It Figures, or Why Do People Open Restaurants? (pt. 2)

In academia, textbooks are considered tertiary sources. But my gut tells me that most people read them as primary sources. It’s part of the process of maintaining and exerting authority. While reading through textbooks, some things are left understood, when they shouldn’t be.

While it can be difficult for a book to stop at every statement to prove a premise, it’s dangerous if you don’t. Textbooks should come with a front cover warning: “Information not refrigerated. Product may have spoiled.”

I’m reading a restaurant textbook, and it’s slow going because I’m working to understand and verify each statement. This edition is ten years old and is not as “fresh” as it once was.

That said, I’m stuck on this sentence from page four of “The Restaurant: from concept to operation, 5th edition.”

“Today, more meals than ever are being eaten away from home.”

This is a loaded and complicated statement deserving of an entire chapter, or at least two pages. This statement means something different from when it was written. It may also, already, be false.

The percentage of people eating in restaurants has been increasing steadily for more than fifty years. But I know that this sentence is questionable, and just two days ago I was sent the following:

“Are there too many restaurants in Boston and not enough diners?” (Boston Globe)

Well, headlines seem like a reasonable place to start. Let’s look at some headlines on a timeline.

 

2015


US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS (BLS)

2015 Raw Stats (Statista)

“Consumer expenditures vary by age” (BLS)

“Americans spend more on dining out than groceries for first time ever” (Fox)

“Thanks to Millennials, Women, and Walmart, Americans Spend More on Restaurants Than Groceries” (The Cut)

“This chart about spending in restaurants is unbelievable … because it has a major problem” (Business Insider)

“Millennials Spend More Money Dining Out Than Non-Millennials” (Eater)

 

2016


“Why the poor spend more on restaurants than all but the very rich” (Market Watch)

“Dining Out: Where America Eats: Our biggest-ever subscriber survey about restaurant chains dishes up which ones hit the spot—and highlights some tasty new trends” (Consumer Reports)

“Why 2016 Has Been a Lousy Year For Restaurants” (Fortune)

“Restaurant industry ends 2016 on a sour note” (CNBC)

“5 reasons restaurant growth will continue” (National Restaurant Association)

“New Study Finds Millennials Spend 44 Percent Of Food Dollars On Eating Out” (Forbes)

 

2017


“Americans Are Eating Out a Lot Less and It’s Hurting Restaurants” (Fortune)

“In 1955, the restaurant industry comprised 25% of the family food dollar. In 2017, that number rose to 48%.” (National Restaurant Association)

“Total U.S. Restaurant Industry Visit Growth Will Remain Stalled in 2017 But Quick Service Restaurant Traffic Will See Uptick” (NPD)

“90% of Americans don’t like to cook—and it’s costing them thousands each year” (CNBC)

“Americans eat out less as higher menu prices take a bite from restaurant visits: Reuters/Ipsos poll” (Reuters)

“Eating out is the top financial indulgence for most Canadians” (Globe and Mail)

“Why Canadians are choosing restaurants over the kitchen” (Global)

 

EPILOGUE: 2018


“Canadians Will Spend More in Restaurants in 2018: Canada’s Food Price Report” (Dalhousie University)

 

One of the best articles to read is a trio from 2016: “Why the “Hot New Food Town Must Die” from Thrillist writer Kevin Alexander — and you’re reading that article to get to the last one (trust me, it’s worth it).

Even in the same year, and looking at the similar data, people parse out different insights and truths. There can be only one conclusion. It’s best summed up by The Princes Bride author William Goldman

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

Movies and food, my two favorite businesses. But what happens next?


 

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