Travel & Hospitality

7 Things to Know as Consumers Return to Restaurants

As states across the country continue to loosen restrictions stemming from the pandemic, consumers are grappling with how they feel about returning to restaurants – especially when it comes to indoor dining. According to a study from Datassential, 42% of Americans feel truly comfortable and safe dining in at a restaurant. While that accounts for a significant portion of the population, there’s still plenty of ground to make up relative to options like curbside pickup (80%), drive-thru (80%), and delivery (75%).

For some consumers, feeling comfortable dining in at restaurants may be just a matter of time. Only 15% say they’ll return to restaurants immediately, but 57% say they will within a few weeks or months of reopening. What can restaurants do to facilitate that process? Here are seven things you need to know:


Consumers are mixed on how soon they're ready to return to restaurants


  1. How have consumer attitudes changed about dining at restaurants? Predictably, 44% say that restaurants being clean and sanitary is more important to them than before. Additionally, consumers are prioritizing support of local businesses, with 24% saying local or independently owned restaurants are more important to them compared to before the pandemic.
  2. When consumers do dine out, they’re going to wash their hands more and maintain a social distance. In terms of the food itself, 59% say that they’ll avoid ordering shared foods. Restaurants should consider creating single portions of appetizers to allow consumers to enjoy their favorites without worrying about spreading germs.
  3. While there’s certainly a desire to return to “normal,” consumers seem more than okay with restaurants establishing clear rules to keep them safe. More than 80% of consumers support rules such as maintaining six feet of distance, having staff at the door to enforce capacity rules, requiring customers to sanitize hands upon entering, and mandating bar customers have a seat. Bonus points awarded for sharing clearly outlined policies in a friendly, yet structured way to ease any anxieties prior to arrival.
  4. Consumers are most excited to buy their favorite dishes when they return to restaurants, but their other plans are more altruistic in nature. Thirty-seven percent plan to thank restaurant staff members for being open and 34% plan to leave larger tips.
  5. Asian dishes take the top spot (33%) in terms of cuisine that consumers miss most, followed by Italian (30%), Latin American/Mexican (20%), and Greek (10%). It’s clear that consumers are missing the variety and flavors of foods that are harder to make at home.
  6. Consumers are open to more than just a meal at restaurants. When asked if they were interested in purchasing select grocery items from restaurants, respondents named bread/bakery (72%), fresh meat/seafood (70%), and fresh produce (70%) as the favorites. Millennials, in particular, are most likely to show interest. For restaurants willing to get creative, there’s an opportunity for incremental revenue.
  7. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen restaurants get creative and build out menu options for groups eating food at home. With the amount of traction they’ve gained from Millennials and households with kids, they may very well be here to stay. Seventy-three percent of consumers would continue to buy take-and-bake comfort foods, while DIY pizza kits (68%) and taco kits (66%) follow closely behind.


For consumers to feel at ease when heading out to eat, restaurants need to build trust via strong sanitation practices, deliver on the food and social connection that consumers have been missing out on, and continue to embrace innovation as time passes and restrictions loosen further. To find out Inspira can help you create connections with consumers as we navigate this new normal, contact us today.




Source: “With Caution and Care: Meeting Consumers’ New Needs.” Datassential (2020).

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