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Everyone needs to eat and over the last several decades Americans have been eating their meals outside the home with increasing frequency. Busy lifestyles, two-working-parent families, and single adult households helped contribute to more than a 10-fold rise in food service sales over the last 30 years. According to research, half of Americans agree that restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle. The Food Service industry satisfies this demand with a varied fare, from quick drive-thru or curbside pick-up to elegant cuisine served on the finest china. Whatever the taste, budget or schedule, the food service industry serves up a menu to please every American palate.

The Food Service industry is a diverse, dynamic and highly competitive industry, serving over 70 billion meals and snacks in 2005 through outlets ranging from vending machines to fast-food eateries to fine dining restaurants. Most eating-and-drinking establishments are small, independent operations with fewer than 20 employees, but the industry also boasts large corporations such as McDonald's and YUM! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut) with a portfolio of restaurant chains employing thousands of people and ringing up sales in the millions of dollars.

Catering to American hunger is good for the nation's economy. According the National Restaurant Association, the overall impact of the restaurant industry is expected to exceed $1.2 trillion dollars, including sales in related industries such as agriculture, transportation and manufacturing. Every dollar spent by consumers in restaurants generates an additional $1.98 spent in other restaurant-allied industries.

The Food Service industry encompasses more than just restaurants.

Included in Commercial and Other Retail are eating and drinking places, resorts and other lodging, managed services, vending and recreation facilities. Non commercial or institutional includes recreation centers and clubs, businesses, schools, transportation, hospitals and other health care facilities, and military and penal institutions.

Almost 900,000 food service operations compete for the American food dollar. Large states such as California and Texas and highly populated states such as New York and Pennsylvania claim the greatest number of eating-and-drinking establishments. However, Florida with its aging population and tourism industry also enjoys a large number of dining out options.

More than 7 of 10 eating-and-drinking places are independent, single-unit operations and about 70% are smaller businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

Reflecting the trend to eat out often, food and drink sales increased steadily and dramatically over the last three decades, from $42.8 billion in 1970 to an estimated $475.8 billion in 2005.

The commercial sector accounted for 92% of the estimated 2005 sales of $476 billion with commercial restaurants leading the way at almost 70% of dollars spent in food service facilities.

  Eating Places
Drinking Places
Managed Services
Lodging Places
Retail, Vending, Recreation
  Recreation Centers & Clubs
Nursing Homes

On a typical day in 2005, restaurant-industry sales were $1.3 billion.

Food service sales are distributed across the U.S. and generally track with the distribution of food service establishments. No state accounted for more than 5% of total U.S. sales except California (14%), Texas (8%), New York (6%), and Florida (5.4%).