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New Study Reveals How Many Americans Are Ready To Dine Out Again

As vaccination rates pick up around the country, the sentiment around eating indoors is more positive than it has been since the pandemic started.

The restaurant industry has remained uncertain about when indoor dining will fully resume, but new research from Morning Consult suggests the percentage of consumers who feel safe dining out is higher than it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. As of late April, 60% of consumers are comfortable dining out, with 73% of consumers predicting they’ll feel comfortable dining out within the next six months, according to the study. 

Last year, the percent of people who said they would feel safe dining out never passed 42%, the report states. Now, that number has been increasing steadily throughout 2021.

Pent-Up Demand

The study shows that customers aren’t only willing to eat in a restaurant, but are also eager to do so — 46% of Americans say they are excited to dine out again, including 51% of baby boomers and 47% of millennials. 

This changing consumer sentiment is garnering parallel excitement in the restaurant industry, which has struggled tremendously over the past year. In Q1 of 2021, several brands have already seen pent-up consumer demand for indoor dining and have expressed enthusiasm about the future as vaccination rates increase across the country. 

David Deno, CEO of Bloomin' Brands, discussed his anticipation for the emerging demand during his company's Q1 call, noting it could "provide meaningful and rapid growth opportunities for this business on the other side of the pandemic.” David Gordon, president of the Cheesecake Factory, shared a similar attitude during the brand's Q1 earnings call, saying he has already seen "incredible pent-up demand for the experiential dining occasions.”

Indoor Dining Versus Outdoor Dining

Although recently updated CDC guidance says fully vaccinated people can gather in small groups indoors, the CDC also released a study in March showing COVID-19 illnesses and death rates are higher in areas that allow on-site restaurant dining. These conflicting findings could be part of the reason why customers’ comfort levels with outdoor dining remain higher than indoor dining, especially as restrictions loosen across the country. 

According to the Morning Consult study, 68% of U.S. adults said they would feel safe eating outside,  compared to 57% who said so about indoor dining. Since the start of the pandemic, over half of all casual restaurant operators have added outdoor dining, according to a State of the Restaurant Industry report

The Future of Off-Premise Dining

Although indoor and outdoor dining is picking back up, the demand for off-premise service isn’t going anywhere. Off-premise sales have remained consistent through April, even as the comfort level with dining out has increased and restrictions have eased, according to the Morning Consult’s research. The study finds that 42% of consumers order takeout at least weekly, compared to 33% dining in.

"I think it just demonstrates the power of both access modes, meaning the in-restaurant dining access mode and the digital access mode," Chipotle’s CEO Brian Niccol said in response to the brand’s record-breaking digital sales during the company's Q1 call. "Consumer sentiment is definitely one where they want to get back out to socialize and get back into the dining rooms and have that in-dining experience."