Britons dine out more often than their European and American counterparts, according to a new report from market research company Datamonitor.
Surprisingly, British consumers eat out more frequently than snack-loving Americans, consuming 633 meals out of the home each year, compared with 614 in the USA.
However, while the Brits might top the table in quantity, the Italians spend the most on dining out, spending an annual average of £1,265 per head last year, compared with £1,224 in the UK.
Datamonitor estimates that the average annual spend in the UK will rise to £1,335 by 2010, when an extra 5.2 billion breakfasts, lunches, evening meals and snacks will be devoured outside the home.
Matthew Adams, consumer market analyst at Datamonitor, said a lack of time, combined with more affordable prices, had made eating out an everyday, rather than a special event.
Adams said the survey showed other key trends, as people skipped more meals, ate out at different times of the day, and often chose smaller meals.
Large-scale chain operators Nando's and PizzaExpress agreed that the casual dining market was on the rise.
Simon Ward, of pub-restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers, said: "Eating out has become an attractive option for time-poor, cash-rich British consumers who don't have time to shop for food, let alone cook it." But he added that special occasions still remained a large part of the eating-out market.
Tragus Holdings has responded by extending opening hours at its Café Rouge and Bella Italia chains. But Bella Italia marketing director Lisa Fredman said there was little evidence of customers wanting smaller portions or healthier options.
Only 5% of Europeans view eating out as a special occasion.
On average, British consumers ate out on 633 occasions in 2005, consuming 365.2 core meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Consumers like the overall experience of dining out best, followed by the opportunity to catch up with friends.
Many consumers skip breakfasts and lunches - on average one person eats breakfast 114 times a year.
Consumers expect more than convenience - they also want healthy, fresh options.
By Angela Frewin