Britain spending more on eating out than dining at home

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Britain's culinary awakening from a land of Bernie Inns and Harvesters to a nation of gastropub-goers saw families spend more money on eating out than on food to cook at home for the first time ever, official figures showed yesterday.

As the UK races to catch up with the US, where the preponderance of cheap fast-food restaurants has long dictated people's eating habits, British mothers are increasingly hanging up their aprons in favour of a night off. Rising disposable incomes, and more working mums and single-parent families have sounded the death knell for evening meals consumed at the kitchen table over the past decade.

Household spending on food and drink products consumed outside the home hit £87.5bn in 2004, surpassing the £85.8bn spent stocking family fridges, freezers and larders, the Office for National Statistics said. Since the ONS first started tracking the contribution made by different sectors to the UK economy in 1992, the value of spending on eating out has doubled. Over the same period, the amount spent on food and drink for consumption at home has risen 53.4 per cent.

Richard Harden, the co-editor of the Harden's restaurant guides, put the eating-out boom down to a "vast improvement in the restaurant-going experience both in terms of volume [of places to go] and quality".

He added: "There are a plethora of quite nice concepts of which gastropubs are but one example if you don't want to spend too much money. It's the volume of meals eaten out that have transformed the statistics, not a few extra meals at Le Gavroche."

One food and drink analyst added: "The growth is not in big nights out but in 'I can't be bothered to wash up' nights. It's as cheap to eat out in a pub as at home these days."

The change in eating habits was revealed in a snapshot of the UK economy that showed the business and financial services sector had again prospered at the expense of manufacturing.

Banks, insurers, advertising companies and estate agents made up almost a third of the UK economy in 2004 after their share of total economic output soared to £344.5bn.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector's inexorable decline continued in relative terms as its share of the economy dwindled to 14.1 per cent. This was despite the sector's annual output measured as gross value added, which excludes taxes on products and includes subsidies, rising for the first time since 1998 to £147.5bn.

The total output of the UK economy soared past the £1,000bn mark for the first time, rising by 5.9 per cent from 2003 to 2004 to £1,044bn. The breakdown showed that the information and communication technologies sector, which includes computer manufacturers and electrical household appliances wholesalers, once again grew faster than the whole economy.

Thanks to the gastronomic revolution, the hotels, catering and pubs industry was the sixth fastest growing industry between 1992 and 2004, the survey showed. Household spending on all food sector products was £173.3bn in 2004, up by almost three-quarters since 1992. Over the period, spending on catering products consumed outside the home grew by 102.2 per cent.

Vicky Redwood, UK economist at Capital Economics, said: "Since the 1960s, the amount spent on food and drink to be consumed at home has been falling as a share of total household spending. As people get richer, they prefer to spend extra money on consumer services or housing rather than basic food and drink."

Mr Harden said there was a "virtuous circle" of dining out that was prompting more new restaurants to open.