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Sustainable Consumption Institute

Eating out

The central activity of this project is to (largely) replicate a study carried out in the mid-1990s under the ESRC Nation’s Diet Programme.

That study, reported in Eating Out: social differentiation, consumption and pleasure (Warde and Martens, 2000), was the first sociological analysis of an emergent popular practice - eating out as a form of recreation.

Our aims

Diners at a restaurant in Manchester.

The replication will repeat the main elements of the fieldwork – a survey in three British cities (London, Bristol and Preston) and some household interviews – in order to examine changes in the intervening 20 years, a period which most observers suggest have seen major changes in the practice.

While eating away from home is not itself in any way new, it has become an increasingly recreational activity, a popular practice in which almost everyone in the UK participates. This normalisation of an alternative mode – with many variations – seems set to increase in importance for the near future.

This raises interesting questions about the future sustainability of British food habits. Perhaps it will further increase the environmental footprint of the British diet, because of the:

  • mechanics of the supply chain
  • provenance of foodstuffs
  • standards of luxury of restaurant premises
  • transport arrangements of customers.

Perhaps, on the other hand, these environmental costs might be more than offset by:

  • collective use of space
  • energy used in the kitchen
  • reduced waste
  • the efficiencies of scale in manner of delivery.

We are at a stage of speculation in these matters, but sustainability will be one of the contextualising issues for understanding the role of eating out in the British food system.

Project leaders