Starting with safety
Here’s a breakdown of consumer demographics who prefer enhanced cleanliness and safety:
- Baby Boomers: 32.3 percent
- Millennials: 25.2 percent
- Gen X: 23 percent
- Silent generation: 14.5 percent
- Gen Z: 4.9 percent
A third of Deloitte’s respondents said enhanced cleanliness and safety would make them more likely to return to on-premises dining sooner, and to dine out more frequently. Boomers, Gen X, and millennials appear more concerned with this topic than others. “The traditional measures of cleanliness and the more timely indicators of safety are some of the first things customers notice when they enter a restaurant,” Deloitte said.
In-store spacing, surface cleansing, food preparing, and employee safety measures pulsed in the survey. It’s a cross-section operators are plenty familiar with at this point—adopting cleanliness and safety policies, and then finding a way to visibly display those efforts.
More than half of consumers (55 percent) said they’d be willing to pay 10–15 percent more to know about the safety and cleanliness that surround the preparation and transportation of their food. In Deloitte’s observation, it’s further evidence consumers strongly value proof of safe practices. There’s nothing to suggest that’s reversing course.
Also, close to half (45 percent) of respondents said they were unlikely to return to a restaurant that had a food safety incident. Again, this isn’t new; the stakes are just higher. It casts a fresh light on sourcing, staff training, and traceability, Deloitte said.
Yet what customers prioritized above all other food considerations was “origin.” The average consumer in the study said knowing details surrounding where their food comes from would be worth as much as paying 6 percent more for their meal—“a potentially large area for margin growth,” the company said.
Something to consider along those lines: Prices for food away from home increased 5.3 percent year-over-year in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Quick-service menu items rose 7.1 percent in the past year, while full-service meals lifted 5.9 percent. Both were the largest 12-month increases in recorded history.
If commodity inflation and labor challenges leave restaurants no choice but to charge consumers more, a counter for operators could be transparency, and giving customers information they feel good opening their wallets for. In an environment where price hikes have blurred segments (fast casual and quick service charge similar for food these days), these kinds of efforts could split the field.
As operators can attest, regulations that govern restaurants vary widely state to state, city to city, block to block, it feels like. This has been one of the most stumping challenges of multi-unit leadership during COVID.
Deloitte said the reality leaves it up to restaurant brands to set standards within their own organizations to keep employees and guests comfortable. Practices like wiping down surfaces, moving tables farther apart, and requiring employees to properly use PPE still make an impact.
Behind the curtain is a bit more complicated. “An exception to closed kitchen food preparation might be the buffet or salad bar—fixtures that are front and center when customers enter a storefront,” the company noted. “In this case, the visible evidence of change may simply be that communal, self-service options may no longer exist.”
Regardless, consumer attitudes toward safety seem a permanent fixture.