This Is When America Eats Dinner

A new chart shows the most common American dinnertimes by state.

The greatest gift the internet ever gave us, besides this woman and these things, might be its vast treasure trove of data visualization. Statistician Nathan Yau runs FlowingData, a blog highlighting some of the best infographics and data art on the internet, and it's free for anyone to access. This week, Yau presented some weirdly compelling data on when Americans in each state eat their dinner, and the results might surprise you.

American dinnertime, state by state

Yau's chart on dinnertime was created using data from the American Time Use Survey, conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey intends to shed light on what, exactly, Americans are doing all day, as well as where they're doing it, and with whom. According to the BLS, it is "the only federal survey providing data on the full range of nonmarket activities, from childcare to volunteering." And what could be more valuable than knowing when we eat?


The dinnertime chart displays a range of evening hours and the percentage of households that were engaged in eating during each timeframe. Since "dinner" as a concept is dependent upon our work schedules (perhaps even more than any other meal of the day), the time at which we eat it can vary wildly. A small percentage of Americans are eating dinner as early as 3:30 p.m. and as late as midnight. The vast majority, though, fall into a tighter range.

Most American households are eating dinner between the hours of 5:07 p.m. and 8:19 p.m., according to survey data. The peak time within this span is 6:19 p.m. This tracks almost precisely with my own habits; I tend to be scarfing right around 6:30, though a couple nights a week might find me home closer to 8. (Any later than that, and I tend to stick to rat snacks rather than a square meal.)


My habits are not only aligned with the national average for peak dinnertime, but also the peak dinnertime in my home state of Illinois, which is 6:17 p.m. The state with the earliest peak dinnertime is Pennsylvania, whose citizens tend to chow down at 5:37 p.m.

As for the night owls, the award goes not to New York, as I was expecting—the dining habits of the City That Never Sleeps don't extend to the rest of the state, apparently—but rather to Washington, D.C., whose peak dinnertime is 7:10 (New York clocks in at 6:41). Though we might be tempted to correlate factors like daylight hours to dinnertime peaks, there doesn't seem to be a clear pattern among which states dine earlier versus later. Yau did note, however, that peak lunchtime bunches up around noon just about everywhere. Is that a result of our stomach rumblings, or our identically segmented workdays?

See where your state falls on the timeline, and whether it matches up with your own eating habits.