Perhaps no industry has been turned on its head by the pandemic as much as food service. In CivicScience’s latest weekly reading, about 4 in 10 U.S. adults said they would not be comfortable eating at a restaurant for at least six months. That’s not to mention ever-changing state and local rules limiting capacity at restaurants.

So what long-term changes can we expect to see at restaurants in years to come as a result of the pandemic? CivicScience surveyed thousands of U.S. adults on their attitudes toward these potential changes, and uncovered some interesting insights.


First off, appetizers might become a single-serve affair. Among those who typically order appetizers, most (77%) say they’d be just as likely or more likely to order a single-serve appetizer rather than a shared app.

This would represent a sea change in the industry, since fully half of all Americans say they share food at restaurants at least “somewhat often.” Fifteen percent say they do so “very often.”

As you might expect, those who like sharing food the most were least likely to spring for single-serve apps. Still, two-thirds (67%) of this group said they were at least “just as likely” to order apps for just themselves.

Some major restaurant chains may fare better than others with a single-serve appetizer strategy. For example, Chili’s and Olive Garden favorables tend to be more receptive to single-serve apps than Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings customers.

Buffet-Style Restaurants

Some have theorized that the coronavirus pandemic could also cause a shift away from family-style or buffet-style restaurants. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. adults say that they frequent these establishments. Among that population, a whopping 75% of typical buffet-goers say they’ll be less comfortable with the shared food concept moving forward.

Women are substantially less likely than men to be comfortable with the idea of returning to a buffet post-coronavirus.

And it appears that willingness to return to the buffet line post-pandemic lessens with age. Only 1 in 6 U.S. adults age 55 or older say they’ll be just as comfortable with going back to buffets. Given that this demographic makes up a full one-third of all buffet-goers, this is of particular concern for buffet-style restaurants.

It’s clear that changes are in store for the restaurant industry. It’s likely that they’ll be driven primarily by consumer comfort levels in the mid- and post-coronavirus world. General favorability toward the idea of single-serve appetizers may push some restaurants in that direction. Meanwhile, high levels of discomfort with buffets post-pandemic may cause those establishments to rethink their food service models.