With lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions beginning to lift across Canada and vaccine rates continuing to climb, more and more patrons are ready to return to indoor dining.
According to data from The NPD Group, nearly half (46 per cent) of Canadians plan to physically eat at a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop in light of loosened restrictions.
Indoor dining and on-premises restaurant orders have climbed since the beginning of the pandemic but were still down 85 per cent in April 2021 compared to April 2019. Meanwhile, off-premises orders and visits including takeout, drive-thru, and delivery were up 28 per cent across the same period, according to NPD Group data.
Overall, total commercial foodservice orders across Canada were down 23 per cent in April compared to April 2019, according to NPD’s continual tracking of the Canadian foodservice industry.
Social interaction has been missed
It’s not just the food and indoor experience that patrons have been missing with restaurants shut down.
46 per cent of consumers told NPD that spending time with friends is what they have missed most about visiting restaurants and foodservice outlets, followed by 36 per cent citing spending time with family and relatives.
Meanwhile, over a third of consumers said they miss eating something special that they can’t cook at home, one of the primary reasons restaurants are in business.
Operators ensuring a hygienic and safe environment will be of paramount importance in attracting customers back, as 50 per cent of Canadians say good hygiene at restaurants will be more important to them than before the pandemic. That sentiment was heard most among the older demographic.
Supporting local and independent restaurants and the local economy was important to 44 per cent of consumers.
“As we approach our ‘1 Dose Summer’ with some provinces already re-opening, Canadians will have the opportunity to socialize with their family and friends at their favourite restaurants,” says Vince Sgabellone, NPD foodservice industry analyst. “We can also expect to see the on-premises traffic deficits shrink in the coming months. Although even with restrictions lifting, the growth in digital will continue now that some consumers are accustomed to ordering online.”
Sgabellone had noted in late May that the industry should expect to see an explosion of pent-up demand for indoor dining as restrictions continued to be loosened moving into summer.
He cited the rush back to dining rooms that was seen in February after dine-in restrictions were eased in Canada’s largest provinces. Dine-in restaurant visits increased by 4 percentage points in February compared to January, an increase of 10.5 million visits versus the prior month.
In early May 2020, when there was a similar break from COVID-19 restrictions, on-premises restaurant visits rose steadily at both quick-service restaurants (QSR) and full-service restaurants (FSR) benefited from this lift. By the time restrictions began again in October, FSRs had returned to serving more than half of all their customers in-person.
The return to indoor dining also heralds an increase in consumer spending. Diners enjoy the full experience of eating out, and tend to be more inclined to buy more items and spend more money when eating out compared to ordering in or taking out. Therefore, notes Sgabellone, the net economic benefit of welcoming customers back into the restaurants is much larger than the level of the bump in traffic.