What you need to know

Amidst healthy growth, the restaurant industry increasingly encroaches on grocery stores for consumers’ food-spending dollars. This report serves to explore where and how individuals decide to spend those foodservice dollars, including dining-in versus takeout and delivery. This report explores consumer evaluations of such factors as price, location, ambiance, menus, promotions, service, and amenities and explores how these factors affect consumers’ dining-out decisions.

In this report, Mintel answers the following questions:

  • What types of restaurants are consumers visiting, and how much do they spend at limited and full service restaurants?

  • What are the differences between their everyday and special-occasion dining choices?

  • What are the most important restaurant characteristics when they decide where to dine out?

  • What types of menu characteristics appeal to them, and what would tempt them to try a restaurant for the first time?

  • What would prevent them from eating at a particular restaurant?


This report builds on the analysis presented in Mintel’s Dining Out: The Restaurant Decision-Making Process – US, July 2014 report. It also builds on such other Mintel reports as Dining Out: A 2015 Look Ahead – US, January 2015; Marketing to Millennials – US, February 2015; Healthy Dining Trends – US, July 2014 and other reports in the limited and full-service segments.

Data sources

Sales data

The Market Size and Forecast information contained in this report is based on the US Census Bureau (Annual Retail Trade Survey), US Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates, and National Restaurant Association’s “Restaurant Forecast 2015” forecast developed by Mintel.

Mintel Menu Insights

Mintel Menu Insights is a quarterly census of more than 3,000 US restaurant menus (30% market coverage) covering all commercial segments and US census regions, with trends going back to Q2 2004. Mintel Menu Insights tracks 29 unique menu item attributes including flavor, preparation (physical and/or cooking), menu type/section, cuisine type, menu claims, etc., grouped into six major categories from macro restaurant, menu, plate, item dish, and beverage to micro ingredient detail.

Tracking features include total menu incidence (menu mentions), restaurant penetration (percentage of restaurants menuing), calories, and price, including filtering capabilities for all menu items, including new menu items, deleted menu items, or any menu items with changes over prior period. The database includes more than 20,000 unique ingredients and close to 290,000 unique menu item dishes updated quarterly. Mintel Menu Insights is backed up with a dedicated team of in-house data entry, data editors, data quality, product development, and industry analysts focused 100% on these menu data and trends.

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 2015 among a sample of 2,000 adults aged 18+ with access to the internet.

Mintel selects survey respondents by gender, age, household income, and region so that they are proportionally representative of the US adult population using the internet. Mintel also slightly over-samples, relative to the population, respondents that are Hispanic or Black to ensure an adequate representation of these groups in the survey results and to allow for more precise parameter estimates from the reported findings. 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.

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.

Mintel also analyzed spending data from Experian Marketing Services, Fall 2014 Simmons NHCS Adult Study 12-Month, which surveyed 17,660 adults aged 18+ who have spent money at a fast-food/drive-in restaurant in the past 30 days and 17,889 who have spent money at a family/sit-down restaurant in the past 30 days. The survey was conducted from November 2013-December 2014.

In addition to quantitative consumer research, Mintel also conducted an online discussion group among a demographically mixed group of adults aged 18+. This discussion group was asynchronous (ie not run in real time), functioning like a blog or bulletin board, with questions remaining posted for a predetermined period of time. This method allows participants to respond reflectively, at their leisure, or to log off to think about any issues raised, and return later to respond. Participants were recruited from Lightspeed GMI’s online consumer panel with responses collected in March 2015. All quotes are included verbatim, and as such, include typos and other grammatical errors as they originally appeared.

Abbreviations and terms


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

BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
CAGR Compound annual growth rate
CPI Consumer Price Index
DPI Disposable personal income
FSR Full service restaurant
LSR Limited service restaurant
LTO Limited-time offer
MMI Mintel Menu Insights
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The following terms are used in this report:

Chain Multiunit 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 BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) 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.
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 QSR (quick-service restaurant); and food prepared to order, with customization of ingredients by patron being the norm.
Fast food Used interchangeably with QSR.
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.
Franchise In most franchise agreements, a restaurant owner grants another person or company the right to use the name of his/her restaurant. This right also includes the use of the original owner’s patented products, building designs, and trademarks. In return, the original owner receives a fee. In addition, the franchisee usually pays a percentage of the restaurant’s income to the original owner.
Full service restaurant Establishments that provide table service. Food is ordered at the table and is paid for at the end of the meal. The segment comprises several subsegments, differentiated primarily by check size. These include family/midscale restaurants and casual dining restaurants.
Independent A single restaurant that is not part of a chain.
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Generations are discussed within this report, and they are defined as:

World War II/Swing generation Members of the WWII generation were born in 1932 or before and are aged 83 or older in 2015. Members of the Swing Generation were born between 1933 and 1945 and are aged 70-82 in 2015.
Baby Boomers The generation born between 1946 and 1964. In 2015, Baby Boomers are between the ages of 51 and 69.
Generation X The generation born between 1965 and 1976. In 2015, Gen Xers are between the ages of 39 and 50.
Millennials The generation born between 1977 and 1994. In 2015, Millennials are between the ages of 21 and 38.
iGeneration The generation born between 1995 and 2007. In 2015, iGens are between the ages of 8 and 20.
Emerging generation The newest generation began in 2008 as the annual number of births declined sharply with the recession. In 2015 members of this as-yet unnamed generation are younger than age 8.

When split into two groups, Millennials are defined as:

Younger Millennials Millennials born between 1987 and1994. In 2015, Younger Millennials are between the ages of 21 and 28.
Older Millennials Millennials born between 1977 and1986. In 2015, Older Millennials are between the ages of 29 and 38.

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 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics definition.
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