Consumers favour food-led venues over bars post-lockdown

29th May, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

More US consumers have returned to casual dining chains and restaurants than bars since they reopened following Covid-19 lockdowns, according to Nielsen.


Brown spirits “show the greatest likelihood of consumption frequency increases” as drinkers seek premium options

The latest Covid-19 On-premise Impact Report from Nielsen CGA collected data from five key cities in Texas and Florida: Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Houston and Dallas. The research was conducted over the weekend (22-26 May) and surveyed 1,300 consumers across the five cities.

Nielsen found that 33% of consumers from the five cities have gone out to eat in a bar or restaurant in the last two weeks. Of those that returned, 32% have visited on-trade venues three or more times in the last two weeks.

The analyst said returning to the on-trade for drinking is significantly more popular with younger consumers with 27% of 21-34-year-olds returning for a drink, compared to 16% of 35-54-year-olds and 6% of those over the age of 55.

The top venue for consumers returning to the on-trade is casual dining chains (40%), followed by independent restaurants (35%). Nielsen said it is “apparent that food-based venues are really capturing the visitation of returning consumers”.

However, the sports bar was the third most popular venue type (21%) and the top drinking venue. Meanwhile, 15% returned to premium bars and 18% to fine dining restaurants.

Nielsen said food-led venues remain the most popular sites for consumers to visit over the next two weeks. Regarding drinks-led outlets, 27% said they plan to visit neighbourhood bars, overtaking sports bars at 24%.

Looking by age group, Nielsen said those aged between 21 and 34 are split across food-led and drink-led venues, with casual dining chains (27%), independent restaurants (25%) and sports bars (27%) all taking similar numbers. Those over the age of 34 are much more likely to visit food-led outlets currently.

Of those aged between 21 and 34, 21% said they visited neighbourhood bars, 18% headed to brew pubs/taprooms, and 23% propped up premium bars.

The consumers that returned to on-trade outlets enjoyed red wine (23%), followed by vodka (20%), white wine (20%), non-craft beer (18%), whisk(e)y (18%) and cocktails (17%). Nielsen said this showed a “strong performance” for vodka and whiskey.

Nielsen also found a significant number of consumers plan to increase their consumption of certain drinks categories when returning to bars and restaurants. Brown spirits such as Cognac, brandy and whisk(e)y “show the greatest likelihood of consumption frequency increases” as drinkers seek premium options.

Nielsen also noted a “large jump” in the consumption of hard seltzers – alcoholic sparkling water. The report found 42% of hard seltzer drinkers plan to consume the canned low-alcohol product more frequently. Nielsen believes this is due to the ease and packaging format of hard seltzers, which “caters to hygiene concerns and can easily be transported”, as well as the wellbeing trend. “It appears hard seltzers may still see success this summer despite this disruption,” Nielsen added.

On consumption habits, Nielsen said it found the same drinking behaviour across the cities as other US states. The report found that just over half (51%) are drinking the same amount of alcoholic drinks as before the pandemic. While 27% are drinking more than usual, compared to those drinking less (21%).

Safety measures

Looking to the next two weeks, 39% said they plan to go out to bars and restaurants to eat, and 21% to drink.

Consumers said they would be more encouraged to return to bars and restaurants if they had outdoor seating (41%), fewer tables/patrons (40%) and ensured staff wore masks and gloves (38%).

Safety and physical distancing was cited as the top reason for those who haven’t returned to bars and restaurants yet. Nielsen said if venues advertised or displayed that it had measures in place, that it could help to make some consumers feel safer upon returning to bars and restaurants.

In addition, 29% of consumers said that they would feel comfortable visiting on-trade venues once the number of Covid-19 cases does not increase again and when there is a vaccine or treatment available.

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