Roughly one in three Americans look forward to dining in restaurants again over the next three months, but different customers have different standards for what the new era of eating out should look like. So says restaurant tech company Sevenrooms, which today released a new survey entitled “Restaurant Reckoning: Dynamic Diner.”
The survey, conducted with third-party research firm YouGov PLC, polled 1,327 U.S. restaurant customers at the end of July. As its title suggests, the pandemic has created new types of diners with different sets of priorities. Sevenrooms has divvied these up into four categories:
- “The Pick-Up Patron:” More than one in four survey respondents, or 27 percent, said they will not feel comfortable eating in a restaurant dining room until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found. Nearly one in four, 23 percent, will stick to takeout orders for the rest of 2020.
- “The Safety-Savvy Consumer:” More than one in five, or 22 percent, of those surveyed want a detailed outline of a restaurant’s safety protocols, including physical barriers between tables, at-table hand sanitizer, and having their food covered when brought to the table.
- “The Tech-Conscious Contactless Diner:” A smaller percentage, 13 percent, said they would only dine in a restaurant that uses contactless dining solutions like virtual waitlists, QR code-enabled order and payments, and contact tracing technology.
- “The Carefree Guest:” Despite nationwide restrictions around indoor dining, a healthy number of respondents, 29 percent, said they are comfortable with the format. Another 42 percent said they are comfortable with outdoor dining.
The outdoor dining stat, though, is an important reminder of a situation most restaurants around the U.S. will soon face: winter is on its way, and once it arrives, outdoor dining will be uncomfortable in some locations, impossible in many more. It may very well be that colder weather will mean the Pick-Up Patron category gets a lot larger and the number of “carefree” guests lowers alongside the temperature.
The survey also recommends that restaurants double-down on collecting customer data that can better tell them which of the above customer types they serve most. That directive makes sense, given that Sevenrooms is a guest management platform that emphasizes the value of restaurant customer data. But it brings up a good point: with the restaurant experience going more and more digital, it’s time for restaurants to rethink their relationship to customer data.
Speaking in today’s press release, Sevenrooms CEO Joel Montaniel also suggested that agility is crucial for restaurant operators right now: “Our research has made one thing clear: operators need to be flexible,” he said. “Whether it’s in regard to outdoor dining, virtual waitlists or contactless order and pay – every guest has different needs.”
With colder temperatures and a lot of uncertainty around both the pandemic and the future of the restaurant industry, that flexibility will remain a must-have for restaurants for the foreseeable future. The good news is, since restaurants were allowed to slowly reopen their dining rooms, we’ve seen no end of creativity when it comes to serving guests while keeping them socially distanced. No doubt we’ll see even more of that as the restaurant industry transitions into a new season.