How many consumers plan to return to dine-in when restaurants reopen? According to Long Island Restaurant News, an auspicious 67%. So begins the procession of polls of innumerable variety about consumer attitudes toward restaurant reopenings. For example, another informal pollster claimed that 50.9% of consumers plan on dining out “as often as before” after restaurants reopen. Yet another poll dated May 2 found that 40% of respondents intend to return to restaurants “immediately and often” after restrictions on table and bar service are lifted.
The numbers continue to drift lower with more formal surveys. In California, respondents dwindle to 35% in an Emerson College poll who said they would be comfortable dining out, even with social distancing precautions.
A nationwide poll by The University of Maryland lowers that number even further, claiming that only 26% of respondents say that restaurants “should” allow dine-in service, and only 22% would feel comfortable eating out at a restaurant themselves.
With results spanning -22% to -67%, only one thing is certain: patronage will certainly be much less than pre-coronavirus. Not all of the polls are negative, however. Michigan Consumer Sentiment data from this Friday surprised to the upside. The University of Michigan’s index rose 1.9 points from an eight-year low to 73.7, beating the median analyst estimate of 68.
Surviving on Paycheck Protection Program loans or other forms of bridge credit, many restaurant owners are nearing the end of their eight week grace period. Fortunately, owners have cut costs to survive as sales plunged to 35-year inflation-adjusted lows, furloughing roughly 8 million of the restaurant industry’s 11 million workers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, food establishments generated $32.4 billion in sales during April. That figure is less than half of February’s $65.4 billion.
State officials are also easing restrictions, with over 27 states allowing sit-down dining service. Reopenings provide statisticians with some preliminary data on actual consumer behavior. Results from Georgia’s first two weeks of dining room reopenings show a 61% sales decline versus the same two weeks of 2019, for example. On a more positive note, revenues at Georgia’s full-service restaurants exceeded their takeout-only counterparts by 74.2%, proving that there is pent-up demand among consumers for dining service.
NPD Group also released optimistic data from its network of point-of-sale systems inside restaurants, showing a sales decline of 26% as of May 3, a “better” decline than Restaurant365’s estimated 46% decline in year-over-year sales for open restaurants, also as of May 3.