Just quarter of diners comfortable with eating in restaurants

04 September 2020 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

A surge in popularity for home cooking, and lingering fears regarding the public health emergency of Covid-19 mean that the majority of British consumers are unlikely to return to restaurants any time soon. A new survey of UK residents has revealed that more than half feel it will take months or longer before they feel comfortable dining out again.

The latest edition of the EY Future Consumer Index has shown that the majority of UK consumers are still uncomfortable with eating out. The poll of more than 1,000 UK consumers discovered that just 27% of respondents were comfortable with dining in a public restaurant, even as restrictions ease. While the UK Government is steadfastly trying to encourage them to ease back into ‘normal life,’ including eating out alongside other consumers, it seems that this will be easier said than done.

Christian Mole, EY UK & Ireland Head of Hospitality & Leisure, said of the findings, “The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been a welcome intervention which has undoubtedly boosted both revenues and morale across the hospitality sector, but has only been in place for a limited time to a limited effect. It’s clear it will still take months before the majority of consumers feel comfortable with eating out so it’s not surprising that businesses are calling for an extension to the scheme beyond 31 August.”

Just quarter of diners comfortable with eating in restaurants

To that end, 54% of consumers said that it would likely take months or longer before they feel comfortable to eat out again. This backs up recent evidence produced by CIL Management Consultants, which found that returning to restaurants was the lowest item on people’s agenda as lockdown restrictions eased. The highest number of 25% of that study’s respondents said they would dine out less often as a result of Covid-19, closely followed by going out for a drink at 23% – something EY found 45% said it will take months before they feel comfortable to do again.

Further down the line, the food and drinks industry may struggle to recover from its current downturn even after Covid-19 recedes from the world stage. Over the first nine months of 2020, many new habits have been developed among consumers – including a propensity to get in touch with their inner Master Chef. Bain & Company research found that the vast majority of consumers will be relying on home-cooked meals for their dinner either more, or the same amount, after Covid-19 – with around 40% of people said they would eat home cooked meals as much as before, and the same number saying they would do so more often.

Either way then, it seems that inner-city restaurants in particular are set to endure a fall in foot traffic, exacerbated by many firms still not requiring their workers to return to the office. Mole added that EY anticipates anticipate a struggle for many operators to achieve profitable occupancy levels for the foreseeable future.

He concluded, “Continued working from home will mean that take-out and eating-out demand alike in city centres remain at very low levels, and a return to anything like previous commuting levels seems very unlikely in the short-term. Decreased levels of business travel and continuing restrictions on inbound tourism are also placing considerable pressure on the hotel sector.”