Exploring the gender 'energy gap' in dining decisions

Technomic's Take: Women are far more likely to say they order from restaurants because they don't have the energy to cook. Here's how operators should respond to that need.
Energy gap
Women are far more likely than men to say they don't have the energy to cook. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Technomic's Take

A few months ago, I went back to basics and asked a fundamental question to consumers: “Why do you order from restaurants rather than cook at home?” The answer to this question was (and is): people are exhausted. And by people, I mean women. So, in honor of Women’s History Month*, let’s look at some key differences between men and women when it comes to restaurant dining decisions.

For men, time is more of a decision driver than energy levels. For women, however, the data is clear that exhaustion overrides everything. Forty-five percent of women cite a lack of energy as the reason they order from restaurants, 14 points more than men.

In addition to the gender pay gap, we have an energy gap.

I asked two of my colleagues, one with kids and one without, why they order from restaurants, and, without leading the witnesses, their answers struck a similar chord. “As someone with small kids, I know if I cook at home, I’ll likely be making two meals–one for me and my husband and something separate for the kids,” said Erin Prestinario, Director at Technomic. “More meals equals more shopping, more prepping and more clean-up which is really unappealing after a full day of work.”

In fact, according to Technomic’s Ignite Consumer data women are far more likely than men, by 23 points, to say that their last restaurant visit was because they had a stressful day and wanted a no-fuss option.

Also, according to Technomic consumer research, women are also significantly more likely than men to say they didn’t have much energy and wanted a meal to unwind. Julie Heseman, Senior Manager at Technomic, echoed this sentiment, “I often order food that I don’t or can’t make easily at home (like sushi),” said Heseman. “Or when I don’t want to expend all the energy I have left on cooking and cleaning when I can relax on the couch and wait for dinner to come to my door.” 

While the pandemic has exacerbated the feelings of exhaustion, as well as the need for convenience, the impact on the gender divide was minimal with one exception: those who need to eat immediately. You know the feeling where you’re just so hungry you don’t care what you eat? Women are more likely than men to cite this as the primary reason for their last restaurant chain visit. And this gap has widened since 2019, signaling that women have even less time to devote to dining.    

Accounting for the needs of female customers is obviously a smart business decision considering that women drive consumer spending, especially in foodservice, either directly or by influencing buying decisions. For operators, this requires thinking beyond rose’ all day and salads (fun fact: according to Technomic data, men are more likely than women to say their last visit was because they wanted a healthy meal).  Operators should also think critically about how restaurants can play a welcome role in addressing the exhaustion problem for their female consumers. The ordering experience must be frictionless, stress-free, easy, efficient and accurate.  

When it comes to ambiance, it can be lively or quiet, depending on the concept, but positioned as the antidote to stress and an opportunity to unwind.

The gender energy gap we’re seeing when it comes to dining decisions is likely connected to the gender pay gap, which has barely budged in twenty years. This doesn’t give me hope that women will feel any less exhausted in the future. But, I am comforted in knowing that restaurants will be there to refill our tanks (multiple puns intended).

*I know that Women’s History Month is in March.  I was simply too exhausted to write this last month.

For more information on consumer research, click here or reach out to Technomic atinfo@technomic.comortechnomic.com. Technomic is a sister company of Restaurant Business

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