Eating out is becoming a treat reserved for special occasions as consumers think carefully about their discretionary spend, new research suggests.
33% of respondents to a survey carried out by analyst firm Horizons cited a special occasion as their reason for eating out in the previous two weeks, including Christmas, up from 23% in July 2011.
Convenience (30%), meeting friends (30%) and not wanting to cook (22%) were the other key reasons for deciding to eat out, according to the study of more than 2,000 respondents.
The survey, which quizzed people on their eating out habits over a two-week period at the end of 2011, showed a marked decline in the frequency consumers ate out — down to 2.1 occasions in December 2011 from 3.3 times last year.
Over a quarter said they had not eaten out at all in the previous two weeks, with cost being the most commonly cited reason.
However, while consumers may be cutting back on the number of times they eat out, the amount they are spending each time is increasing. Average spend through the restaurant sector (including drinks) is currently £17 per head, with pub restaurants coming in slightly cheaper at £15.80 per head.
“We have noted the tendency of consumers to eat out less, but spend more for some time and this appears to be an ongoing trend. It also seems consumers now need a good reason to eat out – such as a special occasion – and are less inclined to eat out as a matter of course or on impulse,” said Emma Read, director of marketing and business development at Horizons.
Pub restaurants remain the most common places to visit, accounting for 18% of all meals eaten out — up from 17% last year.
Takeaway and delivery are the second most popular option, accounting for 14% of all eating out.