Dining out reservations Nervous diners feel safer at independent restaurants over fast food, chains, survey suggests

Thomas Johnson remembers the exact moment when a patron randomly handed him a $100 bill on top of their receipt.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/08/2020 (761 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Thomas Johnson remembers the exact moment when a patron randomly handed him a $100 bill on top of their receipt.

It was early May, and Johnson was finally allowed to open his restaurant following months of mandated pandemic shutdowns.

“They asked me if I had any staff coming back to work,” the Peasant Cookery manager told the Free Press on Tuesday. “At that point, it was only around 10 or so employees.”

Thomas Johnson, general manager of Peasant Cookery, says people feel more comfortable dining at local, independent restaurants than at fast-food chains during COVID-19. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“The customer asked me to distribute that bill for the workers because the pandemic hadn’t affected him, but it definitely affected us.”

Johnson’s Bannatyne Avenue bistro in Winnipeg isn’t the only restaurant that’s felt the love from Canadian diners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key findings of the Survey

● Canadians feel significantly safer eating at independent restaurants (35.5 per cent) vs. fast food (23.0 per cent) or chain restaurants (11.1 per cent.)

● Canadians feel safer on patios (21.7 per cent) than indoor dining rooms (10.2 per cent).

● Over half of Canadians (56.8 per cent) are still ‘only eating at home.’

● Men really want buffets back. A whopping 73.4 per cent of respondents who said they felt the safest eating at a buffet during COVID were men vs. only 26.6 per cent of women.

● Women are a considerably more concerned about lineups (56.1 per cent) and utensils (55.8 per cent) as touch points when eating out than men are at 43.9 pre cent (lineups) and 44.2 per cent (utensils.)

● Men are the most concerned about ‘exposure to other patrons’ at 58.3 per cent vs. 41.7 per cent (women).

Data from a survey released Tuesday shows nervous diners across Canada feel significantly safer eating at independent eateries than at fast food and chain restaurants.

The poll conducted by mobile app Andie.work spoke to a sample of 1,000 Canadians to uncover and address their greatest concerns while dining out.

About 35.5 per cent people said they felt safer at independent restaurants, with 23 per cent saying the same about fast food eateries and only 11.1 per cent feeling safe at chain restaurants.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says those results “aren’t surprising.”

“I think we’ve definitely seen more people trust their community-owned businesses than they ever did before,” said Jonathan Alward, CFIB’s director in the Prairies.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “it’s still a problem when restaurants aren’t nearly making the same figures they once did to break even, or even allowed to have the same amount of people dining at their business.”

“I think we’ve definitely seen more people trust their community-owned businesses than they ever did before.”
– Jonathan Alward, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Asked to identify their biggest barriers to eating out right now, nearly half of respondents to the poll said they’re worried about potentially catching COVID-19. And 21.7 per cent said they feared exposure to other patrons.

Johnson believes that’s why independent restaurants have started stepping up to the plate — paying out of pocket for personal protective equipment, sanitizers and other safety measures like plexiglass barriers — to assuage their customers’ fears.

“I think we have a lot more to lose than a fast food restaurant or chain,” he said. “If people don’t come back, we just won’t survive.”

Johnson, at rear in mask, serves drinks to Kyle Smoley (from left), Kelly Chipping and Glen Hampton in the Peasant Cookery's lounge Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I think we have a lot more to lose than a fast food restaurant or chain. If people don’t come back, we just won’t survive.”
– Thomas Johnson, manager of the Peasant Cookery

To ensure customers can have peace of mind before walking in an eatery, Andie.work is letting app users review ratings from other diners about their experiences in real-time. Customers can review staff cleanliness, physical distancing enforcement, availability of sanitizers and other such measures along with a look at wait times.

“We see this active ecosystem of diners on the app during COVID-19 as a big step forward in protecting those who choose to eat out,” said Dan Snow, chief marketing officer at the app. “For the sake of restaurants and patrons alike, we’ve expanded the Andie.work app to make eating out safer for Canadians and with the ratings system, they can dine with confidence.”

Manitoba fares better than other provinces: CFIB

Revenues in Manitoba firms have risen to 38 per cent of normal levels per recent numbers from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business as of Tuesday.

Revenues in Manitoba firms have risen to 38 per cent of normal levels per recent numbers from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business as of Tuesday.

While the province now has 74 per cent businesses open with just over half at normal staffing levels, its revenue figures are highest across the board compared to other provinces. Second to Manitoba is Quebec, still five points behind at 33 per cent.

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, only 29 per cent businesses are making normal sales while Ontario appears at 26 per cent. That’s despite both provinces at similar staffing levels and business reopenings.

Meantime, the poll also found that Canadians feel safer dining at patios (21.7 per cent) than indoor restaurants (10.2 per cent).

Johnson attests to that in spades, recalling several adamant customers who have walked out if they didn’t find a table at Peasant Cookery’s patio.

But at restaurants like the Taste of Sri Lanka those social-distancing concerns have increased by several folds. Owner B.M. Kalyai says they’ve had to completely shut down their seating space and only offer take-out and delivery.

“It’s very hard to keep going,” said Kalyai. “But our community has proudly stepped up and that means we just have to keep going for as long as we can.”

Twitter: @temurdur

Temur.Durrani@freepress.mb.ca

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