What diners say they expect from restaurants in 2021

Takeaway meals. Contactless payment. Meal kits. Community meals. A lot has changed for restaurants since the pandemic turned the industry’s world upside down. Diners have new expectations of what restaurants do and are for them. Diners know running a restaurant is hard work, and they have a new respect for what it takes.

To capture the moment and analyse what the industry will look like coming out of the pandemic, OpenTable conducted a survey of over 17,000 diners in the U.K. about the future of dining.* The survey results made it clear what diners want restaurants to do and be many things, from outdoor seating to how restaurants are perceived by their local communities.

While COVID has further complicated an already complex industry, right now restaurants and diners are aligned. Straight from the mouths of diners, here’s how customer expectations are shaping the future of hospitality and what to expect from the next era of dining.

Technology has enabled restaurants and diners alike to enjoy easy and comfortable ways of communicating with one another. This couldn’t be more true than with the rising trend and adoption of QR codes and contactless payments. In addition to this rise, 36 percent of diners plan on making their next reservation through a mobile app, closely followed by a restaurant’s website (35 percent). This demonstrates that online is the place to get seen by diners and staying up to date with the newest technology is the way forward for any good business.

While diners missed the comforting familiarity of local restaurants during lockdown, the question of how restaurants play a role in a local community arose. For example, many restaurants pivoted their businesses to serving the most vulnerable and helping NHS staff within their local communities. Our survey found that 85 percent of diners want to help their local restaurants survive the impact of the pandemic. Better yet, 60 percent said they most miss their favourite local place.

In short, the pandemic has placed restaurants right in the hearts of their local communities and diners are eager to support and visit them once again.

With easing of lockdown more apparent, the UK market is on a positive trajectory. On the first day of outdoor dining in England, reservations for outdoor dining rose to 79 percent in comparison to 2019, a year before the coronavirus pandemic struck. This positive trend gives restaurants and diners similar hopes for a sense of normality soon. With plenty of celebrations missed and an eagerness for social interaction, we discovered 71 percent of diners have missed dining out of their birthday and 21 percent say they will splash out once restaurants reopen. With optimism this high, restaurants should expect diner volumes to peak during the summer and restaurants will quite rightly return as one of the main places for social interaction.

For everything you need to rebound and reconnect with your guests make sure to head over to our rebound hub or for a deeper dive into the full restaurant survey results head here.

*OpenTable surveyed over 17,000 diners in the United Kingdom on the OpenTable network between 16 March, 2021 and 23 March, 2021.