A Return to the Kitchen, How to Spend a Grand, Etc.

It doesn’t take a recession or a war to push us out of restaurants and into our kitchens. In its annual Report on Eating Patterns in America, the NPD Group finds such a shift was already in motion last year. The number of meals eaten in a restaurant per person slid to 64 in 2000 from 66 in 1999. People were also ordering fewer takeout meals—70 in 2000, versus 73 in 1999. As a consequence, the percentage of meals prepared at home rose (albeit barely) for the first time since 1992. “Home-cooked” would be a misnomer for many of these meals; “home-thawed” is more like it. NPD found 11.5 percent of last year’s home-prepared meals included a frozen component, up from 9.4 percent the year before. More generally, the report notes that “easy in-home meals” are much easier to find at the supermarket than they were even as recently as 10 years ago. Thus, there’s reason to suspect the swing toward in-home meals will outlive the current period of economic austerity and wartime jitters.

We expect women to outnumber men in offline retail venues. Now, a report by Jupiter Media Metrix predicts that women will constitute 53 percent of this holiday season’s online buying population. Men will spend more per capita because their online purchases skew toward big-ticket categories like computers and consumer electronics. Nonetheless, women collectively will spend more than men. All told, Jupiter expects the season’s online sales in the U.S. to reach $11.9 billion. Books, clothing/shoes, toys, videos and music are forecast to be the top categories.

Traditional stereotypes would have us believe that teenage boys routinely slug each other, while teenage girls confine themselves to wounding words. In fact, while boys are more likely to fight, plenty of girls use their fists, too. Analyzing data from 1999, the National Center for Education Statistics finds 44 percent of boys in grades 9-12 were in a fight that year, versus 27 percent of girls. Alarming as such numbers might be, they represent a decline in the incidence of fighting. In 1993, 42 percent of students in those grades reported having been in a fight, compared to 36 percent in 1999.

Michael Bloomberg likely wouldn’t have won New York’s mayoral election had he been running against a fellow tycoon. In a poll by Stanton Crenshaw Communications, a New York-based public relations firm, people were asked which of five business leaders they consider an “excellent communicator.” Bill Gates led the voting (cited by 47 percent of respondents), followed by Lee Iacocca (38 percent), Michael Eisner (28 percent), Jack Welch (15 percent) and Bloomberg(11 percent). Elsewhere in the poll, people were asked to pick the traits they associate with the communication styles of great leaders. Intelligence and confidence were the top vote-getters (66 percent apiece), with sincerity (62 percent) outpolling compassion (59 percent) and courage (57 percent).

Now that it’s a civic duty not to let terrorism disrupt our way of life, people whose way of life consists of being rich will make sure they remain rich. A study by The Phoenix Companies, conducted among people whose net wealth (excluding principal residence) tops $1 million, finds most expect to do so. Ninety-three percent still feel financially comfortable post-Sept. 11, with 34 percent feeling “extremely” or “very” comfortable. Sixty percent plan no changes in their spending habits, while 28 percent say they will defer major purchases.

If you happen not to be rich, you may be among the consumers taking a renewed interest in cents-off coupons. As people watch their pennies, a DVC Group/Harris Interactive study finds 19 percent are increasing their use of coupons. At the same time, the report says “a rush to purchase store brands over national brands is curiously absent.”

Amid actual retrenchment, an imaginary spree has great appeal. So, we can surmise that respondents to an Ipsos-Reid poll were glad to speculate about how they would spend a $1,000 windfall. As you can see from the chart, home claimed the biggest share of the loot, with the “improvement” catchall including renovations, furniture and major appliances. However wary people may be about flying, the findings also make it clear they still have a yen to get away from it all. Nor, evidently, is this impulse fully satisfied by a local evening on the town.