Tacos, Tequila and More: How Multicultural Cuisine Is Influencing What Consumers Eat and Drink While Dining Out

Tacos, Tequila and More: How Multicultural Cuisine Is Influencing What Consumers Eat and Drink While Dining Out

For many Americans, dining out is a regular part of their lives. According to Nielsen’s Global Out-of-Home Dining Survey, 35% of Americans dine away from home at least once a week, much more than global consumers (24%). But they’re not just eating while they’re out. Legal-aged adults (21 and older) are also drinking alcoholic beverages with their meals—and understanding what beverages they’re pairing with different cuisines is increasingly important.

America’s multicultural landscape is growing, and flavors associated with diverse segments are driving innovation that is not only crossing over to mainstream products in stores, but also across restaurant tables and into alcoholic beverages.  

Drinking at the Table

Legal drinking aged consumers seem to be shifting where and how they’re consuming alcoholic beverages, seeking to conveniently enjoy their food with an adult beverage and vice versa. According to a Nielsen CGA On-Premise Consumer Survey, twice as many Americans go out to eat every week and have a drink (67%), compared to those visits that are drink-led (34%). In line with this, over the last decade, the number of neighborhood bars has declined at the same time that licensed restaurants have opened up shop (12,309 and 60,365, respectively).

Restaurants and dining establishments have responded loud and clear: over the last five years, dining establishments serving one or more categories of beer, wine and spirits have increased 18%. Meanwhile, locations traditionally referred to as ‘fast casual’ and even ‘quick service restaurants’ have been adding some alcoholic beverages to their menus, illustrating how well even these types of dining establishments have recognized the importance of this opportunity.

Finding the Perfect Pairing

Beyond serving up more alcoholic beverages as part of food-led occasions in restaurants, both restaurant operators and beverage alcohol suppliers should also consider the type of cuisine being served at these dining locations and what specific adult beverages make for the best accompaniment—or even specific ‘pairing’ opportunities.

While type of cuisine is not the primary driver for Americans when it comes to where to eat, it is a far more important consideration compared to the average global consumer (24% compared to 16%, respectively). America’s growing multicultural landscape means that consumers aren’t short on choices when it comes to where to eat—and many are taking advantage of these options. Almost one in three Americans consume food that contain multicultural flavors at least once a week.

Within the Nielsen TDLinx On-Premise database of licensed dining establishments, restaurants with an ethnic and/or non-American food orientation are growing in importance. For instance, Asian and Mexican restaurants now rank as second and third in importance, respecitvely, behind “American,” to round out the top three food restaurant types. The chart below reveals that, of those establishments licensed to sell at least some alcoholic beverages, some of the fastest growing accompanying cuisine types in the U.S. have a strong ethnic skew, a reflection in part of the changing American population’s cultural mosaic.  

Across the various restaurant cuisine types, Nielsen data indicates that nearly all on-premise dining locations offer beer (over 99%), with wine not too far behind (94% today, up from 92% in 2011), and spirits further back (71% today, compared with 67% in 2011). However, the percentage of locations offering each beverage category can vary significantly by food type. For instance, almost 10% of Mexican restaurants don’t sell wine, perhaps an opportunity for a wine segment like Sangria alongside Mexican beers.

At the same time, only 60% of Asian restaurants and 72% of Mexican restaurants across the U.S. offer spirits on their menus. Yet, according to the Nielsen CGA On-Premise Consumer Survey, on-premise spirit sales have grown 2.8% in dollars, compared with sales of beer falling 1.2% and wine remaining flat. Given this growing consumer appetite for spirits in the on premise, restaurants, especially those influenced by multicultural cuisines, might want to weigh the upside of offering some spirit selections to their menus alongside beer and wine for consumers to enjoy, against the added costs of doing so.

With tailwinds of a growing multicultural U.S. population, on-premise beverage alcohol manufacturers have a unique opportunity to up their game at dining establishments that serve multicultural flavors. Whether it’s tacos and tequilas, burgers and brews, or sushi and sauvignon, on-premise beverage alcohol manufacturers and restaurants alike need to be paying close attention to how multicultural cuisines and spirits are transforming the dining out experience—and what consumers are choosing to sip while they dine.


The insights in this article were derived from:

  • Nielsen CGA On-Premise Survey, conducted in English – March 2016
  • Nielsen CGA On-Premise Dollar Sales, Latest 52 Weeks Ending 9/10/2016
  • Harris Poll® of 2,034 U.S. legal drinking aged adults (21+) surveyed online in English within the U.S. between June 7 and 9, 2016
  • Nielsen TDLinx Database – 2016
  • Nielsen Multicultural Growth & Strategy Research, “Change in Tastes: Food’s Multicultural Revolution” – June 2016