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Image: Food Markets & Prices

Market Segments


ERS research on foodservice outlets—facilities that serve meals and snacks for immediate consumption on site (food away from home)—examines the size of this growing market and the major market segments such as fast food and full-service outlets (see Glossary).

A Large and Growing Market

The foodservice industry is nearly equal in size to food retailing:

  • The food marketing system, including food service and food retailing, supplied about $1.24 trillion worth of food in 2010.
  • Of this total, $594 billion was supplied by foodservice facilities.

Commercial foodservice establishments accounted for the bulk of food-away-from-home expenditures in 2010 Excel icon (16x16). This category includes full-service restaurants, fast food outlets, caterers, some cafeterias, and other places that prepare, serve, and sell food to the general public for a profit. Some are located within facilities that are not primarily engaged in dispensing meals and snacks, such as lodging places, recreational facilities, and retail stores.

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Schools and nursing homes are types of non-commercial foodservice establishments. Such establishments are often called "institutional" foodservice facilities.

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Full-service and fast food restaurants-the two largest segments of the commercial foodservice market-account for about 77 percent of all food-away-from-home sales Excel icon (16x16). Full-service establishments have waitstaff, and, perhaps, other amenities such as ceramic dishware, nondisposable utensils, and alcohol service. In contrast, fast food restaurants use convenience as a selling point; they have no waitstaff, menus tend to be limited, and dining amenities are relatively sparse.

Over the past few decades, the market for fast food has grown more rapidly than that for food in full-service restaurants. As part of their growth strategy, fast food companies built more outlets closer to consumers' homes and work places to make it more convenient for consumers to purchase meals and snacks. Many restaurant companies opened outlets in nontraditional locations such as department stores. In addition to convenience, a household's demand for food-away-from-home is affected by its income and demographic characteristics (see See The Demand for Food Away From Home: Full-Service or Fast Food?).

Chart data

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Any shift in market share between fast food and full-service restaurants could influence the mix of foods and services offered by both types of restaurants. For example, if trends favor full-service restaurants, the market could shift to include more full-service restaurants that offer a wider range of menu selections and dining amenities. In response, fast food restaurants might introduce comparable foods and services.

Last updated: Monday, October 27, 2014

For more information contact: Annette Clauson and Howard Elitzak