What is the most ordered food in America?

Food is an integral part of American culture. With a rich culinary history and diverse population, America boasts a vibrant food scene with options ranging from burgers and fries to tacos and BBQ. But what dish reigns supreme as the most popular takeout order in the U.S.? Let’s take a look at some quick answers before diving into a detailed analysis:

Quick Answers

  • Pizza is the most commonly ordered takeout food in America.
  • Pizza accounts for about 10% of all takeout orders placed in the U.S.
  • The average American eats 46 slices of pizza per year.
  • Pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping.
  • Other top takeout dishes include burgers, Mexican food, chicken, and Chinese.

With over 69,000 pizzerias in the United States generating over $44 billion in revenue annually, pizza is far and away the most popular takeout food for Americans. This cheesy, crusty, customizable comfort food has become a staple across the country. But why has pizza emerged as such a dominant force in the world of takeout and delivery?

The History of Pizza in America

Pizza traces its origins to Naples, Italy, but truly found its footing in the United States. Italian immigrants brought pizza recipes and traditions over to American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first pizzerias opened up in New York, Chicago, and other urban centers with large Italian populations. However, pizza was still largely a niche ethnic food until after WWII. Several cultural and technological factors converged to facilitate pizza’s rise to nationwide prominence:

  • Post-war economic boom – Higher wages and standards of living allowed more recreational spending on dining out.
  • Suburbanization – Families moved to suburbs, necessitating automobile-friendly takeout options.
  • Television promotion – Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Caesars, and others ran marketing campaigns.
  • Innovation – New menus and formats like deep dish, frozen, and delivery expanded pizza’s reach.

Pizza proliferated across the country throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Households increasingly had the means and desire to order convenient, affordable pizza for delivery or takeout. Regional variations emerged, like Chicago and Detroit-style deep dish. Chains homogenized basic pizza for widespread appeal. By the 1980s, pizza had become ingrained in American culture.

Pizza Market Share

Pizza accounts for nearly 10% of the entire food service market in the United States according to 2020 data from Chicago-based market research firm Technomic. Pizza generated over $44 billion in sales pre-pandemic. To put into perspective how dominant pizza is, Technomic found the second most popular takeout cuisine to be hamburgers at just under $27 billion in sales. Furthermore, 48% of Americans said they eat pizza at least once a month, according to 2019 stats from the National Restaurant Association.

Within the pizza sector, the top national chains occupy a substantial portion of the market, but local pizzerias still thrive. Technomic research on the pizza industry found the following breakdown among the top pizza chains in America:

Pizza Chain Market Share
Domino’s 17%
Pizza Hut 13%
Little Caesars 8%
Papa John’s 6%
All other chains 14%
Independent pizzerias 42%

This breakdown shows that even though the major chains account for over half of pizza sales, local pizzerias still command an impressive market presence. Many neighborhoods still have a “go-to” family-owned pizza spot ingrained in the community.

Pizza Consumption Statistics

Various food industry surveys over the past several years have produced intriguing data on American pizza consumption habits:

  • According to a 2019 Gallup poll, around 40% of Americans said they’d eaten pizza within the past week.
  • Americans consume around 3 billion pizzas each year according to Pizza Today magazine.
  • The average American eats 46 pizza slices per year according to food industry research.
  • Saturday is the most popular day to eat pizza.
  • Pediatric nutritionist Melissa Macdonald found the average child eats pizza twice a week.
  • Gallup found that about 18% of Americans think pizza qualifies as a breakfast food.

Pizza’s popularity persists across all age groups and mealtimes. Its versatility enables both ordered delivery and convenient at-home preparation. Frozen and refrigerated pizzas in supermarkets have made pizza even more routinely accessible at home.

Popular Pizza Toppings

The seemingly endless array of pizza toppings offers each customer the flexibility to create their ideal pie. But among all the choices, which toppings reign supreme? Here are America’s favorites according to pizza industry research:

Topping Popularity
Pepperoni 36%
Sausage 14%
Bacon 13%
Onions 12%
Chicken 12%
Peppers 12%
Black olives 11%
Ham 11%

Pepperoni dominates as the number one choice, with roughly a third of all pizzas ordered topped with sliced pepperoni. Pizza purists consider pepperoni a vital part of the balanced pizza flavor profile. The spicy, salty cured meat adds a zesty kick that beautifully complements the cheese, sauce, and crust. Peppers, onions, and sausage round out the list of America’s favorite pizza toppings.

Pizza Preferences by Region

Pizza toppings and crust preferences vary considerably by region based on local tastes and traditions. Some revealing regional statistics:

  • Pepperoni pizza represents 51% of sales in the West North Central states (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD).
  • Thin crust pizza dominates New England at 44% of the Northeast market.
  • Deep dish accounts for 25% of Midwesterners’ pizza consumption.
  • White pizza, with ricotta instead of tomato sauce, is a NYC metro area specialty.
  • Hawaiian pizza (ham and pineapple) is most popular in the Pacific region at 7% of sales.

In addition to preferences on toppings and crusts, tendencies on sauce and cheese also vary regionally. Pizza provides a tasty window into how distinctive local tastes develop based on traditions, cultures, and available ingredients.

Pizza in Popular Culture

Pizza holds a special place not only on American plates but also in pop culture. Pizza’s ubiquity in movies, TV, songs, and slang reflect its standing as both an everyday comfort food and subject of over-the-top foodie obsession. Here are some ways pizza manifests in American pop culture:

  • Songs – “A Pizza Hut a Pizza Hut Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut” rap jingle (early 90s viral sensation); “Deep Dish Pizza” song by reggae legend Burning Spear.
  • Movies – Mystic Pizza starring Julia Roberts (1988); Do the Right Thing with the iconic smashed-radio-turned-pizza-slice scene (1989).
  • TV – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles obsessed with pizza; Pizza thrower tool on Teenage Engineering shows like All That.
  • Books – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler children’s novel features kids hiding out and ordering pizza at the museum.
  • Slang – “Pizza face” insult; “That’s a pizza cake” expression when something is easy.

Pizza even inspired an entire 2008 economic index, “The Pizza Principle,” to monitor inflation based on rising New York City pizza slice costs over time. Whether it’s the Ninja Turtles, classic NYC slices, or pizza parties, pizza continues captivating the American imagination.

The Pizza Industry Outlook

Pizza ranks as one of the most resilient segments of the restaurant industry, even as consumer behaviors shift. Revenue climbed steadily pre-pandemic. Pizza sales exploded initially during 2020 quarantines then settled down to a still-elevated “new normal” supported by takeout, delivery, and digital ordering. Technomic projects pizza to accelerate growth over the next few years as on-premise dining recovers.

Pizza brands plan to capitalize on increased digital demand. Chains like Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s are strengthening technology infrastructure to support online ordering, curbside pickup, delivery tracking, automated voice ordering, and more. Independent pizzerias are also embracing digital upgrades.

Pizza innovators keep bringing new formats and concepts to market, from fast-fired mod pies to artisanal wood-fired pies to build-your-own assembly line concepts. Frozen and refrigerated pizzas sales surged as well during the pandemic, evidence of pizza’s expanding presence across grocery retail.

While pizza faces more competition now from the diversification of American tastes and upstart cuisines, its versatility and widespread appeal solidify its spot as the leading takeout choice now and for the foreseeable future. Pizza has carved its place in the nation’s diet.

Conclusion

Pizza remains the quintessential takeout food for Americans coast to coast. Easy to eat, customize, and order, pizza has become engrained in American life. Pepperoni pizza, in particular, rules takeout with its balance of tomato sauce, gooey cheese, chewy crust, and spicy sliced pepperoni. While regional variations flourish, pizza has achieved mass appeal. The pizza industry promises further menu innovation, technology upgrades, and new formats to expand pizza’s dominance for generations to come.

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