Family dining and the holidays, pandemic edition

Back in May, we interviewed diners across the globe and asked them about family dining.

We asked heads of two-parent families with two children ages 6-12 to answer the question plaguing the industry at the time, which remains relevant now: What will it take for families to start dining out again?

In June, another study followed up on the topic. Back then, 60% of the participants said they’d be comfortable with dining out immediately or within a few weeks of restaurants reopening in their areas. And price considerations aside, 69% of the canvassed consumers said they’d return to their favorite spots for a night out.

Now, nine months into the pandemic and approaching the thick of the celebrating season, we wanted to revisit the topic: what are people’s attitudes about family dining, especially during the holidays?

RMS and partner Rival Technologies conducted a survey just a few days before Thanksgiving among more than 1,400 adults located throughout the US. Hosted on the Angus Reid Forum, we asked respondents about the possibility of indulging in special meals and how they planned to celebrate (or not) this year.

When asked, ‘This holiday season, are you planning on splurging on any holiday meals?’ nearly half (49%) of respondents said they would be preparing elaborate, home-cooked meals. While most consumers have spent the past nine months cooking at home more than ever, why this strong desire to cook more and more elaborately? Director of Behavioral Research, Dr. Christina Norton says it could be a mixture of upholding traditions and being wary of expenses; and it varies by  geographic region. 

“When you look at the responses based on region, the figure makes sense.” At 52%, Southerners lead the way when it comes to splurging on elaborate home meals. At 43%, the Midwest is the most cautious. Norton says this may be a reflection of the state of COVID-19 in the region — it is currently the US hotspot for cases.

One-fifth of consumers ready to spend more on holiday dining

As many restaurant dining rooms are still closed and diners remain wary of eating out, 20% of survey respondents said they would spend more on takeout and delivery from their favorite restaurants during the holidays. The youngest segment (18-34 years old) reported the greatest propensity for spending more on take away, higher than the older segments (35-54 and 55+) by 8 and 9 percent, respectively. 

What about the college students returning home ‘early?’ Norton says, “I would wager that we see an uptick in this age group ordering meals from restaurants through the New Year.” She also posits many students will likely stay at home for the next semester and take classes online — also promising for restaurants as the study found that the 18-34 year-old segment would be the most likely to dine in at their favorite restaurants.

A second opportunity for restaurants lies in working Americans who have delayed taking time off this year to coincide with kids’ end-of-year school holidays.

“We predict that there will be a large amount of families who are taking off the last two weeks of the year to enjoy staycations with family,” says Norton. “This is a time to appeal to18-54-year-olds, who when combined, make up 44% of those who said they would spend more on takeout and delivery from their favorite restaurants this holiday season.”

Foregoing large gatherings

When it comes to gatherings, regardless of age or location, most respondents were on the same, cautious page. Only 3% of respondents said they planned on having a large family gathering for the holidays this year. However, 49% said they would host at least one intimate get together this year. Digging deeper into the data, it’s again the 18-34 year-olds who, at 45%, are most inclined to avoid large gatherings and instead host smaller meals.

Those who are most at-risk for Covid-19 (55+) occupied the largest percentage of those not planning to celebrate the holidays. (Sadly, 33% of overall respondents said they ‘do not plan on celebrating the holidays at all.’)

With time off, frazzled nerves and the desire to enjoy those held near and dear, restaurants have an opportunity to be part of the celebration — by taking care of the cooking.

At RMS, we’re committed to helping the restaurant industry move forward with strength. We’re helping some of the world’s largest restaurant brands create a plan for profit. Let us help you — we’re in this together.

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