Two-Thirds Of Americans Grapple With Guilt Over Eating Out

NEW YORK — Picture this: You’re out at a restaurant, perusing the menu and salivating over the mouthwatering options. But as you’re about to place your order, a twinge of guilt creeps in. Sound familiar? If so, you’re in good company. A recent survey of 2,000 adults reveals that a whopping 67% of Americans feel guilty when dining out.

In today’s economic climate, with budgets tighter than ever, the simple act of eating out has become a source of stress for many. Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents reported that spending money on a meal out is stressful, while 44% attributed their guilt to both the act of spending and the amount spent.

I’ll Take The Happy Meal, Please

To make the most of their hard-earned cash, Americans are getting creative with their dining choices. From ordering off the kids’ menu to customizing their meals and even seeking out secret menu items, people are finding ways to stretch their dollars further.

Interestingly, three-fourths of Americans (77%) believe that adults should be allowed to order from the kids’ menu. However, only one in five (21%) have been brave enough to do so. Those who have tried haven’t always had a smooth experience, with a third feeling embarrassed in the moment and a similar percentage (34%) even being denied.

infographic on dining out hacks people use to save money
(Credit: SWNS)

Social media has also played a role in helping people save money while dining out. A quarter of those surveyed (24%) have used a hack they’ve seen on social media to make their money go further. Popular hacks include using coupons (41%), taking advantage of special offers (34%), and ordering meals large enough to provide leftovers (28%).

The survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of The Habit Burger, paints a picture of Americans’ dining-out tendencies. On average, people spend more than $2,500 a year on eating out ($51.70 weekly), with fast-casual restaurants visited three times a month and fine-dining and casual restaurants each visited twice a month. Most takeout comes from fast food restaurants, which the average person eats from four times each monthly.

Most People Nervous About Their Cash Stash

However, with 67% of Americans currently stressed about money, 39% have decreased their dining out budget over the past year. This is compounded by the fact that, according to nearly eight in ten respondents (78%), restaurant prices have increased over the past year.

Despite the financial pressures, people still find ways to treat themselves. Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) are more likely to eat out shortly after receiving their paycheck compared to any other time. Yet, one in six Americans always find themselves refraining from ordering the menu item they really want in favor of a cheaper option.

Ideally, those surveyed would be willing to spend $20.30 on their meal, although 53% would prefer an even cheaper option.

“It’s tough out there right now and finding a meal that satisfies when it comes to quality and cost can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack,” says spokesperson Jack Hinchliffe, chief marketing officer at The Habit Burger Grill. “It’s not just about the meal; it’s about an experience shared with friends or family that you can feel good about.”

As Americans navigate the challenges of dining out in a tough economic climate, it’s clear that guilt and stress are common feelings. However, by getting creative with their choices and seeking out value, people are still finding ways to enjoy the experience of eating out with loved ones.

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by The Habit Burger between Feb. 20 and Feb. 25, 2024. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).


  1. Nope. Never happens. If I felt guilty about eating out, I wouldn’t do it. BTW….how about guilt about not going out? If no one went out, eateries would close. Cooks, wait staff, accountants, suppliers, truck drivers and farmers would go out of business.
    Everything you do has some ‘cost’.
    If you have guilt about something, analyze the pros and cons and take action….but don’t whine.

    1. What makes you say these people are whining? That seems like a dishonest way you for some reason want to blame the imaginary people in your head for something you yourself made up. Feeling guilty does not equal whining – they had to ask people about it, people did not come to them whining.

  2. Its rougher than that here in San Diego. Food court at Costco is PACKED– This is now “eating out” for some. Everyone wants a tip, even though Fast food workers now get $17/hour on their way to $20 very soon. There is even a “message” on some receipts asking you to tip more if you left less than 20% tip. What to do? Buy sandwiches and a salad at Trader Joes, eat at the beach or the park. no tip, no taxes either.

    Restaurants and employees here border on being greedy, a buss boy soon will make more with those tips than my retirement as an engineer. Some grocery stores have an employee eating area thats shared with customers–Outdoors and its rather nice.
    And the parks in Coronado are wonderful for lunch or early dinner.

    Here I think the list price restaurants are about to price themselves out of the middle class customer eating out much, maybe 1/3 of what it used to be.

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