New Report Shows People Prefer A Pre-COVID Restaurant Experience

Despite the major changes inflicted on the restaurant industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report indicates that the majority of diners are ready to ditch pandemic-era trends in favor of more traditional dining experiences (via QSR Magazine).

According to a sweeping consumer research report by Near, which surveyed a wide swath of consumers about their current dining experience preferences, while modern customer conveniences (like expanded delivery options and upgraded rewards programs) have grown in popularity, traditional restaurant dining is still, by and large, the most popular way to eat out.

The report indicated that despite record-high inflation levels and an increasingly unstable global economy, dining out levels have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. On average, consumers reported purchasing food from restaurants (from in-house dining, delivery, and takeout) an average of 9.1 times per month, compared to 9.7 times per month pre-pandemic.

The report also showed that a majority of restaurant-goers prefer a more traditional dining experience, indicating that pandemic-era restaurant trends (like QR code menus and mobile ordering) aren't popular with consumers. While 72% of consumers said they prefer it when a waiter attends their table, just 17% and 18% of diners said they enjoy QR code and kiosk ordering, respectively.

The majority of customers support a waiter experience

Researchers also found that the average diner's expectations for their restaurant experiences has risen since the onset of the pandemic, with an emphasis on specialized dining experiences. Per QSR Magazine, when asked about their reasons to dine at a restaurant, the top responses from consumers included craving a certain type of food (64% of respondents), to celebrate a special occasion (58%), not wanting to cook (58%), and enjoying the ambiance (43%)

One pandemic dining trend that did appear to have staying power was increased outdoor dining options. Over half of respondents said that they prioritized or appreciated outdoor seating options when selecting a restaurant. Diners also voiced approval for the growing trend of restaurant loyalty programs (via QSR web).

"While establishments have always relied on punch cards and coupon offers, digital loyalty programs offer a huge opportunity to create a deep relationship with customers that our report shows leads to increased loyalty and revenue," said Near CEO Anil Mathews, according to QSR Magazine.

Restaurants have continued to invest more in delivery options

Despite the fact that delivery continues to be a popular method of dining out, just 28% of respondents said they enjoy app-based delivery and pickup orders, and 36% said they enjoyed online ordering. Unsurprisingly, among younger demographics delivery apps were more popular, with around half of millennial and Gen Z diners saying they'd be more likely to dine at a restaurant with a delivery app presence — compared to 13% of diners over the age of 45, according to Near CEO Anil Mathews (via QSR Magazine).

However, industry trends indicate that as delivery continues to be a major money maker for eateries, restaurants will continue to expand their takeout and delivery options, potentially including the continued rise of ghost kitchens. According to Near, many restaurant chains could prioritize choosing "new locations that may have smaller footprints, less space for indoor tables, and also locations with good road traffic to allow for smooth takeout and delivery options" to maximize their delivery and takeout earning potential.

As a whole, while diners indicated that modern touches — like the wide availability of delivery app ordering, increased customer loyalty rewards, and more outdoor seating options — are appreciated, at the end of the day consumers still crave a dining experience that reminds them of simpler pre-pandemic times.