Restaurants are finding innovative ways to thrive in a new economy and learning how to meet changing consumer expectations. While there is often a lot of focus on how consumer behavior is changing in the retail sector, the way consumers interact with restaurants is also changing. Consumers are not only looking for convenience and watching their wallets, but they are relying more on contactless delivery and pickup. We analyzed consumer foot traffic at several different restaurant categories to understand how consumer behavior has changed through June 2020.
How are Restaurants Doing Overall?
As the coronavirus began and stay-at-home orders were implemented in March, foot traffic to restaurants declined significantly and dropped further in April. Many consumers stocked up on essentials at grocery stores and were more inclined to cook at home rather than go out. Foot traffic began to recover in May and June, indicating that consumers are feeling more comfortable with venturing out to eat at restaurants.
Which Restaurants are Consumers Dining At?
When consumers are dining out, they are more than likely looking for convenience and comfort foods. The food categories that have recovered the most foot traffic are ice cream shops, fast food restaurants, donut shops, Mexican restaurants, and Chinese restaurants. Ice cream shops and donut shops have so far recovered more of their foot traffic than other restaurants. To illustrate, our economic activity by state dashboard shows that foot traffic to Dairy Queen is 33% higher in June than it was in February. Nevada, Minnesota, and Maine saw increases in foot traffic to Dunkin’ Donuts.
Consumers aren’t just after their favorite desserts; they are also looking for fast food and takeout options. The graph above shows foot traffic to Mexican restaurants was still 24% lower while traffic to Chinese restaurants was 27% lower in June compared to February 2020. Despite this, these restaurants have recovered more of their foot traffic than most others, possibly due to the popularity of Mexican and Chinese food among American consumers. Foot traffic to fast food restaurants was just 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Sonic Drive-In, known for its carhops, saw significantly more foot traffic with 46% more visitors in June than in February.
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Which Restaurants are Consumers Not Dining At?
Consumers are keeping their restaurant visits short, avoiding going out to restaurants where they know that they would spend a large amount of time. Italian, Japanese, and Asian restaurants, where diners normally spend more time eating and socializing as part of the dining experience, are most impacted by this trend. The graph above shows that foot traffic to Italian restaurants was 78% lower in April than in February, and remained the category with the lowest percentage of foot traffic in June. While Japanese and Asian restaurants are recovering, foot traffic remains37% and 34% lower than pre-COVID levels, respectively.
Despite some recovery (reference graph above), bistros and buffets continued to see lower foot traffic in June. Buffets offer low prices and plenty of food, but consumers don’t seem to be as interested as they might have been pre-COVID. Consumers concerned with exposure may be avoiding restaurants where they have to touch shared utensils. Bistros are known for moderate pricing and fast service, but they still saw less foot traffic. Why? It could be that consumers often associate their favorite bistros with getting a quick bite at happy hour with friends, which isn’t possible with social distancing measures in place. Some bistros may have also pivoted fully to takeout, a delivery model, or even have remained closed due to limited space for social distancing.
Diner Trends Will Only Continue to Change
As consumer behavior continues to change due to COVID-19, restaurants will continue to adapt their business models to accommodate the preferences of diners. To keep up revenue and customer satisfaction, restaurants will need to have real-world data to help them meet customer expectations. What will consumer dining trends look like six months from now? Location intelligence is a must-have tool for marketers looking to keep up with consumer trends.