Purpose: This study investigates restaurant patrons' comfort level with the sudden shift in the dining-in climate within the state of Massachusetts during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Design/methodology/approach: An exploratory study utilized learning algorithms via gradient boosting techniques on surveyed restaurant patrons to identify which restaurant operational attributes and patron demographics predict in-dining comfort levels. Findings: Past consumers' eating habits determine how much their behavior will change during a pandemic. However, their dining-in frequency is not a predictor of their post-pandemic dining-in outlook. The individuals who were more comfortable dining in prior to the pandemic dined in more often during the COVID pandemic. However, they had a poorer outlook on when dining in would return to normal. Although there are no clear indicators of when and how customers will embrace the new norm (a combination of pre-, peri-, and post-pandemic), the results show that some innovative approaches, such as limiting service offerings, are not well accepted by customers. Practical implications: The study offers several managerial implications for foodservice providers (i.e. restaurants, delivery services, pick-up) and investors. In particular, the study provides insights into the cognitive factors that determine diners' behavioral change in response to a pandemic and their comfort level. Operators must pay attention to these factors and consider different offering strategies when preparing to operate their business amid a pandemic. Originality/value: This is a study of a specific location and period. It was conducted in Massachusetts before a vaccine was available. The restaurant industry was beset with uncertainty. It fills a gap in the current literature focused on the COVID-19 pandemic in customers' transition from pre-COVID-19 dining-in behaviors to customers' refreshed COVID-19 outlook and industry compliance with newly established hygiene and safety standards.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management