Some Consumers Still Leery of Returning to On-Premise Channel, but Favor Dining Over Drinking

Consumers have ventured to on-premise establishments to eat at more than twice the rate they do for just drinks, a Nielsen CGA survey found.

In the two weeks leading up to July 19, 41% of respondents had gone out for a meal. Meanwhile, just 16% had been out for only drinks, according to a July 22 report from Nielsen CGA, the on-premise arm of the market research firm.

Overall, survey respondents are planning to go out less in the next two weeks; 35% told Nielsen CGA they planned to go out for a meal in the next two weeks, and 15% said they plan to go out for a drink.

Since states began reopening in the spring, Nielsen CGA has surveyed residents of New York, Florida, California and Texas about their dining and drinking habits. Of those, New Yorkers had the biggest increase in meals out over the previous two-week period — a 7% increase, to 39%.

In Florida, where confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed New York’s to reach 411,000 over the weekend, nearly half of respondents — 49% — said they had gone out for a meal in the past two weeks, a 3% increase over the previous period. Texas respondents reported a 2% increase in dining out, to 44%. Of the four states surveyed, only California’s rate held steady at 32%.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the shutdown of indoor on-premise dining statewide two weeks ago as COVID-19 cases began to tick up in the country’s most populous state. California has become the nation’s new COVID-19 hotspot with nearly 453,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“California’s flat return reveals a similar trend and also reflects the reimplementation of measures in the last week preventing further visitors from going out,” the Nielsen CGA report said.

All three age groups in the survey (21-24, 35-44 and 55+) reported dining out at the same 41% rate, but their participation varied when asked about going out for a drink. Just 8% of the 55+ age group had gone out for a drink in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, 17% of the 35-54 age group and 27% of the 21-34 age group did go out for drinks.

Of those who had gone out for a drink or a meal, the majority of respondents said they were satisfied with the health and safety precautions taken (78%), the atmosphere (75%) and the overall experience (79%). However, those who have yet to return to bars and restaurants said they don’t feel safe being in close proximity with strangers and need more time to feel comfortable.

“When people do go out, they’re loving it — they’re really enjoying it and bars and restaurants are working really hard to provide a great experience,” Nielsen CGA client solutions director Matt Crompton said during a recent webinar. “The real challenge remains on how to get more people going out in the first place, and obviously this isn’t an easy thing. We don’t want to be pushing people out if they don’t feel safe.”

Almost 40% of respondents said restaurants having outdoor seating (38%), fewer patrons or tables (38%) and PPE for staff (39%) would encourage them to return.

The most common answer for when patrons will return to on-premise venues was “when there is a vaccine/treatment available” at 41%. Still, about a third of people who haven’t been out yet said they don’t plan to return to on-premise establishments until there is a vaccine or treatment or until “the threat of COVID-19 is completely gone.”

The least popular answer at 16% was “when outlets have demonstrated successful social distancing,” indicating perhaps that it’s unlikely those who have stayed home can be convinced to visit a restaurant or bar soon.

As consumers continue to stay home, they turn to takeout and delivery in large numbers: 61% of survey respondents have ordered meals to go, down 4% from the previous two-week period, and 11% of them have added alcohol to their orders.

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