The Commit Report | Restaurant Industry Research on Patronage

March 16, 2022

Late last year, Commit Agency conducted research on restaurant industry patronage across the United States to gain insight into people’s attitudes on dining out, getting takeout and delivery, and why they choose the restaurants they do. And after surveying 1,000 patrons, the results were eye-opening.

Different Behaviors, Different Segments

Upon conducting the research, three distinct segments of restaurant patrons emerged.

#1: Social Explorers

For these diners, eating out is part of their social life. They love finding new restaurants and trying new and unfamiliar foods. And because of this, their friends rely on them for restaurant recommendations (thus cementing their reputation as an expert, which they love). And if they know a restaurant is popular, it makes it that much more appealing to people in this group.

#2: Supportive Treaters

These diners see eating at a restaurant as a special treat and a reward for their hard work (whether it’s celebrating an anniversary or landing a business deal). They stick to a few favorite restaurants as their go-tos to satisfy everyone in their dining party versus seeking out the newest hot spot.

Despite eating out less often, they are much more likely than other patrons to support local and be empathetic to the hard work it takes to run a restaurant. Because they believe restaurants want to make their diners happy, they think employees should be getting paid more.

#3: Disengaged Savers

These diners patronize a wide range of restaurant types, but admit that they prefer cooking and eating at home rather than eating out. When they do go out, they care more about the cost of the meal than about how it tastes and are much more likely than other segments to wait for a coupon or special before going out to eat.

When it comes to gender, location or income level, there isn’t much of a difference in patrons among these three categories—including age. However, Supportive Treaters are significantly more likely to be at least 60 years old and Disengaged Savers are more likely to be under the age of 40.

You’ll likely see customers from each of these segments dining at your restaurants, which is why it’s essential that you know and understand both existing and aspirational audiences so you can learn how to communicate effectively and engage them how they want to be engaged, all while building loyalty.

It’s not effective to use a “one-size-fits-all” approach. And restaurant owners can waste precious resources—like time, labor, money and operational enhancements—which may not have as big of an impact as they’d hoped. Instead, restaurants can engage with each of these diner types by understanding their unique, individual needs and behaviors and investing in those that most closely align with their target audience.

Restaurant Patronage Trends

Throughout our research, trends also emerged in restaurant patronage. Check out some of these stats:

  • 60 percent say they typically dine in
  • 59 percent say they typically get takeout
  • 56 percent use a drive-through to get their meals

Delivery wasn’t as typical. And age matters; patrons 60+ are far less likely to get takeout, drive-through or delivery than those under 50. Other things we found interesting about restaurant behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • More than one-third say they go to restaurants more often than before the pandemic
  • Nearly half say they’re spending about the same as before the pandemic
  • 45 percent say they tried new restaurants during the pandemic (Social Explorers were more likely to, but not by much)
  • For those who did try a new place, 79 percent say they’ll probably or definitely visit it again

These are shifts you can take advantage of to grow your loyal customer base if you act quickly.

Ask Yourself: How have you leveraged the pandemic’s impact to build customer loyalty?

When it comes to restaurants and the pandemic, you need to stay flexible and adapt to ever-changing industry conditions in order to be successful.

Understanding these restaurant patronage levels, new restaurant trial and loyalty present an opportunity for you to gain and retain new customers. That means no matter what segment, every restaurant—and every type of restaurant—can engage their ideal customers and keep them coming back. The key is knowing who your audience is and understanding what they want. Lean in to the people at your restaurant who interact with customers the most—like your hosts and servers. They’re more likely to have meaningful conversations on a more regular basis, which is incredibly valuable for you in determining which areas of your restaurant to prioritize over others.

At Commit Agency, we know that today’s diners have more options than ever before. Using social listening and other research methodologies, we’re better understanding what our clients’ customers are looking for and have used that intel to optimize the brand-customer experience.

To learn more about each patron’s behaviors and get insights into the opportunities they present, check out our entire executive summary.


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