October 9, 1995
Web posted at: 2:40 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Liz Weiss
BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- More and more these days, Americans who sit down to dinner are not feasting on anything homemade. Both dining out and ordering in are growing trends in the country. In fact, time-crunched consumers are spending as much money on eating out as they are on home-prepared meals. That trend was discussed at this year's meeting of the American Institute of Wine and Food.
"The old traditional idea of the family sitting around the dining room is more of a treat than it is anything else," said Sol Katz, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's a special event increasingly throughout our society."
Perhaps one of the biggest trends is in take-out food. While pizza served on a paper plate is still a quick and convenient option, in some cities it is now possible to instead bring home a gourmet dinner of sautéed scallops served with chanterelle mushrooms and spinach, and topped with a carrot and curry butter sauce.
Chef Andree Robert of Maison Robert said customers are willing to pay a premium for gourmet convenience. That scallop dish costs $22. "They want something special," Robert said. "They want a good meal. They want good food, well-prepared food, but they might be too tired and want to go home and not actually sit in a restaurant and eat it."
But at other times, U.S. diners see eating out as entertainment. "The restaurant has replaced many other forms of entertainment," said Maggie Mah of the American Institute of Wine & Food. "A whole evening is now spent dining versus grabbing something and going on to something else."
Restaurants such as the Helmand near Boston are geared toward such customers. An evening there is an adventure, with dishes like aushak, tiny Afghan ravioli filled with leeks and onions, grilled lamb served with traditional Afghani rice called pallow, and baked pumpkin, this restaurant is miles away from more familiar ethnic fare.
Restaurants also are adding little touches to provide customers with increased convenience and entertainment value. For those who enjoy wine with their meal, for example, some restaurants have a larger selection of wines by the glass. This allows customers to have white wine with an appetizer and then have red wine with their main course. Most people don't always want to drink a whole bottle.
Restaurants are hot today and so is the competition. Vying for a bigger share of the dining dollar means restaurants will have to deliver just what the customer orders.
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