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More than half of Americans haven't dined out in the last year, according to newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the 2012

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Majority of Americans Haven't Dined Out in a Year

dinneroutstat.jpg
More than half of Americans haven't dined out in the last year, according to newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the 2012 Statistical Abstract, only 49.3 percent of Americans surveyed in fall 2010 indicated "dining out" was among their activities during the previous 12 months. That makes dining out more popular than reading books (37.9 percent), barbecuing (34.7 percent), zoo-going (12.3 percent), and doing Sudoku puzzles (11.6 percent.) Dining also handily beat out "cooking for fun," which a mere 22 percent of respondents indicated had occupied their time.

Still, the 49.3 percent figure falls far short of the numbers circulated by the restaurant industry, which suggest the average American eats 4.8 meals a week in restaurants. A National Restaurant Association spokesperson attributes the discrepancy to respondents' understanding of the term "dining out."

"Dining out" wasn't defined by survey takers, so it's likely respondents conjured up images of white tablecloths and bread baskets. But when the National Restaurant Association counts meals, it includes corner sandwich shops and fast-food restaurants in its tally.

"Visiting quick-service restaurants may not be classified as "dining out" in consumers' minds, while in fact it is," Annika Stensson says.

Stensson believes Americans frequently dine out without knowing it: She suspects the respondents who "attend rock music performances" (11 percent), go dancing (9.2 percent), and play pool (8.5 percent) probably purchase the occasional beer or hot dog.

And Stensson is also confident that dining out numbers will rise as the economy improves.

"Our research shows that two out of five American adults say they are not using restaurants as often as they'd like," she says. "What this means is that once consumers' cash-on-hand position improves, that demand would translate into increased restaurant sales and traffic."

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