Customers Say Social Distance and Outdoor Dining is the Way Forward for Reopening Restaurants: Study


As restaurants across America reopen following pandemic restrictions, a national survey conducted by 1Q on Tuesday, May 26 shows social distancing and outdoor dining are the most important features for bringing back anxious, safety-minded patrons. 

The survey told a story of an America that’s deeply divided about the safety of visiting reopened restaurants. While 52% percent said they were “very” or “somewhat excited” about visiting reopened restaurants, 1 in 8 (13%) said they wouldn’t consider going at all. Additionally, another 18% said they were not excited about revisiting reopened restaurants and had serious concerns about safety. 

“Restaurants need to pay close attention to the shifting and divided mindset of their customers who are excited to patronize them again, but deeply concerned about their safety.”

This concern is reflected in a reordering of traditional dining priorities for restaurant goers. While 74% said delicious food was an important part of the dining experience, safety precautions (63%) ranked ahead of mainstays like excellent service (61%) and good value (53%). 

Still, the survey showed a path forward for restaurant owners: social distancing and outdoor seating, combined with features like hand sanitizer and face masks for staff. When asked about the safety features that would help them feel safest, social distancing (60%) ranked first, followed by access to hand sanitizer (58%), outdoor seating (48%), and face mask and glove requirements for staff (47%). This endorsement of outdoor seating was supported by a separate question where 77% said they felt “very” or “somewhat safe” dining outdoors compared to only 44% who said they felt “very” or “somewhat safe” dining indoors. 

Notably, these features like outdoor seating and access to hand sanitizer ranked among the lowest in safety features that would be a turn-off for those visiting reopened restaurants. Among features that would turn customers off, 8% said outdoor seating, 9% said access to hand sanitizer, 16% were turned off by social distancing, and 17% said staff wearing masks and gloves. The highest turn-offs were face mask requirements for diners (except when eating) at 30% and plexiglass/plastic barriers between tables at 22%. Still, 49% said they wanted as many safety features as possible. 

And the one part of restaurants that created the most anxiety? Open bar areas. 51% said they believe they’re “very” or “somewhat unsafe.” 

Finally, restaurants should expect to continue to see a surge in takeout orders as seats are slow to refill. Even after reopening, 81% of respondents said they plan to take out as much as they do now or more. Meanwhile, 46% said they planned to dine-in less than they did before the pandemic. Another 46% said their dine-in habits would be similar to before the pandemic, and only 8% said they planned to dine-in restaurants more often. 

 “This survey shows that reopening restaurants isn’t simply a matter of swinging open the doors,” said 1Q Founder and CEO Keith Rinzler. “Restaurants need to pay close attention to the shifting and divided mindset of their customers who are excited to patronize them again, but deeply concerned about their safety.”

About This Survey

This digital survey of 500 adults (age 18 or older) in the United States was conducted on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 by 1Q on its proprietary nationwide platform of more than one million members. Margin of error for the survey is 4.38%. 

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