A recent survey conducted by Columbus-based national PR firm Inspire PR Group, with marketing research firm Illuminology, found that Ohioans were more concerned about distancing themselves from other diners and possibly getting sick from them than they were about contracting COVID-19 from restaurant staff.
The survey, Eating 2020: How COVID-19 Will Change Consumer Engagement with Food, also looked at how people feel about grocery stores.
From April 17-20, 2020, the firm surveyed 1,300 U.S. consumers and 500 Ohio consumers about their eating habits and food purchasing trends from both before and during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders and how they expect them to change after those orders are lifted.
The study concluded, "Key results indicate that health and safety will remain a top concern for U.S. consumers once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. The vast majority of those surveyed want grocery stores and restaurants to have employees wear face masks and encourage social distancing. However, when presented with all safety options, shoppers and diners are most concerned about the perceived health threat posed by other customers, more so than employees."
“These findings contribute data to what we’ve believed to be true, that both restaurants and groceries should prepare to meet consumer expectations for health and safety for some time to come,” said Hinda Mitchell, president of Inspire PR Group, in a study release. “Clearly defined protocols around how these businesses will keep their customers safe — mostly from other customers — will be critical to restoring trust and confidence.”
The survey predicts that restaurant traffic will decrease about 20 percent overall from before pre-COVID levels. And the main takeaways were that consumers were most concerned about distancing from other customers:
- 68 percent of those surveyed said they wanted at least six feet between tables
- 59 percent said they wanted restaurants to limit the amount of people allowed inside
- 52 percent said they would like every employee to wear a face mask
- 37 percent said they "would be extremely or very worried about getting sick from other customers if they ate a meal inside a restaurant"
- Whereas only 29 percent said the "would be extremely or very worried about getting sick from employees if they ate a meal inside a restaurant"
- Also, about 35 percent of those surveyed would prefer to eat a meal from a local restaurant vs. the 28 percent who preferred to eat at a chain
“Overall, these data tell a story of consumers’ changing purchase patterns before, during, and after an incredible shock to our economic and health systems,” said Orie Kristel, CEO of Illuminology, in the release. “Groceries and restaurants need to be especially cautious when planning their operations after COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. Although many customers likely crave a great dining or shopping experience, many customers are also concerned about potential monetary or health issues.”
A key difference between the Ohio consumer and the national consumer, however, was that Ohioans were less likely to be "extremely worried" or "very worried" about getting COVID-19 — about 31 percent (Ohio) to 44 percent (national).
Inspire PR Group's Mitchell says, “I believe that is attributable to the early actions of Governor Mike DeWine, as well as the continued communication and demonstrated impact of ‘flattening the state’s curve.’ People in Ohio have more reason to be confident in prevention measures perhaps than those in other states.”
So what does this all mean now that Gov. DeWine has announced firm dates for restaurant reopenings? Outdoor dining in Ohio is allowed to open on May 15 and indoor dining is allowed to open May 21 — as long as restaurants (and bars) follow a specific set of guidelines.
Will those same people surveyed feel comfortable returning to indoor seating, with social distancing and some type of barrier in place? It remains to be seen.