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While traditional meals such as lunch (60%) and dinner (77%) are by far and away the most likely occasions Canadian diners* go out to eat, it seems the country’s youngest consumers are driving interest in non-traditional times for dining out. New research from Mintel reveals that diners aged 18-24 are the most likely to say they dine out for a late-night meal (35% vs 16% overall), a snack (30% vs 19% overall) and for brunch (22% vs 18% overall).

But while these younger diners are the most frequent visitors to restaurants, with two thirds (66%) saying they dine out at least once a week, the effects are weighing heavily on their minds and wallets. In fact, diners aged 18-24 are twice as likely as diners overall to say that eating out/ordering in impacts their ability to meet their financial goals (34% vs 17% overall) and a similar percentage say they feel guilty about how often they eat out/order in (36% vs 17% overall).

Despite any potential feelings of guilt or negative financial repercussions, it seems acting on impulse is driving them do to so as diners aged 18-24 are also the most likely to say they dine out/order in to satisfy a craving (55% vs 44% overall).

“Young Canadians are the driving force behind dining out for non-traditional meal occasions such as late-night meals and snacking, due in part to a need for convenience and as the result of young consumers turning to snacking as a ‘stand-in’ for traditional meals. This indicates the increasing importance for restaurants to promote non-traditional eating occasions to ensure relevance with younger audiences, especially as snacking represents a great opportunity to connect with these consumers,” said Carol Wong-Li, Senior Lifestyle and Leisure Analyst at Mintel. “However, younger consumers are torn between feelings of enjoyment when dining out and guilt over the cost and frequency with which they do so. As snacking can be a more cost efficient way for younger Canadians to dine out, offering snack opportunities at unique times of day is a good way for foodservice marketers to not only keep young diners interested, but to encourage them to enjoy their services with a little less guilt.”

54% of Canadian diners today say they dine out/order in at least once a week, compared to 42% in 2016.

Canada vs Quebec: Dining out for different reasons

As the economy grows stronger, dining out is on the rise, with more than half (54%) of Canadian diners today saying that they dine out/order in at least once a week, compared to 42% who said the same in 2016**. And it seems that dining out is increasingly being considered an indulgence as the top reasons diners say they dine out/order in is to treat themselves (58%) or as a reward (39%).

For Quebecers who dine out, it’s less about treating oneself and more about the social value of a meal as they are more likely than Canadian diners overall to say that the social aspect of eating out is important to them (42% vs 36% overall) and that the experience of eating out adds value to their lives (38% vs 33% overall).

All in all, Mintel research reveals that, across Canada, eating out is a way for consumers to escape from the norm as more than two in five (44%) diners say they dine out/order in to enjoy food they don’t prepare at home and one quarter (26%) do so to try new restaurants.

“Quebecers are more likely to see dining out as a social experience, suggesting that eating out is perhaps less of a special-occasion occurrence, but still a highly communal and personally meaningful one. This highlights a boon for foodservice vendors as Quebecers are likely to need less of a reason or excuse to go out to eat. Consumers from this region also tend to dine out more at traditional eating occasions than the average Canadian, which suggests that opportunities exist to grow cheques by offering the full-package deal of serving appetizers and desserts alongside entrées,” continued Wong-Li.

Young Canadian women are more adventurous diners

Finally, while young, female diners aged 18-24 are dining out on a weekly basis (65%) nearly as often as their male counterparts (67%), it seems younger women show greater interest in a variety of dining out locations. In fact, young Canadian women are more likely than men the same age to say they have dined out at or ordered food from coffee shops (77% women aged 18-24 vs 60% men aged 18-24), food courts/halls (49% vs 35%), smoothie/juice shops (30%vs 20%) and bakeries (30% vs 22%).

“In today’s digital age, it is highly likely that the food and drink cravings of younger consumers are driven by their exposure to social media content. As discussed in Mintel’s 2016 Global Food & Drink Trend ‘Eat With Your Eyes,’ the high levels of social media engagement among younger generations are driving increased visibility of food/drink trends, highlighting the importance of ensuring retailers have ‘Instagrammable’ elements, whether it be rainbow-coloured drinks or black charcoal ice cream, that can draw the attention of young consumers,” concluded Wong-Li.

*Base: 1,930 internet users aged 18+ who have eaten out in the past 3 months leading to December 2017.
**Mintel’s Dining Out Canada 2016 report – Base: 1,877 internet users aged 18+ who have gotten food from a foodservice establishment in past 3 months leading to February 2016.

Press copies of Mintel’s Dining Out Canada 2018 report and interviews with Carol Wong-Li, Senior Lifestyle and Leisure Analyst, are available on request from the press office.