Food FOMO: Dealing with the fear of missing out

July 3, 2014
4 min read

With the Fourth of July upon us, Americans around the nation will be participating in one of the nation’s most prized pastimes – eating. Hot dogs, burgers, coleslaw, ice cream, and endless fizzy, sugary, flavored beverages will be consumed en masse this weekend, causing many consumers to kick their healthy eating habits to the curb. Notably, when asked about their attitudes in regards to healthy items at restaurants, 18% of adults mentioned that they sacrifice healthy eating when they order appetizers, entrees, and sides, and over a quarter (29%) of consumers say they sacrifice their healthy habits when ordering desserts.

However, this behavior is hardly an isolated incident seen only during summer holiday cookouts. According to Mintel’s American Lifestyles 2014: Looking Forward – US report, nearly one in four Americans mentioned that they are striving to achieve nine or more health and wellness goals in the future, yet the largest barrier in regards to achieving a healthful lifestyle is “motivation”. So what is causing consumers to quickly lose motivation in regards to their healthy goals and succumb to the juicy, grilled burger in front of them? The answer lies among dining motivators in restaurants, and it goes by the name of FOMO.

FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out”, is often associated with psychological social distress due to the anxiety of being left out of social circle activities and shared experiences. While this so-called “social distress” may seem laughable, it is real – and it is also felt among a number of adults in regards to healthy eating in restaurants. According to Mintel’s upcoming Healthy Dining – US 2014 report, about one in 10 consumers (12%) “…feel like they’re missing out when they order healthy items at restaurants.” Millennials (18-37 year olds) lead the generations in terms of “food FOMO,” with 17% of respondents agreeing with the statement. In addition, about 24% of adults completely avoid the idea of “food FOMO” when dining away from home, since “they are not interested in eating healthier at restaurants, because dining out is a treat.”

For adults, eating at a picnic or a barbeque restaurant is no different – they want to eat healthier, but fear that their healthy salad will be no match in terms of taste and satisfaction compared to a rack of ribs or grilled bratwurst. In fact, nearly one out of every four US adults (24%) agreed they look for healthy options, but often order non-healthy meals. While consumers battle between listening to the health angel or succumbing to the unhealthy devil on their shoulders, restaurants are poised with the challenge of creating foods that are not only healthy, but can help adults avoid “food FOMO” feelings. Some restaurants that have succeeded in this endeavor include:

  • Chipotle announced that all national chains will carry Sofritas, or seasoned tofu, on the menu in 2014, which offers vegetarians, or those following a healthy lifestyle, another protein option outside of meat.
  • Panda Express launched a Shiitake Kale Chicken Breast entrée for a limited time in April, alongside their more indulgent LTO, Orange Chicken with Bacon. The restaurant wanted to give customers the option to try a new, healthy take on Chinese food, or a twist on their best-selling entrée.
  • Potatopia, a New York City-based fast casual, offers customers several types of potatoes, including baked, smashed, au gratin, and baked sweet potatoes, and then a plethora of toppings like vegetables, cheeses, proteins, and sauces. The restaurant focuses on customization, which gives the customer the option of making an indulgent potato, or a healthier variety.

So this weekend, try not to ignore the healthier alternatives to summer picnic staples during the celebrations and keep healthy goals in check. Or, you could just succumb to the unhealthy food devil on your shoulder and regain that motivation the following day. Because… YOLO.

For more information on healthy dining in restaurants, click here.  

Katrina Fajardo joined Mintel’s Foodservice reports team with a background that includes data analysis, presentations to restaurant operators and food manufacturers, and consumer behavior tracking. She is now involved in researching and writing reports that cover the broad, evolving world of Foodservice, including commercial, non-commercial, and menu exploration. Her focus is to create insightful and actionable reports that deliver valuable takeaways for clients.

Katrina Fajardo
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