Everyone knows it’s been a difficult year and a half. We’ve been isolated, unable to travel, and often unsure of what activities were safe or not, if they were even available at all. And without a doubt, one of the hardest-hit industries has been food service. Restaurants and bars have permanently closed in record numbers all over the country, and service workers have been left with similar hard decisions to make about their personal health risks. 

But there are optimistic signs that point to the pandemic subsiding and one of those things is a willingness to eat out. 

The percentage of the general population 18 and older who plan to dine out at a restaurant within the next week has risen significantly from 15% at the beginning of July 2020, to nearly 40% over the last few months. Meanwhile, takeout intenders have followed a path of descent at nearly the same rate, indicating that people have had enough eating from a styrofoam container on their couch.

Unfortunately, however, despite efforts to support local restaurants and bars over the course of the pandemic, almost two-thirds (63%) of the general population has seen at least one or two of their favorite restaurants go out of business during the course of the pandemic. 

And this trend isn’t simply observed in cities, where lots of dining options make it easier for some to fall by the wayside. 

Restaurants and bars in suburbs are nearly as likely to have closed, while rural ones trail by only seven percentage points. 

The good news, however, is that nearly half of the general population expects new restaurants to open as the pandemic continues to subside over the coming months.

The data also seems to suggest that despite the difficulties of the past year or so, people have a positive outlook. 

So What Kind of Restaurants Do People Want to See?

Overwhelmingly, the general adult population wants to see independent or family-owned restaurants open in their area. Casual chain restaurants come in second with just about one-fifth of total respondents. 

This data aligns with CivicScience tracking, which has shown a gradual growth in the general population seeking out and eating at independent and family owned restaurants. Interestingly, despite data showing that people don’t want to see more fast food restaurants in their area, the rate with which fast food has been eaten since the beginning of the pandemic has only increased. 

Perhaps this demonstrates that the foodservice model of fast-food restaurants is better designed to weather the pandemic (drive-thru, limited contact, etc.). 

Regardless, the preference for independent restaurants cuts clearly across age demographics.

There is, however, an interesting skew towards casual chain restaurants as age increases. Meanwhile, the youngest demographics are most likely to want an upscale restaurant in their area, a trend which declines against age. 

Urbanicity also has a significant impact on the kind of restaurant desired. Rural areas prefer casual chains, and upscale are most desired in urban areas. However, regardless of the area, independent and family-owned restaurants are highly preferred.

So as the pandemic continues to abate, and more and more people feel comfortable spending their time out, look for new independent restaurants to compete for leftover spaces of those unfortunately shuttered during the last year or so. 

It doesn’t matter if you live in the city or rural areas or anywhere in between, what seems to be consistent is that people are looking forward to food. CivicScience will continue to track restaurant trends as those kitchens and dining spaces open once again.