For the First Time, Americans Spend More on Eating Out Than Buying Groceries

April 16, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2018

American consumers spent more eating and drinking at restaurants than on buying groceries for the first time since the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting such monthly data in 1992.

In March 2015, Americans spent $50.384 billion at “food services and drinking places,” compared to $50.089 billion at grocery stores, according to the Census Bureau’s monthly survey on retail activity in the United States.

The Census Bureau defines “food services and drinking places” as “establishments that prepare meals, snacks, and beverages to customer order for immediate on-premises and off-premises consumption.” Sales in this category have been increasing steadily since five years ago, with occasional dips from month to month. In March, it finally overtook sales at grocery stores for the first time.

The latest numbers reflect the growing trend among millennials (the generation born after 1980) to eat out for their meals.

A 2012 study by the food industry research firm Technomic found that 41 percent of millennials bought food away from home at least twice a week, compared with 38 percent of Generation-Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and 37 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946 to 1964).

Technomic also found that millennials were most likely to opt for food delivery, while baby boomers tended to visit restaurants for dining in.

Millennials placed the most importance on whether a restaurant served alcoholic beverages (20 percent of millennials surveyed), compared to 12 percent of Gen Xers and 10 percent of baby boomers.

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