The latest industry figures have shown that even during pretty tight economic times, America’s love for dining out shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down. In pure financial terms the entire restaurant sector – everything from the guy selling hotdogs to Michelin starred boutique eateries – is worth just over $700bn annually, and comprises 4% of GDP.
Now that may not sound jaw-dropping so how about this – the cash that we spend eating out, compared to buying groceries to cook with at home, is now 45/55c in the dollar, and projected to make parity before the decade is out. In nominal terms the industry grew just shy of 4% in a year, going against economic wisdom that would suggest with lower disposable incomes should equal more domestic (cheaper) dining.
So at least one sector the economy is doing well – good news right? Well it depends on what side of the counter you’re on; as customers who are dining out more and more frequently are starting to notice that their belts are literally getting tighter. Despite billions spent on health awareness to combat obesity and warnings of diabetes, heart disease, cancers and such like, we just continue to get fatter. How much of this can be blamed upon us eating out more often though?
Firstly it depends obviously what you eat and where. Eating a foot long pulled pork sub with cheese and sauce is often going to match an adults daily requirements – that’s pretty obvious. Now let’s say instead we’re going to be healthy and have a nice healthy salad bowl. Would you like vinaigrette or ranch dressing (difference circa 200 calories)? Grilled chicken or crispy bacon (300+)? To drink – diet soda or regular (300+). You get the idea – the temptation when dining out is to go for the tastiest, and often most calorific and fattening options, and when doing so very often it can be habit forming and the go-to option when eating at home.
Plenty of restaurants know this yet are pretty cunning in presenting themselves and many options on their menus as being healthy or low fat while still being packed with calories. Going back to the salad scenario, one leading burger chain’s flagship burger contains slightly fewer calories than a standard salad. Free refills of soda cost the restaurant literally less than a cent per serving – yet a 16oz serving may contain more calories than a chocolate donut.
Part of the problem lies in the ‘low fat’ marketing, but in truth fat isn’t necessarily as bad as has long been thought – it’s sugars, carbohydrates and suchlike that make us eat more – especially when it can cost so little. Fat is physically filling, yet carbs are incredibly moreish because of the fast releasing nature of their energy – and they’re packed with energy! Restaurants that offer breadsticks and rolls before you order – yup, they do that to make you hungrier and eat more from the main menu. Let’s not even go into the desserts rather than to point out in many cases they will double your calorific ingestion from the meal, and cost pennies to put together (hence they’re so massive!).
But as discussed at the top of this article, we show no signs of stopping eating out so much – and let’s clarify that there are plenty of healthier options out there for those with the willpower to stick to them. Also it’s a very cultural thing, and in a highly competitive and growing market it’s also so accessible on a relatively regular basis depending on where you choose to dine.
Simply sticking to diet soda and skipping or sharing entrees and/or dessert will seriously reduce the number of useless/empty calories that are being taken in. If temptation is too much, then maybe limit it to once or twice a week, or even try something like eat stop eat which is intermittent fasting or start taking lunch to work rather than just hitting the nearest sandwich joint? These are all just ideas that need some serious consideration.
Whatever the circumstances, if you’re waistline is expanding and you’re putting on weight just take a moment to assess how often you dine out, what you eat and the alternative options available. You’ll be likely saving tens of thousands of calories a year even just by making a slight adjustment to any of these variables.