Phase Two Has Come. What Now?

How are you dealing with the reopening of restaurants? Most people still have a great many concerns, and are wary of going out. You can reopen restaurants, but you cannot control consumer demand. People need to feel safe and comfortable. I live in Alexandria, VA. The city is going into its second week in Phase 2 of reopening. Restaurants can now have indoor seating at 50% capacity. But my wife and I have not dined indoors yet. We’re just not ready to do so. There are still concerns.

Many people are cautious right now. Zagat recently did a Future of Dining Study in association with the James Beard Foundation. The goal was to gain insight into the mindsets and behavior of consumers as they pertain to the pandemic, and to measure the possible impact on restaurants. The study was an online survey of 45 multiple choice and open ended questions. It recorded 6775 responses, and had an 80% completion rate. The survey asked people about their interests, habits, and concerns about dining out during the pandemic. The results were very eye opening.

  • Most people are not going to warm up quickly to the idea of dining out again. I originally thought that the day restrictions were lifted, that people would be out in droves. That is not the case. According to the study, only 7% said that they would dine in a restaurant within a week of opening. Most stated that they would wait 3 to 4 weeks, or more, after dining indoors was available.
  • The respondents chose outdoor dining over indoor dining. Of those interviewed, 77% said that outdoor dining would more than likely entice them to eat out. When it comes to indoor dining, 67% said that it would tempt them to return, but only with social distancing through reduced seating.
  • Three out of four respondents stated that Health and Safety Concerns were their biggest deterrent to returning, this far outweighed financial reasons at 15%.
  • Loss of atmosphere from social distancing was also a concern. The main product we sell in the hospitality industry is the experience, not the food. If that aspect is lost, even for a justifiable reason, it will affect business. People love their favorite places mainly due to the atmosphere. If the atmosphere is hindered, sales will decline.
  • Cooking at home, as expected, has grown dramatically. Breakfast cooked at home went from 51% before the pandemic to 69% during it. Lunch went from 31% to 71%. And dinner went from 41% to 80%.
  • Most diners, 70%, would feel more comfortable returning to restaurants who were following CDC Guidelines. Visible Safety Plans were also highly favored by 60% of the respondents.

A piece of good news from the survey was that 57% of respondents said that they missed their favorite neighborhood spots. The other establishments were favorite fine dining establishments at 33% and favorite cocktail bars at 8%.  These types of establishments are mostly smaller companies. So it is good to see that they will gain a lot of support as things reopen. Only 2% said their favorite fast food or fast casual chain were missed. Not surprising since most people visit these locations due more to convenience than loyalty.

People naturally want to help their neighbors who are small business owners. My wife and I know many of the local restaurant owners in our area. Those local restaurants that offer outdoor seating were the first places we visited once Phase 2 started.  There is a Starbucks around the corner from us that opened back up last week. I am not going there. There are too many local coffee places that need my money and support. Starbucks does not.

So, how should we deal with the reopening of restaurants? The answer is actually easy, we each do it in our own way. There is no formula or set way. We all need to take into consideration the amount of cases and trends in our area. We also need to consider our own health and age.

So if you do consider going back out, here are a few safety tips from the CDC:

  • Smaller groups are safer. Small groups reduce the risk of spread. As does dining with people with whom you have been quarantining. It is tempting to add new people, but doing so does increase your risk of infection.
  • Wear a Facemask. I know, we all hate it. And you can’t eat while wearing one. But it is safer to have one on when you are not eating. Especially when you are walking through the dining room or going to the restroom.
  • Dine Outside. The virus does not spread as easily outside. So if this is an option when dining out, take it.
  • Limit your time together. Limiting time together reduces the chance of spread.
  • Try to keep a distance. Make sure that you are keeping social distancing in mind. Keep a distance from others, and wear that mask when moving around the restaurant.
  • Bring hand sanitizer. Keeping your hands clean will help reduce the risk of catching it yourself or spreading it to others.

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