By Kim Robson:
There’s a growing trend emerging in America: we’re cooking again! And not just with the microwave, either. Too many of us have been relying for too long on the quick and easy — fast food, takeout, and frozen dinners that require little or no assembly or reheating.
Recently, restaurant sales have been on the decline and, despite rising prices, grocery stores are doing better than ever. Americans seem to be taking back their kitchen tables and rediscovering their pots, pans and knives. Our efforts save money, improve nutrition and demonstrate a stand against Big Agribusiness.
The New York Times has reported that restaurant sales are falling. In both January and June of 2016, Americans spent more on groceries than they did on eating out — the “biggest gap in 10 years” says the former president of McDonald’s. So what’s driving this deviation from the norm?
Grocery Prices Are Down
Restaurants Are More Expensive Than Ever
In order to compensate for the loss of customers, many restaurants have increased their prices, despite the cheaper cost of groceries. The Times reports “Zoe’s Kitchen, a Mediterranean-inspired chain of more than 150 stores, said its sales in restaurants open at least one year had grown 4 percent. But more than 3 percent of that gain came from price increases. Slightly less than 1 percent of its sales growth came from what the industry calls ‘traffic’ — or more customers.”
Not a great cook? Don’t have the time or interest? There are lots of new options for people who still want to dine in.
- Meal kit companies such as Hello Fresh that create recipes, do the grocery shopping, and deliver all the measured, portioned and prepped farm-fresh ingredients straight to your door.
- Restaurant delivery services such as UberEATS and GrubHub will pick up takeout from your favorite restaurants and deliver it while still warm. All you have to do is plate it – no muss, no fuss.
- Prepared foods in supermarkets like sandwiches, sushi, hummus kits, fried chicken, roast beef, take-and-bake bread and salad kits are readily available.
- Food Swaps are a great way to meet your neighbors and barter for homemade goods like canned preserves, breads, muffins, honey, fermented foods or backyard produce.
These days, just about everyone I know is either vegetarian, vegan, Paleo, reduced-salt, gluten-free, dairy free, or suffering from food allergies. Many people are choosing to prepare meals at home because they can customize recipes and ingredients to fit those needs. Most restaurant dishes are not easily modifiable in this way.
In general, a healthy diet isn’t often consistent with typical restaurant fare. A commenter on the New York Times report wrote “New York restaurants are expensive, way too salty, and make me wake up four times a night with excessive thirst and having to go to the bathroom. Who needs it?”
Cooking Has Become Cool, Man
Interest in cooking has been fueled by hugely popular TV cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen, America’s Test Kitchen, MasterChef and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. We have been inundated with luscious, mouthwatering photos of “food porn” on food blogs, Instagram feeds, culinary magazines and glossy celebrity cookbooks. Personally, I get a great deal of inspiration and many tips from my Bon Appetit and Cook’s Illustrated subscriptions. All of this has led to greater appreciation for high quality meals prepared with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.
Millennials Don’t Trust Packaged Food
Younger generations are more suspicious of food prepared by giant, faceless corporations than their parents were. Hipsters are leading a resurgence of interest in all things artisanal, handcrafted and homemade. It’s seen as safer and more wholesome. Jake Bishop, chief creative officer at America’s Test Kitchen, says that this suspicion is unsurprising: “After all, most of the worst trends in that diet over the last twenty years coincided with people eating less at home.”
What Happens When Grocery Store Prices Rise?
No matter how high grocery store prices may go, there is still no comparison to restaurant prices, especially if you’re cooking for more than one. A family of five may eat out only once or twice a month because the bill for that single meal could be a quarter of what they’d spend in an entire month on groceries.
As people embrace home cooking, they’ll realize it’s not nearly as difficult as they’d anticipated and, with practice, will be less inclined to return to costlier, unhealthier dietary habits later on.