Majority of Canadians would rather eat at home than a restaurant: Andrew Coppolino

With cooler fall weather coming soon, restaurant patios will be closing and more patrons will be heading inside. Andrew Coppolino takes a look at a recent survey that gives some insight into how Canadians are feeling about dining indoors.

Survey says more men are ok with eating inside a restaurant than women

FILE - In this June 22, 2020, file photo, wearing a face shield, server Brandon Fricke, left, takes orders from dine-in customers surrounded by protective dividers at Water Grill seafood restaurant in Los Angeles. Restaurants and stores have been forced to make changes to survive. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

A recent survey reveals that about 57 per cent of Canadians said they prefer to eat at home rather than visit a restaurant. 

The survey was administered by, the developers of a smartphone app that launched in June — which allows users to see how busy a restaurant is, to check user-generated reviews of safety protocols and to add their own ratings.

The app currently has 3,500 users.  

"Dining Defender" has recently been added to the app, a function that covers eight "key touch points of concern" for diners to rate: guest PPE, physical distancing, safety-rules enforcement, availability of hand sanitizers, staff cleanliness, food preparation, utensils, and restrooms.

The Google survey results were generated from about 1,000 responses to 11 questions they asked random Canadians that focused on safety concerns during the pandemic, which might prevent them from visiting a restaurant. 

The survey gives some insight into what restaurants may encounter later this fall, in terms of the comfort-level of customers as patios close and dining-room seating is the only option for eating at a restaurant.

"Based on the survey findings, we acknowledge that Canadians are rightfully concerned about catching Covid-19 while dining out," said Dan Snow, chief marketing officer for

In the survey, 32 per cent of Canadians indicated that they were most concerned about contracting Covid-19 from fellow diners, but only about 10 per cent were concerned about getting the coronavirus from waitstaff.

"Where staff have required procedures and standards to adhere to, diners do not," said Snow. "Some Canadians do not even feel a mask is necessary, so fellow patrons are more likely to be 'wild cards' than staff."

Men more comfortable with indoor dining 

The survey revealed there could be significant differences between genders: for instance, 65 per cent of men in Ontario stated that they were comfortable eating in a restaurant dining room compared with only 35 per cent of women. 

As for patios, 60 per cent of men in Ontario said they were comfortable with patio dining to only 40 per cent of women.

When it came to buffet-style restaurants, survey findings showed that nearly 70 per cent of men in Ontario felt buffet dining was the safest mode of eating at a restaurant compared to only 28 per cent of women.

That might seem counter-intuitive, given the difficulty of physical distancing at the buffet; however, Snow accounted for the results saying it could be a belief that using sanitized self-service areas while wearing a mask at a buffet is safer than repeated interactions with waitstaff who have possibly served hundreds of other guests, especially at larger restaurants.

A server at Mamma Martino's Restaurant serves customers after indoor dining restaurants, gyms and cinemas re-open under Phase 3 rules from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Local restaurants say people prefer outdoors

How do these survey results align with what local restaurateurs are seeing? Jill Sadler of Swine & Vine in Kitchener says the majority of her customers still want outdoor seating, similar to survey respondents.

"I would say that's about 75 per cent. Although in the last couple of weeks, guests seemed more comfortable with being inside," Sadler said.

At Proof Kitchen and Lounge in Waterloo, general manager Laura Umbrio estimates a high percentage want to be outdoors.

"Up until last week when the weather cooled, 90 per cent of our guests chose to sit outside," said Umbrio.

While he sees an older demographic preferring the patio at Graffiti Market, near Kitchener's Belmont Village, Ryan Lloyd-Craig says weather is a definite determinant.

"During off-peak days and good weather days, we are 70-to-30 outdoor-to-indoor. In the evenings, when the temperature drops, it's reversed," he said.

Like many factors in the restaurant industry, customer behaviour is difficult to anticipate. Court Desautels operates Borealis Grille & Bar in Kitchener and Guelph, along with other restaurants. 

He says, with a qualification, that overall the preference at his restaurants is "by far" for outdoor dining, although a younger demographic don't seem to have an issue with being indoors.

"But it's really a mixed bag of who will sit inside," Desautels added.

For Moose Winooski's in Kitchener, the day often determines where people want to sit, according to Bill Siegfried, vice-president of operations for Charcoal Legacy Group.

"But for sure, the vast majority prefer patio to inside. We still have families and sports fans visiting us, but we are seeing more young couples now," Siegfried said.

Psychology may play a role, with customers apparently second-guessing their decision to visit. Umbrio points out that they have had 25 per cent more cancellations and no-shows than pre-Covid.

"It isn't tied to weather patterns," she said. "Often, we will confirm and then the table no-shows. Or we will see the online reservations made the night before then cancelled the same day," she said.

While restaurant operators are relatively satisfied with their current patio-driven customer base, cooler fall weather and how customers will react is a concern; however, Sadler at Swine & Vine hopes that as guest confidence builds, the trend will shift away from what the survey has recorded.

"With guests seeming to be getting more comfortable with being inside, it gives me a glimmer of hope for when the weather turns." 


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