Over the course of the continuing new coronavirus crisis, foodservice business analyst Datassential has been steadily studying and surveying changing consumer attitudes toward food prepared outside of the home. Below is a summary of the company’s fourth installment – “COVID-19 Report 4: Hands Off” – along with a link to the full report online along with its hard numbers fresh from consumers.
As cases of COVID-19 continue to skyrocket, major vulnerabilities in our healthcare system fuel even more distress. Stricter measures and shutdowns are being enforced, as pleas for “social distancing” are by many ignored.
Americans are clinging tight to any sense of normalcy, as the everyday life they knew quickly slips away. While fear and paranoia remain high, one way they are doing this is by continuing to patronize restaurants. And while the industry has taken a huge hit, foodservice continues to find new ways to stay solvent.
Pivoting to all forms of takeout has become the norm, but many restaurants are also getting creative in finding new ways to keep them coming back. Carryout and souped-up cleanliness are the new table stakes. But what else can restaurants do to comfort customers and maintain a sense of trust?
Here are highlights from Datassential’s latest wave of coronavirus research, fielded March 20-22, with 1,000 US consumers.
Concern remains high, but it’s stabilizing
While awareness of Coronavirus in the U.S. remains nearly universal, those claiming to be “very familiar” have decreased significantly from the previous wave, by 9%. With 24/7 media coverage and relentless updates, Americans may be struggling to stay on top of the latest information, causing uncertainty to grow.
More than half of consumers now avoid eating out
As of this fielding, 24 states have mandated that restaurants transition to delivery and takeout only, so the number of consumers avoiding dining at a restaurant continues to climb. Concern has grown across all demographic groups, with significant differences between men and women, parents and non-parents, married people and singles, and among generations. Numbers could increase further if more states and localities call on their citizens to shelter in place
Dine-in hits a rough patch, but consumers adapt
While many are doing their best to social distance, the reality is we still need to eat. As we’ve seen in previous waves, when it comes to meals from restaurants, the less contact the better. While people continue to avoid dining in, all forms of take out are still an option. In fact, avoidance of most forms of take out is at similar levels to popular options like discount grocers and warehouse clubs. And in some cases, take out is even more trusted. No surprise, consumers are least likely to avoid grocery stores and supercenters.
Convenience just got less convenient …
… Unless you’re a convenience store. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that one of the many benefits of restaurant takeout is the convenience. No fuss, no headaches and no dishes. There’s an opportunity for operators to provide the types of “little extras” that can make the safe transition of food into the home just a little bit easier.
Dined, sealed, delivered
Perceived risk extends even to many types of plastic disposables and packaging for takeout, seen in the majority of consumers who find all categories of to-go accessories to be at least somewhat risky. Plastic utensils sealed in plastic wrap come the closest to assuaging the concerns of nearly half of all consumers.
But relatively few people would be so risk-averse as to not eat foods that came into their home via common containers or wraps. Operators can consider sealed utensils or tamper-proof seals and stickers as one way to reassure customers that their takeout meals were handled with caution from the eatery to the home.
Operators need to go over the top
Despite growing fear and questions around food safety, consumers just want to be assured of the basics. Consumers are receptive to efforts that minimize the number of staff in contact with their food and tamper-proof seals.
Help make the transition to takeout a safe one
Anything that can ease some of the burden of these extra steps, like providing disinfecting wipes or a “handled with clean hands” stamp of reassurance, will help to boost the customer experience.