A recent study by Harris Interactive measured how much Americans are dining out to gauge whether or not economic recovery is occurring.

The Harris Poll surveyed more than 2,400 adults in March and discovered that 63 percent of Americans have dined at a quick-service restaurant within the past month.

This is compared to about half who have dined at a local casual dining establishment (53 percent) and a casual dining restaurant chain (50 percent). Fewer have dined at either a local fine dining establishment (18 percent) or a fine dining restaurant chain (9 percent) while 13 percent of Americans have not dined at any of these types of restaurants in the past month.

Changes in dining out behavior

While Americans are dining out, they are still cutting back in how often they do so. In looking at the past six months, about one-third say they are eating less frequently at QSRs (36 percent), casual dining restaurant chains (34 percent), and local casual dining restaurants (34 percent). But one reason for optimism is that about one in 10 Americans say they are eating at these three types of restaurants more frequently.

There is a gender difference in these results, as women are more likely than men to say they are dining out less frequently in these three types of restaurants throughout the past six months. For example, two in five women (41 percent) say they are dining less frequently at QSRs compared to 31 percent of men.

Seven in 10 Americans (71 percent) said they are cooking more instead of going out in order to save more money, while more than half (57 percent) said going out used to be a regular occurrence but it is now a luxury. On the flip side, three in five U.S. adults (60 percent) disagree with the notion that they will eat out as often but now usually at a lower priced restaurant. Three in 10 Americans (29 percent) say they will cut spending in other places in order to still be able to dine out.

"Consumer restaurant behavior continues to evolve as they manage their budgets in an ongoing tight economy. At the beginning of the economic downturn we saw consumers saving money by changing their behavior in two ways: eating out less frequently and shifting their eating-out dollars away from casual dining toward quick-service restaurants," said Mary Bouchard, vice president at Harris Interactive. "Now, with several years of experience with constrained budgets, they have shifted even further from the busy-lifestyle convenience of eating out on a regular basis to making time for cooking at home. When they do eat out, not surprisingly, price is still a primary component of their decision making process."

Factors in choosing a restaurant

Respondents pointed to many different reasons for choosing a restaurant when deciding to dine out. For nine in 10 Americans (90 percent) good prices are an important reason while for 84 percent the mood they are in (for either type of cuisine or type of food) is important. Other attributes in choosing a restaurant included:

  • A specific menu item people enjoy (81 percent);
  • convenient location (80 percent);
  • Broad variety of menu items (78 percent);
  • Special offers (59 percent); and
  • Healthy menu items that fit a dietary need (56 percent).

Two things that three in five Americans say are not important when they choose a restaurant are choosing the same restaurant (59 percent) and a restaurant with a menu that usually has new items (61 percent).

"While consumers still are driven by a favorite type of food/favorite dish in restaurant selection, the industry overall has begun to see a positive shift toward healthy eating behavior," Bouchard said.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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