Americans say they’re visiting restaurants less frequently than they did even during the holidays, and the reason is that it just costs too much. That’s the reality outlined in a discouraging new Reuters/Ipsos survey, in which a third of respondents said they no longer eat out as much as they did three months ago. Two-thirds of them singled out cost as the reason, underscoring the increasingly Herculean task the struggling industry faces now that meal-kit delivery is a cottage industry, and tech companies like Amazon have invented magical supermarkets with no checkout lines. Over half the respondents said that, just in general, they eat at restaurants because it’s more convenient. Remove hassles like shopping and hour-long prep from the equation, and these people are left essentially blowing $30 on a meal that can’t be eaten while binge-watching on Netflix.
It’s just more bad news for the restaurant industry, whose growth has been gridlocked for a while. Obviously, not even an act of God could prevent fast-food chains from growing, so their literal store numbers are up, but their profits aren’t, by and large. A better indicator might be that restaurant foot traffic hasn’t increased industrywide by more than one percent since 2009, the year nobody ate out because of the financial crisis. The result is this deadly duo that’s creating a historic gap between the prices at grocery stores and the cost of restaurant meals: The consumer price index for eating at home is down 1.9 percent on the year, while eating out is up 2.4 percent.