Every week we comb through the news to find employment trends affecting the hospitality industry so you don’t have to. This week’s topic: customer confidence statistics regarding when returning to bars and restaurants.  

It’s no secret that the foodservice industry was hit the hardest in terms of revenue and lay-offs since the coronavirus forced nationwide closures six months ago. While some states, like Georgia, allowed their restaurants to reopen (with restrictions) as early as mid-Mayothers, like New York, are just allowing limited capacity dine-in at the end of September.  

Besides the overall concerns regarding contracting COVID, the hospitality industry had additional fearsCan the virus travel on food surfaces and/or packaging, and can it be transferred that way? As we’ve come to find, it’s extremely unlikely, and is mostly spread “when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks” according to the CDC. Because of this, concerns continue to arise surrounding inside vs. outside dining, especially as the U.S. begins its decent into the colder months where outside dining won’t always be possible.  

With all of this considered, the most important question remains: How do consumers feel about returning to their favorite restaurants and bars? Below we’ll outline some of the most prominent stats on consumer confidence we’ve seen over the last several weeks to help determine how guests are feeling about the future of dining out.   

Customer Confidence Statistics

“In the week ending August 16, customer transaction declines at major restaurant chains improved into the single-digits after 21 weeks of double-digit declines. Customer transactions were down -9% in week ending August 16 compared to year ago, a +35-point gain from the steepest decline of –44% in week ending April 12.” (Via The NPD Group) 

In this statistic, “major restaurant chains” included “quick service, fast casual, midscale, and casual dining chains representing 53% of the commercial restaurant traffic in U.S.” Between April and August, consumers steadily felt more and more comfortable visiting these restaurantlikely due to their continued prioritization of safety standards and because their business model easily allows for takeout or delivery.  

“In the most recent round of surveys between June 26 and June 29, just over 3,000 people were surveyed. Of those respondents, only 40% said they would go out to dinner within a month of the curve flattening. 20% of survey respondents said they would go out to dinner two to three months after the curve flattened, while 17% said it would take them four to six months to do so. 10% said it would take them seven to 11 months to dine out, while 11% said it would take them at least a year. 2% said they would never feel comfortable dining out again.” (Via Business Insider) 

Although this piece reports on stats from 12 weeks ago, it’s good to keep in mind when considering the fluctuation in new cases that we’ve been seeing over the last few months. For example, if one state were to see a severe rise in new cases during the month of October, we could use the above information to presume that 20% of people would wait until at least December before returning to dine at a restaurant. These percentages also indicate that restaurants reopening alone isn’t enough to bring back every customer.  

“[Between April 7-September 13], 34% of U.S. adults said they are comfortable dining out right now.” (Via Morning Consult) 

During the survey, when consumers were asked when they would feel comfortable going out to eat, the responses broke down as follows: 

Next month — 30%
More than 6 months –– 27%
Don’t know/no opinion –– 20%
Next 2-3 months –– 13%
Next 6 months –– 9% 

In comparison to the statistic above presented by Business Insider, it appears that consumers began feeling more comfortable with dining out towards the end of June, but since then, have not seen a significant change in comfort level.  

Key Takeaways from Customer Confidence Statistics

  • Quick service and fast casual establishments are slowly returning to pre-COVID numbers due to the nature of their delivery and to-go offerings.  
  • While full-service dining has seen an improvement since the start of quarantine, attitudes have not changed much in the past several weeks –– likely due to the regular flux of new cases the U.S. sees every day.  
  • Being open is not enough to drive customers to your business as comfort levels are dictating whether consumers dine out or not.  

Based off these customer confidence statistics, it seems like there’s only so much restaurants can do to return to pre-COVID revenue because consumers’ confidence is relying on their comfort level. While businesses need to be doing everything they can to create a safe and comfortable environment, one strategy remains on the forefront when drawing customers back: patience.