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Survey results reveal America's eating-out habits

Survey reveals new findings regarding attitudes and expectations of today’s restaurant patrons.

Fourth, the provider of one of the industry’s leading hospitality operations platform, has revealed the findings of its first annual “Truth about Dining Out” survey. With the goal of providing restaurant operators with an inside look at how Americans prefer to eat out, the survey, conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Fourth, shows that the quality of service is oftentimes more important than the actual meal among respondents who dine out. The survey results reinforce that engaged staff are happier, provide better service, create loyal customers and increase sales.

With a strong U.S. economy, consumers continue to spend money eating out rather than cooking meals at home. In fact, the survey results showed that more than half (56%) of respondents who eat out -- which includes eating in restaurants, ordering food to go and delivery -- eat out at least two to three times per week. Additionally, 10% of Americans said they eat out four to six times per week, and 6% of consumers said they eat out every day.

  • When broken down by gender, the survey found that men typically spend more per week eating out ($82), while women spend $69. In fact, 10% of men eat out every day, compared to only 2% of women who do.
  • Respondents who earn between $40,001 and $50,000 per year spend the most money eating out, averaging $117.82 per week, or between 12.25% and 15.31% of their yearly income.

The survey also examined, through multiple-answer questions, why consumers eat out at a restaurant. Forty-seven percent of respondents selected “social, spending time with family and friends” as the main reason, followed by “special occasion” (41%), “it’s convenient” (40%) and “I enjoy the atmosphere” (33%).

As restaurants compete for customers, providing superior service is no longer an added bonus but is expected. More than half of survey respondents (53%) cited “good service” as the second most important factor when selecting a restaurant after “food quality” (62%), which received the most votes.

  • When determining a server’s tip, 58% of respondents cited “friendly and pleasant demeanor” as the most important factor, followed by “attentiveness” (50%) and “accuracy of order” (44%).
  • Nearly a third of respondents (30%) cited “rude restaurant service” as their biggest frustration when eating out at a restaurant.
  • When asked to pick one thing they would generally change in restaurants, the majority of open-ended responses included complaints about bad service.
  • When discovering new restaurants, 59% of respondents said they rely on “friend recommendations,” followed by “social media” (46%), reinforcing that great customer service and maintaining a good online reputation is key to driving sales.

To accommodate consumer demand, restaurant operators are turning to third-party delivery services to manage the ordering, payment and delivery of meals, but with so many options available, it can be hard for a restaurant operator to keep up. Understanding this pain point, the survey asked respondents to select which delivery services they used most often. According to the results:   

  • Among third-party delivery services, Uber Eats was selected as the most popular (31%), followed by DoorDash (27%) and GrubHub (24%).
  • When asked what the main reasons are for using third-party delivery services, 50% of respondents cited “convenience,” followed by “ease of payment” (42%) and “good customer service” (40%).
  • A quarter of respondents (25%) said they use third-party delivery services because they’d rather place their order online or via an app than talk to someone on the phone.
  • Surprisingly, the restaurant’s in-house delivery service was the second most-used delivery service (29%) among general respondents and the number-one delivery service used by respondents in the Southeast (28%) and Midwest (35%), proving that in-house delivery is still popular.

Although Americans enjoy eating out, there are a number of factors that can contribute to a negative experience. To enable restaurant operators to better understand the expectations of today’s restaurant patrons, the survey asked respondents to disclose their biggest frustrations when eating out at a restaurant and having food delivered. The survey results showed:

  • When eating out at a restaurant, the top five frustrations for survey respondents include “the time it takes to receive their order” (35%), “the price of the meal and getting an order wrong” (34%), “not being satisfied with the quality/taste of food” (31%), “rude restaurant service” (30%) and “restaurant cleanliness” (25%).
  • When having food delivered, the top three frustrations were “the time it takes for the food to be delivered” (20%), followed by “the condition of the food” (18%) and “missing items from my order” (14%).

“Having been in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years, it’s interesting to see how quickly customer expectation can be changed,” said Simon Bocca, chief operating officer at Fourth. “It’s clear from the survey results that customer service and a tight back-of-house operating system are key to optimizing profits. We’re excited for the future of the industry and to continue to help restaurant operators enhance guest satisfaction and scale profitably by ensuring they have the right amount of labor and inventory on hand to deliver a great guest experience – every time.”

Sponsored by Fourth, the “Truth about Dining Out” survey was conducted by OnePoll, a marketing research company specializing in online quantitative research and polling, on April 16-17, 2019. Feedback was obtained from 1,000 U.S. adults who have eaten out in a restaurant or ordered food to go.

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