Revenue Management Solutions (RMS) revealed insights from its global consumer study that assessed consumers’ dining behavior and perspectives on the restaurant industry as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. 

The research was conducted in early April in five countries (U.S., U.K., Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea) with 1,897 respondents. RMS, which counts 100,000 restaurants in 40 countries as clients, sought to answer the question: How has consumers’ thinking about food and dining changed during the pandemic?

The answers are an entry point for understanding consumers’ needs as brands start to reopen, notes RMS CEO John Oakes.

Trust in restaurants remains high

When asked if they trust that the restaurant industry is able to safely produce and deliver meals, more than 75% of respondents in every country agreed.

“The industry’s successful recovery will depend on a customer’s feeling of well-being,” noted Oakes. “We have a long way to full recovery, but brands can take heart that we are starting from a place of trust and confidence.” 

Frequent users adjusted their purchase behavior

U.S. frequent users who dined out five or more times per week pre-COVID (35% of respondents) indicated minimal decline in takeout and drive-thru. In Taiwan and South Korea, where restaurant dining rooms remained open during the pandemic, frequent users actually reported ordering more takeout and delivery. Singapore recognized a similar increase. 

RMS Director Dr. Christina Norton noted: “Frequent users in the U.S. dine out more often to fulfill basic needs and gravitate toward drive-thru and take-away options associated with QSR and fast casual. In the U.K. and Asia, frequent users tend to be more pleasure-seeking and favor options such as meal kits as well as delivery and take-away from casual dining restaurants.”

Recovery predictions range by country

U.S. frequent users were also optimistic about return to normal. More than two-thirds — 67% — believe the restaurant industry will recover within six months, with 36% saying they expect that to happen within the next three months. The future didn’t look as bright to all respondents, however.

In Asia, 73% of frequent users believe the industry will recover within 12 months, with 33% expecting a turnaround within six months.

In the U.K., 79% of frequent users believe the industry will recover within 12 months, while 35% say within six months.

 Deciding where to eat has changed

How consumers make dining decisions has changed substantially. Visible hygiene practices and minimal contact are now the top two factors that most influence consumers.

In Asia, the third factor most often cited was provenance and food production methods. In the U.S. and U.K., a brand’s reputation remains the top reason for choosing a restaurant, consistent with consumers’ expression of trust for the industry.  

“We see a consumer mandate to implement visible hygiene practices and contactless service options for safe food delivery,” said Norton. “Brands have a real opportunity to reassure and bring back customers.”

Safety, hygiene and the food supply chain 

Respondents across all countries said their top food-related concerns were: safety and hygiene, access to healthy foods, and nutrition.

In the U.K., U.S. and Singapore, over 50% of all respondents in each usage group are concerned about variety and availability of foods in the coming months.

In the U.S. and U.K., consumers are also concerned with how food will be produced, and over 50% show distrust in the food supply chain.

RMS’ survey is part of an ongoing effort to provide data and support to its clients in the restaurant industry now faced with the challenges of pandemic response. RMS’ online resource page includes weekly forecasts, impact reports, global restrictions currently in place, and expert advice on a number of profitable, practical recovery strategies that operators can implement immediately.

“We are committed to doing all we can to support restaurants,” says Oakes. “We are in daily conversations with our clients, constantly monitoring insights, and relying on our core business — analyzing data to deliver market insights — to serve the industry.” 

Future insights from the survey are forthcoming and will include comparisons by age/generation and gender; what restaurants are doing right, and where they are falling short; and deep-dives into responses from each of the five countries.

Consumer Trends, Industry News