This report makes troubling reading.
Restaurants continued to increase their share of spending in April, reaching 54.9% of the food dollar, according to U.S. Census data released Tuesday.
That was a 260-basis-point increase from April last year, when the share was 52.3%, said analyst Mark Kalinowski, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Kalinowski Equity Research LLC.
“Even more impressively, as best as we can tell, this 54.9% market share figure for April 2022 is an all-time monthly high for the U.S. restaurant industry,” Kalinowski said in a note released Tuesday about the April U.S. Census data.
. . .
“If you need to eat — and I haven't yet met the person who didn't need to eat — you have got to buy the food from some place unless you're growing it yourself or you have a neighbor who grows it,” he said. “The fact is the restaurant industry offers a lot of convenience. It offers experiences that the grocery stores can't match.
“It is so firmly a part of the American fabric now that Americans don't necessarily want to cut their restaurant spending,” Kalinowski said.
There's more at the link.
Why is it troubling, you ask?
- A "restaurant", for the purposes of the report, is any place that sells or serves food outside the home. A fast-food joint like a McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy's is considered as much a "restaurant" as an Appleby's, Red Lobster or Chili's (or, for that matter, a fine dining establishment). Trouble is, the food at most such outlets is carb-laden, oil-soaked and salt-sodden, to name only a few pitfalls. It's tasty, sure, but it's also far less healthy than it should or could be.
- It's also far more expensive to buy a burger, or a plate of pasta, or whatever, at a restaurant than it would be to make it at home. I reckon a family may spend four or five times as much to buy the dish elsewhere than to cook it themselves - and in a time of tight budgets and rising prices, that makes no economic sense at all. Even worse, more and more current expenditure appears to have been charged to credit cards, rather than paid for out of disposable income - a very dangerous state of financial affairs. Sooner or later, those bills will fall due. What happens if they can't be paid?
- It may not make economic sense, but it may make the best use of a family's time to eat out rather than cook. We're so busy these days, what with work, commuting, etc. that many simply don't have time to prepare a meal at leisure, then sit down and enjoy it together, then help each other clean up. The restaurant is an obvious way out of that - but it also illustrates how poor some families may be in the time it takes to hold that family together, to build, maintain and sustain "the ties that bind". In that sense, this over-reliance on restaurant food may be a harbinger of much more serious societal problems. That's made even worse by the fact that individual family members may go to different restaurants or fast-food joints, at different times, to get their food: or they may order it delivered to their respective tastes. The shared experience is absent.
- In the "old days", housewives used to take pride in their ability to cook appetizing meals for their families. When I was in my teens, the girls at high school used to take (compulsory) "home economics" classes for the equivalent of Grades 8-10, and could take it all the way to Grade 12 if they wished. The boys took woodwork (or what American schools called "shop") instead. The "sexual revolution" and women's rights movements have done away with all that. Modern girls would probably find it degrading to be "discriminated against" by such "old-fashioned" and "patriarchal" classes. They may be right: but it also means that a central core of the traditional family is conspicuous by its absence. There's an old saying that "The family that prays together, stays together". It might equally well have read, "The family that eats together, stays together". Sadly, today neither practice is commonplace - and it shows in the crumbling, almost moribund institution of our families.
- Remember what happened to supermarkets in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns? They couldn't get enough essential supplies to deal with the sudden, vast increase in demand from consumers who were suddenly unable to go to work, restaurants and the like. Restaurant supply chains shut down, because they had no market to service, while retail supply chains choked on the sudden increase in demand. That's changed for now - in part because all supply chains are beset with problems at the moment - but it could happen again in another emergency. Are we any better prepared to deal with it? I doubt it. What will happen if those who rely on restaurant meals can't get them any more?
- In a real emergency, when little or no food may be available for an extended period, how many families have reserve supplies to cope with that? If they mostly rely on restaurants to eat, the odds are they won't have much food at home. Even if they do, how many of them know how to safely preserve and cook their reserves? I know some people who'd burn water if they tried to boil it. I shudder to think how they'd
flambéefry eggs, or charcook bacon, or incinerateroast a chicken!
- Last, but by no means least, what about all those people who rely on restaurants to earn their daily bread? Wait staff, cleaners, bartenders, cooks, delivery drivers (for both raw materials and meals ordered for delivery) . . . they almost all lost their jobs or were furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis. The odds are very good that they'll suffer the same fate if there's another interruption to the restaurant trade, for whatever reason. Uneasy lies the head that wears the cook's hat? If not, it should!
Those are just a few of the things that come to mind on reading that report. I'm sure there are others. I can't help but think that this is a potentially dangerous imbalance, and thus a very unhealthy state of affairs.