National Survey Reveals How COVID-19 Will Change Consumer-Purchasing Preferences


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Results from a recent survey undertaken in the U.S. by Columbus-based, national public-relations firm, Inspire PR Group, and full-service market-research firm, Illuminology, reveal that health and safety will remain a top concern for consumers once lockdown restrictions are lifted. 

The survey, called Eating 2020: How COVID-19 Will Change Consumer Engagement with Food, gauged more than 1,800 U.S. consumers’ food-purchasing trends before, during and after the COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions.  

The vast majority of those surveyed want restaurants to have employees wear face masks and encourage physical distancing. However, when presented with all safety options, diners are most concerned about the perceived health threat posed by other customers, more so than employees.  

“These findings contribute data to what we’ve believed to be true, that restaurants should prepare to meet consumer expectations for health and safety for some time to come,” says Hinda Mitchell, president of Inspire PR Group. “Clearly defined protocols around how these businesses will keep their customers safe — mostly from other customers — will be critical to restoring trust and confidence.” 

Dine-in to return (but slowly) 

Consumers who dined in at restaurants before the pandemic are likely to return when restaurant-specific orders lift — and that’s good news for U.S. restaurants. However, projections suggest there could be a 20-per-cent difference in dine-in traffic over pre-COVID-19 levels. Also, restaurants that focus more on quality dine-in experiences (e.g. upscale restaurants, local/neighbourhood restaurants and fast-casual restaurants) are more likely to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.  

The research was conducted April 17 to 20, 2020, and surveyed 1,300 U.S. consumers and an additional sample of 500 Ohio consumers. The survey asked respondents about their restaurant and grocery behaviours in the first two months of 2020 before COVID-19 became a crisis in the U.S., behaviours during stay-at-home orders in April and how consumers anticipate their behaviours will change in the first 60 days following orders being lifted. 

“Overall, this data tells a story of consumers’ changing purchase patterns before, during and after an incredible shock to our economic and health systems,” says Orie Kristel, CEO of Illuminology. “Groceries and restaurants need to be especially cautious when planning their operations after COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. Although many customers likely crave a great dining or shopping experience, many customers are also concerned about potential monetary or health issues.” 

Additional insights from the U.S. survey of 1,300 respondents revealed:  

  • Thirty-seven per cent of diners are extremely or very worried about getting sick from other customers if they eat a meal inside a restaurant. 
  • While carryout, drive-thru and food delivery nearly doubled from once every two weeks to once per week, frequency of these services is projected to decrease significantly after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. 
  • All restaurant sectors, with the exception of fast food/QSR, saw dramatic decreases during COVID-19 restrictions, however most sectors are projected to see a return to pre-COVID-19 levels of visits. 
  • Restaurant spending is a concern, with more than 60 per cent feeling they could not pay or would worry about paying $75 for a family dinner out, suggesting the pandemic’s economic toll is a continued impact on the sector. 
  • After COVID-19 restrictions lift, dine-in visits to restaurants will increase but not to pre-stay-at-home levels (45 per cent of people will dine inside a restaurant soon after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted compared to 67 per cent pre-COVID-19 restrictions). 

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