Post the pandemic-induced lockdown this year, diners expect to continue ordering home meals from restaurants, with 61% of respondents preferring takeaway and home-delivery of food, according to a survey by analytics firm Economix Consulting Group conducted mainly in Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
In the past, almost 75% of respondents used to dine out at restaurants and now there is a marked shift towards preferring takeaway and home delivery across all categories of respondents. Homemakers and working professionals demonstrated the greatest shift (51% and 37% respectively) in their preferences towards takeaway and home delivery, the study found.
More than a third of respondents dined out three times or more in a month pre-COVID, but only 11% of respondents wish to dine at restaurants, immediately once lockdown eases. Overall, women appear to be more cautious than men about venturing out to eat, with 71% preferring to dine out only after two months or more, whereas nearly half of the male respondents are keen to dine out within the next month.
Nearly 60% of diners wish to have the option between indoor and outdoor seating once they start visiting restaurants again, and more than 90% of respondents wish for a change in table arrangementsâ either all tables being operational following physical distancing protocols or reduced number of tables. Not surprisingly, a majority (86%) of the diners continue to consider seating arrangements as an extremely important factor in restaurants (pre-COVID it was 81%).
More than half of the diners prefer biodegradable (such as banana leaf) or recyclable (wood) cutlery, while just over a third of the diners prefer reusable cutleries (metal/ceramic). Diners have become cautious, with almost half of them having concerns about consuming cold /uncooked foods such as desserts, salads and fruits. More than 50% of diners plan to continue ordering non-vegetarian meals during this pandemic.
The key demand of patrons while dining out post-COVID is for the restaurants to be transparent and communicate openly with customers regarding the safety and hygiene measures they have adopted. A whopping 95% of diners admit that they would feel comfortable visiting restaurants that clearly communicate their protocols in dining and kitchen areas, with some preferring kitchens that are open for inspection by customers. Nearly 74% of the diners would like the restaurants to advertise on social media/any other medium or through posters/flyers outside the restaurant about their hygiene and safety measures.
Chennai had the highest percentage (80%) of respondents dining out at restaurants before COVID, with 40% frequenting restaurants 3 times or more a month. However, only 8% of respondents indicate a willingness to dine at restaurants immediately post lockdown. Nearly 72% wish to dine out after a minimum of 2 months. Residents in Chennai wish to have a similar dining experience as before COVID, with only 20% of diners favouring app-based ordering, and an even lower 12% preferring self-service to receive their orders.
Before the pandemic, 60% of diners preferred eating in standalone AC and franchisee restaurants, but that has changed. Nearly 50% of diners now prefer visiting fine dining and franchisee restaurants once the lockdown measures are eased.
A significant percentage (40%) of respondents preferred takeaway and home-delivery pre-COVID. Interestingly, nearly 50% of diners admit that they are highly inclined to dine out once lockdown is eased, highlighting stay-at-home fatigue. Reflecting the traffic woes of the city, 71% of respondents found âproximity to place of stayâ an important or very important factor while choosing where to dine.
Patrons desire to adopt safer methods while dining out, with a high willingness for app-based ordering and self-service of food at 44% and 37% respectively. Nearly 66% of diners frequented standalone AC and franchisee restaurants before the pandemic. In contrast to the other cities, 33% of respondents in Bengaluru now express their preference to dine at local small restaurants. Comparison of restaurant preferences between pre-COVID and post easing of lockdown restriction shows a 12% drop in a number of respondents preferring standalone restaurants.
âFrom our study, it is evident that diners do not expect to return to dining at restaurants immediately after easing of lockdown restrictions. The shift to home delivery/ takeaway is here to stay. Restaurants should take this time to focus on building trust with consumers, as diners exercise extreme caution in choosing where to eat/order," said Latha Ramanathan, Founder & CEO, Economix Consulting Group (ECG).
"Measures such as strengthening of social media presence, innovative branding, and packaging techniques, and spreading awareness of hygiene and safety protocols followed at the restaurant will go a long way in bridging the trust deficit with patrons. Fundamentals of excellent taste and hygienic preparation aside; prominent announcements of staff vaccinations, strict adherence to safety protocols, and a socially distanced dining experience appear to be the demands of the "New Normal,â she added.