what diners miss
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Coronavirus and restaurants: What diners miss the most during quarantine

We miss you, restaurants
what diners miss
Hinterhaus Productions/ Getty Images

Even as some states reopen restaurants for dine-in, scores of Americans remain under stay-at-home orders that limit dining to carryout or delivery. For many, restaurants and bars do more than provide a food service. They offer communal spaces to share food, gather with loved ones and celebrate achievements, birthdays and anniversaries. Food establishments are owned and operated by folks you know and care about, making their notable absence felt. 

To discover what people miss most about the full restaurant experience, Datassential surveyed 4,000 U.S. consumers. Here are the top 10 responses for four questions about cravings, missing dining-in and why they most want to return to restaurants.

Question #1: What are diners craving or missing the most from restaurants?

Question #1: What are diners craving or missing the most from restaurants?
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As evidenced by America’s most-searched recipes, people are on the same page when it comes to food they miss during stay-at-home orders and social distancing closures. These are the top 10 cuisines people miss the most.

10. Sushi

10. Sushi
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A roll or two from the best sushi restaurants in America kick off the top 10 list of foods diners miss the most from restaurants, according to the Datassential survey. Once an inexpensive fast food in Asia, sushi is now among the most-craved foods of 18% of respondents.

9. Fries

9. Fries
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While there may be plenty of things you didn’t know about french fries, the fact that people love them hot out of the fryer isn’t one of them. Eighteen percent of survey respondents reported craving fries, so it’s no surprise the crispy treats are America’s favorite takeout food.

8. BBQ

8. BBQ
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Every region does BBQ its own way, and you are undoubtedly partial to one take on tangy sauce and grilling. Nineteen percent of respondents reported craving BBQ, whatever that means to them.

7. Steak

7. Steak
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Twenty-seven percent of consumers reported craving steak from some of America’s best steakhouses. Luckily for most, there are ways to make even cheap steak tender and delicious in the meantime.

4. Burgers

T-4. Burgers
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Starting the tie for fourth place, burgers are among most-craved foods based on the Datassential survey. Twenty-nine percent of respondents admitted to craving the best burger in every state.

4. Italian food

T-4. Italian food
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Cooking pasta correctly is a science. To do it like the best Italian restaurants in America requires finesse. Accordingly, 29% of survey respondents would rather save the Italian cooking for the professionals.

4. Pizza

T-4. Pizza
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Pizza has long been the go-to delivery food for most. Even now, 29% of respondents reported craving it. Homemade pizza, be it cooked on classic dough, bagels, English muffins or naan bread, cannot compare to sharing a pie with friends at the 101 best pizza joints in America.

3. Asian food

3. Asian food
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Thirty percent of consumers reporting cravings for Asian cuisine. In the meantime, consider adding Asian steak lettuce wraps to your weeknight dinner rotation

2. Seafood

2. Seafood
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With many of the best seafood shacks closed, consumers are missing their quality seafood fix. Thirty-one percent of respondents reported craving restaurant-cooked seafood.

1. Mexican food

1. Mexican food
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When not trying to make Mexican dishes at home, people are longing to eat their tacos and tostadas as they should be eaten — in America’s best taquerías. Thirty-six percent of Datassential’s respondents reported craving Mexican food.

Question #2: Which aspects of dine-in service are diners most excited to get back to once their favorite places fully reopen?

Question #2: Which aspects of dine-in service are diners most excited to get back to once their favorite places fully reopen?
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While some food may be recreated at home, other parts of the restaurant dine-in experience simply cannot. Still, the aspect of the dine-in service restaurant-goers miss most has more to do with the company they keep than the food they eat.

6. Getting dressed up to go out

6. Getting dressed up to go out
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It turns out 12% of consumers are eager to just get dressed up and go out somewhere. Quarantine fashion has gotten old, people are itching to decode a dress code and have a night on the town.

5. Meeting and socializing with new people

5. Meeting and socializing with new people
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Family and friends are great, but eating out offers the opportunity to meet and interact with new people you otherwise may not have. Thirteen percent of respondents are most excited to socialize with new faces once dine-in returns. Just don’t forget the worst etiquette mistakes you need to avoid when you’re finally out of quarantine.

4. Service

4. Service
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Twenty-two percent of respondents are excited for someone else to cook for and wait on them. This is particularly true for baby boomers, who were more likely to select this choice than other demographics. Just remember to follow tipping etiquette once you return to dine-in.

3. The atmosphere and scenery

3. The atmosphere and scenery
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Try as you might to make a dinner at home feel like a restaurant, but something will undoubtedly be missing: a sky-high budget for decor. Twenty-four percent of respondents look forward to returning to the world of swanky restaurant scenery and atmosphere.

2. Convenience

2. Convenience
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Before atmosphere and scenery comes convenience, and 28% of consumers are excited to return to the world of easy late-night dinners at the local diner or morning stops at the local fast food chain for a quick breakfast bite.

1. Socializing with friends and family

1. Socializing with friends and family
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Of all that could be missed about restaurants, survey respondents miss socializing with friends and family the most. In fact, 39% of consumers listed socializing with loved ones as what they are most excited to get back to once restaurants fully reopen. In the meantime, you can send loved ones a sweet treat or their favorite meal to show your love.

Question #3: What are diners most looking forward to from restaurant food that they haven’t been able to get at home?

Question #3: What are diners most looking forward to from restaurant food that they haven’t been able to get at home?
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Like question two, question three asked consumers what about restaurants they miss most. However, this time, possible responses were limited to strictly food. Here are the top 10 food-related things only restaurants can provide.

10. Foods made with lots of fresh ingredients

10. Foods made with lots of fresh ingredients
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You can live off frozen food for only so long. Not to mention all the ways you are likely defrosting your food wrong. Foods made with tons of fresh ingredients start the top 10 reasons diners most look forward to restaurant food. Millennials in particular, and 18% of all respondents, look forward to ditching the foods in their fridge and freezer for fresher alternatives.

9. Restaurant foods just taste better

9. Restaurant foods just taste better
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In the same vein, according to 18% of survey respondents, restaurant food just tastes better. For now, try to adopt some restaurant secrets every home cook should know to elevate your home cooking game.

8. Dishes that are hard to make at home

8. Dishes that are hard to make at home
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Croissants and baklava are just a couple foods you should never make at home, and 30% of consumers are looking forward to splurging on dishes that are difficult to make themselves. But remember, trying your hand at making difficult but sure-to-impress desserts is an excellent way to explore a new hobby.

7. Being able to order my own dish

7. Being able to order my own dish
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Perusing a menu and selecting that one dish you would most like to eat can feel empowering. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents are excited to once again be able to order their own dish once restaurants fully reopen.

6. Ethnic foods and flavors

6. Ethnic foods and flavors
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Cooking ethnic food authentically requires a culinary knowledge some may lack, and 21% of consumers are eager to return to ethnic food and flavors that may seem elusive at home.

4. Indulgent foods

T-4. Indulgent foods
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There was a tie for the number four spot. Millennials, more than any other demographic, are most looking forward to satisfying their indulgent food cravings. Altogether, 20% of respondents are excited to indulge their guilty cravings — be they dessert or junk food — once social distancing restrictions ease and restaurants reopen.

4. Dishes that don’t taste good delivered

T-4. Dishes that don’t taste good delivered
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Dishes you are accustomed to eating in-shop can taste off when stuffed into to-go containers and carted away by delivery drivers. Of those surveyed, 20% said they are excited to enjoy their favorite meals that hit different in the restaurant.

3. Chef-quality/professionally prepared foods

3. Chef-quality/professionally prepared foods
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Cooking is not your day job for a reason and 19% of consumers know that much is true and look forward to the day they can ditch the online cooking classes and enjoy a professionally prepared meal.

2. Variety

2. Variety
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Thirty-two percent of respondents are excited to have more dish options once restaurants reopen. The same grilled chicken recipe can only taste great so many nights in a row.

1. A specific dish from a certain restaurant

1. A specific dish from a certain restaurant
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No matter how hard you try to recreate your restaurant favorites using copycat recipes, you sometimes just can’t compare to the real thing, and 33% of respondents are most looking forward to ordering a specific dish at a certain restaurant once shops reopen.

Question #4: What are your top reasons for wanting to visit restaurants and bars again?

Question #4: What are your top reasons for wanting to visit restaurants and bars again?
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More than serving slamming dishes, restaurants offer an emotional relief and sense of normalcy people could be lacking. Most of the top 10 reasons people want to visit restaurants and bars again once social distancing restrictions are eased have much more to do with community than anything else.

10. Night out away from the kids

10. Night out away from the kids
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Gotta get away? Nine percent of respondents want to reopen restaurants and bars for a night out away from the kids. In the meantime, keep the kids busy and yourself sane with easy and fun recipes to make with your children during coronavirus quarantine.

9. Date night or romantic night out

9. Date night or romantic night out
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Coronavirus has greatly changed the dating game with even the bread-and-butter dinner and movie date out of reach. Nineteen percent of respondents are itching to return to restaurants and bars for a much-needed date night.

8. Celebrate special occasions I wouldn’t be able to at home

8. Celebrate special occasions I wouldn’t be able to at home
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Coronavirus has canceled several special occasions, leaving families to celebrate everything from graduations to birthdays at home. Twenty-two percent of respondents are looking forward to the best special occasion bars and restaurants once they all reopen.

7. Tired of cooking at home

7. Tired of cooking at home
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Cooking at home can be anxiety-inducing. There’s the slight pressure to impress, if not the rest of your family or Instagram followers, at least yourself. So it comes as no surprise that 28% of respondents are tired of cooking at home and are excited to relieve their stresses and allow someone else to do the cooking. 

6. Socialize in person and be around other people

6. Socialize in person and be around other people
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And, of course, there’s the socializing. Thirty-two percent of respondents look forward to being around others once social distancing restrictions ease and restaurants reopen.

5. Get foods I can’t make at home or have delivered

5. Get foods I can’t make at home or have delivered
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Well documented in the Datassential study, people want the foods they cannot have at home, made or delivered. In fact, 33% of respondents are looking for foods outside their rotating routine of under-an-hour dinners.

4. Cure cabin fever

4. Cure cabin fever
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Your daily run can only do so much to cure cabin fever, and 35% of consumers are excited to leave the house once restaurants reopen.

3. Change of scenery

3. Change of scenery
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Maybe it’s a cafe across town or a pub in the nearest city, but sometimes a change of scenery can make for a good bite and good time too. Thirty-seven percent of respondents most want to visit a restaurant or bar for the change of scenery.

1. Feel normal again

T-1. Feel normal again
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Two responses tied for first place. Forty-one percent of people responded as being eager to return to restaurants for a sense of normalcy again. With life turned upside down, dining in — no matter how it may change — will feel familiar.

1. Support restaurants in my community

T-1. Support restaurants in my community
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Consumers are invested in making sure their local restaurants survive the coronavirus pandemic and thrive post-outbreak. Forty-one percent of respondents want to visit restaurants and bars to support the local businesses in their community. In the meantime, purchasing online gift cards for future use is one small act of kindness you can do from home during coronavirus.

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