Households spent an average of $3,459 on food away from home* in 2018, according to new Consumer Expenditure Survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This spending at restaurants and other foodservice outlets on meals, snacks and nonalcoholic beverages represented 5.6 percent of the average household’s total expenditures of $61,224 in 2018.

The $3,459 spent on food away from home in 2018 was a record high, and represented the fifth consecutive annual increase in average household spending at restaurants. Average household expenditures on food away from home increased at an average annual rate of 5.7 percent between 2013 and 2018. This was two full percentage points above the 3.7 percent increase in total household expenditures during the same five-year period.

With the exception of healthcare expenditures – which increased at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent – food away from home was the fastest-growing item among the major goods and services expenditure categories between 2013 and 2018. Average spending on food at home rose at a modest 2.3 percent average annual rate during the last five years.

Households in the West spent an average of $3,975 on food away from home in 2018 – tops among the four U.S. regions. In addition, the western states saw the strongest growth in household restaurant spending: a 6.4 percent average annual increase between 2013 and 2018.

In the Northeast region, households spent an average of $3,557 on food away from home in 2018. Although this was slightly above the national average of $3,459, the five-year average annual growth rate of 4.8 percent rate ranked last among the four U.S. regions.

Households in the Midwest and South regions spent about $200 less at restaurants than the average for all U.S. households in 2018, though their growth rate in spending during the last five years was on par with the nation as a whole.

Not surprisingly, spending at restaurants rises along with household income. Households with pre-tax income above $100,000 spent an average of $6,247 on food away from home in 2018. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the $70,000-to-$99,999 income bracket spent an average of $3,854 at restaurants in 2018. Taken together, households in these two income categories account for 63 percent of total restaurant spending.

Although the dollars spent on food away from home vary significantly by income level, the share of the household budget allocated toward restaurants is relatively consistent along the income spectrum. The share of total household expenditures devoted to food away from home ranges from 5.3 percent for households with pre-tax income below $30,000 to 5.9 percent for households with income in the $70,000-to-$99,999 range.

Households headed by middle-age persons spend the most on food away from home. The average restaurant spending among households headed by persons between the ages of 35 and 54 was just under $4,400 in 2018. This was 27 percent higher than the average spending by all U.S. households.

Although younger households spend less at restaurants, it represents a larger share of their total expenditures. Households headed by persons under the age of 25 allocated 7.3 percent of their total spending to restaurants in 2018, while households headed by 25-to-34-year-olds devoted 6.1 percent of their expenditures to food away from home.

Consumer spending at restaurants is generally higher in more densely populated areas. Households located in areas with populations between 2.5 million and 4.9 million had the highest average annual expenditures on food away from home ($4,461), which was more than $1,000 above the national average ($3,459).

In addition to spending less at restaurants, households in smaller communities devote a smaller proportion of their budget to food away from home. Households located in areas with populations under 100,000 allocated about 5 percent of their total expenditures to food away from home in 2018. Restaurants’ share of total spending is about 6 percent for households located in areas with populations above 100,000.

*Food away from home includes all meals (breakfast and brunch, lunch, dinner and snacks and nonalcoholic beverages) including tips at fast food, take-out, delivery, concession stands, buffet and cafeteria, at full-service restaurants, and at vending machines and mobile vendors. Also included are board (including at school), meals as pay, special catered affairs, such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and confirmations, school lunches, and meals away from home on trips.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.