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Americans are falling out of love with restaurants—in 3 charts

Where did everyone go? (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

If you find yourself eating out less often these days, you're not alone.

The average American now eats at a restaurant only 74 times each year, the lowest reading in more than 30 years, according to data from market research from NPD group.

"People have been abandoning restaurants for quite some time," said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and vice president of NPD group. "Eating out just isn't as popular as it once was."

Indeed, it's not. The number of times the average American eats out has been falling almost every year since 1984, when NPD began tracking the metric.

For a time, the country's growing disinterest in sit-down lunches and dinners was offset by a stunning rise in take-out. In 1987, for the first time, Americans picked up food more often from restaurants than they sat down for meals—94 times per year on average compared to 92. And they continued picking up more and more of it through the early 2000s.

But, as you can see above, the country's appetite for take-out began to level off and has even fallen roughly 8 percent since 2007. As a result, the average American only eats food from or at a restaurant roughly 191 times per year, the smallest number since 1993, and more than 10 percent less than in 2000 when the average American ate or ordered out about 215 times.

What's going on here? A few things, most likely.

For one, there's the rise of prepared meals, which have greatly improved in quality over the past decade, has probably pinched the demand for take-out. Yogurt, sandwiches, granola bars, Mexican food, and pizza are among the fastest growing food segments in the country, according to NPD Group. And all of them are easy to prepare at home.

"With restaurant visits down, the manufacturers of our food are filling more of that need," said Balzer. "You can eat most of the fast-growing food items with little to no preparation."

Money is almost certainly a major driver, too.

Female participation in the workforce has leveled off at the same time that male participation has fallen, meaning less income to spend on dining out.  "Up until this started happening, there was a greater need for convenience, and money to pay for it," Balzer said.

The average American has also eaten fewer meals prepared by restaurants ever since the Great Recession. Consumers spent roughly 7 percent less on eating out in 2010, compared to the year before, according to the Bureua of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, people are buying more groceries, because it's cheaper.

Strangely, however, the fact that Americans are falling out of love with restaurants doesn't mean they're cooking instead. "People are quick to say Americans are cooking more often, but that's not really true," said Balzer. "People are eating in their houses more often, but a lot of that is packaged and prepared foods."