What motivates customers in the age of COVID?

Recent research from SevenRooms can help foodservice operators understand and meet guest expectations.
Photograph: Shutterstock

After several months of quarantine, many consumers embraced the return of eating away from home. But others remain wary, venturing out only to pick up a meal curbside or have dinner delivered. Meanwhile, foodservice spots have been scrambling to enforce health and safety protocols, juggle takeout and delivery with dine-in service, set up outdoor seating and create menus that cover all these scenarios.

The good news is that 38% of consumers are looking forward to dining out again in the next three months, according to a recent survey conducted by YouGov and commissioned by SevenRooms, a data-driven guest experience platform. But every potential customer has different needs and expectations.

To make it less challenging for operators to navigate the new dining landscape, SevenRooms grouped these needs into four “diner personas” based on the survey results.

The pickup patron: These consumers won’t be ready to dine out until there’s a vaccine. Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) will only order for takeout or delivery for the remainder of 2020. Restaurants seem to be doing a good job with these platforms—about half of all Americans continue to feel comfortable ordering food to go.

The safety-savvy consumer: It’s no surprise that customers want to see eateries following health and safety guidelines. Face masks and 6-foot social distancing are givens, but this group of guests is looking for more. Over one-third of respondents (37%) want physical barriers between tables, 33% want personal hand sanitizers placed on the table and 24% want their food covered when it’s served to them.

The tech-conscious contactless diner: About 1 in 7 consumers (13%) will only visit foodservice spots that offer a contactless dining experience. Topping the list are virtual waitlists, with 22% of respondents saying they want to join a waitlist before they arrive so they can be seated immediately. Around the same number (21%) want operators to use contact tracing technology, and 17% are in favor of QR codes for ordering and paying.

The carefree guest: This diner persona is eager to dine out in restaurants and less concerned about risks and restrictions. While 29% are comfortable sitting indoors at a restaurant, many more (42%) are limiting visits to outdoor venues. Familiar restaurants are more likely to be on their list—37% are more comfortable dining at places they’ve been to before, but 25% would visit a new restaurant. Bars are not a priority; only 15% of consumers would patronize a drinking establishment.

“As local economies across the country continue to reopen, restaurant operators are navigating the right balance between safety and traditional models for hospitality,” said Joel Montaniel, CEO and co-founder of SevenRooms. “Our research has made one thing clear: Operators need to be flexible. Whether it’s in regard to outdoor dining, virtual waitlists or contactless order and pay—guest have different needs.”

YouGov PLC conducted the survey with 1,237 Americans from July 31-Aug. 3. The four diner personas are identified in the company’s new report, “Restaurant Reckoning: Dynamic Diner.”



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