Your Guide to the Restaurant Guest During COVID-19

700+ restaurant guests share how their expectations have changed during the COVID-19 health crisis.

As I sit down to write this, I reflect on the first meal I’ve enjoyed out in months: on a patio, with masked servers, and with an even stronger appreciation for great hospitality. Pre-COVID-19, it wouldn’t be that unusual for me to have two or three interactions with restaurants in a single day. But as states step into reopening, and others close back down, the daily rhythms of our interactions with restaurants have changed — and dramatically reduced. 

Early in the COVID-19 health crisis, restaurants around the U.S. saw their daily sales decline by 80% compared to last year. Generally, those sales are starting to trend upwards again, but things remain, and will remain, different. Restaurateurs are now faced with figuring out how to overhaul the way they operate their businesses in this new world. 

We set out at the beginning of the year to understand guest behavior and trends to inform our restaurant community and the products we could build to support them. Just as we were about to hit publish on the results, the whole world changed, and restaurants were forced to shut their doors. So we ran our guest survey a second time and have a trove of before and after data to share with you.

Some guests are eager to get back to their favorite spots; others are wary and will stick to takeout and delivery for now. Everyone is navigating the new normal with a new perspective: what their expectations are of restaurants, how they choose whether and where to eat out, and what great hospitality looks like to them.

A few months ago, my own decisions, like those of the guests we surveyed, were based primarily on value and food quality. Now, though, safety is the highest priority, with the majority of guests sharing that certain safety measures like PPE and staff interaction would determine whether or not they’d return to a restaurant at all. Guests also have new expectations for the role technology should play in creating safe dining experiences.

Wherever your restaurant is on the curve — still sticking with takeout and delivery, open for outdoor dining only, or navigating new regulations for indoor dining — meeting guest expectations is as important now as it’s ever been. We hope this guide helps you make the best decisions you can about operating your restaurant, using technology, and ultimately creating memorable dining experiences.

Download the full guide to map your restaurant guests’ experiences through every stage of the dining journey today. And below, check out a selection of top insights from the guide.

Guide to the Restaurant Guest
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Guide to the Restaurant Guest

Learn how to navigate changing guest expectations during and after the COVID-19 health crisis.

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1. Technology Needs to Provide Speed, Efficiency, and Contactless Interactions

When asked which technologies would be most important to their on-premise dining experiences during and after the COVID-19 health crisis, restaurant guests reported that drive-through availability will be most important – with 37% of respondents marking it as extremely important. We’ve seen some restaurants, like Herb & Beet, use handheld POS devices to facilitate makeshift drive-through stations.

Other technologies that stood out as important to guests’ dining experiences during and after the COVID-19 health crisis are contactless / mobile payment availability (34%), pay at the table technology (33%), and online ordering (33%).

The growing importance of these technologies underscores the importance of speed, efficiency, and contactless interactions during (and after) the time of COVID-19. Read the guide to see how this research compares to what we ran back in January.

2. Safety and Cleanliness Are the Highest Priority

Safety and cleanliness are more than growing concerns for guests – a lack of caution and diligence is enough to make them not return to a restaurant. 43% of respondents marked attention to cleanliness and safety as a big influence in whether or not they return to a restaurant.

Staff members appearing to be ill would drive a large majority of guests to never visit a restaurant again, with 50% of guests saying they would definitely not visit a restaurant again if they noticed that. A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) is another big influencer, with 32% of survey respondents reporting that they would definitely not visit a restaurant again if they noticed that workers weren’t wearing PPE.

Guests also reported that cleanliness and safety must also be an important part of off-premise dining experiences.

The main takeaway here is that restaurateurs need to prioritize safety, cleanliness, and health to put guests at ease. And as it relates to takeout and delivery, restaurateurs need to regularly communicate safety and cleaning procedures – on their websites, across their social media accounts, and in apps – to make guests feel at ease, even when they’re not physically present.

3. Off-Premise Is Here to Stay

With our research, we wanted to understand if guests’ dining preferences have been affected by COVID-19.

The majority of guests reported that there would be no change to their dining preferences. But a segment of respondents shared that they would be ordering takeout and delivery more than they were prior to the COVID-19 health crisis.

15% of guests reported that they would order takeout more, while 12% of guests reported that they would order takeout significantly more. 13% of guests reported that they would order delivery more, while 10% of guests reported that they would order delivery significantly more.

As it relates to on-premise dining, 22% of guests reported that there would be no change to their dining preferences. But 20% of guests reported that they would dine out at restaurants significantly less.

With the research to back it up, I think we can safely say that off-premise is here to stay and will remain a crucial part of restaurants’ strategies moving forward.

Guide to the Restaurant Guest
icon RESOURCE

Guide to the Restaurant Guest

Learn how to navigate changing guest expectations during and after the COVID-19 health crisis.

Download

You must have Javascript enabled in order to submit forms on our website. If you'd like to contact Toast please call us at:

(857) 301-6002

First and Last Name is required
Phone Number is required
Restaurant Name is required
What is your role? is required
Yes, I’d like a demo of Toast, a restaurant technology platform.
Yes, I'd like a demo of Toast is required
loadingspinner

Just so you know, we’ll handle your info according to our privacy statement.

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