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Survey reveals what restaurant customers want (and don’t want)

family at restaurant
Dining preferences have changed since COVID-19.

Consumers’ restaurant preferences have changed notably from before the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of consumers do not plan to return to their pre-pandemic habits of dining in restaurants within the next six months, according to a Deloitte survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers who had ordered from a restaurant within the last three months. Also, 61% of respondents order takeout or delivery at least once per week, up from 29% in 2020 and 18% prior to the pandemic.

More than half (57%) of consumers ordering takeout or delivery prefer to use a digital app; nearly two-thirds (67%) of on-premise diners prefer to order their food digitally. One-third of respondents say enhanced cleanliness and safety protocols are important in returning to on-premises dining sooner and more frequently.

However, three in five respondents expect the same quality and freshness in delivery and takeout as they do in the dining room. Respondents order from quick-service restaurants (QSRs) most often at 62.6%, followed by fast-casual restaurants (52%) and casual dining establishments (40.5%). Spending at QSRs also is up more than 100% year-over-year.

Whether dining on-premises or off, nearly seven in 10 respondents (68%) don't want to wait more than 30 minutes for their food (unchanged from 2020), demonstrating an ongoing preference for speed of service. In addition, 79% of respondents say they are likely to order from ghost kitchens, a trend which is 20% greater than 2020 and 32% higher than 2019.

[Read more: Retailers extend their presence with ghost kitchens]

More than half of respondents (57%) use a digital app to order restaurant food for off-premises dining, up from 54% in 2020. However, digital ordering in-restaurant is growing at an even faster pace: nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) prefer to order their food digitally (up from 53% in 2020), even if it means less interaction with waitstaff.

When considering the channel from which to order their food, 40% of consumers prefer to use a restaurant's own branded website or app, compared to 11% who prefer a third-party food ordering and delivery platform. Four out of five (81%) respondents would order from an automated voice system built into the drive-through lane, and the number of respondents willing to receive food delivered by a drone or driverless car is up by 10% year-over-year.

[Read more: Quick-service retailers steer toward innovation at the drive-thru]

Other interesting findings include:

  • More than half of the survey respondents (54%) would order from a partially or fully automated kitchen.
  • One-quarter of customers prefer a digital or contactless payment method to a physical one.
  • The average consumer participates in two restaurant loyalty programs, and 79% of survey respondents said their participation impacts where they dine.
  • One-third (33%) of respondents say enhanced cleanliness and safety protocols are important to returning to on-premises dining sooner and dining out more frequently. This is particularly true for Boomers (32.3%), Gen X (23%) and Millennials (25.2%), while safety is less of a priority for Gen Z (4.9%).
  • More than half (55%) of respondents are willing to pay between 10% and 50% more to know about the safety and cleanliness that surround the preparation and transport of their food.
  • Almost half (45%) of consumers are unlikely to return to a restaurant that had a food safety incident.
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