In the last couple of years, consumer behaviors have shifted significantly in almost every way imaginable, and the restaurant industry was among one of the most immediately and profoundly impacted. Restaurants have had to innovate and rapidly evolve in their fight to survive.
In Near’s new report, The New World of Consumer Behavior: Restaurants 2022, we surveyed diners across generational lines to discover their dining habits, preferences, and loyalties. We also combined those results with human movement data—mobile location data collected from opted-in devices, to get a unique glimpse into people’s dining patterns. This includes identifying who today’s diners are, where they eat, how often, and how far they’re willing to travel to eat.
So what exactly is the future of restaurant dining? Top restaurant trends we identified include:
In the coming weeks, we’ll share more on each of those trends, or you can read the full report, The New World of Consumer Behavior: Restaurants 2022. To start, we’re looking at overall attitudes towards restaurant dining.
How much are people eating from restaurants?
People are indeed dining out again, although not quite at the rate of pre-pandemic levels. Diners reported eating from restaurants on average 9.1 times per month, compared to 9.7 times pre-pandemic.
A significant driver of the return to eating from restaurants comes from takeout and delivery, which have unsurprisingly grown compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, dining in still remains at the core of restaurant dining, with consumer expectations of the dining actually getting higher.
In fact, what we are seeing is a type of bifurcation happening in the consumer dining space. When diners want to go out in-person, they desire a specific, high-level experience that is often quite traditional. This includes waiters, ambience, and other personalized, human touches. In all other cases, diners want a multitude of options and conveniences catered to their personal preferences, and the more restaurants are able to meet those preferences, the more satisfied and loyal the diner is.
This has implications for everyone in the restaurant industry. More than ever, restaurants must know who their customers are and what they want – whether that’s a diverse range of experiences, or a single type of experience.
Read the report: The New World of Consumer Behavior: Restaurants 2022
Winning strategies to adapt to the new world
The restaurants that best weathered the pandemic have already started down the path of adapting to evolving consumer preferences. The most successful restaurants:
- Turned to data to deeply understand their customers’ preferences and evolving needs.
- Embraced, and bolstered their use of digital technology, often through the use of mobile app offerings, kiosks, social media, and more.
- Created innovative solutions to operational problems, including reducing indoor space, expanding outdoor space, or reorganizing foot traffic for more pickup and delivery.
- Invested in loyalty programs to deepen their relationship with their customers.
- Maintained a strong brand culture and experience, leveraging every possible option to offer a positive dining experience for their customers.
All of this rapid change and evolution has given birth to a more nimble, more customer-centric restaurant industry, ready to emerge from the pandemic with greater flexibility, efficiency and data-informed decision-making.
Creating an interconnected dining experience
It’s critical that today’s restaurants use physical and digital touch points to create an interconnected customer experience. The best and most successful restaurants will go even further by using data – both their own first-party data and also third-party data – to understand who their customers are and what they want.
This also positions them best for the future, because customer preferences for how they order and where they dine will change and evolve as the world itself continues to change. But what will be a constant is that customers will expect an interconnected, cohesive digital and in-person experience that reflect brand ideals and meet their expectations for fast, friendly, and personalized service.
The best restaurants will lean into this by staying nimble, using data to know their customers, and focusing on building brands and relationships that will last.
This survey was conducted between February 24-27, 2022 with a total of 508 respondents in the United States, census-weighted by age, gender, income, and region. Additionally, Near studied pulled human movement data for restaurant locations in Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Chicago, Miami, and San Francisco/Oakland between June 1, 2021 – May 31, 2022. Reports used included Near Pinnacle’s Estimated Visits, Time Spent, Visitor Home and Work Locations Insights, as well as Near’s Geosocial Affinity, Estimated Visitors, and Cross-Visitation Reports.