The next few weeks will be challenging, no doubt. Yet, as fast as the Omicron variant has blown in, our latest data shows that it may blow through just as quickly to allow consumers and operators to get back on track in their recovery.
Consumers are ready to get back to living. In the midst of another surge, perspective provides important hope and guidance for us all.
Omicron has been fast and furious creating new challenges on top of already tough challenges. To monitor Omicron’s impact, we conducted back-to-back waves of research in January. While it might not feel like it at the moment, the long-term view shows how far we’ve come in spite of the surges. From our January 17th research, consumer positive sentiment is already ticking back after a dip in December, telling us that consumers are moving beyond Omicron.
Additional attitudinal data supports more favorable optimism - 54% agree that we have to move beyond covid and get back to living our lives.
1 in 4 Americans report that they will be back to pre-pandemic dine-in frequencies in about a month
At a glance, we immediately saw in our December 21st research that consumers pulled backed on their restaurant visits, consistent with Black Box Intelligences Dec 26 sales results. 54% of Americans stated that they were dining out less or had stopped dining out. It is clearly another speed bump in the restaurant recovery that has been slower than we would all like, but it’s a far cry better than the 80% in March in 2020.
By January 17th, that number dropped to 49%. A 5-point change may not sound like a lot, but that’s 10 million more people dining out vs December. I think we’ll all consider that a win. The other point worth mentioning is that January 2022 marks the first time that the pent-up demand has been under 50%, again another positive indicator we are moving in the right direction.
DINING OUT OPTIMISM
Consumers have a favorable outlook - 25% of Americans report that they will be back to the pre-pandemic dine-in frequencies in about a month.
In the short-term, Omicron caused a swift pivot back to off-premises
We know that Omicron has exacerbated an already challenging labor shortage. During Omicron, consumers swiftly pivoted back to take-out and cooking at home. Significantly more this week vs. last week touted poor experiences as the reason more so than concern over Omicron, increase of 5 points in just one week's time, January 17, 2022 compared to January 10, 2022.
% Agree/strongly agree
47% because the dine-in experience just isn't that good, they’ve gone back to doing more take-out, curbside and delivery from restaurants, +5pt vs. January 10, 2022
59% Due to recent Covid increases, I am cooking at home more
We still have several consumer issues that need immediate attention to accelerate consumers getting up off their sofas and back into your restaurants. Consumers are still wrestling with need for joy vs concern or fear of covid.
Ask yourself, how joyful is the experience that you are delivering? Are you leading with joy and reassuring with safety. Both still matter as much today as in the past.
Let's start with the desire for joyful experiences. Consumer patience continues wearing thin and we’re not delivering those joyful experiences; it’s just the same song, different verse for staffing, inflation, supply chain issues, and let’s not forget rude customer behavior.
57% Not enough staff
+6pt since Aug ‘21 Delta
More than double since last Jan ’20, +33pt vs
55% Prices have gone up too much, + 4pt since Dec ‘21
28% Favorite item is not available
+5pt since Aug. 21
Improved vs. last Jan ’20, -8pt
23% Bad customer behavior
+7pt since Aug ‘21 Delta
As for overcoming fear, surprising as it may seem, the top frustration for restaurant goers is still lack of consistent safety protocols, followed by masking up, or lack thereof. Why? Consumers remain anxious/very anxious about being around people that they don’t know and are noticing that customers are not social distancing.
62% worry that safety protocols have slipped as time has gone by
58% of restaurant goers are still frustrated with other customers not wearing masks at restaurants compared to only 27% frustrated that employee aren’t masked up.
Today the lack of a joyful customer experience is a bigger hinderance to the economic recovery than Omicron variant.
The key insight from the last month - Concern for Omicron remains statistically lower than Delta, even in January, yet consumer frustrations with restaurants soared during the same time period and are statistically worse.
Is the customer experience that we are delivering more of a hinderance than the Omicron variant itself? My answer is a resounding, yes!
Survey data was collected the week ending January 17, 2022, by Lisa W. Miller & Associates and Prodege, LLC from a representative sample of 999 adults 18 years and older.
Click here to learn more about this thought-provoking initiative "Gearing Up For The Consumer Re-entry & The The Journey Back to Joy"