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COVID-19 and the Impact on Consumer Eating Habits

COVID-19, Food Trends, Foodservice

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We’re all watching as the impacts of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) rapidly unfurl around us in the news and in our own lives. As we seek answers about the impact on our personal lives, it’s still unclear how this will affect the food industry as a whole, from restaurant traffic to eating at home and more.

While we cannot predict exactly how the virus will spread, we can anticipate consumer reactions to COVID-19. Here are a few highlights from Datassential’s coronavirus research, fielded March 10 with 1,000 US consumers.


Restaurants are vulnerable to significant traffic declines.

Coronavirus has led to nearly 60% of consumers being concerned about eating out, with one-in-five “definitely” avoiding doing so:

  • 20% definitely avoid eating out
  • 39% are nervous, but will still eat out
  • 41% have no concerns whatsoever

These are significant figures that suggest a considerable reduction in restaurant traffic should coronavirus infect more communities at a fast rate. Moreover, the fear is most significant among parents, urban dwellers, and higher earners; should the situation worsen, look for family dining and kids’ meals to be most impacted – particularly for restaurant brands located primarily in city centers.


Home food wins the battle of safety perception by a landslide.

Relative to coronavirus, consumers overwhelmingly believe food from home to be the safest option. Just 11% perceive away-from-home food as safer, posing a major psychological barrier that is certain to challenge restaurants.

Foodservice operators that can offer a responsible and safe solution should do so, recognizing that their true competition during these times isn’t other restaurants, but rather the consumer’s own home.


Restaurants among high-risk establishments.

COVID-19 and the Impact on Consumer Eating Habits

People are concerned about contracting coronavirus from an array of food establishments – arenas, movie theaters, buffets, bars, cafeterias, and anywhere else they could be exposed to large crowds.

And while restaurants and grocery stores are of course just one of many perceived “high risk” environments a typical consumer may encounter in a given day, it’s important to remember this is where their head is at – and provide honest reassurances that their safety is top of mind.


Full-service restaurant interactions to decrease.

COVID-19 and the Impact on Consumer Eating Habits

A majority of consumers indicate they are most likely to decrease their visits to sit-down restaurants. Here they are quite loud and clear – while some may reduce their usage of delivery, takeout, or drive-thru, those numbers pale in comparison to the 54% who most anticipate curbing their trips to FSRs.

On the flip side, consumers indicate they are most likely to increase their reliance on food prepared at home. Note that much of this is rooted in simple logistics – one trip to a restaurant typically yields just one meal, whereas a single trip to the grocery store can fuel a week’s worth of eating.


Wipe it down.

Door handles, soda fountains, and condiment bottles are among the multitude of perceived risky

propositions consumers face inside a restaurant or cafeteria. If it’s something multiple people touch, wipe it down frequently and visibly:

  • Door handles
  • Public restrooms
  • Shared condiments
  • Tables
  • Kiosks

But it’s not just about doing one particular thing. Operators and retailers should practice – and visibly demonstrate – a broad range of sanitary measures. Start with the list here, but also pursue other opportunities to keep things clean and safe for patrons. Operators should take great care to diagnose and remediate any potential points of exposure.


Get the full COVID-19 report.

Get additional details on consumer reactions and recommended action for operators in the full COVID-19 report.