A new survey on COVID-19 suggests 52 percent of Canadians intend to avoid restaurants for the foreseeable future.
The Angus Reid survey found that physical layout appears to be the most important issue for people as 26 percent of Canadians intend to avoid restaurants for this reason. About 10 percent of Canadians say they will avoid establishments due to their food safety reputation. And about one fifth, or 22 percent, of Canadians will avoid establishments for an undisclosed reason.
This shows that even when businesses reopen, they will need to work hard to gain back the confidence of customers. British Columbia, at 56 percent, has the highest rate of respondents who intend to avoid restaurants due to public health concerns, followed by Ontario at 55 percent. The lowest rate is in Saskatchewan, at 37 percent, according to the survey.
Sylvain Charlebois, the lead author of the report and Professor, Food Distribution and Policy, Faculties of Management and Agriculture, Dalhousie University, said consumers have a foot on the gas as well as having a foot on the brake.
“Canadians are split. They’re not sure what they’re going to do. Some are eager of course. About one Canadian in five are eager to go out as soon as possible but there is a majority of Canadians who are unsure. They’re not sure if going to the restaurant is a good idea and frankly I would say that after three months of hearing about COVID, and only about COVID, I think people are just kind of mesmerized a little bit,” said Charlebois.
“They don’t think beyond their kitchen. And frankly I think for operators the biggest challenge, the biggest competitor, that they’re now facing is our own kitchen to get us out of there and into dining halls, on patios. It’s going to be very difficult to do.”
But results of the survey also suggest many Canadians kept ordering food regularly from restaurants during the pandemic. It found that 64 percent of Canadians have ordered food at least every two weeks from a restaurant. Saskatchewan has the highest rate of respondents who ordered during the pandemic at 76 percent. The Atlantic region has the lowest at 58 percent. Younger people were more likely to order out from a restaurant. It said 81 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 to 34 years old had ordered from restaurants, the highest rate among age groups. About 29 percent of Canadians ordered from restaurants at least once a week, and nine percent have ordered food once a week since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Canadians appear to have never given up on restaurants, but when you’re at home, there are limitations to enjoying food prepared by a restaurant,” said Charlebois.
“It was a pleasant surprise. Clearly Canadians haven’t given up on restaurants. I actually didn’t expect that percentage to be as high as that to be honest. You can see that people really wanted to support their local outlets and continue to do so for 12 weeks.
“The other pleasant surprise was to see the number of Canadians wanting to support independent operators as well. That was actually quite pleasant to see. A lot of people are focusing on independent operators knowing that they don’t necessarily have the same kind of support as major chains would. That was actually quite reassuring as well.”
When asked the type of restaurant they would first visit, 64 percent said independent while 39 percent said franchise/chain.
When asked what they were missing the most from not going to a restaurant, 37 percent said enjoying time with family and friends and 22 percent said just being outside the house.
Howard Ramos, Professor of Sociology at Dalhousie University and one of the report’s collaborators, said that “people say they won’t rush back to restaurants, but almost everyone plans to go back eventually. This will be hard for SMEs who may already be on the brink of failing, and it means gift cards or other means of supporting them in the reboot is needed.”
Respondents in Ontario appear to be most concerned about a potential second COVID-19 wave as 43 percent of Ontarians plan to wait until such a second wave has occurred. Alberta ranks second in being most concerned by a second wave at 33 percent.
“I think it’s going to be a work in progress. Some people actually feel that restaurant operators will cut corners in order to make sure that they are profitable because it’s not going to be easy for them,” said Charlebois. “I don’t believe that at all. I actually do think that operators will want to make sure that Canadians are as safe as possible back and in front of the house. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the kitchen or on the patio where food and drinks are being served. I do believe that operators are fully aware that they’re dealing with a customer base that is essentially shell-shocked by what has happened over the last three months.
“COVID came quite violently in our lives. I think we need to appreciate that and restaurant operators will actually feel that they have a duty to bring some fun back into our lives.”
When Canadians were asked what they expect to see when they visit a restaurant as they reopen, 78 percent said they expect to see more personal protective equipment worn by staff, 60 per cent expect to see more plexiglass. At the same time, 36 percent of Canadians expect slower service and 29 percent expect menu changes or fewer choices. Interestingly, a total of 12 percent expect to see mannequins and dolls to fill seats to make an establishment look full.