- When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, diners surveyed by Datassential reported that safety will take precedent over every other restaurant attribute, Datassential managing director Jack Li said during the Restaurant Rise virtual conference in early June. When asked what is more important to them, 78% said safety vs. sustainability, 75% said safety vs. visiting their favorite restaurant, 75% said safety vs. healthy items and 72% said safety vs. affordability.
- For now, 78% percent of diners believe that touching door handles in restaurants could increase their likelihood of contracting the novel coronavirus, while others worry that contact with self-serve food (77%), using public restrooms in restaurants (74%) and sitting in a crowded restaurant (69%) will increase their risk.
- Diners also told Datassential that restaurants need to be clean for them to even consider visiting after COVID-19 has dissipated. Half of respondents said that a clean and sanitary restaurant will be their top consideration when choosing where to eat out, compared to great taste (43%) and value (35%).
Dining restrictions are being rolled back across the country, but concerns about cleanliness will last long after social distancing measures are a precaution of the past, Datassential findings suggest.
As of May 29 through May 31, 42% of diners reported they would be willing to visit restaurants within the next week, according to Engine Insights data, beating out hair and nail salons, state parks and beaches. But this survey also found that 45% of consumers are feeling an increase in mild anxiety concerning coronavirus, a 4% increase since the prior week.
In Zagat's Future of Dining study, three out of four diners cited health and safety concerns as the biggest deterrent to eat out at restaurants. Eighty-three percent of consumers that aren't interested in immediately returning to restaurants will feel more comfortable if restaurant employees wear masks and if the business practices social distancing. Outdoor seating options and reduced dining room capacity are also most likely to ease diner concerns and convince patrons to return to restaurants.
Restaurant chains across segments have already made significant operational changes to sanitize their dining rooms and signal to diners that they are taking concerns about COVID-19 seriously. These visual cues, such as face masks for staff, plexiglass guards between cashiers and diners at the register and self-service beverage and condiment stations that have been taped off and shut down, could grow consumer trust in a restaurant brand.
This will be especially crucial for casual dining restaurants, which don't have the drive-thrus or robust off-premise channels that have insulated QSR operators from some of the economic disruption of COVID-19. According to a Toast survey emailed to Restaurant Dive, only 19% of consumers are “very comfortable” and would “go to a restaurant immediately” for dine-in service after restrictions are eased. To survive in a post-pandemic environment, a major key to restaurant success will be ramping up this comfort level and ensuring transparent communication with diners about the steps that have been taken to ensure safety.