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National Spending Trends Mean Good Things for Des Moines’ Food Scene

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  A new report from the National Restaurant Association shows almost 50% of the money Americans spend on food is at restaurants; that's up from just 25% in the 1950s.

The association says 90% of people enjoy going out to dinner, and only 66% like going grocery shopping.  As much as we have an appetite for eating out, two out of five adults say they aren't doing it as much as they would like.

“Part of the reason that people are spending so much more money is that they’re able to spend so much more money. There are so many more options than there has been,” said Jessica Dunker, President of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

It seems like almost every day a new place is opening its doors in Des Moines, and industry leaders say that's a good thing.

“This has been really important to the renaissance of Des Moines, particularly from the standpoint of the downtown area where we really saw restaurants lead the way after the floods, and then look at the vibrant downtown. Housing followed, other businesses followed, it’s been fantastic,” said Dunker.

Alexander Hall owns St. Kilda, a downtown spot that started with a wildly successful breakfast and brunch, but has now grown to include a full dinner service.  Hall moved to Des Moines from New York and noticed something distinct about the food scene.

“After coming from New York, you have so many activities, theater, central park, beaches. I think Des Moines uses restaurants as their form of entertainment or socialization," he said.

And that means there's money to be made--but what are people spending their money on?

“About 88% of people now say they want a food experience, they're more willing to pay for that than an item,” said Dunker.

That’s a critical statistic for Hall, who says it's important to take those trends into consideration to keep bringing people out.

“It’s like artwork, you know, and it has to almost move with you. We do this really great poached egg, and when you cut the poached egg open the yoke flows out of it and it’s entertaining,” he said.

But with more places to eat than ever before, there are some drawbacks, especially when it comes to finding employees.

“In our industry, we’re adding about 1,000 jobs a year, and they’re good paying jobs, but attracting folks is difficult. And if someone isn’t happy in a job, they can walk across the street and get hired almost immediately,” said Dunker.

In addition, with so many places for customers to spend their money, the average Iowa restaurant makes just under $100 a day in profit.

The National Restaurant Association says some of the top trends in food for 2018 include hyper-local ingredients, ethnic inspired dishes, and fast-casual concepts like Chipotle. Some of the trends on the way out are meals in mason jars, spiralized vegetables, and pumpkin spice.