The State of American Dining in 2016

Our dining trends survey results are in!
January 26, 2016
by Zagat Staff

Ever wonder which city has the least generous tippers? Or what food trends Americans love (and hate) the most? To tackle the endlessly fascinating subject of diner behavior, we conducted a national dining trends survey, tapping into the opinions of 9,248 avid diners across the country. Read on to discover more about the results of this year’s survey and check out a fun video breakdown below.



The topic of tipping can lead to heated debate, especially with the recent wave of tip-inclusive eateries proliferating. But one thing's for sure: most diners are not stiffs. The national reported average tip is a healthy 18.9%; the city with the highest reported average is Boston (20%), while the least generous tippers in the U.S. are in San Antonio, TX (17.1%).

Meanwhile, back to those trendy tip-inclusive restaurants: while this fad may have started in SF, it's now rampant on the East Coast as well. So how do diners feel about it? 38% of those we surveyed said they were already "over it" while 35% said they "don't mind." Only 13% “love it” for now.

Cost of Dining Out

New York City is known as a pricey city, especially for restaurants, and the results from this year's survey reaffirm that reputation. New York City surveyors reported spending an average of $48.44 for dinner out, $12.14 over the national average of $36.30. Check please!

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re interested in eating cheaply, head to the Midwest: the two least expensive U.S. dining cities in our survey are Detroit ($28.77) and Minneapolis ($29.67).

​Trendy Foods

Trendy dishes like avocado toast and bone broth blew up over the last year, but how do American diners feel about these and other ubiquitous dishes? Sriracha got the most love with 31% of surveyors responding that they "love" the spicy cult condiment. 35% of respondents are "over it" when it comes to healthy green juice.

Maybe it's time to bring back some dishes from decades past? 44% of respondents said they'd like to see beef Wellington make a comeback, and 40% were jonesing for bananas Foster. 

Dining Irritants and Pet Peeves

When we asked surveyors, “What irritates you the most about dining out?” the No. 1 complaint nationally was service (28%), followed by noise (25%), prices (13%) and crowds (13%). Diners in Austin take the biggest issue with service (41% of vote), while Portland, OR, diners cite noise (33%) as their chief complaint as do New York City voters (32%), Boston voters (30%) and SF voters (26%).

Eating Out

We asked surveyors how many times a week they go out to eat (not counting breakfast) and ended up with a national average of 4.5 times per week. At the high end, Los Angeles surveyors eat out the most frequently (5.2 times per week), while the country’s least frequent diners live in Boston at 3.8 times per week. 

Dining out can even lead you to a faraway place. 85% of respondents reported that they've planned a getaway around dining at a certain restaurant (or they would). Get those bucket list restaurants (and passports) ready!

Photo by Clay Williams

Top Cuisines
American diners have long had a love affair with Italian food. The comforting cuisine ruled as the most popular, with 22% of surveyors calling it their favorite. Next up was American (16%), followed by seafood (11%), Mexican (9%), French (7%) and Japanese (also at 7%).

Bucking the trend are Atlanta, Austin and Chicago, where Italian and American cuisine are tied; Charlotte, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, Nashville, San Diego and Seattle all favor American cuisine. New Orleans diners are the country’s biggest seafood lovers (20%) and unsurprisingly, diners in Dallas–Fort Worth are the country’s biggest fans of Mexican food (22%) with Phoenix/Scottsdale and San Antonio close behind at 18% each — all cities in which you can find some killer south-of-the-border specialties.

Technology and Reservations
American culture has become increasingly phone-call-averse, so naturally online reservation systems get more popular each year. This year, 52% of avid diners nationally say they make restaurant reservations via the Internet. The nation’s most tech-savvy diners are in Washington, DC (74%) and San Francisco (67%), followed by Chicago (63%) and Boston (63%). In Miami and Detroit, however, 44% of diners still use the good old-fashioned telephone to call and make reservations; 21% of diners in Portland, OR, say they don’t make restaurant reservations at all.

Meanwhile, the pesky task of paying your check is being simplified by technology as well. A slew of new apps like Cover and Cake are making paying your tab a breeze. But will diners embrace the trend? 59% of surveyors report that they have paid their bill via app or would do it. As for apps like Resy that let you pay for a hard-to-get table, most respondents were not on board: 71% said they wouldn't pay for a reservation.

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