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Behind The Data: Outtakes From The Zagat Future Of Dining Study

Selected thoughts from readers on when, how, or if they'll go back to eating out.

The recent Zagat Future of Dining Study revealed a great deal about how American consumers are thinking about the restaurant dining experience in the pandemic era. You can read a summary of the study results here. But in addition to the responses we can graph and plot, those responding to the study were also encouraged to submit their own thoughts about the questions and topics raised. Sometimes respondents elaborated on their answers, and sometimes they took the opportunity to just riff on the subject generally. Here are excerpts from some of those responses to three of the study questions that participants engaged with the most.

Which of the following steps that restaurants could take would make you feel more comfortable as restaurants start to open?

Source: Zagat Future of Dining Study, June 2020; N-6,775

My concern is mostly about other diners and the total elapsed time indoors. Other diners can’t wear masks while eating. It takes over an hour to eat a meal, far longer than the minimum required to contract COVID from an asymptomatic carrier. Restaurants seem high-risk and it’s hard to think of how to maintain their strengths—conviviality, community, eating, laughing, talking—while lowering the risks.

Order and pay in advance electronically with reserved time to show up so less people are gathered while waiting for a table. Plus, employees being tested daily for COVID as they show up for a shift and prior to entering the restaurant. Menus prominently displayed on a large board or at your table to where you don’t have to throw them away constantly, or touch them to figure out what you want to order. Pickup windows to get your food so that you alleviate the need for anyone unnecessary to touch your plate.

Safety rules emailed out prior to visit. I want to know how they are going to handle the menus too.

Gloves need to be changed from table to table. For indoor dining each table has its own air system. I want to see the temperature of the server in front of us before serving us. I’d rather have metal utensils that are sanitized at high temperatures to kill all germs. Anything used which is disposable, needs to be recyclable.

Outside seating. I also liked a picture I saw of individual greenhouse-like structures with tables for two in them, located outside.

Mandatory reservations at sit down restaurants to control the amount of guests in a restaurant. Information that staff has been trained in proper sanitation procedures (how to properly wear a mask, sanitize, not cross contaminate, etc.)

Availability of non-finger foods (i.e. I don’t want to pick up a burger or fries or pizza, I’d want food you eat with a fork or spoon). I might become one of those people who eats fries with a fork.

Knowledge that the restaurant doesn’t pressure their staff to work sick and employees have paid sick time available to use.

Spacing of tables and enforcement of social distancing by guests. I’m not worried about the staff (other than for their protection). I’m worried about my family and staff dealing with the idiots I see on my walks who don’t wear masks and don’t keep away from me.

Our favorite restaurant is a local Italian place. You sit right on top of everyone. I can’t imagine how this restaurant will reopen or survive.

This is breaking my heart. I want to eat at a place that offers great food and intimate service. I WANT to see presets, I want polished wine glasses at the table. I WANT to feel and hear the low buzz of others surrounding me. I am heartbroken that this new normal will last so long that my favorite places will not be able to sustain and continue.

Which of the following local or federal regulations do you feel need to be in place for you to feel comfortable dining at a restaurant?

Source: Zagat Future of Dining Study, June 2020; N-6,775

I think that it would also be important to me to know that my fellow diners are following the rules and dealing with the “suck” right now. If we all just allow ourselves to go slow, make sure no one else gets sick and then continue on that way—AND if restaurants show that they can offer meal kits and the such, I would LOVE to fully support them in all ways because our restaurants and the peeps who make them run ARE ESSENTIAL.

Place to sit outside or information about air conditioning filtration. I worry about airflow that isn’t filtered properly as well as crowded conditions. I don’t want to breathe the air someone has just exhaled. I’m thinking about a bowling alley I took my children to many years ago. Smoking was allowed but the filtering system was so good you couldn’t smell the smoke. When a restaurant announces their filtering system is that good, I’ll eat inside.

Businesses enforcing the rules and making sure other patrons comply. It’s scary because people don’t follow the rules. It’s also scary because people are losing their minds and attacking store employees who enforce the rules. The nuts are getting saltier with each passing day. Going out in public is hazardous.

Which one of the below is the biggest factor that might discourage you to dine out after the crisis?

Source: Zagat Future of Dining Study, June 2020; N-6,775

Restaurants that don’t take new health regulations seriously. Restaurants that are “polite” to non-compliant customers and employees at the expense of properly behaved customers and employees.

There’s nothing appealing about going to a quarter full restaurant with everyone wearing masks.

I am not concerned—if they serve I will be there.

I’ll go out to support my friends who own restaurants but probably will limit going to other places so I can keep supporting the people and businesses I care about.

Once this is solved I will go back to 15 meals a week out.

Besides the food, I also go to places because of the atmosphere. If there is no atmosphere, I might be discouraged, though I’ll be persistent in contributing to the atmosphere. 🙂