Canadians want indoor dining, technology, and to support local

Canadians are looking forward to returning to restaurants as long as safety measures are in place finds the 2021 Discerning Diner Report from Angus Reid and Restaurants Canada.

In particular, 89 per cent of Canadians are looking forward to eating out with friends and family, with 64 per cent going so far as to say that dining out will be an important part of their lifestyle post-pandemic.

Young consumers in particular miss the restaurant experience they had pre-pandemic. 63% per cent of consumers aged 18-34 say they miss the fun and 61 per cent miss the atmosphere.

But the biggest thing all Canadians miss about table-service dining is socializing and connecting with friends and family (72 per cent).

Some concerns remain, though. One-third (32 per cent) of Canadians are still tentative about eating in-person and plan to postpone their first in-person dining experience until at least a few months after the industry reopened.

The report notes this poses a significant challenge for the industry in the short- to mid-term as restaurants are unable to maximize in-person dining revenues with fewer patrons. 

Delivering excellence

Canadians are picky when it comes to their food delivery orders. The most important factors when choosing to order delivery range from consistency of food quality (73 per cent), craveable menu items (59 per cent), and whether they’ve visited in-person before (51 per cent), to more economical considerations like value for money (48 per cent) and whether it has a low or no delivery fee (43 per cent). 

Once the pandemic subsides, delivery will be the preferred choice for 18-34-year-olds when eating off-premise at a quick-service restaurant. Even for table-service restaurants, 39 per cent of young Canadians said they will prefer to order takeout by going inside and picking up, while 37 per cent will order delivery.

Consumers are twice as likely to order delivery directly from a table-service restaurant by phone or restaurant app (20 per cent) than via third-party apps (10 per cent).

“The developments and improvements made to delivery and takeout containers, food quality and speed have made a lasting, positive impression,” says Barclay. “Restaurateurs and chefs will need to continue to innovate in order to increase margins on takeout and delivery, but they can count on people visiting in-person instead of just virtually as restrictions subside.”

Supporting local

Many restaurants were aided by “support local” movements and sentiment during the pandemic, and that doesn’t look likely to stop soon.

87 per cent of Canadians are interested in ordering food sourced from local farmers or using Canadian produce, and almost one-quarter are interested in purchasing groceries from a restaurant in the future. 41 per cent of consumers ages 18-34 indicate an interest in monthly meal subscriptions, especially if offered at a discounted price.  

“These food trends are encouraging for the restaurants who adapted to pandemic closures by pivoting their business model to include local grocery and meal kit options for consumers,” says Barclay. “These findings reiterate the need for restaurants to look at new revenue streams in order to survive and grow.” 

Attracting new diners

With Canadians eager to return to in-person dining, what can restaurants be doing to stand out, re-engineer their menus, capture consumer attention, and keep them coming back?

Seeing a restaurant on Facebook is reportedly just as effective as hearing about it in a commercial or an advertisement on TV/radio. Instagram is among the top factors for 34 per cent of Canadians ages 18-34 when choosing to try a new spot.

Overall, 37 per cent of Canadians would choose one restaurant over another if it offered contactless or mobile payment options, and 51 per cent of those 18-34 would choose one restaurant over another if they can order online through a website or app to pick up at a restaurant

Ultimately, convenience is key when it comes to technological innovations, especially when appealing to younger audiences. The power of social media shouldn’t be overlooked.

 “With the amount of innovation that’s transformed the market over the past two years, there are several new ways to help bump your business to the top of someone’s must-visit list,” adds Barclay. “We’ve seen restaurants completely pivot their business model, market to completely new demographics with great success and implement new technology that streamlines efficiency.”

Know what’s in-demand

What your business offers is also just as important. After a tough lockdown, 78 per cent of Canadians are interested in ordering comfort foods from restaurants, alongside foods that promote health and wellness (73 per cent) and natural or unprocessed foods (70 per cent).

Meatless and vegetarian entrée options remain far more popular among Canadians ages 18-34 (54 per cent) than those aged 35-54 (37 per cent) and 55+ (27 per cent). 

“Canadians may be ready to return to restaurants, however some of their tastes and priorities have changed,” concludes Barclay.

“The Discerning Diner report provides our members with the information they need to make choices around everything from menu selections and customer service options, to marketing initiatives and possible new revenue streams that today’s consumer is interested in. As more Canadians return to in-person dining, restaurants will need to continue adapting to capture market share.”