One Year In: Diners and Restaurants Weigh In on Dining in 2021

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has devastated restaurants. But now, one year later, diners are ready and more than eager to get back to dining out at their favorite bar stools and corner booths.

Dining looks different now and will, no doubt, continue to evolve moving forward. OpenTable partnered with the James Beard Foundation a nonprofit organization committed to ​helping the food and beverage industry survive, rebuild, and thrive, to survey more than 21,000 OpenTable diners across the U.S. and Canada, and nearly 300 restaurant industry professionals to uncover what trends are shaping the industry.

Read on to find out what they’ve seen change, how they want to dine out in 2021, and which innovations they’d like to stick around — even after COVID-19.

Safety was the top dining priority in 2020, but food is king again.

  • Now that people are feeling hopeful about dining, food trumps safety: 45% of diners say a restaurant’s food is most important when selecting a restaurant in 2021.
  • Still, safety continues to be top of mind. 34% of diners say a restaurant following regulated health and safety measures is most important.
  • On the restaurant side, businesses reported that personal protective equipment (PPE), strict cleaning policies, and visible health and safety signage are top precautions they’ve taken to address COVID-19.

Takeout and delivery saved restaurants (and many of us from cooking) during the pandemic. They’re all sticking around.

  • Restaurants transformed their businesses to make room for to-go orders, resulting in takeout orders more than quadrupling over the past three months, according to OpenTable data.
  • Almost all (91%) diners said they want to see takeout and delivery offerings stay in 2021, particularly wine and beer to-go (52%), cocktails and bar kits to-go (46%), and meal kits (42%).

Al fresco dining won over diners too.

  • Outdoor dining became the new norm with relaxed sidewalk permitting and creative cold-weather solutions. The percentage of parties seated outdoors increased 12X year over year and 74% reported that they feel dining outdoors is low to somewhat low risk for putting them at risk of contracting COVID-19. (For comparison, that figure is up 45% from July 2020.)
  • 83% said they want restaurants to keep increasing outdoor seating in the year ahead and restaurants agree

But indoor dining is poised to make its comeback. 

  • As dining rooms open, diners are ready to fill those seats again. 34% of diners say they feel eating indoors is low to somewhat low risk for putting them at risk for COVID-19 (up from just 19% last July.)
  • On top of that, 54% said they plan to dine out at a restaurant with table service in 2021 at least once a week.

COVID-era technology is for keeps.

  • Restaurants doubled down on technologies that will stand the test of time. 71% of diners said they want restaurants to keep offering contactless pay, ordering, or menus.
  • Websites and social media accounts are crucial now too. A vast majority (94%) of restaurants said they rely on social media to communicate rapidly-changing updates to their businesses.

Dining will be forever changed by COVID-19, as new revenue streams, pivots, and financial realities affect how people relish their favorite meals. Time and again, restaurants have risen to the occasion — and diners, it’s clear, are hungry for everything they have to offer.

About the surveys

OpenTable surveyed over 21,000 diners in the U.S. and Canada on the OpenTable network between February 7, 2021 to February 15, 2021. 

The James Beard Foundation surveyed nearly 300 of its restaurant partners in the U.S. between February 8, 2021 to February 23, 2021.

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