Canadians show appetite for in-person dining; Restaurants Canada reveals post-pandemic dining trends

Published September 13, 2021

89% of Canadians are looking forward to eating out with family and friends; Consumers twice as likely to order delivery directly from restaurants vs. third party apps; 78% of Canadians yearning for comfort food during pandemic stress

TORONTO — Uncovering consumer confidence and preferences in an ever-shifting market as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, Restaurants Canada is shining a light on what restaurateurs and chefs can expect with the release of the 2021 Discerning Diner Report. 

Based on findings from a survey hosted on the Angus Reid Forum on behalf of Restaurants Canada, the report  shares that on the positive side, Canadians are looking forward to returning to restaurants, so long as safety measures are in place. 89% of Canadians are looking forward to eating out with friends and family, with 64% going so far as to say that dining out will be an important part of their lifestyle post-pandemic.

“Canadians may be ready to return to restaurants, however some of their tastes and priorities have changed,” says Todd Barclay, President of Restaurants Canada. “The Discerning Diner report provides our members with the information they need to make choices around everything from menu selections and customer service options, to marketing initiatives and possible new revenue streams that today’s consumer is interested in. As more Canadians return to in-person dining, restaurants will need to continue adapting to capture market share.” 

The restaurant experience is one that Canadians cherish, with 63% of young consumers (ages 18-34) missing the fun of eating out, and 61% sharing that they miss the atmosphere. The biggest thing that all Canadians miss about table-service dining is socializing and connecting with friends and family (72%). Despite this, 32% of Canadians are still tentative about eating in-person and plan to postpone their first in-person dining experience for anywhere between a few months of reopening, to sometime in 2022. This poses a significant challenge for the industry in the short- to mid-term as restaurants are unable to maximize in-person dining revenues with fewer patrons. 

Restaurants Canada has pulled together the top considerations for Canadians as the nation reopens its doors to diners, from food trends and  innovation that consumers are most excited about.  The full Discerning Diner report can be read here. 

DELIVERING EXCELLENCE

Canadians are picky when it comes to their food delivery orders – the most important factors when choosing to order delivery range from consistency of food quality (73%), crave-able menu items (59%) and whether they’ve visited in-person before (51%), to more economical considerations like value for money (48%) and whether it has a low or no delivery fee (43%). 

  • 78% of Canadians have ordered delivery within six months prior to the survey.
  • Quebec ordered delivery the most, with 84% saying they had ordered within the last six months.
  • Once the pandemic subsides, delivery will be the preferred choice for 18-34 year olds when eating off-premise at a quick-service restaurant. 
  • For table-service restaurants, 39% of young Canadians said they will prefer to order takeout by going inside and picking up, while 37% will order delivery. 8% say they plan to order more once the pandemic subsides. 
  • 15% have ordered alcoholic beverages with food for delivery or takeout, on par with the 18% of Canadians that say they’re likely to do this.
  • Cocktails and beer (combined 35%) are the most likely to be ordered.
  • Consumers are twice as likely to prefer ordering delivery directly from a table-service restaurant by phone or restaurant app (20%) vs third-party apps (10%).

Cocktail and beer delivery stats suggest a greater possible market for restaurants to provide unique takeout and delivery options for consumers. It is expected alcohol sales will grow as suppliers and operators adapt packing and pricing models to bolster alcohol sales with delivery.

“The developments and improvements made to delivery and takeout containers, food quality and speed have made a lasting, positive impression,” says Barclay. “Restaurateurs and chefs will need to continue to innovate in order to increase margins on takeout and delivery, but they can count on people visiting in-person instead of just virtually as restrictions subside.”

SUPPORTING LOCAL

The “support local” movement that helped sustain several restaurants during the pandemic won’t be going away any time soon, with more Canadians purchasing and ordering from their local restaurants directly, and for items other than just takeout or delivery. 

  • 87% of Canadians are interested in ordering food sourced from local farmers or using Canadian produce. 
  • Almost 25% of Canadians are interested in purchasing groceries from a restaurant in the future, just shy of the 28% that indicated an interest in purchasing meal kits.
  • 41% of consumers ages 18-34 indicated interest in monthly meal subscriptions, especially if offered at a discounted price.  

“These food trends are encouraging for the restaurants who adapted to pandemic closures by pivoting their business model to include local grocery and meal kit options for consumers,” says Barclay. “These findings reiterate the need for restaurants to look at new revenue streams in order to survive and grow.” 

ATTRACTING NEW DINERS

With Canadians eager to return to in-person dining, what can restaurants be doing to stand out, re-engineer their menus, capture consumer attention and keep them coming back?

  • Seeing a restaurant on Facebook is reportedly just as effective as hearing about it in a commercial or an advertisement on tv/radio.
  • Instagram is among the top factors for 34% of Canadians ages 18-34 when choosing to try a new spot.
  • 38% of those 55+ are more likely to visit a new restaurant if they’ve received flyers or discounts in the mail.
  • 37% of Canadians would choose one restaurant over another if it offered contactless or mobile payment options.
  • 51% of those 18-34 would choose one restaurant over another if they can order online through a website or app to pick up at a restaurant

Convenience is key when it comes to technological innovations, especially when appealing to younger audiences. Data suggests that convenience and clarity go hand-in-hand – online ordering ensures that there are no miscommunications in what’s on the list. Word of mouth continues to be the most important factor for Canadians to try a restaurant for the first time, but the power of social media shouldn’t be overlooked.

 “With the amount of innovation that’s transformed the market over the past two years, there are several new ways to help bump your business to the top of someone’s must-visit list,” continues Barclay. “We’ve seen restaurants completely pivot their business model, market to completely new demographics with great success and implement new technology that streamlines efficiency.”

What your business offers is also just as important. After a tough lockdown, 78% of Canadians are interested in ordering comfort foods from restaurants, alongside foods that promote health and wellness (73%), natural or unprocessed foods (70%), or culinary cocktails with savoury, fresh ingredients (41%). Meatless and vegetarian entrée options remain most popular among Canadians ages 18-34 (54%), compared to those 35-54 (37%) and 55+ (27%). 

For more information, or to read the full 2021 Discerning Diner Report, visit https://info.restaurantscanada.org/discerning-diner-2021

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Survey Methodology

These are the findings of a study conducted by Restaurants Canada from May 30th to June 2nd, 2021 with a representative sample of 1,005 online Canadians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. The precision of Angus Reid Forum online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

About Restaurants Canada

Restaurants Canada is a national, not-for-profit association advancing the potential of Canada’s diverse and dynamic foodservice industry through member programs, research, advocacy, resources and events. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s foodservice sector was a $95 billion industry, directly employing 1.2 million people, providing Canada’s number one source of first jobs and serving 22 million customers across the country every day. The industry has since lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in sales due to the impacts of COVID-19. www.restaurantscanada.org

Media Contacts:

Lisa Raffaele │ 647.896.0743 │ lisa@bubblegumcanada.com
Dena Gouweloos │ 647.825.3927 │ dena@bubblegumcanada.com

Roberto Sarjoo

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