indoor dining

Indoor dining is back & customers want quality, rewards

Prices may be up, cost of living may be up, but indoor dining is nevertheless back on the menu big time.

The recent TouchBistro 2022 Diner Trends Report released Wednesday and based on surveys conducted in June and July found that 44 per cent of consumers are now indoor dining at a restaurant at least once per week or more, while 78 per cent are going out at least once per month.

In comparison, just 27 per cent of the consumers surveyed report that they order takeout or delivery at least once a week, a notable decrease from the mid-pandemic trend of takeout being as popular as, if not more than, indoor dining.

The younger the age group, the more likely the guest is to dine out, found TouchBistro. While 62 per cent of Gen Z and 57 per cent of millennial guests are dining out weekly or more, less than half of Gen X (48 per cent) and baby boomers (36 per cent) are doing so.

This suggests that, though menu prices have risen significantly over the past year along with decades-high rates of inflation in both Canada and the U.s., the desire to return to indoor dining at restaurants is outweighing inflationary worries for many.

Diners want high-quality food

So, consumers are keen to eat at restaurants. But what is the deciding factor when choosing a place to visit?

The report found that food quality is the top priority for consumers, cited by more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of respondents. That came in just ahead of location (66 per cent), customer service (64 per cent), price (62 per cent), and safety/hygiene (61 per cent). Decision-making is also influenced by cravings — three-quarters of Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers choose a restaurant based on the type of food they want to eat.

Meanwhile, consumers are also keen to keep supporting local and independent restaurants. Most consumers who dine out (63 per cent) choose these restaurants over chains, the TouchBistro survey results show.

Just as interesting for restaurateurs will be what is not such a big deal to diners.

Dietary-specific menus (19 per cent), live music (11 per cent), and QR code menus (10 per cent) were all dismissed as important factors by the majority of responding consumers.

Notably, the report found that less than half (46 per cent) of respondents said that menu price increases would somewhat impact their decision to visit a restaurant, suggesting that many diners are willing to withstand some price increases to enjoy the food they love.

Loyalty and social media play a big role

The role of loyalty programs in capturing the interest of the modern consumer has been much discussed in recent months, and the report found that nearly nine in 10 (86 per cent of) consumers are interested in joining a restaurant loyalty program if it provides discounts or coupons.

Four in 10 Gen Z and millennial consumers are already members of a rewards program, and among diners who order takeout weekly or more, 58 per cent engage with a loyalty program at least once per week.

While chains have typically been, and remain, more likely than independent restaurants to offer loyalty programs, the report found that independent restaurants might benefit from offering this incentive, given that consumers already want to support them. Consumers, particularly those in the younger generations, access restaurants from a variety of channels, so loyalty programs should provide rewards for both digital and dine-in occasions.

Indeed, social media is a crucial channel right now. One in five Gen Z diners prefer to engage with restaurants via social media, according to the TouchBistro report. Gen Z is also more likely to be swayed by social media and Instagram influencers; 39 per cent of these consumers reported they have tried a new restaurant based solely on the recommendation of an influencer. While Instagram is still the key social media channel, TikTok is on the rise — 21 per cent of Gen Zers check out this platform before dining out.

“Our research shows that the pandemic hasn’t permanently changed habits among diners and that’s good news for today’s restaurateurs,” said Samir Zabaneh, CEO of TouchBistro.

“While innovations have made it easier to order takeout, it’s clear that convenience hasn’t replaced the desire to dine in. Restaurants need to return to the key actions they know worked before the pandemic and that their customers loved, as these go a long way in building customers for life.”