December 16, 2018

The New Normal

I was talking with friends the other day about how much each of us eats out, and it was accepted as common knowledge that the average is four times a week. Now that’s ANY meal, mind you, and not just dinner. After that conversation I started poking around on online message boards and such, and saw lots of posts that claimed to be in the range of that four times a week, somewhere in the 4-8 vicinity. Sometimes they didn’t count meals other than dinner, as though any eating that occurs before late afternoon is too free form, so shouldn’t be a part of their ultimate eating-out total. Or sometimes they wouldn’t count take-out, but given that the word “out” appears right there in the phrase I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

How many times a week do you eat out? And are you single, coupled, with kids, without, suburban, or urban? This is an entirely unscientific and unmoderated survey, I know, but I’m interested in the results.

What has influenced our choice to eat in or eat out, cook at home or have a meal prepared for us? Clearly, the economy of the last couple of years has made us think more about how we spend our money, and as a result likely we eat out less frequently. (Though as the economy starts to perk up, perhaps we’ll begin eating out more but less extravagantly. I loved the Best Seattle Restaurants 2011 feature in Seattle Magazine’s April issue, and the various budget dining tips. How to continue to enjoy all of the good stuff the Seattle restaurant scene has to offer without breaking the bank.)

As well as the economy, another factor that seems to point toward more in and less out is the increasing prevalence of an assortment of dietary restrictions. Those who might be gluten- or dairy-intolerant, for example, might choose to avoid the hassle of sifting through options in a restaurant and just cooking at home. Though at the same time, with the rise of dietary issues there has also been a corresponding response from restaurants, making it easier to find good options on the menu. Witness places like Volterra with wheat-free pasta upon request, and Tango with its entirely gluten-less menu. Or for the vegan among us, the vegan doughnuts at Mighty-O and what I understand to be the granddaddy of vegan restaurant in Seattle, Hillside Quickie’s.

One last piece of the puzzle to consider is the ever-increasing pace of our lives, which seems to push us in the other direction. I talk to friends who have to work more hours just to keep afloat in their staff-slimmed offices. Or others who have busy families, and spend a considerable amount of time shuttling kids to multiple activities so don’t have a chance to hang out around the dinner table. Or what often describes me, the person busy trying to fit in quality time with friends, time that more often includes a quick happy hour drop-by at a bar rather than a leisurely dinner party at home.

I haven’t seen your responses yet, but all of this thinking about eating out and I’ve come to the conclusion that I likely won’t do it a whole lot less, but I’ll work on doing it with more intention. Good food – or something crazy and different so you have no guarantee that it’ll be good – chosen with care and not just the default because I was too busy to pack a lunch. And more leisurely dinners with family and friends, please. That’s one of my very favorite activities – enjoying the company of interesting people over good food and drink. Even better if both are the product of my kitchen!