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Food Service Industry Updates Franchising Industry Updates

Diners Returning, But On Their Own Terms

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A new survey of U.S. diners suggests some consumer behaviors are indeed slowly returning to “normal.” However, the findings also indicate we might want to keep that word in quotations because this new “normal” won’t be a carbon copy of its pre-pandemic predecessor.

On the positive side, nearly one-third of consumers told Revenue Management Solutions (RMS) that they plan on eating out more often. Only 13% told the restaurant consulting firm the same thing in August 2020, prior to the availability of vaccines.

Moreover, consumers indicated they were more tolerant of price increases at restaurants than at grocery stores, and perceived restaurants as giving them more for their dollars than supermarkets did. Most consumers — including 70% of baby boomers — said restaurant cost hikes were justified to support an increased minimum wage or pay for increased safety precautions.

“We are seeing brands take a long-term look at the most sustainable real estate for future growth.”

On the other hand, many people expect to continue working from home, which is not good news for foodservice businesses that formerly served them breakfast or lunch during the workday. “If workers don’t return to city centers, restaurant brands will likely need to reevaluate locations,” RMS said. “Short-term decisions over which stores are viable [or not] are already taking place, and we are seeing brands take a long-term look at the most sustainable real estate for future growth. One possible bright spot is the vaccine, which may lead to a gradual but steady return to the office and dining traditions.”

The survey also found that consumers who choose not to be vaccinated seem to be depending on restaurants to keep them safe. “Among the 52% of respondents who said they would not be getting the vaccine, the biggest consideration about dining out was whether restaurants can provide a safe indoor dining experience,” RMS reported. “For those who already have a vaccine scheduled or are waiting to get access to it, 72% of them say the number of COVID cases at the local level will be their deciding factor on dining out or not.”

Dr. Christina Norton, RMS director of behavioral research, said the survey findings “point to a significantly changed landscape going forward as buyer behaviors adopted in 2020 appear to have strong staying power.”

Norton said her company’s research provides a reason to be “cautiously optimistic about consumers’ return to in-restaurant dining. But operators cannot let their guard down on safety and must be prepared to continue to meet the consumer where they are, which is largely still at home.”

The RMS report, based on responses from more than 1,100 U.S. diners in rural, suburban and urban markets, can be downloaded here.

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