As parts of the nation still find itself locked down by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer expectations and behaviors are changing! As this new normal is likely to last well past the current health crisis, Market Force wanted to understand these new marketplace dynamics.

To better understand consumers, how they are feeling, and what they are doing, we surveyed almost 4,000 US consumers. We wanted to see how they perceive restaurants responding to infection control, attitudes toward contactless transactions, meal planning considerations, and meal delivery problem experiences. In the beginning weeks of May, we again surveyed our panel of respondents to learn how and if their sentiment changed as social distancing and restaurant operation restrictions continued.

With the closure of restaurants and bars in many states, the pandemic has forced operators to come up with creative solutions to feed their customers and adapt their menus to meet new dining expectations. Some ramping up curbside pickup and contactless delivery with others offering meal deals and family specials to entice quarantined home-based consumers to get back out into the community. Restaurant Business Online shared what some of the most creative eateries, from Michelin-starred operations to local hometown pubs, are doing to meet new expectations.

With most schools shut down for the past few months, more than 50 million kids have been sent home, complicating life for families with working parents. This new normal for family life shines a spotlight on the ever-present challenges of balancing work and family in a society with an always-on work culture. To simplify a day-to-day household chore like meal preparation, parents have looked to ordering meals in to feed their families.

Our May Consumer Sentiment Study revealed that Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) and Casual Dining restaurants have offered more family meals to meet this demand, but over the last month, diners are finding them less attractive. Where 24% of QSR diners found family meals very attractive at the beginning of April, only 16% had the same sentiment when responding in May. Overall, Casual Dining customers found family meals more attractive, but sentiment in this sector also fell to 25% in May when compared to 31% in April. Based on May’s Consumer Sentiment results, the primary reasons for dissatisfaction with family meal options were due to the growing expense and lack of variety in both menu items and meal sizes.

Although 83% of diners claim they will continue to frequent brands they trust, key findings indicate that restaurant brands are at risk of losing loyal customers as they start visiting competing brands that offer the type of meals they are looking for at a price that better fits their budgets. The low hanging fruit where both QSR and Casual Dining restaurants can easily improve customer satisfaction is offering more flexibility with family meals. Possibly including a few different price point packages for variety as well as creating offerings for smaller groups of two or three with the option for a family to make selections from different protein choices, various side items, and dessert options.

COVID-19 is driving changes in what consumers are looking for to feed their families. Restaurants will be well-served to strongly consider their options and how they promote them in their various digital service channels.
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