Restaurants have been one of the most negatively affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Governments and many restaurant-goers considered dining out as a non-essential activity (Dube et al., 2020). The pandemic has consequently forced both the restaurants and the customers to alter their service process and dining habits. On the restaurant side, increasing proximity between diners and other tables have been recommended/enforced (Kim et al., 2020). Also, diners have been made aware of the different preventive measures to help protect themselves from potentially contracting COVID-19 when dining at a restaurant (Hu et al., 2021). In protecting customers and their business, restaurants need to provide an environment where diners feel safe. That is, diners’ preferences toward health safety measures at restaurants should be explored. In assessing preferences, this project designed a series of choice experiments. including discrete choice experiment, as well as best-worst scaling experiments. Attributes associated with health safety measures included seating area, proximity of tables, staff protective equipment, preventive measures, staff-guest interaction, payment methods, and meal price. The data was collected among U.S. restaurant-goers online using a survey-based stated choice experiment design (Rose & Bliemer, 2009). Data analysis utilized discrete choice modeling methods.
Data was collected from 665 respondents, and results indicate that the defined safety measures significantly influence choices. Specifically, the study samples prefer seating area situated outdoor than indoor and an increased distance from another group of diners. Further, restaurant staffs wearing protective equipment (e.g., masks, protective gear) is preferred relative to serving restaurant customers without any protective equipment. Customers further prefer temperature check and sanitization of dining areas compared to no preventive measures in restaurants. Diners also reported a preference toward self-service technology as means of interaction between staff and guests, as well as mobile payment as opposed to cash. Result of this research indicate that the implementation of health safety measures in restaurants may provide diners with a safety environment, and therefore generate demand. Thus, in generating demand for restaurants, food and beverage establishments should consider implementing health safety measures.
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