The increasing tendency to eat out is not undermining family meals - families are eating out together. Alan Warde, reader in sociology at Lancaster University, has been investigating the eating habits of more than 1,000 people in Preston, Bristol, and North London, and found that slightly more than 20 per cent of the household food budget is now spent on eating out, compared to 10 per cent in 1960.
"But a lot of eating out is done with families," Dr Warde said. "Around 70 per cent had had their last meal with a member of the family." He found that Londoners were much less likely to eat in pubs or restaurants attached to pubs, only 10 per cent, compared to 40 per cent in both Preston and Bristol.
Londoners preferred to eat at ethnic restaurants and while around 20 per cent of the Preston inter-viewees liked Italian or Indian food, the Bristolians did not care for ethnic food. On average, people ate out once every three weeks in restaurants, and once every three weeks in someone else's house.
"People with higher incomes do eat out more often, but not all that much more often," Dr Warde said. "It looks as if working-class people spend less money, but go out more or less as frequently."
And Dr Warde found that the vast majority of meals were with family or friends. "About 5 per cent of people had last eaten with colleagues or clients, which is relatively small," he said.
"In London, people were more likely to be with friends, both in restaurants or other peoples homes while in Bristol or Preston people were more likely to be with family."