Rise of foodie culture leaves working class behind, research says

The rise of a new foodie culture of world cuisine in England has left the working-class and non-Londoners behind, new research has found.

Less than 10 per cent of people who eat out frequently in a broad variety of types of restaurants are working class, the British Sociological Association's annual conference in Manchester heard today [Tuesday 4 April].

Researchers from the University of Manchester surveyed 1,101 people in London, Bristol and Preston in 2015, comparing their results with similar research carried out in 1995. They found that:

  • People's satisfaction with their meals had dropped over the 20 years
  • Three-course meals are now much less common, with fewer people having dessert or starters
  • People now spend less time eating their meal in a restaurant
  • More people eat out alone, and fewer people eat in very large groups
  • Of all the types of restaurants visited in 2015, the most frequented were traditional British, followed by Italian, Indian and Chinese.

Dr Jessica Paddock, Professor Alan Warde and Dr Jennifer Whillans, of Manchester's Sustainable Consumption Institute, also found that around one in five had eaten during the previous year at a wide variety of outlets, such as Thai, Japanese and French nouvelle cuisine and ethnic cooking restaurants. But of these 'gastronomes':

  • Only eight per cent were working class, and 70 per cent were professional middle class
  • 70% had a degree, 30% did not
  • 51% were in London, 38% were in Bristol and only 11% in Preston
  • 71% were aged 16-39, and 29% were 40 and over.

"People of higher socio-economic status consume a greater range of ethnic cuisine, such as Japanese and Thai cooking," Dr Paddock told the conference.

"One immediate feature of access to variety is the exclusion of the working class. Those with the lowest incomes and without a university degree are much less likely to eat in exclusive restaurants and eat a wide variety of different cuisine styles. Class still matters."

The researchers found that 34% of people ate only at more traditional types of restaurants – British, America, Italian and Chinese. These were more likely to be aged 40 and over (57%), without a degree (75%), and working class (47%). They were most likely to be in Preston (41%) and Bristol (38%), rather than London (21%).

The researchers also interviewed 31 people in depth. They gave as an example 'Pete' 53, an 'everyday eater', from London, who does not have a degree, works in a skilled trade with a lower managerial status, likes fish and chips, eats regularly at his golf club restaurant and in restaurants serving casual and traditional British cuisine styles. They contrasted him with 'Edward', 31, a successful self-employed Londoner and 'high volume omnivore', who has a university degree and regularly samples cuisines from a range of everyday, traditional and ethnic and prestigious restaurant cuisine styles.    

In detail, the researchers found:

  • People's satisfaction with their meals had dropped over the 20 years – those liking the food, decor and service 'a lot' fell by around 9 percentage points (food from 81% to 72%, decor 57%-48%, service 65-57%). Those thinking the meal was value for money fell from 69% to 56%.
  • Three-course meals are much less common, with fewer people having dessert or starters (a fall from 33% in 1995 to 22% in 2015 in those eating three courses).
  • People now spend less time eating a main meal when in a restaurant – the percentage of meals taking less than one hour increased from 20% in 1995 to 35% in 2015.
  • More people eat out alone – a rise from 3% in 1995 to 6% in 2015.
  • People tend not to dress up specially for the occasion as much as they did in 1995. This fell from 39% in 1995 to 26% in 2015.
  • In 1995, 29% said their most recent restaurant meal was for a special occasion – this fell to 22% in 2015. In 1995 the percentage saying their last meal out was a snap decision taken for convenience was 19%, rising to 26% in 2015.
  • Of all the types of restaurants visited in 2015, the most frequented were traditional British (60% of those surveyed had visited one or more in the previous year); Italian (53%); Indian (44%); Chinese (31%); American-style (26%); Thai (21%); Japanese (16%); French (14%) and vegetarian (13%).
  • There was no significant increase in the frequency of eating out between 1995 and 2015.

For more information, please contact: 

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392 


1. In analysing which types of restaurants people ate in, the researchers drew on information given by those surveyed on their restaurant meals over the previous year. When analysing the level of people's satisfaction with meals, how often they ate three-course meals and many other statistics given in this release, the researchers drew on information about the last meal that those surveyed had eaten.

2. The British Sociological Association's annual conference takes place the University of Manchester from 4 to 6 April 2017. Around 700 research presentations are given. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235  www.britsoc.co.uk

3. The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group of British universities, is the largest and most popular university in the UK. It has 20 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. The university is one of the country's major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of 'research power' (REF 2014), has had no fewer than 25 Nobel laureates either work or study there, and had an annual income of just over £1 billion in 2014/15. www.manchester.ac.uk