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Poll Finds More Than Two-Thirds of Consumers Not Willing to Return to Restaurant Dining Rooms

COVID-19 Uncertainty Will Keep Consumers From Dining-In

Restaurant owners will likely continue to see empty dining rooms even after states begin to allow in-restaurant dining due to ongoing COVID-19 fears.

A recent poll conducted on Twitter found that over 70% of respondents are not yet willing to return to restaurant dining rooms as part of COVID-19-related economic recovery initiatives taking place worldwide. In the United States, the governors of AlaskaGeorgiaTennessee, and Texas granted restaurant owners the ability to open their dining rooms for business. Despite the states’ actions to reopen restaurant dining rooms, the substantial majority of consumers polled are not on the same page.

The April Twitter poll asked, “If restaurants in your city were given the OK to reopen their dining rooms for the public on May 1st… would you go and eat inside the restaurant?” The poll recorded 7,275 responses. 

The poll found 72% would not be willing to return to in-restaurant dining while 17% indicated that they would be willing to return and 11% indicated that they were not yet decided. 

Restaurant owners should take data such as this into consideration when deciding whether to reopen or expand from take-out/delivery service to full service that includes dining room service. If only one-third of normal business may return it may not be profitable to return to full-service at this timeUntil more data is collected and analyzed relative to COVID-19 the substantial majority of consumers may continue to shy away from public places, including restaurant dining rooms.

Isaiah Bollinger (@IsaiahBollinger) agrees. “It’s almost pointless to reopen since it will probably cost them more to operate with no customers versus being shut down.” 

Others participating in the poll provided additional color.  

California resident @arashthingtosay stated, “Hell no. We will not be ready by then. I will do curbside, but will not be there for sit in. 

Similarly, Su Lee (@OnlySuLee) of Toronto, Ontario wrote, “Not chancing it. And apparently, the virus circulates in the air with AC.” 

Some, however, are eager to return to a normal dining experience. “I still order from the restaurant across the street from work. Trying to help keep a local business open. If I could I would sit down and have lunch so I could tip the server, stated @Redskins860. 

Others believe that it is necessary to attempt full-scale reopenings in order to gauge actual sentiment and begin the process of getting consumers to feel comfortable with restaurant dining.

Twitter user @BishiIshi wrote, “Nobody knows what it’s going to take to rebuild people’s confidence into dining out again. We’ll never know unless the restaurant owners reopens their doors and see what happens.”

A follow-up question was asked to Twitter users. And again, the Twitterverse was ready to help.

The following question was posed: What recommendations do you have for restaurant owners thinking of opening their dining room as part of COVID-19 economic recovery efforts. These are the restaurants that have either been take-out/delivery-only or have been closed altogether and are opening dining room service?  

Los Angeles-based Nefta had the smart and technologically savvy recommendation of digitizing the menu to allow patrons to order without physical menus. Nefta wrote, “Digitizing as much as possible. Online menus delivered right on the guests phone. Disposable menus will be costly and extra cost in recovering. In addition, work on a new service approach as habits and paradigms have shifted.” This solution provides one less touch point and increases the diner’s peace of mind.

Nina Tekwani of Scottsdale, Arizona recommended a drastic reduction in seating capacity. She noted, “I’d hope they reduce max capacity drastically (maybe 25% of original max) and space out tables very well. That is, in addition to all increased sanitation efforts, which should be a given.”

By significantly spacing out the diners the restaurant will provide the CDC-recommended social distancing among customers. While this will reduce the restaurant’s total potential revenue it will make diners feel more comfortable and allow the diners to enjoy their meal without the concern of others sitting too close and risking the spread of the disease.

Kremlin’s Fiddle, located in the United Kingdom, recommended that restaurant owners remain firm when it comes to compliance with the restaurant’s dining rules. “Based on my encounter at the grocery store this past Sunday, I’d say customers are idiots who either cannot follow directions or think any new rules don’t apply to them. My advice is you need to be firm with them or people will get infected in your restaurant,” wrote Kremlin’s Fiddle.

Diners may feel that they have the right to do as they wish (e.g., The Customer is Always Right). However, given the risks to the patrons and employees, the restaurant must be diligent in enforcing the rules.

In the current environment it may not be a stretch for an infected patron or the surviving family member of a deceased patron to sue a restaurant based on a claim of negligence against a restaurant owner. As such, restaurants should also post their rules and state that strict adherence is required and that noncompliance may result in being removed from the premises.

Additional recommendations for restaurant owners considering reopening: 

  1. Poll existing take-out/delivery customers to determine the percentage that would return to the dining room to determine an estimate of dining room revenue. 
  2. Determine the cost strictly associated with opening the dining room to determine if the estimated revenues will be sufficient to, at a minimum, cover the cost of opening the dining room (wages, utilities, cleaning supplies, PPEs, etc.). 
  3. Inform customers of the opening date via flyers in take-out/delivery orders, email, social media and other communication methods used by the restaurant. Include in the communication the protocol that will be implemented to protect customer and employee safety (e.g., temperature testing of all employees and customersspacing of tables at least six feet apart, use of masks and gloves by employees, sanitation of dining room, etc.). 

Despite protests and other anti-quarantine messages seen recently in the media, the substantial majority of people are not ready to return to restaurant dining roomsWhile consumers want to return to their everyday activities before coronavirus, they want to feel safe.  When it comes to dining out it seems consumers are just not there yet. 

Poll results such as this one suggest that restaurant owners should carefully consider consumer sentiment before going to the expense of opening their dining roomsIn the short-term, restaurants may be better served relying delivery services such as Uber Eats and Door Dash along with take out service to keep their businesses operating.

About Jesse Torres (44 Articles)
Jesse Torres has spent over 20 years in leadership and executive management positions. Jesse maintains a wide range of skills that include risk management, internal audit, operations, information technology, marketing and public relations. Jesse has written books and articles related to entrepreneurship, marketing, and social media. Jesse is a contributing writer for Entrepreneur, a frequent speaker at conferences and is often interviewed by business publications. He holds a B.A. from UCLA and is a graduate of the Pacific Coast Banking School. He holds several certifications, including Certified Information Systems Auditor, Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Information Systems Security Professional.

1 Comment on Poll Finds More Than Two-Thirds of Consumers Not Willing to Return to Restaurant Dining Rooms

  1. Restaurants must clean tables , chairs and table linen with detergent at least twice a day . Table linens must be washed in good condition washing machines and dry in high temperature dryers machines that kills viruses , bacteria and germs .

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