The daily routines of Americans have changed radically as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country. Almost overnight, consumers found their lives turned upside down as nearly every state enacted some degree of shelter-at-home policy, closing schools and non-essential businesses and restricting operations for many others, including restaurants.
As social distancing became the norm, well-worn spending patterns — from morning coffeeshop runs to family vacations — were abandoned. Spending on flights, hotels and concerts fell sharply, while grocers saw sales surge as customers stocked up to hunker down at home. Restaurants saw steep sales declines as they were forced to close dining rooms and serve customers only through delivery and takeout platforms.
And in a period of about four weeks, more than 20 million people found themselves out of work, putting new pressure household finances.
The changes took a toll on consumer optimism. Earlier this month, The Consumer Sentiment Index from the University of Michigan dropped 18.1 points from 89.1 to 71, the largest monthly decline ever recorded in the 70-year history on the index. That sharp decline put the index at its lowest level in nine years.
While the long-term impact of the coronavirus on consumer behavior has yet to be fully revealed, survey data collected in late March and early April as the pandemic unfolded already paint a picture of a changed consumer. NRN reviewed recent data from three research firms — Datassential, SMG Group and McKinsey & Company — to offer a glimpse into the evolving mindset of today’s restaurant customer.