How often do you eat out each month? What affects your choice of where to eat? Who do you eat with? Why eat out as opposed to eating at home? Who do you eat with when you eat out? These were the first questions posed to eight Kansas City area food consumers ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s or early 60s. A variety of occupations were represented (community college worker, financial planner, home remodeler, NICU nurse, college students, realtor, activist). And yes, there were a variety of responses to the questions posed.
Q1 – How many times per week or month do you eat out?
A1 – EVERYONE responded that they eat out AT LEAST 3 to 4 times a week. One participant stated that he likely eats out 75 times or more a month. I could not imagine that. I have read many reports about the lack of family time around the dining room table. I was having a bit of trouble connecting with the participants here. Eating out is not a common occurance for us. We take our lunches to the town jobs and I fix supper when I get home. Everyone’s on their own for breakfast because we all get up at different times. Last weekend it felt like we splurged by going out for supper on Friday and lunch on Sunday. The beef producer in me had several thoughts running rampantly through my head. If most Americans are eating out this often, what are the cuts of beef they’re eating? How can we make those less expensive cuts more palatable on a restaurant menu so we’re not just marketing the high dollar steaks and hamburger. How often do people go out and order a slice or two of roast? What about an arm steak? I know cooking at home I can utilize most of the cuts of beef, but does a restaurant owner even consider using some of these cuts?
Q2 – How many of you eat breakfast out and how often?
A2 – Two said they eat breakfast out regularly. One said 12 times a month and one was about 10 times a month. The more the one who said 10 times a month talked, it seemed like he really low balled that number. He meets clients for breakfast several mornings a week. The other one who eats out regularly for breakfast works overnights and so it’s a convenience matter for her. Speed of service and not wanting to clean up because “breakfast is messy”. When asked what gets their breakfast business, speed, consistency of quality food, good bacon and locally sourced food were the answers. The only time any beef was mentioned in the breakfast conversation was when the panelists discussed a “premium breakfast”. Special occasions lend themselves to a brunch that might include Prime Rib, seafood and made to order omelets. We, as beef producers, are missing the breakfast target. No mention was made of steak and eggs, omelets with beef, etc. So 1/3 of the meals are not being capitalized by the beef industry. A breakfast recipe campaign might just be in order.
Q3 – How many eat out for lunch and how often?
A3 – Five-eighths of the panelists eat out for lunch 8 to 31 days a month. This one wasn’t as surprising to me. The reasons for eating lunch out were: no plans made ahead of time to take leftovers, meet family for lunch, meet friends for social time, meet clients for lunch and “I get to eat what I want”. The panelists decide where to go based on Groupon coupons, Facebook coupons, close to work, on campus. Most of those who eat out eat a varied menu based on whatever strikes their fancy that day. Lunch is usually budget friendly unless they’re using it as a write off. Lots of burgers, deli sandwiches, and tacos. Meat still seems to be the driving choice as far as food.
Q4 – How many eat out for dinner and how often?
A4 – ALL eat out for dinner. It varies from 17 times a month down to 12. The reasons why they eat: to avoid work, socialize with friends, didn’t meal plan, home late from work, time with spouse and kids, social time, meetings with work. Answers to where they choose to eat were greatly varied: kid friendly, fast service, relaxed atmosphere, in and out in less than an hour, menu that includes items that are difficult to make at home, burgers, bulk food (feeding teen boys), and one Googled menu choices on his way home based on when his kids text him saying they’re hungry. Many mentioned food based “Happy Hours”. I noticed that this dinner time food happy hour is in direct contrast to the “unhappy hour” many experience when they’re getting home from work, the kids are home from school and tackling homework all while trying to fix supper and unwind from a stressful day that comes when making a meal at home. Here comes the beef producer – how can we do a better job of packaging our meat to be easier to prepare? Can we promote a “Happy Hour” line of products? One of the panelists went so far as to say it was important for her to have family time around the table as an expression of her love. Another panelist said you know exactly what you’re eating when you’re home and can have more interaction with your family – just need a maid to clean up the mess.
Everyone said they loved meat, which made me a happy cattlewoman. Amongst their favorite meats were: steak, ribs, rib eyes, tender beef, chicken pork, Delmonico steak, a well prepared KC Strip, lamb, chicken and any BBQ’d meat. While only 3 people said they order eggs when out, they all made eggs at home because they were easy and versatile. When asked about consuming dairy while out one replied that her son drinks milk out and three said they eat ice cream out. When asked what kind of dairy they consume, one panelist gave a name brand, one said chocolate, one said yogurt and then everyone realized cheese and ice cream could fit in that category. Cheese was easily a favorite with cheddar and mozzarella being named.
Q5 – Do you feel like food is safe?
A5 – One panelist has a son with ADHD. She stated that coloring added to foods is an issue for her. The panelists felt that organic, locally grown foods are safer and not tainted and possibly better nutritionally. One panelist grew up on a farm and felt that grocery store food is inferior. All liked that they could support local farmers/businesses.
Q6 – What are your concerns about animal welfare?
A6 – “It’s not right how animals are treated but I push it to the back of my mind.” “Locally grown is treated better.” How do you feel about farmers and ranchers? Five to six of the panelists said they feel very positive toward farmers. The younger panelists stated they had learned about GMO’s in middle school and how they are injected with different bacteria by watching a documentary. Only three panelists knew a farmer personally. Their concerns about animal treatment came from a video they had seen on Facebook with live poultry crammed into cages for transport. “It’s like they were on a conveyor belt.” “We should just let them live until they die.” “They were plucking them alive.” “The only way to provide enough food is to mass produce it here for consumption.” I’m concerned with hormones.”
Q7 – What are your opinions of farmers and ranchers? They’re providers, grateful for them, it’s a hard job, not for everyone, a lot of work, much more than 40 hour work week. In the process of farm to table which segment is most favorable to you? Farmers. After they leave the farm, I feel less favorable for them. And the bigger the animal the worse I feel for them. The only one unaffected by any of the process was the one raised on a farm. The perceptions were based upon the documentary “Food, Inc.” which was shown in their middle school class.
Q8 – How do you feel about hormones and antibiotics?
A8 – “The science is positive with regulation but I don’t think they’re regulated enough.” “Antibiotics have helped increase human life span and I’m grateful.” “Science saves us.” “Poultry says hormone free, and I seek out antibiotic free labels.” “If it says free, I don’t want it – I want the whole deal.” Do you trust labels? “Yes, I think people will do right things.” Is it better for you? “Could be so I’ll go that way.” “Advertisement leads to higher price for it.”
I have to say this panel was eye opening to me from the first minute through the end. I have always lived in a rural area with people very much like me – parents who farmed, grandparents who farmed, working hard to just make a living. It never crossed our minds that a farmer would be trying to harm us. I grew up with a trust of those who produced my food. Like I said above only two of the panelists even knew a farmer. Most are 2 or more generations removed from production agriculture and therefore really don’t understand modern production methods. Just as I, as a cattlewoman, don’t understand all there is to being a NICU nurse or a financial investor. If I want to know more about either of those, I have to make the choice to learn about them. I hope that we, as producers can find a way to provide educational resources to the rest of the population.