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Key factors driving customers’ restaurant dining behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic

Miyoung Jeong (School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)
Kawon Kim (School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)
Forest Ma (School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)
Robin DiPietro (School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)

International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management

ISSN: 0959-6119

Article publication date: 16 December 2021

Issue publication date: 21 January 2022

3326

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to identify key factors that affected US respondents’ dining behavior at restaurants during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design/methodology/approach

Due to the lack of a prior framework or model to test customers’ perceptions of dining-out behavior during this unprecedented time, this study used a mixed-methods approach, conducting two focus group discussions to generate potential restaurant attributes, followed by a US-based survey using an online panel. Using structural equation modeling, this study tested eight developed propositions.

Findings

The findings of this study indicated that the three key factors (i.e. restaurant dining environment, communication and hygiene and contactless features) made customers feel comfortable dining in the restaurant during the pandemic. Out of these three factors, only the restaurant dining environment and communication and hygiene were essential predictors for customers’ perceived trust toward the restaurant, leading to their willingness to pay more. This study used two moderators, customers’ perceived risk and support for restaurants to examine how they affected customers’ perceived trust and willingness to pay, respectively.

Practical implications

This study provides both theoretical and practical implications to the current body of knowledge in customers’ dining-out behavior and the development of operational strategies for restaurants to accommodate customers’ changing dining-out behavior due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To develop a holistic conceptual framework, this study incorporates two COVID-19-focused measurement items, perceived risk and support of the restaurant, to identify their moderating roles in the relationships among the five proposed measurement items. This study provides restaurant operators with insights into the altered dining-out behavior of their customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares them for the post pandemic environment.

Originality/value

During the unprecedented pandemic situation, few customers are willing to dine in restaurants. As local and national governments lifted the mandated COVID-19 protocols, restaurants opened their business slowly to cater to customers in compliance with the centers for disease control’s health and safety regulations. It is of utmost importance for restaurant operators to accommodate their customers’ needs when they dine in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a paucity of research that has examined customers’ comfort level when dining in restaurants and customers’ preferred dining environment during the pandemic.

Keywords

Citation

Jeong, M., Kim, K., Ma, F. and DiPietro, R. (2022), "Key factors driving customers’ restaurant dining behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic", International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 836-858. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-07-2021-0831

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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