Gradual reopening of non-essential businesses and the easing of lockdown restrictions makes one wonder who is okay returning to normal and who needs more time to feel safe. The restaurant industry would love to have that question answered today so they can plan their summer menus or make changes to their business model to accommodate fewer (or more fearful) diners. 

In a consumer trust survey of more than 2,400 U.S. adults, CivicScience discovered what many restaurants are dying to know: if they open, who will feel safe enough to come and dine?

Respondents’ trust in cleanliness and safety relied entirely on the type of restaurant in question. National and regional chains were trusted the least, making up only 17% of survey respondents. Local restaurants were by far the most trusted at 42%, although distrust in any restaurant was equally high (41%).

Essentially, if someone had to choose, it’s very likely they would go local, although almost half would be difficult to convince from the beginning.

In addition, CivicScience’s daily tracking of comfort leaving the house revealed those who were the most cautious about eating out again were the most likely to distrust the cleanliness and safety procedures of any restaurant. While this isn’t too surprising, there is still a significant amount of trust in local restaurants, even among those who wouldn’t be comfortable eating out for at least six months or more. And sentiment around waiting six months or more is increasing week over week.

Overall, income and occupation factored into trust. First, people earning over $100K a year were the most likely to trust the cleanliness and safety procedures at national chains. Conversely, those making under $50K a year were the most distrusting of all restaurants. And, this was the only income bracket where distrust in all restaurants surpassed trust in local spots. Second, business / management professionals showed the most trust in national chains when compared to technical, skilled labor, and service professionals. 

Pre-pandemic, going to work provided many opportunities for meals out but with the majority of working adults not working from their typical worksite or not working at all, eat-out options aren’t what they used to be. Among business and management professionals, 51% would return to work in under a month should lockdowns be lifted, but that’s not quite the same for other professions. Skilled laborers and service professionals are much more likely to say they would go back to work in under a month (at 63% and 65% respectively). Given what we know about their trust in restaurants, when they do return to work, they are probably going to look up a local place should they be inclined to eat out at all.

Overall, local restaurants are the most trusted dining establishments for U.S. adults, and by a wide margin. As people begin to go out more, local spots will have the upper hand. Given what we know about people who trust national chains, it’s likely these restaurants will see more takeout than dine-in or pickup orders over the next several weeks.