Dining Trends Survey: Tipping, Pet Peeves and More

By Zagat Staff  |  December 4, 2013

Diner behavior is a subject of endless fascination (just ask any host, chef, restaurantgoer or server). What's even more revealing is when you compare dining behavior market-to-market like we've done in our Dining Trends Survey. If you've ever wondered which city leaves the biggest tips (or the smallest) or who dines out most frequently, we've answered these questions and more as part of our 2014 America's Top Restaurants coverage.

Read on to explore all of the (sometimes shocking) statistics spanning 21 markets across the U.S. 

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Who Goes Out to Eat the Most?

    We asked surveyors how many times a week they go out to eat (not counting breakfast) and ended up with a national average of 4.4 times per week. As the saying goes, everything's bigger in Texas, and it looks like their appetites are too - Houston eats out most frequently at 5.5 times per week, with Dallas/Ft.Worth close behind at 4.9 times per week (tied with Miami and NYC). Meanwhile Boston and Portland dine out the least, an average of 3.7 times per week.

  • Pet Peeves

    When it comes to what annoys diners the most, noise is the No. 1 complaint nationally (27%), followed by service (24%), prices (15%) and crowds at 11%. This is reflective of a majority of our markets surveyed, New Jersey, Connecticut, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Austin being the exceptions where service topped the list of irritants instead of noise. Looking at specific irritants market to market, the highest level of noise complaints came from Portland diners (35%); service annoyed diners in Austin most (32%); prices were most lamented by New Yorkers (20%); poor food bothered Colorado diners most (16%); and parking complaints were highest among Seattle diners (16%).

    When asked, "What's your biggest service pet peeve?" most people answered that inattentive staff was the most annoying (23%). Portland and Connecticut had the most complaints about inattentive staff with 28% and 27% respectively. NYC and San Francisco felt this problem the least (both at 17%).

  • How Much Do You Tip?

    In the gratuity department, turns out that Colorado diners are the most generous. While the national average tip is 19.0%, Colorado diners leave 19.6% on average, with Long Island, Minneapolis and Philadelphia close behind at 19.5%. Which cities are the stingiest? West Coast residents leave the least; San Francisco is at the bottom at 18.4%, and Los Angeles and San Diego both at 18.5%. 

  • How Do You Split Up the Bill?

    Bill-splitting strategies vary across the country. In our survey, when asked, "How do you typically split the bill when dining out in a group?" we found that Southern diners were more likely to ask for separate checks (Dallas/Ft. Worth 48%, Atlanta 45%), while East coast diners were more likely to split the check evenly (90% Long Island, 87% in Westchester/Hudson Valley and New Jersey, 84% in Boston). When it comes to splitting the check according to individual orders, LA diners showed a higher propensity for doing this (17%) compared to the other markets surveyed.

  • Credit: Samer Farha

    Takeout vs. Restaurant Dining vs. Home Cooking

    Unsurprisingly, NYC diners eat out the most when you factor in takeout and restaurant meals - 58% of their lunches and dinners are in fact prepared outside the home, compared to the national average of 47%. Houston is close behind at 54%, and Chicago at 51%. As for cooking at home, Portlandians do it the most, preparing 8.1 lunches and dinners per week at home, compared to the national average of 6.9. New Yorkers cook at home the least: only 5.5 meals per week are made in-house.

  • How Do You Make Reservations?

    Nationally, it looks like most diners use the Internet to make reservations (52%), while only 41% use the old-school phone call. These numbers vary wildly from place to place. For example, DC makes most of its reservations online, with a whopping 69% of respondents saying this is their typical method; right behind are San Francisco (68%) and Boston (66%). Meanwhile, the East Coast suburbs use the phone method more frequently - Long Island (60%), Westchester/Hudson Valley (57%), New Jersey (51%). In terms of mobile vs. desktop/laptop, most diners use their computers to make rezzies over cell phones and tablets.

  • Big Spenders

    Maybe this explains why Texans eat out so much - when it comes to average spend for dinner per person, Texas cities are among the most affordable markets surveyed. Houston ($35.57), Austin ($33.76) and Dallas/Ft. Worth ($31.87) participants report spending the least, with figures falling well below the national average dinner spend per person of $40.53 overall. Most expensive are those markets in the New York tri-state area, with New York State taking the top spots. New York City has the highest average spend for dinner per person at $48.56, followed by Westchester/Hudson Valley ($46.35) and Long Island ($46.00) close behind.

  • Worth the Wait?

    With the growing amount of no-reservations restaurants, how long is the average diner willing to wait for a table? Thirty minutes seems to be the magic number. Of respondents, 48% said they would wait no more than 30 minutes for a table, and 29% said they'd only wait 15 minutes or less. 

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Top Cuisines

    Italian took the top spot in every market as most popular cuisine, with the national average of 25% of respondents saying it was their favorite. Now that's amore. Market to market, Italian was most favored in New Jersey (36%), Westchester/Hudson Valley (34%), Long Island (33%) and NYC (32%). Meanwhile in Minneapolis and Austin, American (23%) and Seafood (17%) were favored most, respectively. After Italian, national favorites were American, French and Seafood, with Spanish, Korean, Vegetarian, Greek and Vietnamese getting very little love at 1%.

    Meanwhile, in terms of what cuisines folks would like to see more of, there seems to be a yearning for more seafood restaurants, with Austin leading the pack at 19%, but maritime eateries are also in demand in Long Island (18%) and New Jersey (17%).

  • Social Media Habits

    Do dining and texting mix? Most of our respondents say: no way. 57% of surveyors responded that they thought it was inappropriate to text, talk or tweet at the table while dining. Austin diners were bothered least by it, with 61% saying it was "ok in moderation," while East Coast dwellers were bothered most (Connecticut, Long Island and Westchester/Hudson Valley all at 64%). However, many diners were perfectly fine giving kiddies a tablet to play with during dinner; nationally 46% of respondents said it was "ok in moderation."