When the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could gather without wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, many saw this as the beginning of the end of the pandemic. As a result, attitudes and expectations have shifted, and consumers are now thinking about how normal life should look. Despite many unknowns, if this pandemic has proven anything, consumers remain passionate about food. Food is still what unites us, and consumers are hungry for the hospitality they missed while being stuck at home for nearly 15 months.
A recent study conducted by Datassentials showed that consumers are now “more concerned about the economic crisis caused by COVID than are worried about the public-health crisis.” Most consumers have also become aware of the foodservice industry’s labor shortage and inflation indicators, resulting in higher menu prices. Despite these concerns, consumers have expressed a willingness to spend more at restaurants.
A desire to help restaurants recover from months of limited dine-in options and economic instability is the driving motivation of consumers. Especially strong among Boomers (41%) and less for Gen Z (23%), who looked to try new and exciting dishes not easily created at home. “Millennials proved more willing than any generation to shell out for expansive, upscale, healthful, and/or locally sourced ingredients,” an article in QSR Magazine reports. Additionally, Gen Z and Millennials were more likely to “use their social circles on a restaurant’s behalf, such as praising a place on review sites or getting bigger groups together to dine out.”
What will cause consumers to spend more at restaurants post-pandemic?
Datassentials reports the following:
- Wanting to help restaurants and the economy recover
- Wanting to socialize more
- Ordering food not easily made at home
- Celebrating special occasions at restaurants
- Trying new and exciting dishes
- Tipping servers more generously than before
- Healthier food and beverage choices
- Restaurants that go the extra mile to ensure guest safety
- Restaurants that focus on locally sourced ingredients
- Ordering more expensive menu items
- Increased alcoholic beverage purchases, especially those not easily made at home
- Ordering more appetizers and large plates to share with a group
- More premium/upscale ingredients
- Ordering catering for home or work
While consumer’s pent-up demand is helping restaurants to return to pre-pandemic levels, an industry-wide labor shortage is making it challenging for operators. Consumers are paying attention to how restaurants treat their employees. Datassentials found that Boomers were most concerned with getting laid-off and furloughed people back to work. Millennials feel front-line staff should be paid like “essential workers.” At the same time, Gen Z ranked health care as their top issue, with support towards subsidized child care and unionization for restaurant workers. With enhanced unemployment benefits soon coming to an end, along with generally reduced COVID concerns, we hope to see improvements in this labor shortage for restaurants.
One thing is clear. Consumer behavior dramatically changed during the pandemic. Restaurants that successfully focus on adaptability and awareness towards consumer expectations will see higher customer satisfaction and greater customer loyalty.