Will Consumers Return To Restaurants After Learning How To Cook At Home?

Restaurants will reopen their dining halls but the timing remains unclear. In the meantime, consumers can still order restaurant meals for delivery or takeout or buy prepared meals from grocery stores.

But what about the growing trend of people cooking food themselves? What impact will this have on future restaurant sales as the public realizes cooking great food at home isn't as complicated as it seems — and a lot cheaper?

People Will Love Cooking Or Hate It More

Eddie Yoon, a consultant for consumer packaged goods companies, wrote in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article that a survey he conducted 20 years ago found only 15% of Americans love to cook. A follow-up survey many years later found an even smaller number. 

Yoon said in an e-mail to Benzinga that the American public and their cooking habits can be broken into three groups: 

  1. The percentage of people who love to cook and cook often shifted from 15% to 10% in the 20 years following Yoon's first survey.
  2. The percentage of people who hate cooking and avoid it whenever possible fell from 50% to 45%.
  3. The percentage of people who like to cook but only do so occasionally rose from 35% to 45%.

It remains unclear how these dynamics are shifting during the quarantine, but multiple assumptions can be made, Yoon said.

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Early data makes the case that more people are cooking, as grocery sales are up 26%, but restaurant and bar sales are down 27%.

The percentage of consumers who love to cook at home should return back to the 15% level as many people not only rediscover their love of cooking, but do so for convenience reasons.

"More companies will embrace working remotely, as that frees up office space to create more social distance when things resume," Yoon told Benzinga. "These consumers will shift their time spent commuting to cooking."

The group of consumers who already hate to cook is likely to "grow increasingly resentful and can't wait to eat out," he said. 

The percentage of consumers who enjoy cooking but only had limited time to do so will likely shrink in size. Some of these people will recognize that their "love for cooking was decent" and now have more time to cook, Yoon said. 

But at the same time, others in this category will "bifurcate" into the group that hates cooking.

Barbecue Pro: Not Being Able To Eat Out Is ‘Terrible'

People are certainly getting outside and cooking more than they would have in the absence of the coronavirus, YouTube host of "Ballistic BBQ" and cookbook author Gregory Mrvich told Benzinga in an e-mail.

"I can say that outdoor cooking channels on YouTube are getting more activity, and I am fielding a lot more questions than usual about techniques and recommendations regarding grills and other pieces of equipment," he said.

Some of Mrvich's videos have amassed millions of views on YouTube, solidifying his status as a bona fide barbecue pro and backyard cooking authority. Yet despite having the skills and know-how to perhaps cook better food than most restaurants, he said he "cannot wait" to dine at a nice restaurant and have someone else cook for him and be waited on.

"My wife and I are craving normalcy, and not even having the choice to go out to eat is terrible," he said.

Mrvich concluded with some tips for restaurants who are worried that clients won't be coming back once they reopen: Good food, good service, and good value will "keep our restaurants in business," he said. 

Kitchen Crafted: ‘Cooking Has Become More Acceptable'

Fifty-four percent of Americans are cooking at home more often during the quarantine than before, according to Nielsen data, Kitchen Crafted co-founder and CEO Niroo Kamdar told Benzinga in an e-mail. This trend could help dispel the negative connotation that cooking is "challenging and laborious," he said. 

Consumers are now discovering cooking can be "acceptable, exciting and innovative," Kamdar said. The maker of globally-inspired spices and condiments is seeing an uptick in its video recipes and bottom-line numbers — a trend the company expects to continue in the post coronavirus-world, he said. 

Kitchen Crafted's purpose of "turning ordinary food into extraordinary in the kitchen" will help consumers realize they don't need to spend extra money at restaurants to enjoy great food, Kamdar said.

"The common perception is that restaurants deliver high-quality, better-tasting meals than at home," he wrote. "Our belief is the opposite — bold, healthy, and vibrant masterpieces can be completed in the comfort of or your own kitchen."

Impact On Dinner Parties

The quarantine and lock-down orders are certainly helping families find, try, enjoy and share new recipes, Linda and George Meyers, the founders of Cook in Tuscany, told Benzinga in an email.

Linda and George offer a weeklong cooking school hosted from their boutique Italian hotel La Chiusa. They said the social distancing phenomena has "caused us to miss a very important" aspect of food: sharing. 

"People want to share meals together and with a rekindled love for grandma's eggplant parmesan, sharing comes next," they said. "We think this translates into more home dinner parties and old fashion potlucks."

Civic Dinners, a community engagement platform that creates connections over food, has a different outlook, and thinks the restaurant industry will host more dinner parties. 

The company embraced an online approach to connecting strangers with each other over meals through video chatting. The sense of feeling connected is "almost the same as if you were sitting across the table from one another," Civic Dinners founder and CEO Jenn Graham told Benzinga.

Civic Dinners' largest client, Facebook, Inc. FB, is hosting events on its platform across 13 markets to better connect small business leaders with each other.

Once the pandemic is over, Civic Dinners will return to its core purpose of gathering people together to eat at restaurants, Graham said. In fact, the company expects to see a "surge in participation" as people realize the importance of connecting over food "now more than ever."

Related Link: Study Says Half Of All Chinese Restaurants Are Closed, Chicken Wing Chains Holding Up Best

Conclusion: We Won't Know Until We Know

Some experts are convinced there are a subset of consumers who won't return to their favorite joints as often as before, if at all. There is a large financial component to this, as eating out is expensive and an economic downturn in the coming months could come as a shock to many and justify a large shift in spending habits.

A family outing at a chain like Texas Roadhouse Inc TXRH can easily approach $100, including drinks, appetizers, taxes and tip. The same meal can be recreated at home for less than half the cost with plenty of leftovers, with the savings allocated toward groceries or other essentials.

Will this be a new reality? If yes, will it be large enough to noticeably move the needle in terms of total restaurant revenue and earnings? 

Personally, I tend to avoid eating out at restaurants where the food is particularly easy to make at home, such as Buffalo Wild Wings. A package of chicken wings at Costco Wholesale Corporation COST along with a pack of B-Dubs-branded sauces and a case of beer will cost far less than what it costs at the restaurant.

I can't imagine ever returning to a restaurant that doesn't offer the best value and bang for the buck. Even if I like it, as is the case with B-Dubs, as the chain certainly serves up some delicious wings and burgers.

What about you? Let us know if you are cooking more at home and plan to invest in your new hobby instead of dining out. Email feedback@benzinga.com with your thoughts.

Posted In: Civic DinnersCook In TuscanyCoronavirusCovid-19foodGroceryHarvard Business ReviewKitchen CraftedRestaurantsExclusivesMediaInterviewGeneral

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