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New SMG Research Highlights How COVID-19 is Impacting Consumer Behavior in the Restaurant Industry

A survey of 10,000 consumers reveals drive-thrus as the most preferred way for guests to get their restaurant orders.
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Service Management Group (SMG) has published new research highlighting how COVID-19 has impacted consumer behavior in the restaurant industry. Winning brands are operating with agility, delivering a contactless experience and seeing the average ticket amount increase.

Using BrandGeek—SMG’s market intelligence tool and a source of behavioral data linked to customer feedback in real-time— SMG collected feedback from nearly 10,000 respondents to understand how restaurant habits have changed during the pandemic.

More than 3 out of 4 consumers are concerned about their health

Nearly 77 percent of respondents report being concerned about their health—with a direct correlation between age and level of concern—while only three percent are not at all concerned. That’s not surprising during a pandemic, but it’s important for brands to understand how to monitor, interpret and act on rapidly evolving consumer behavior.

Drive-thru is the most preferred way to get food

With dine-in unavailable in most locations, drive-thru has emerged as the most popular way to get food from restaurants, with more than two-thirds of consumers across all age groups considering it as a service channel. Carry-out and to-go orders are the second most preferred options, with millennial and Gen Z consumers preferring it more than older consumers. While preferences vary across generations, the key for brands is to be able to deliver a contactless restaurant experience that consumers can trust.

Delivery usage is on the rise

Since coronavirus was declared a pandemic on March 11, 16 percent of respondents report an increase in delivery usage—with the largest increase in usage coming from consumers age 25–34 and the top two income brackets. Alternatively, 12 percent of respondents report using delivery less, and that’s true across age groups. While there are numerous factors potentially at play—including preparedness and budget consciousness—it’s clear restaurants can’t rely solely on delivery when it comes to providing a contactless experience.

Cleanliness is top of mind for consumers—and they’re recognizing restaurants for their efforts

In the weeks since coronavirus was declared a pandemic, there has been a shift in key drivers of overall satisfaction across clients, with cleanliness rising most rapidly. While that’s true across industries, 43 percent of consumers believe restaurants, compared to other industries, are doing the best job when it comes to protecting customers.

“With customer expectations changing rapidly, consumers are choosing restaurants that offer convenience, value and most of all an experience they can trust,” said SMG Senior Vice President of Research Paul Tiedt. “The brands that are going above and beyond to build trust with consumers today will be rewarded with more loyal customers tomorrow.”

 SMG a global customer, patient and employee experience management partner to more than 500 brands,

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