April 22, 2021 at 02:30PM

By the look of things, chowtime is slowly returning to primetime. Restaurants that came through the COVID ordeal don’t want to blow it when on-premises dining roars back as a revenue generator this summer — signs are that it will — so it’s time to complete digital plans.

PYMNTS’ April Delivering On Restaurant Rewards report, a Paytronix collaboration, seventh edition in this closely-followed series, surveyed a census-balanced panel of nearly 2,000 U.S. consumers about vaccinations, restaurant ordering and more to add needed clarity to the reopening picture of how mass vaccinations might shape the future of the restaurant industry.

For openers, researchers found that “more than 90 percent of immunized restaurant customers who have shifted to ordering more of their food online plan to keep ordering online at least somewhat as often as they do now after the pandemic has subsided. This signals that digital ordering options will be critical to driving restaurant spend long after consumers are vaccinated and feel comfortable returning to on-site dining.”

Vaccinated or not, pandemic-era consumers want every touchless digital menu ordering and payment option imaginable, and the revamped rewards to match.

Table 1

Vaccinated Consumers Will Dine On Premises More Often

Make no mistake: as much as we love mobile order-ahead (and we do), the vaccinated consumer has on-premises dinners on the brain. Operators should be prepping now.

Per the latest study, 32 percent of independent sit-down restaurant customers who are “very” or “extremely” likely to get vaccinated “plan to order and dine on-site more often once immunized, “as do 38 percent of independent quick-service restaurant (QSR) customers who are equally likely to get vaccinated.”

Among QSR restaurant customers, “41 percent and 39 percent of those who are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to get vaccinated say they will order and dine on-site more often once they are immunized, respectively. It is thus clear that, although vaccinations will help drive more consumers to dine on-site, independent restaurants will need to continue prioritizing their online ordering capabilities to meet their digital-first customers’ needs and expectations.”

Findings that are both surprising yet expected include a mystifying link between loyalty and immunity. According to Delivering On Restaurant Rewards, “Consumers who have been immunized against the COVID-19 virus show a stronger inclination to use restaurants’ loyalty and rewards programs than those who have not. Fifty-seven percent of vaccinated restaurant customers report tapping such programs when placing food orders, in fact, whereas just 42 percent of unvaccinated restaurant customers do the same.”

We found that vaccinated consumers’ inclination to engage with loyalty and rewards programs is highest among bridge millennials, millennials and Generation Z demographic cohorts.

The Odd Link Between Vaccination And Restaurant Loyalty

Back to the idea of not blowing it on reopening is making sure not to underwhelm returning tableside customers who’ve been conditioned with digital magic for over a year. These folks have a new set of expectations for on-premises dining: a rewarding experience in every sense.

“Restaurant customers who are either vaccinated or are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to get vaccinated … cite loyalty and rewards programs as a feature that would entice them to spend more on their food orders,” per the new report.

“Forty percent of vaccinated restaurant customers and 41 percent of consumers who are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to get vaccinated when they can say they would spend more on food orders if they were offered loyalty and rewards program features. Among consumers who are only ‘somewhat’ likely to get vaccinated, 34 percent would spend more on food orders if offered loyalty and rewards programs.”

Table 2

Catering To The Vaccinated As Restaurants Ready For The Summer 2021 Dinner Rush …

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