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Not all customers will return to restaurants post-pandemic: MRA survey

25 percent of consumers also worried about takeout food safety

As restaurant operators prepare for the tough fight ahead as they reopen restaurants with state- and locally-mandated restrictions, there is a lingering question: Will customers come back post-COVID-19? According to a new report from Market Research Answers (MRA), the answer may be not likely—at least not in the short term. In a survey conducted with 1,000 consumers, half of them indicated they were concerned about restaurant operators’ ability to ensure safety for customers and staff when they reopen dining rooms.

Moving forward, 43 percent of survey respondents anticipate that restaurant purchases will be less than before COVID-19. Currently, 25 percent say that they are concerned about food safety in takeout orders, including pick-up and delivery. Plus, reduced income will be another impediment. A total of 43 percent of consumers expect household incomes to be lower this year than in 2019.

“It’s a big industry, accounting (for) 10 percent of total nonagricultural employment in the U.S., so what we see unfolding for restaurants offers some perspective on how quickly the broader economy will turnaround,” said Harold Gross, president of MRA.

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As some white-collar workers continue to work at home permanently after stay-at-home orders are lifted, the future for on-premises dining or even quick, lunch daypart off-premise restaurant purchases could be permanently impacted. The MRA survey also finds that 75 percent of consumers are cooking more at home, which is not suprising during state and local travel and work restrictions.

Gross added, “There’s been a lot of speculation about whether a recovery looks like a ‘V’ or a ‘U’. We think it’s going to look like a flattened sine-wave, oscillating up and down as secondary and tertiary impacts ripple through.”

Photo credit: Edrece Stansberry

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