Dine-in closures and social distancing have introduced consumers to a new dining experience. Currently, Datassential is providing all their Coronavirus reports and resources for free. Datassential is a food industry market research firm. This data focuses on consumers’ concerns and approaches in navigating life through COVID-19. Over the span of the last two months, they have conducted many surveys to discover how consumers feel. As places ease into re-opening, this information can make it a better and safe experience.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID epidemic, it’s unsure what the long-term impact will be on restaurants and consumer trends. But, places are eager to open and begin serving their customers. In preparation, we’ve collected data and insights on the most recent trends. The way customers now interact with restaurants has changed. Make note of the trends below to better understand what your customers want and expect from you.

Here are five dining trends among consumers during COVID:

1. Comfort Food Takes It All

What are people seeking amidst the COVID crisis? Comfort.  As diners make their way back into restaurants, 68% of people are most likely to dive into an indulgent dish. While only 32% of people are looking for a  healthy one. Based on a current Datassential survey, here are the top foods that consumers crave and miss:

  1. Mexican food
  2. Seafood
  3. Asian food
  4. Pizza
  5. Burgers
  6. Italian food
  7. Steak

People are searching for relief and a sense of normalcy during this time. Restaurants and the food they serve just so happen to provide this. This pandemic is increasing stress levels, hence, people turning to comfort foods.

This trend is also noticed not only within restaurants but also in grocery stores. People are straying away from trying new things and want to hold onto familiar favorites. There’s power in food to make your guests feel safe in all this chaos.

2. Dinner Food Is At Its Peak

Before the coronavirus outbreak, lunch was the top time for restaurant traffic. But, according to the most recent Datassential surveys, it is now dinner. About 12% of consumers who ordered from a restaurant on March 24th, ordered lunch. On April 30th, this number jumped to 18%. But, dinner still takes the win. On March 24th, it was 16% and then jumped to 24% for the following month.

Considering this, restaurants have begun to optimize their menu offering during this time. Family-style meals are being created to provide food for all, and more for the next day.

We’ve also seen places selling their meats and other inventory for takeout. This provides people with take-home food to cook themselves.

Give your customers an extension of your offerings. You have to be creative to drive your customers in a down market.

3. It’s all about convenience in delivery

As a result of the shift to off-premise dining, consumers want to receive food in an easy way. 80% of consumers say they feel safe accepting food from a drive-thru and curbside pickup. For delivery, that number drops to 75% and drops to 71% for inside to pick up.

Moving forward, this trend will remain unchanged. Make sure that the actions taken to deliver your customers’ food is done safely.

Ordering ahead in your restaurant needs to be accessible. Pre-coronavirus, online ordering, and delivery were already on the rise. The pandemic accelerated this trend.

Get set up with online ordering for delivery and takeout. Furthermore, keep your guests safe with a curbside management solution. With both of these tools, you can stay on top of the delivery trend.

4. To-go Craft Cocktails

In another effort to give customers familiar favorites, to-go cocktails are another trend that’s arisen over the last few months. This is a first in many states. Make sure you check with your state’s liquor regulations and COVID guidelines to do this.

To-go cocktails are the perfect silver lining for both your restaurant and guests. It’s more revenue and an extra incentive for guests to order takeout.

These craft cocktails range from pre-batched craft mixers to large format specialty drinks. These take-home bottled cocktails make consumers feel connected to restaurants once again. So, whether it’s your Time Killer rum infusion or classic Old Fashioned, make it available to-go. Happy hour is now “virtual” but craft cocktails can make it feel much the same.

5. Growing Support

At a time where we can’t be together, there has been a rise giving back to restaurants. Since social distancing began, restaurants are providing a sense of normalcy for customers. But even better, the top reason for wanting to visit restaurants is to provide support.

We can see that there is a growing drive in diners wanting to support their local restaurants. In reference to Datassential’s finding, consumers’ desire to support restaurants grew by 8%.

Right now, community support is everything. From the perspective of management, look at this as an opportunity to provide aid to the community as well. When your customers see you’re also doing all that you can to help, their efforts will increase as well.

We’ve seen so many different ways restaurants have been partnering within their community. If you need some examples to give you an idea, we’ve outlined some for you here.

What’s to come next?

While consumers wait for doors to reopen, restaurants must prepare for the unknown. It’s going to take some time to discover what the “new normal” will be. There is still going to be some avoidance of eating out. It’s important to evenly put your efforts towards online ordering and on-premise dining.   

There’s still hope and we must remain optimistic despite the hard toll the industry has taken. Until the next phase, use the trends above as insight to see how diners are interacting with restaurants. These will help your business get back on its feet and better connect with your customers.

It’s better to work together towards recovery. Make sure you’re providing something your guests can’t get elsewhere. Get ready with our free COVID-19 Restaurant Recovery Guide. This will help you prepare again for normal business to return again. We will get through the challenges together.