Couple eating at a restaurant

The restaurant business is no small peanuts. With $783 billion in annual sales and 14.4 million employees at more than 1 million locations, eating out frequently has become an American way of life.

"Today's consumers spend almost half of their food budget in our industry," said Annika Stensson, director of research communications for the National Restaurant Association. She spoke during the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin's annual meeting held in Madison, Wis.

The restaurant industry includes all meals and snacks prepared away from home, including takeout meals and beverages. Today, the restaurant industry receives 47 percent of the food dollar, up from 25 percent in 1955.

According to the National Restaurant Association's 2016 Restaurant Industry Forecast, four out of five customers say that dining out is a better use of time than having to prepare a meal and clean up afterward. Seven out of 10 say that restaurants provide them flavors that are not easily replicated at home.

Referencing the report, Stensson shared the top reasons why people choose a particular restaurant: favorite items on the menu, healthy menu options, innovative or creative food, food they haven't tried before, and local and eco-friendly food.

Even though dining out might be easier, consumers are still very in tune with what they are eating. Stensson noted that nine out of 10 restaurant operators say their guests are more knowledgeable about food than they used to be, and nine out of 10 have higher expectations than they did just two years ago.

Stensson pointed out that restaurants are the primary point of access for trying new cuisines, and they are also the most common source for frequent eaters to get ethnic foods.

"Overall, consumers want to make dining an experience," she said. "They want to make each dining experience count."

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
April 4, 2016
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