Americans Can’t Afford To Eat Out Anymore for These Five Reasons

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Past visitors to the United States will tell you how impressed they were by the eating-out culture when they were there. Americans in the near past didn’t need an excuse to take the family out to Applebee's, TGI Fridays, or somewhere fancier.

In his 1999 New Yorker article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” Anthony Bourdain argued that Tuesday is the ideal dining out night. According to Bourdain, Mondays are for using up leftovers from the weekend. However, dining out is becoming a luxury for many citizens, and people are no longer repeating their forebears’ eating habits for several reasons.

Reaching a Tipping Point

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America stands out internationally as a place where cash moves fast, never more so than in the restaurant game. The tipping culture that has made serving American diners so appealing for restaurant workers may be why many diners prefer to stay home. A 2023 survey that found 66% of respondents viewed tipping culture negatively, with almost half that amount saying it was “out of control.”

To make matters worse, states such as Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi don’t require a minimum wage for waiting staff. Meaning their hourly rate could be as low as $3 per hour, with the expectation is that customer tips will make up the difference. While 15% to 20% seems reasonable for a meal out, adding all the other services now expecting gratuities soon adds up.

A Zero (Dim) Sum Game

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Restaurateurs have been shellacked over the last few years, with the global events of 2020 forcing many into debt or shutting their doors entirely. Then, as energy companies sought to regain their lost revenues during this period, the cost of keeping lights on went up to exorbitant rates, forcing many more into the red. It’s no surprise many have raised prices to recoup their losses, too.

Moreover, rising food and material costs have accompanied fuel price spikes. The National Restaurant Association found 92% of business owners cited rising food costs as their biggest challenge. 

Restaurants Are Reducing Portions

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There are countless stories of restaurants closing down late. Even the “World’s Best Hotel” laureate Noma had to lock its doors for the last time in 2023, citing an “unsustainable” model for economic success. Others have taken drastic measures to reduce expenditure and waste, such as reducing portion sizes, streamlining menus, and reducing trading hours.

However, while these may reduce costs, they may lower restaurant traffic. A Forbes restaurant review queried what businesses are doing to battle the economic climate, arguing that cutting corners or reducing quality will alienate even the most loyal customers.

People Have Less Cash

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The most obvious factor haunting the American middle class is the sudden drop in living standards. Families who used to love Taco Tuesday might now be attempting their versions of their favorite Tuesday night treat; some may have abandoned it altogether, with the cost of a taco night at home now matching the former Mexican restaurant prices.

Although they are now falling, Freddie Mac’s economists studied how 15-year mortgage rates have rocketed over the past few years — from 2.12% in September 2021 to 6.72% on the same day two years later. Paying an extra 4% on a variable mortgage will end most families’ entertainment and eating out budget.

Americans Need To Cut Back

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In April 2023, an Axios report using statistical data over 10 years found that in 2015, American consumers reached a crucial point in their eating habits: they began spending more money on groceries than restaurant food. This trend was briefly reversed by the lockdowns of 2020 to 2021, then swiftly reinstated when they ended.

Spending on dining out reached $95 billion in 2023, though this could be a bubble set to burst in 2024. With the rising cost of living and the subsequent effect on dining habits, could eating as restaurants be a thing of the past?

Author: Ben Rice

Title: Trending Topics, News, Features.

Expertise: Lifestyle, Travel, Music, Film.


Raised in England and with a career background in international education, Ben now lives in Southern Spain with his wife and son, having lived on three continents, including Africa, Asia, and North America. He has worked diverse jobs ranging from traveling film projectionist to landscape gardener.

He offers a unique, well-traveled perspective on life, with several specialties related to his travels. Ben loves writing about food, music, parenting, education, culture, and film, among many other topics. His passion is Gen-X geekery, namely movies, music, and television.

He has spent the last few years building his writing portfolio, starting as a short fiction author for a Hong Kong publisher, then moving into freelance articles and features, with bylines for various online publications, such as Wealth of Geeks, Fansided, and Detour Magazine.