For most current college students, memories of middle school and early high school include many weekend nights spent at the mall with friends, meandering through retail stores for a few hours until a parent could pick them up. But that social scene may be changing according to a Huffington Post article from earlier this month.
The article highlights a recent study by Piper Jaffray, an investment bank, which found that teens are now spending more money on food than they are on clothing for the first time since the study began. Not only does this mean a rise in revenue for chain restaurants, but also a change in the social atmosphere of teenage life; teens are favoring eateries over the mall as their hangout spot of choice.
According to the study, American teens visited the mall an average of 29 times in 2014, down from 34 times in 2007. “Quietly, the restaurant has displaced the mall as the socially acceptable place to hang out for teenagers in America,” it said.
This shifting dynamic may stem from an increase in online shopping. Whereas teens can conveniently purchase clothing on the Internet from the comfort of his or her own home, food, for the most part, can only be purchased in person. Since food generally costs less than clothing, teens easily fall into the trap of overspending at their favorite chain restaurants.
“It’s super easy to blow money on food these days, because it is cheaper than clothing,” said Isabelle Cruz, A&S ’17. “But then, all the money you are spending on food while out with your friends quickly adds up.”
Currently, the favorite restaurant among teens is Starbucks, followed closely by McDonald’s, Chipotle, Olive Garden and Taco Bell. The abundance of these large chain restaurants may serve as a reason why teens are spending so much time and money at them.“Food is so available nowadays, and everyone is eating on the go,” said Kerry Tyrell, A&S ’17. “Our parents’ generation had more family meals, so they didn’t go out to fast food chains and ‘grab a quick bite’ multiple times a day.”
Despite the newly released facts and figures, some teens still prefer retail shopping to fast food. “I definitely still spend more money on clothes,” said Meghan Ravis, A&S ’17. “The ability to online shop whenever I feel like it certainly doesn’t help.”
This leaves us with the question: what does this suggested change and ambivalence in teens’ preferences mean in the overall picture of today’s consumer society? The answer may be a fight between retail stores and fast food chains to win the affection and attention of a generation of teenagers.