With COVID-19 cases dropping, the government has been easing restrictions and more people are comfortable going out again. But so far that’s not translating into eating out more, and not because we’re fearful. No, this time it’s food prices.
With inflation at the highest in nearly 40 years, consumers are increasingly substituting groceries for eating out to stretch their monthly food budgets, a recent Morning Consult survey indicated. As the chart below shows, the share of people’s monthly budgets going to meals at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) dropped in January to the lowest level in more than a year.
While grocery prices have also been rising—in some months even faster than restaurant tabs—people faced with budget constraints are more likely to cut back on discretionary things like eating out than on staples like groceries, pollsters said.
The decline in restaurant spending is even more telling given a separate Morning Consult survey showed the percentage of people comfortable dining out jumped to 64% from about 44% in the year through January. By mid-February, 68% said they were comfortable dining in a restaurant, the highest level since November, before the omicron variant emerged.
“Higher prices were more likely than omicron to be the culprit behind the decline in restaurant visits,” Morning Consult said in a report last week. “Consumers feel increasingly doubtful about their ability to afford food each month, contributing to belt-tightening behaviors such as fewer trips to restaurants.”
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