Restaurant Briefing: How Consumers Dine – When and Why

Promote Your Business Restaurant Industry By American Express January 20, 2015

The ways that consumers use restaurants are evolving. That is in large part because the needs they’re seeking to fill are also changing. To get a moving picture of how diners spend their restaurant dollars in 2014 and why, we polled consumers over a seven-day period, asking them to describe their most recent restaurant occasion. Approximately one-seventh of the 500-person sample—71 or 72 individuals—were polled each day of the week.

Although Technomic research has shown growing patronage for snack dayparts, the vast majority of consumers report that their most recent foodservice purchase was for breakfast, lunch or dinner (as they defined the occasion). Fewer than 3% say their most recent dine-in occasion was for happy hour, a snack or “other,” and under 3% say their last takeout or delivery purchase was for a snack or “other.”

Dine-in occasions in restaurants are split between weekdays and weekends. About six out of 10 of these occasions were for dinner, three out of 10 were for lunch, and a tenth were for breakfast. Dinner occasions are about equally divided between weeknights and weekend nights. Lunch—even a dine-in lunch—is far more likely to be a weekday occasion; six out of 10 consumers whose most recent occasion in a restaurant was for lunch ate out on a weekday. However, of the few who report most recently dining out for a morning meal, six out of 10 went out for breakfast or brunch on the weekend.


In contrast to dine-in occasions in restaurants—a mix of weekday and weekend meals—the most recent takeout or delivery occasion reported by consumers was twice as likely to have been a weekday purchase as one occurring on a weekend. Of these occasions, six out of 10 were for dinner and three out of 10 were for
lunch, quite similar to the pattern we saw for dine-in orders. Only 5% say they ordered takeout or delivery for breakfast (though an additional 1% specified brunch).

When Was Your Last Takeout Occasion?

As mentioned earlier, the consumer survey on dayparts and weekparts was conducted over a seven-day period with efforts made to poll the same number of respondents each day. However, there was no way to control for the time of day when each respondent answered the poll; presumably most filled out the online
survey in the evening, and that likely skewed the results toward occasions later in the day. So, in addition to asking consumers to recall their most recent dine-in and takeout/delivery occasions, we also asked them to estimate what proportion of their foodservice orders in the past year were for each daypart.

When Do You Typically Dine Out?For the most part, there were few striking gender or generational skews in the answers consumers gave to this question. The exception was for happy hour/snack, where the mean or average percentage of occasions estimated by consumers (7%) was more than four times higher than the median (the number for which half of responses are above, half below). A look at generations shows that younger adults are far more likely to report that snacks or happy hour account for a substantial proportion of their foodservice purchases—from 12% of occasions, on average, for those aged 18-25 to just 4% of occasions on average for those 45 and older. Further, only 12% of those under 25 say they never purchase food from a restaurant for happy hour or a snack, compared to 42% of consumers over the age of 45.

Delving deeper, we asked respondents who had told us when they go to restaurants why they do so on each type of occasion. Consumers were asked to identify the primary needs or emotions that they typically associate with each major daypart and weekpart.

Snack dayparts are closely associated with the most basic food needstate—filling hunger. Weekday lunch is also associated with satiating hunger, as well as with timesaving convenience. Additionally, convenience is a big reason for consumers to use foodservice for a weekday breakfast, weeknight dinner or even a weekend lunch.

What Dayparts Do You Most Associate With...

Consumers treasure foodservice meals as a great way to connect emotionally with the people they care about. Family get-togethers are associated most of all with weekend dinners, but also with weeknight dinners and weekend breakfast or brunch. When diners want to get together with their friends, a weekend dinner is again their top association, but happy hour, a weekend lunch or a weeknight dinner can also fill the bill.

What Dayparts Do You Most Associate With...

Some needstates are emotional. Throughout history, people have used meals as a time to relax, and today’s consumers are no different. The meals most
likely to be seen as relaxing are at end of day—weekend dinner (45%) followed by weeknight supper (40%). Food and drink can also be seen as a treat
or reward; a treat from a restaurant is most associated with snack time or happy hour.

What Dayparts Do You Most Associate With...Bottom line: While Americans’ dining patterns may be changing, most consumers still use restaurants at dinnertime (weeknight or weekend) or to source lunch. That means operators have prime opportunities to extend usage beyond these standard dayparts. Meeting consumers’ needstates for each occasion will help operators gain competitive share either for the high-traffic meals or in underutilized dayparts (breakfast and snack times).

Source:  Technomic, Inc.