Market Force Information conducted a comprehensive study of consumer sentiment over the last two weeks during this COVID-19 pandemic. With precautionary government restrictions in place, we see consumer expectations and behaviors changing in real-time. To ensure we can effectively consult our multi-location clients through this challenge, we wanted to understand the new dynamics of the marketplace. As expectations and behaviors are likely to last well past the current crisis, insights learned from this study are important to take note of as brands re-engineer their 2020 plan.

Between April 6 and 8, we surveyed almost 4,000 consumers across the United States and asked them about their restaurant and retail experiences along with their perceptions of how local and federal governments are doing in response to the spread of Coronavirus.

The most notable findings of this study centered on restaurant perceptions, as we learned that 21% of our respondents visited a new restaurant in the last two weeks. Of those diners, over half (52%) visited a new restaurant based on the availability of drive-thru service. While over 90% of these consumers are preparing meals at home more frequently, they do run out of ideas or food at home and eventually venture out for something different to eat. In light of the current situation, it is no surprise that many diners chose a restaurant with a drive-thru option.

The second driver for going to a new restaurant is the convenience of a carry-out or curbside pick-up with 32% of respondents indicating the availability of this service is was what led them to try a new restaurant option. Great news for brands pivoting operations in the moment to optimize this service channel and likely the main topic of discussion for brands who have not yet developed this service channel before the crisis hit. A client shared how proud they were of their operators as they implemented this service on the fly – from order ahead technology to packaging and distributing food orders. However, they acknowledged that they now need to develop an operational process and curbside pick-up best practices to share with all franchise locations.

The survey result that struck me as counter-intuitive to thoughts we might have had about the restaurant industry pre-pandemic, was the fact that 21% of diners chose a new restaurant for the first time because it was less crowded, an interesting observation. Outside of long wait times, diners tend to choose restaurants that are popular and are crowded, suggesting that we succeeded at picking a hotspot as we satisfy our desire for social interaction. As we learn that a new driver of consumer behavior when selecting a restaurant is the appearance of fewer people, the insight gained from this data speaks to a possible forced decline in dining room traffic once restaurants open back up.

Three key considerations as restaurants navigate the next several weeks or months is

1.) How to best support curbside pick-up orders, as this service channel will likely be a significant service option,

2.) How to manage spatial distancing for team members, and

3.) How best to manage the space between tables and guests for dine-in seating.

To learn more on these findings please get in touch or, click below to download the webinar overview of the study.
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As Managing Director, Brad Christian consults multi-location businesses on optimizing the customer experience. With a focus on driving location level performance improvement in both customer loyalty and financial metrics, he helps client organizations prioritize initiatives based on their potential to deliver ROI.