Consumer Trends

The holiday season is looking particularly merry for restaurants this year

Projections call for heavy purchases of both on-premise and to-go meals, while consumers are already spending more on gift cards.
restaurant dining
About 63% of American adults plan to dine in a restaurant over the holidays. | Photo: Shutterstock

The holiday season is shaping up to be a good one for restaurants, with two-thirds of U.S. adults planning to dine out and half expecting to order takeout or delivery, according to new data from the National Restaurant Association.

Operators, meanwhile, report strong group bookings for the year-end season, though corporate and social parties are expected to be smaller and less elaborate than they were before the pandemic.

The opposite dynamic is raising gift card sales this year, according to card processor Paytronix. It found that total spending on gift cards during the Thanksgiving weekend surpassed last year’s outlays by 7.3%, though the number of cards sold inched upward by just 0.4%. The big lift came from the online purchase of virtual credit for restaurant meals, which jumped 8.5%.

The supplier noted that full-service operations fared particularly well, with a 9% gain in gift-card purchases, compared with a 2% rise for fast-food restaurants.

Accompanying the upswing has been the emergence of a new card scam, according to legal authorities. Police in Philadelphia say they know of at least 100 unsold cards being drained of their value while still on display racks within stores by crooks who steal the digital codes off the plastic placards. They can then sell that information or use it themselves to pay for meals.

The new statistics from the National Restaurant Association suggest that home cooks might be cheating a bit in what they present as home-cooked family meals. The canvass of consumers found that 86% of the respondents who intend to buy from restaurants will purchase sides instead of their whole holiday meals from a dining place. A slightly higher proportion (89%) said they’ll get their entrees from commercial kitchens, and 74% indicated that’s where they’ll buy whatever appetizers they serve.

About 66% said they plan to throw in the napkin and just buy the complete meal from a restaurant.

“The data also reveal that takeout and delivery remain critical components of the guest experience for every age group,” association CEO Michelle Korsmo said in a statement.

Still, Baby Boomers are less likely than younger cohorts to buy restaurant fare instead of firing up their home ovens. The NRA found that 72% of Boomers intend to buy meals, compared with the 86% of Gen Zers who intend to let professional chefs do the cooking.

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