How Much Do Americans Spend On Fast Food?

With inflation affecting the prices of everything from gasoline to groceries, it can make sense to try and find cheaper dining options. Prices of home groceries skyrocketed 19.6% between January 2021 and January 2023. While inflation has since slowed down for the U.S., the financial implications of these price increases have continued to push consumers in America to try to find more economical options to feed their families. In this way, it's no wonder that 65% of consumers surveyed by Drive Research reported eating fast food at least once a week.

Americans are also increasingly turning to fast food — and food-away-from home options — for the convenience factor. Not only is fast food quick, which can be vital to a busy family schedule, but it also removes the hassle of having to shop, cook, and clean. According to data from the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, spending on food-away-from-home accounted for 56% of all food expenditures in the U.S. in 2022. While this spending data also includes restaurants and carry-out options, the rise in this kind of food spending is a good indication of how commonplace it has become to eat somewhere other than home. In fact, expenditures on food outside of the home rose over 20% in 2022 alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It goes without saying, the popularity of fast food in the United States continues to grow, with fast-food restaurants in the U.S. earning an incredible $278.6 billion in revenue in 2021. In 2023, people spent, on average, $148 every month on fast food.

Who's eating fast food in America?

While price is a big factor for why many consumers in America choose to eat fast food, you might be surprised to learn that high-income households are actually more likely to eat fast food than lower -income households. According to Drive Research's survey, 50% of households with annual incomes ranging between $100,000 and $150,000 reported eating fast food a few times a week, while 52% of households with incomes over $150,000 reported the same. Twenty-five percent of these households reported eating fast food daily.

Age demographics are also a key factor when looking at who in America is more likely to regularly eat fast food. For instance, millennials spend over three times as much as the baby boomer generation every month on fast-food expenses. Actually, millennials are the generation group most likely to eat fast food out of any age group in the U.S., with a monthly fast-food spending amount of $213.87 on average. The next highest fast-food spending is Gen X with an average of $163.68 every month. Men are also far more likely to regularly eat fast food than women, (and subsequently spend more money on it). Twenty percent of surveyed men report eating fast food every day, compared to just 7% of women who reported the same.

With all of this in mind, according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 37% of U.S. adults (or roughly 84 million people) eat fast food every day across all demographics. Another CDC report also found that 36% of all U.S. children (between ages 2 and 19) ate fast food daily.

Downsides of buying fast food

It can be important to realize what, exactly, constitutes fast food. Since many people might think of fast food as things like hamburgers or tacos, they might not realize how much their coffee might be contributing to the rise of fast-food's popularity. For instance, the growing beverage industry has had a huge impact on the expansion of the fast-food market, with retailers like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts contributing to market size and industry profit numbers.

One of the biggest pushes against the regularl consumption of fast food is rooted in the general unhealthiness of the items offered. Fast-food items generally have high levels of calories, fat, sugar, and sodium, which cause negative health effects if eaten on a regular basis. According to a report from Framingham State College, a typical fast-food value meal averages between 1200 and 1500 calories, which is more than half of an adult's daily recommended intake. Yet, one 2016 survey found that 39% of respondents decided where they'd purchase their fast food from depending on which restaurant offered healthier options.

This focus on health actually pushed many fast-food companies in America to expand their menu options with healthier ones (by adding things like salads and wraps to their menus), especially on associated children's menus. However, even with a push from the consumer and supposedly menu items, a 2019 study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieticians found that fast food today is actually more unhealthy than it was 30 years ago, primarily due to the increase in portion size, calories, and overall sodium contents.