With the moving-target nature of a pandemic, we’ve all probably adjusted our behaviors or expectations once, twice, or twenty times over the past six months and restaurant guests are no exception. As you’re balancing how to best manage changes on your end, your customer is figuring out what they’re comfortable with and what they are looking for in a restaurant experience. So what is that? A recent Toast industry survey that gathered input from over 700 guests sheds some light on how expectations have changed and what a great restaurant experience looks like, at least for today.

Let’s walk through the restaurant-going experience and break down what guests are currently thinking, from discovery to dining into ordering out.

Word of Mouth is Driving Discovery

When it comes to discovering new restaurants or choosing where to eat, the survey found that 50% of guests rely on recommendations from friends and family. That’s because when safety is one of the primary drivers for consideration, people are trusting their inner circle much more than strangers on the Internet.

For restaurants, this means you can’t hope that a great Instagram account or even a strong Yelp page will be a substitute for walking the walk. Of course, those things shouldn’t be overlooked, but arming your guests with plenty of reasons to rave about their experiences is more important than ever. 

Safety Onsite is a Priority 

It’s no surprise that safety precautions rank just second to the quality of food when it comes to returning to on-premise dining. According to Toast, 43% of respondents said that attention to cleanliness influences that decision for them. And when they are on-premise, they’re looking for measures to keep them safe. What’s most important? They want to see staff taking safety precautions and wearing PPE, followed by hand sanitizer available at the table and single-use menus. 

Quality is Key for Takeout & Delivery

While concerns over cleanliness and safety are still high ranking when ordering takeout or delivery, most restaurant guests site the quality of the food as what they care about most. And a portion of respondents said they would continue to order takeout and delivery more than they did prior to COVID-19 once restaurant activity returns to normal. That’s a positive sign for restaurants, but also means it’s important to make sure takeout and delivery operations can keep operating at a high standard. 

Deals? Share ‘Em Via Email 

In a fragmented environment, consistent, reassuring communication can be a great way to build relationships with your customers, so you are top of mind when they do decide to dine out. What do they want to hear about when you get in touch? Specials and discounts come in at number one, with 69% of diners wanting deals to drive email messaging. Just behind that is wanting updates on reopening and safety precautions, with updates on new menu items sitting behind that at 51%.

This year may be unpredictable, but acting on data points like these can help give some control back to restaurants. Curious about what else guests are thinking? View the full survey results here.

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