The COVID effect: Ten big trends in UK and US consumer behaviour

The pandemic and lockdown have radically altered people’s engagement with pubs, bars and restaurants—possibly for good. CGA’s ‘Redefining the out-of-home experience webinar’ on Thursday (10 September) provided a host of insights from the latest consumer research in the UK and US data.

The pandemic and lockdown have radically altered people’s engagement with pubs, bars and restaurants—possibly for good. CGA’s ‘Redefining the out-of-home experience webinar’ on Thursday (10 September) provided a host of insights from the latest consumer research in the UK and US data: here are ten of the biggest evolutions it reveals.

1 Rising visits

CGA’s latest BrandTrack survey shows two thirds (65%) of British adults have returned to restaurants, pubs and other venues since they reopened—up ten percentage points since mid-August, and 20 from late July. Over in the US, Nielsen CGA’s COVID-19 Impact Survey indicates that nearly half (46%) of consumers have been out to eat in the last two weeks, up from 38% in early July. But while visits are steadily rising, large proportions of the populations still haven’t been back out—and new government restrictions on gatherings in the UK may well delay their return further.

2 Increasing demands

After an initial post-lockdown period in July when consumers prioritised hygiene and safety above everything else, other issues have become more important. Value for money, service and atmosphere have all risen up the list of priorities in recent weeks, CGA’s data shows. As people settle into the new normal of eating and drinking out, they are becoming more demanding.

3 Financial concerns

CGA’s mid-August Consumer Pulse survey found that four in five (78%) people were concerned about the long-term financial implication of COVID-19—more than those who feared a second wave of infections (77%). This points to mounting anxiety about the economy and job security, which will inevitably have implications for disposable income and spending in pubs, bars and restaurants.

4 Satisfaction with staff

Front-line teams have worked hard to reassure guests and give them the right mix of safety and experience since the end of lockdown. And consumers recognise that: more than a quarter (29%) think their interaction with staff has been better than before the pandemic—twice the number who think it has been worse (14%).

“Front of house teams remain as important a part of the hospitality experience as ever,” said Alexandra Martin, US Retail Services Director at Nielsen CGA at the webinar.

5 Desire for familiarity

With concern about infection still high, CGA’s BrandTrack data points to a switch to meeting in small groups rather than big ones, and in a relaxed atmosphere rather than high-tempo occasions. More than two thirds (70%) are now inclined to visit traditional venues, and even more (78%) want to go somewhere familiar instead of new. “People don’t want to be pushed too far out of their comfort zone,” said Martin.

6 Financial polarisation

As some incomes fall but others remain unaffected, research in the UK, US and China all points to a growing divide between value and premium drinks choices. Half (50%) of US premium drinks consumers have ordered more of them than they did before COVID-19, taking share from mid-market brands. Cocktails are quickly rising back up the list of choices too. “Consumers have missed the cocktail experience—it really lends itself to the on-premise occasion.”

7 More deliveries

A quarter (27%) of British adults ordered more deliveries than usual, or for the first time, during lockdown. There are strong signs that they will continue their high frequency, including from pubs and bars. This is echoed in the US, where there has been a notable surge in orders of alcoholic drinks to go alongside food.

8 More tech, but table service too

The pandemic has accelerated the take-up of many aspects of technology, and half (48%) of under-35s in the US now think it is an important part of their on-premise experience. It has also sped up digital ordering, though in the UK there has been a notable shift back towards table service in recent weeks, with some people opposed to technology taking over from staff interaction. Menu preferences are a good example of this split: 17% now prefer app-based menus, but many more still want traditional menus (28%) or single-use paper ones (24%). “Technology is here to stay, but it needs to be balanced with the personal touch,” Martin said.

9 Demand for experience

Lockdown has reminded people of the experiences that they can only get in the on-trade. Technology has a big role to play in many of them—as at the Imbiba-backed Otherworld Virtual Reality bar in Hackney. “It’s reminding people why they do not buy cheaper products at home, and shows that the experience is valuable.”

10 Local habits

With people so anxious about crowds, there has been a big shift away from city centre venues to local ones. The trend has been bolstered by the soaring numbers of people working from home, who are choosing nearby venues for meals and drinks rather than travelling. The dynamic has been echoed in the US, where a third (34%) of consumers are actively avoiding city centres and busy places. This could lead to a long-term change in the types of occasions in city centres—from after-work drinks and business lunches to family visits or couples’ escapes for example.

The ‘Redefining the out-of-home experience’ webinar was hosted by CGA and Peter Martin’s Atlantic Club, in partnership with Harrison, Herman/Stewart and Harri. For more views from the webinar click here, and to watch it in full click here.

Recent posts:

Share post


Subscribe to our newsletter

Access the latest On Premise news and reports by signing up below.