UK Consumers Prioritise Good Food and Experiences Over Vaccine Passports

After a year of upheaval and change for the hospitality industry, the UK has now reached ‘Freedom Day,’ but the debate around the removal of mask mandates and a vaccine passport programme continues. Yet, a new study from SevenRooms has found that safety regulations are low on the priority list for UK consumers, with just 11% saying they would not feel comfortable dining out unless a vaccine passport system was in place.

The COVID Confidence: Part Two’ report polled a representative sample of 2,068 UK adults through YouGov in June 2021, looking at the key factors for consumers when it comes to the dining experience in the post-COVID era. The findings have been compared with responses from the ‘COVID Confidence’, 2020 report to reveal how diner expectations have evolved over the course of the pandemic. The data highlights that food, ambience and the restaurant experience are more important than ever:

  1. Food comes first – The quality of the dishes served is paramount for UK diners. Over two-thirds (68%) say the quality of the food makes for a better restaurant experience, compared to 61% last year (+7%)
  2. Creating the right atmosphere – The ambience of a restaurant is increasingly crucial – 43% say it affects the enjoyability of their visit versus 33% in 2020 (+10%)
  3. Discount devotees – After a difficult year for many financially, 23% say a discount would improve their restaurant experience, up from 16% in September of last year (+5%)
  4. Taken with technology – New technologies such as contactless ordering and payment were originally introduced to boost COVID safety, but they remain a welcome addition for almost a third (32%) of diners; 49% of consumers want to be able to make a reservation in advance

With the UK’s vaccination programme progressing and having reached our ‘terminus point’ of 19th July, the study revealed that consumer attitudes towards COVID safety in their dining experiences has decreased in comparison to last year:

  • Vaccine passports not a priority – Despite much media attention, only 21% of consumers say having a vaccine passport system implemented at a restaurant would make their experience more enjoyable
  • Masks and PPE – While over half (55%) said they would prefer to see staff wearing masks and other PPE last year, this number dropped to 45% in 2021, a 10% decrease. A fifth (20%) now say they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if staff didn’t wear masks, +9% from last year’s poll
  • Hand sanitiser – While the Government is still mandating the presence of hand sanitiser at restaurant entrances, this is becoming less of a priority for diners: while almost half (49%) wanted to see hand sanitisers in venues in 2020, this has decreased to 40% (-9%)
  • Diner communications – 15 months into the pandemic, a quarter (25%) of UK diners would like to be informed of COVID safety measures before every restaurant visit, compared to 34% in 2020, a decrease of 9%

The study also examines consumer preferences when it comes to dining out. The pandemic has made the nation increasingly keen to show loyalty to venues they know, with 40% saying they are inclined to dine at a restaurant they’ve been to previously, a 5% increase from 2020 (35%). Over a third (38%) prefer to forgo third-party reservation platforms and book with the restaurant directly compared to 29% last year. Notably, independent restaurants are growing in popularity with nearly a quarter (23%) of diners now more likely to dine with them over a chain restaurant (+5% from 2020 at 18%).

While the issue of ‘no shows’ has continued to be discussed within the media, the report reveals that UK diners are more reluctant than ever to fail to turn up for a booking without cancelling. Over half (56%) state there is no circumstance that they would ‘no show’ (+5% versus 2020 at 51%). Only 18% claim they would fail to turn up if there was an increase in COVID infections in their local area, compared to 24% last year. Despite the belief that many ‘no shows’ are due to making multiple reservations ahead of selecting a final option, only 3% of UK consumers claim they do this.

Danilo Mangano, General Manager Europe at SevenRooms, comments: “After enduring three lockdowns, changing restrictions and months of uncertainty, diners are excited to get back to the experiences they know and love and make up for lost time. While much of the focus in the hospitality industry for the past year has been on adapting to keep customers safe, operators should also now be looking at how they can elevate the guest experience altogether. As the summer heats up, there is a big opportunity for hospitality operators to capture pent-up consumer demand. However, operators need to be ready to not only meet, but exceed, the changed needs of their guests.

“Success in a post-pandemic environment will rely on operators’ ability to deliver exceptional and meaningful experiences to guests whenever and wherever they are, and technology has a huge role to play in enabling them to do this effectively. With fewer resources than ever before financially, operationally and staffing, hospitality operators that leverage technology will be able to do more with less.

“Putting the right technology in place can also help directly facilitate the exceptional dining experiences that guests expect today. This could be as simple as presenting them with their favourite bottle of wine, keeping track of details related to food preferences, or communicating with them ahead of their experience to ensure they know what to expect. The options are endless for restaurants to personalise the experience to drive loyalty and repeat business. Capturing valuable insights and building direct and meaningful guest relationships will be fundamental as we move into recovery mode and look to capitalise on what is sure to be an incredible summer.”