Eating in or eating out?

January 19, 2017

By: Rafael Tonon

How food industry is trying to solve this quandary

Technology and a new behavior of consumers regarding food have transformed the very concepts of going out and eating in – and this is changing even the concept of restaurants itself.



In 2015, the American food-delivery company Seamless hired a publicity agency to create a campaing about New York’s eating culture: the challenge was to translate the New Yorkers habits and food preferences into a good-humoured ad. In a city where people are constantly on the move, there’s always time for some delivery  – or, better saying, there’s always a lack of time that leads people to order food.

With some funny quotes such as “Avoid cooking like you avoid Times Square” and “Your secret 3am dumpling & donut order is safe with us” in ads popping up across Manhattan on subways and bus kiosks, the campaing tried to show how people in the city leaving  their stoves behind to order food instead – with a little help from apps and new technologies that have made the task even easier, one should say.


But is it true that New Yorkers – as a metaphore for people from every big city in the world – are more than ever eating in instead of eating out? More than (anti)social habits, the reason for an increasing preference for home dinners is related majorly to how going out has become more expensive nowadays. Right now the cost of food at home (from groceries and markets) is declining, while food away from home (restaurants and bars) is increasing.

According to a report from Bespoke Investment Group, the percentage of retail sales in bars and restaurants is really close to that in food and beverage stores – the smallest gap in decades, since the cost of eating  in restaurants has always prevailed.

The report follows: “With Bars and Restaurants accounting for 11.97% of total sales and Food and Beverage Stores accounting for 12.84%, the spread between the two is narrowing”. Large food chains have been reporting steadily declining incomes at the same time fast-food companies sales are turning down.

eating in x eating out

Virtual restaurants for real numbers

But as the graphics above may show, despite of this negative numbers, the percentage of how much Americans are spending in restaurants is growing compared to last years, what leads us to a dichotomy: the news about eating out and eating in constantly contradicts themselves. And, more than we can notice, this contradition says much about the new scenario of how we are eating (in or out). The truth is that the technology and a new behavior of consumers have transformed the very concepts of going out and eating in – and this is changing even the concept of restaurants itself.

When a famous chef such as David Chang bet in a delivery-only restaurant (that used a venture financing in the order of $7 million in its first round) one can conclude that the game is really changing. Ando is a virtual restaurant, a professional kitchen built in New York City to deliver the food ordered directly by app and website. Chang decided to get rid of the dining room and prove himself that it wouldn’t be necessary to serve good food. (More than that, in theory these virtual restaurants represent a cheaper way for people to eat good food, as it would cost less to run a business like this).

If you don’t have customers at your door, that doesn’t mean you are not feeding them.  Many virtual restaurants have just opened their doors in the very last year in the US and even in Europe. There are already dozens of them in New York. In Bay Area, a region that benefits from  being really close to the Silicon Valley (and its inverstors, of course), there are also some, such as Sprig and Munchery. These are the restaurants you can’t go to — they go to you. And it seems to be the next big move in restaurant industry.

ando food

Technology is changing how we eat

Five years ago, one couldn’t imagine that in the comfort of your home, you would be able to order a great dish by a famous chef or one from his acclaimed fancy restaurant (with UberEats, Favor, and many other delivery services focused on delivering this kind of fine-dining meals) without even making a call. Or order the perfect amount of ingredients for a recipe if you wanted to play chef.

Today, you can “go out” in your own dining room, you can “cook” a meal that’s been ordered in. “Out” and “in” are concepts that no longer represent what we thought about them – and this is probably the answer why the current level of difference from the Bespoke Investment Group graphics look so narrow (less then 0.9).

These concepts have changed as the technology available in our hands evolved. Thanks to this, customers are now “requestors” and ingredients became “variables”.

That said, start-ups, apps, delivery services, and grocery store technologies (such as Amazon Dash Button) are not just changing how we eat: they are also changing the way we perceive cooking at home and going out for dinner. Or, at least, are blurring how we see (or used to see) our food in the plate – wherever we are.


Rafael Tonon

+ posts by Rafael

Rafael Tonon is a journalist and food writer. He writes about food, drinks and trends in gastronomy. He contributes to many media outlets, such as Eater, Vice, Slate and more. He maintains the trend food blog What the Fork.

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