The rise of our ‘foodie culture’ has left the working class behind

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

The study found that less than 10 per cent of people who eat out frequently in a broad variety of types of restaurants are working class.

The researchers 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 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”, said Dr Paddock.

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.
Dr Jessica Paddock, Sustainable Consumption Institute

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 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.

The research was presented at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Manchester.

Share this release