The aims of the present study were to examine and compare dietary patterns in adults using cluster and factor analyses and to examine the format of the dietary variables on the pattern solutions (i.e. expressed as grams/day (g/d) of each food group or as the percentage contribution to total energy intake). Food intake data were derived from the North/South Ireland Food Consumption Survey 1997–9, which was a randomised cross-sectional study of 7 d recorded food and nutrient intakes of a representative sample of 1379 Irish adults aged 18–64 years. Cluster analysis was performed using the k-means algorithm and principal component analysis (PCA) was used to extract dietary factors. Food data were reduced to thirty-three food groups. For cluster analysis, the most suitable format of the food-group variable was found to be the percentage contribution to energy intake, which produced six clusters: ‘Traditional Irish’; ‘Continental’; ‘Unhealthy foods’; ‘Light-meal foods & low-fat milk’; ‘Healthy foods’; ‘Wholemeal bread & desserts’. For PCA, food groups in the format of g/d were found to be the most suitable format, and this revealed four dietary patterns: ‘Unhealthy foods & high alcohol’; ‘Traditional Irish’; ‘Healthy foods’; ‘Sweet convenience foods & low alcohol’. In summary, cluster and PCA identified similar dietary patterns when presented with the same dataset. However, the two dietary pattern methods required a different format of the food-group variable, and the most appropriate format of the input variable should be considered in future studies.