Around 66 percent of consumers said they would not be willing to eat in a restaurant’s dining room immediately, according to new research from Washington State University’s Carson College of Business and covered by RestaurantDive. Another 47 percent said they planned to wait another three months before venturing out to eat.
Of those surveyed for the report, 21 percent said they would eat in restaurant dining rooms “soon after” they reopen. “Over time, others will join this group of consumers — assuming that there is not a second wave of COVID-19 infections,” Dr. Dogan Gursoy, a professor of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University, told the Bellingham Herald recently. About 50 percent of respondent said they would wait at least one to three months before eating out.
The report also found that casual restaurants will be the first type of eating establishment customers will patronize. Think Outback Steakhouse or Applebee’s, or any of the hundreds of thousands of independent sit-down restaurants in the U.S. Well, at least those that have managed to keep the lights on during state-mandated dining room shutdowns.
Consumers surveyed for the report said that sanitation efforts like masks for servers, hand sanitizer stations, and other visible efforts, like seeing staff clean tables and chairs, will be the most important safety precautions.
As states reopen, rules, regulations, and practices vary from one to the next in terms of keeping customers safe. All states that have allowed dining rooms to reopen have set rules in place around reduced capacity for customers, with some at 50 percent and some as low as 25. Reservations are being encouraged, even for quick-service chains you’d have never in the past imagined having to book a table for, and many businesses are limiting the size of large parties to between 6 and 10 people. Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association has thorough guidelines about updated cleaning and sanitizing procedures for restaurants as they start to invite customers back.
Even so, consumers are wary when it comes to mingling with the outside world again, which means no matter how visible and effective a restaurant’s sanitization strategy is, it needs to also continue its off-premises strategy. Dr. Gursoy recommended having such a strategy in place for the next three to six months, since limited capacity in the dining room will make it next to impossible to turn a profit.
Granted, there’s no guarantee off-premises orders will make a restaurant money either, especially not when it comes to delivery. Add a possible second wave of coronavirus infections to the mix, and it looks like we’re still a long ways off from the restaurant industry having a true recovery.