Published 03 June 2020
As food businesses begin to reopen around the world, important questions are arising. What are customers most concerned about as food businesses reopen? Where will customers want to eat? And most importantly, will customers return at all?
June 1 — A recent survey by The NDP Group in the United Kingdom — the COVID-19 British Foodservice Sentiment Study — has revealed some key figures for food businesses that are reopening in the post-lockdown phase. In the study, 76% of those surveyed stated that “good hygiene will be a more important factor in choosing a restaurant than before the lockdown. The same percentage say they want to see strict rules to ‘prevent contagion’.” This finding illustrates that customers are more aware of service quality than ever before.
Food safety, which includes proper hygiene and cleaning and santizing protocols, has always been a legal requirement for food businesses. However, customers may have looked the other way when hygiene or cleaning protocols were subpar, especially if the food business was one of their favorites. Now, with COVID-19 bringing health and safety issues to the forefront, customers are more acutely aware of what food businesses must do in order to ensure safety for customers and staff alike.
The survey results also point to a bigger issue: trust. The results show that 64% of respondents will only eat in restaurants, bars, cafes or other establishments that they trust. The responsibility falls on food businesses to prove to their loyal customers that they can be trusted to reopen and operate safely within the COVID-19 guidelines applicable to them. Food businesses must continue to enforce physical distancing within their premises, limit their capacity, enforce proper hygiene for all staff and follow new cleaning and santizing schedules. In the current climate, doing the bare minimum is proving to be not enough. Food businesses are expected to meet and exceed all requirements if they are to thrive post-lockdown.
However, not everything in the study pointed to a challenging situation for the food industry after COVID-19. Despite the risks, 63% of respondents stated “they will return to restaurants, bars or cafes in the first month these places re-open.” This statistic illustrates the value that customers place on their favorite restaurants, bars and cafes — and that they have been missed. As food businesses continue to reopen over the coming weeks and months, just how much they have been missed will become more evident.
Dominic Allport, Insights Director of The NPD Group indicated that not all customers will be quick to return to the premises once it reopens, but that food businesses should strategize on how to overcome these hesitations. He stated, “Understandably, there will still be some people who are reluctant to go out. Operators can build this into their channel strategy and encourage more people to try delivery, especially older age groups.”
Most importantly, a symbiotic relationship is needed as the world navigates food businesses reopening after lockdown. Restaurants need to do their part to follow rules and restrictions and customers need to do the same. Food businesses and customers working together to create a safe and healthy environment for everyone will help the food industry to thrive after the COVID-19 pandemic.