Consumers Are Ready to Dine Out Again

Value and cleanliness in foodservice are likely to remain top priorities.

March 25, 2022

A lot of customers chat at tables in a restaurant

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Almost half of consumers (43%) have no concerns about dining out, reports SmartBrief, with men and younger consumers generally less concern than other consumer groups. Forty percent of consumers said they have resumed dining out the way they did before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

However, because two-thirds of those surveyed by Datassential said they have not returned to a physical office setting, the midday daypart may take longer to return to pre-pandemic levels, if it does at all. Only 23% of consumers said they would like to return to an office full time, and office occupancy is at 40.6% across 10 major U.S. cities, according to data from Kastle Systems, a nationwide security company that monitors building access swipes.

According to Datassential, value and cleanliness are likely to remain top priority for consumers when dining out. Some sanitary practices, especially seeing employees clean tables and wear appropriate PPE like gloves and face masks, still will be appreciated by consumers as more than performative, Datassential said.

Economic fears overtook pandemic concerns, according to the survey. Fifty-six percent of consumers now fear an economic crisis, compared with 44% who fear a prolonged or new public-health crisis.

Many consumers say there have been lifelong changes to their lives, personally and at work. One in six consumers said they believe their careers and their health are changed forever.

The pandemic has increased anxiety and tension for everyone, especially those on the frontlines. NACS Magazine discusses this serious topic in “Mental Health in the Workplace” in the September 2021 issue.

Restaurant Traffic Is Up

Separately, The NPD Group reports that online and physical traffic rose 2% at U.S. restaurants in February compared with January. However, total restaurant visits in February were 8% lower than they were in February 2020, before the pandemic began, the research firm said.

QSR traffic improved by 1% in February compared with a 7% decline in February 2021. Online and physical visits to full-service restaurants increased by 6%, compared with a 22% decline in February 2021. Both segments were down from the pre-pandemic level in February 2020.

The morning daypart continued to recover visits in February, with a 5% increase compared with a 12% decline in February 2021. Quick-service morning meal online and physical traffic, representing 88% of total industry morning meal visits, increased by 6% this February compared with an 11% decline in February 2021, NPD said. Total restaurant dinner traffic improved by 6% compared with a 12% decline the same month a year ago.

“February began with visits soft as omicron suppressed consumer sentiment for dining out. On the other hand, the back half of February benefited from comparisons to last year's historic winter deep freeze," said David Portalatin, NPD food industry adviser. “Looking ahead, we should see some seasonal demand start to heat up in March and COVID-related concerns diminishing. The wild card will be how consumers respond to ongoing inflation, including $4-plus per gallon gasoline.”

Find out how the foodservice category performed in convenience stores in 2021 and get a look ahead at the 2022 NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Summit—just 17 days away, April 12-14 in Chicago. Matt High, category sales manager, senior made to order, Sheetz, will present the foodservice category deep dive. Registration is open.