Coming out of the pandemic, expectations and technology are shifting.

If, at this stage in the industry’s COVID rebound, there is a dichotomy forming between experiential brands and those rooted in convenience, then “date night” falls squarely into the occasion wishlist of full-service operators.

Yet with prices climbing and safety concerns lingering, diners are returning to sit-down concepts with an elevated set of expectations. As checks rise and frequency tightens, margin for error does as well. Experience and retention platform SevenRooms on Thursday released a “Date Night Diner Report” through research from YouGov and its own data. The goal being to paint a portrait of the current American date night, as well as the turn-offs and dealbreakers that could cost a restaurant a future loyal guest.

“Our research reveals that diners value experiences, additional perks and service points at different levels than ever before,” SevenRooms CEO Joel Montaniel noted.

To take stock of the landscape, the company asked customers what they want of date nights.

  • 26 percent: Preferred day of the week: Friday and Saturday
  • 53 percent: Preferred style of date: one-one-one.

In big metros like New York City and L.A., tables for two are the most popular party size booked, at 50 and 56 percent, respectively.

Concerning the restaurant they pick:

  • 46 percent: Usually book a restaurant they’ve been to before. But, they could be convinced to go elsewhere.
  • 54 percent: Typically book a casual meal where they can stay and talk at the table for a while.

None of this is overly surprising. In fact, it suggests people are returning to a world they’re familiar with. The parameters of date night in America have not been rattled by COVID—it’s the expectations we need to get into.

Also, in recent months, SevenRooms said, diners have found it more challenging to secure prime tables at their go-tos. They now use a variety of ways to get in.

  • 53 percent: Customers who go on dates who say they do not make a reservation, but still go to the restaurant.

Walk-in diners and digital waitlists have become more prevalent for date-night planning:

  • 47 percent: Of all completed covers at NYC restaurants were walk-ins, a 5 percent increase from June.
  • 25 percent: Of all completed covers at L.A. spots were walk-ins, a 5 percent jump as well.

“Whether a guest is booking an online reservation, adding themselves to a digital waitlist, or coming into a restaurant to join a waitlist before popping into a wine bar around the corner to wait, technology has made it easy for restaurants to show guests an experience that will keep them coming back,” SevenRooms said.

So moving to dealbreakers, here’s what would turn a customer away from a restaurant for a future date:

  • Their meals arrived at different times (more than 10–15 minutes apart): 45 percent
  • The restaurant was louder than expected and they couldn’t have a conversation: 43 percent
  • The restaurant ran out of menu items they were looking forward to: 31 percent
  • They were seated too close to another table: 31 percent
  • They were seated next to a couple talking too loudly: 26 percent
  • The restaurant was too crowded to find their date: 24 percent

All told, though, what SevenRooms data showed was, arguably, the experience upon arrival is more critical than detractors. The top three experiences or amenities date-night guests said they want available to them were:

  • 33 percent: being provided a complimentary dessert or cocktail
  • 24 percent: Earning extra rewards during the meal, like loyalty, credit card points, or exclusive offers.
  • 23 percent: Incentives to return for another date night, such as discounts and an exclusive date night menu.

Date-night diners added they’re keen on personalization, including menu items that are in line with their dietary needs or preferences, and that they waiter or staff knows their name from a previous visit.

  • 33 percent: Said personalized dining mattered more to them than getting food quickly, menu variety, etc.
  • 43 percent: Noted they’d be impressed if their date book a personalized restaurant experience for them.

“A resurgence of the American date night is here, and these date night diners are flipping the script on what that experience should look and feel like,” Allison Page, co-founder and chief product officer at SevenRooms, said in a statement. “Our research reveals that diners value experiences, additional perks and service points at higher levels than ever before. To provide these experiences, restaurant operators should look to incorporate technology solutions that provide them with the data and information to tailor experiences to each guest’s specific preferences. By doing so, they’ll not only learn how to best cater to each couple, but also how to avoid date-night dealbreakers to create the perfect night out.”

Consumer Trends, Feature, NextGen Casual