Eating out has become a way of life for Aussie families, with many people preferring to dine out rather than cook at home, but have tighter economic conditions had an effect on our spending habits for dining out? We have examined trends in the dining out, fast food markets and considered the change in habits over evolving economic conditions and how we compare to the rest of the world.
The dining out and fast food market has grown significantly in Australia in the last 20 years, with household expenditure levels trending upwards and little evidence that the demand for dining out and takeaway has suffered adverse effects from the economic downturn. Demand for meals out and fast food has been primarily driven by current social economic trends such as the increase in the number of women in the workforce, time constraints and the need for more on-the-go meals.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009-10 Household Expenditure Survey, Australians spent almost $63 on meals out of the home, on average per week, equating to 5.1% of their total weekly household expenditure and a significant 30.8% of their total weekly food expenditure. The proportion of total income that Australians spend on dining out and fast food has risen consistently from 3.5% in 1988-89 to 4.8% in 2003/04 and 5.1% at the time of the 2009/10 survey, reflecting consumers’ desire to ‘live the good life’, regardless of economic conditions.
Recent studies in the United Kingdom suggest that the economic downturn is responsible for a rise in the consumption of takeaway foods, and a decline in frequenting restaurants, with consumers ‘downgrading’ from more expensive restaurant meals. Interestingly, this has not been the case in Australia, with the Household Expenditure Survey reporting an increase in the proportion of expenditure spent on meals at restaurants, hotels and clubs, while the proportion spent on fast food and takeaway has declined. The 1998-09 HES reported that 43.2% of meals out were spent at restaurants, while 56.1% was spent on fast food and takeaway. By 2009-10, the proportion of restaurant meals had increased markedly, comprising 50.8%, while fast food and takeaway decreased to comprise 48.4%.
More recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Retail Turnover data also illustrates the decline in the takeaway food market, with a negative growth in reported turnover for 2011, in comparison to 2010. The ‘specialised food’ sub-category achieved the healthiest growth in turnover at 5.5%, with supermarkets and grocery stores achieving 3.8% and cafes, restaurants & catering services recording an increase of 3.0%. The rise in revenue for specialised food, which includes fresh meat, fish, poultry, fruit & vegetables has been underpinned by an increase in disposable incomes and a shift in consumer tastes and preferences towards a healthier lifestyle. The rise in disposable incomes has also underpinned the shift in consumption of takeaway food to the rise in cafe and restaurant patronage, particularly in light of the perception that socialising and enjoyment are an important part of the Aussie lifestyle.
Taking a look at takeaway food and dining out trends around the world, Australia is currently comparable to the USA’s 2010 meals out and fast food expenditure of 5.2%. Japan demonstrates a lower proportion of income spent on eating out, with its 2008 Family Income and Expenditure Survey reporting a dining out expenditure of 3.7%, equating to 23.1% of total food expenditure. Singapore, on the other hand, reported a significantly larger 2007/08 expenditure on food serving services (restaurants, fast food, food courts and other catering services) of 13.5%, which can be attributed to an economy which has largely recovered from the recession and a population which strive convenience and enjoy a high disposable income.
Whatever the development trends may have us believe, I don't think we are quite ready to give up our kitchens yet, however, it would appear that demand for quality, convenience alternatives will continue to be on the rise to meet our demands for fresh, healthy but do-it-for me cooking!