Over the bank holiday this weekend, many Brits will be taking the opportunity to toast the end of the summer by enjoying a meal out, or ordering a meal in. However, it seems that what was once a special treat has become a weekly event for many, as new research from Mintel reveals that a third (33%) of Brits ordered a takeaway once a week or more in the past three months and 31% ate in a restaurant once a week or more over the same period. But despite this regularity in eating out, over a third (37%) of diners say they rarely think about the healthiness of the food, rising to 44% of those aged 65+.

Indeed, eating out is big business, and this looks set to continue as the market is predicted to reach £33.5 billion in 2014, marking a 3% year on year rise. Mintel’s latest research reveals one in ten (11%) UK diners eat in a restaurant and 9% order a takeaway or home delivery more than once a week. Further to this, Londoners appear to be the most likely to desert the kitchen, as one in five (21%) claim to eat in a restaurant more than once a week and one in six (17%) order a takeaway more than once a week.

However, despite the fact that over half (55%) of Brits say they have tried to lose weight in the past year, it seems that when eating out the diet goes under the table. Whilst just 8% of all diners look for something healthy when dining out for a special occasion, 43% say they look for something indulgent. What is more, just one in eight (15%) say they prefer venues where the calorie counts are displayed on the menu. However, the research also shows that operators risk little in using these labels as less than one in ten (8%) say they would avoid the venues that do this. In addition, although Londoners dine out the most, they also appear to be the most interested in healthy eating trends, as 19% say they prefer dishes which include ‘superfoods’ to low-calorie or low fat dishes and 20% claim they would order more high-protein dishes if they were offered on the menu.

Helena Childe, Senior Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, said:

Although Government initiatives such as the Responsibility Deal are pushing eating out operators to think more about their healthy eating proposition, there is little widespread demand from consumers themselves, with nearly four in 10 stating that they rarely think about healthy eating concerns when eating out. However, whilst there is little widespread demand for health, some operators could leverage it to more proactively chase their share of the leisure pound, through targeted promotions for example. There is also an opportunity in breakfast and lunch products and in the ethnic sector in particular for operators to use healthy eating facets to grow sales.”

Whilst a third (32%) of diners say they tend to eat out more on impulse than plan restaurant trips in advance, it seems that the market is continuing to follow the trend towards casualisation, with 14% of diners saying that the main reason they eat out is for a regular treat. It appears however that diners are watching their pennies, as a third (32%) have used a money-off or discount vouchers from a restaurant in the past three months. Showing the use of these vouchers does not solely come down to pinched pockets, this rises to 39% of those who earn over £50,000.

Looking to the future, UK consumers show interest in more mixed service formats with three in ten (30%) diners interested in ordering food or drink from their table without waiters for example through smartphone apps or touchscreen tablets, with 10% having done so already. There is also hope for diners who hate to wait – as half (50%) of diners are interested in or have already pre-ordered food before arriving at a restaurant or cafe.

“More specific consumer targeting is at the heart of many current developments. From immersive venue design to standout websites which elongate engagement with diners, many of the current trends in the market revolve around reasserting the experience element of eating out. All of these hope to bring back a certain vibrancy to the eating out market after a long period of heavy discounting during the recession.” Helena continues.

When it comes to restaurant choice the majority of Brits favour the pub, where three in five (60%) diners have eaten in or ordered food to go in the three months up to April 2014. Indeed, following this demand, pub catering has performed strongly in comparison to other eating out sectors in 2013, sales up 6% on 2012, rising from £6.6 billion to £7 billion.

In the fast food sector, fried chicken has seen the highest growth in the past year – rising almost 5% (4.6%) from £1.29 billion in 2012, to £1.35 billion in 2013. However, the burger remains the nations favourite fast food, holding a market value of £2.9 billion in 2013, up from £2.8 billion in 2012.

Finally, it seems that when it comes to eating out, most Brits look for a relaxed experience, with almost half (46%) looking for this quality when dining or ordering out for an everyday meal, and 38% for a special occasion. While a third (33%) claim that they eat out to relax and unwind, 16% say they have eaten out in the past three months to avoid the cooking or washing up.

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