survey results. Please note that Mintel surveys are conducted online and in English only. Hispanics who are not online and/or do not speak English are not included in the survey results.

Mintel has also analyzed data from Experian Marketing Services, using the Simmons National Consumer Study (NCS), the Simmons National Hispanic Consumer Study (NHCS), the Simmons NCS Teen Study and the Simmons NCS Kids Study.

The Experian Marketing Services, Simmons NCS/NHCS was carried out during November 2012 and December 2013 and the results are based on the sample of 23,689 adults aged 18+, with results weighted to represent the US adult population.

While race and Hispanic origin are separate demographic characteristics, Mintel often compares them to each other. Please note that the responses for race (White, Black, Asian, Native American, or other race) will overlap those that also are Hispanic, because Hispanics can be of any race.

Abbreviations and terms


The following is a list of abbreviations used in this report.

BFY Better-for-you
BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CPI Consumer Price Index
FDA Food and Drug Administration
FSR Full-service restaurant
LSR Limited-service restaurants, which encompass both quick-service restaurants and fast-casual restaurants
LTO Limited-time offer
: :
: :


The following terms are used in this report:

Casual dining Full-service restaurant chains with average checks between $8-20 per entrée. Restaurants frequently carry beer and wine licenses. With an appetizer, beverage, and dessert, checks frequently come to $20 per person, though lunch specials less than $10 for an entire meal are also common. Examples of chains included in this segment are Chili’s, Applebee’s, and Red Lobster.
Chain Multi-unit foodservice concepts operating under a single brand name, such as McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. A restaurant chain consists of two or more restaurants owned by one person or company. Typically all restaurants in a chain have similar décor and serve the same food.
Consumer unit Defined per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as either: 1) All members of a particular household who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangements; 2) A financially independent person living alone or sharing a household with others, or living as a roomer in a private home or lodging house, or residing in permanent living quarters in a hotel or motel; or 3) Two or more people living together who pool their incomes to make joint expenditure decisions. Financial independence is determined by the three major expense categories: housing, food, and other living expenses. To be considered financially independent, a respondent must be able to provide at least two of the three major expense categories.
Family/midscale restaurants Full-service restaurants with checks frequently less than $15 per person. Often these restaurants have specialized meal options for children and do not sell alcohol. Examples include International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Cracker Barrel, and Denny’s.
Fast casual A hybrid segment of fast food and casual dining, combining the convenience of limited service with the ambience and quality of full service. Defining features include check averages of $6-9; décor that is more sophisticated than a quick-service restaurant (QSR); and food prepared to order, with customization of ingredients by patron being the norm.
Fast food Used interchangeably with QSR.
Fine/upscale/ gourmet dining Restaurants that exceed $20 per check, typically serve alcoholic beverages, and seat patrons at their own tables.
Foodservice All places that prepare food outside the home are included as part of the foodservice industry, including food operations in supermarkets, schools, hospitals, factories, and prisons. Restaurants make up the largest part of the foodservice industry.
: :
: :

Generations are discussed within this report, and they are defined as:

World War II The generation born in 1932 or before. In 2014, members of this generation are aged 82 or older.
Swing Generation The generation born between 1933 and 1945. In 2014, members of the Swing Generation are between the ages of 69 and 81.
Baby Boomers The generation born between 1946 and 1964. In 2014, Baby Boomers are between the ages of 50 and 68.
Generation X The generation born between 1965 and 1976. In 2014, Generation Xers are between the ages of 38 and 49.
Millennials* The generation born between 1977 and 1994. In 2014, Millennials are between the ages of 20 and 37.
iGeneration** The generation born from 1995 to present. In 2014, Matrices are aged 19 or younger.

* also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers

** previously known as Post-Millennials, Matrix Generation

In order to provide an inflation-adjusted price value for markets, Mintel uses the CPI to deflate current prices. The CPI is defined as follows:

CPI The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.

The CPI and its components are typically used to adjust other economic series for price changes and to translate these series into inflation-free dollars. Examples of series adjusted by the CPI include retail sales, hourly and weekly earnings, and components of the national income and product accounts. In addition, and in Mintel reports, the CPI is used as a deflator of the value of the consumer’s dollar to find its purchasing power. The purchasing power of the consumer's dollar measures the change in the value to the consumer of goods and services that a dollar will buy at different dates.

The CPI is generally the best measure for adjusting payments to consumers when the intent is to allow consumers to purchase, at today’s prices, a market basket of goods and services equivalent to one that they could purchase in an earlier period. It is also the best measure to use to translate retail sales into real or inflation-free dollars.

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics definition.
Back to top