Customer Experience

How Diners Choose Restaurants

By Dana Krook

repeating image of the How Diners Choose Restaurants report

“Yelp gave it four stars, but Nancy said the chicken was dry, but Bob raves about the customer service…”

We’re living in the information age. Review sites like Yelp and Google yield thousands of voices weighing in, celebrating – or berating – their experience. Social media chatter celebrates culinary masterpieces or publicly blasts poor management. Menus are readily available on websites for the world to see. So the question is how does this impact the dining choices of restaurant goers? 

A handbook spread of illustration of food and text
Understand How Diners Choose Restaurants

What gets customers in the door – and what keeps them out.

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At TouchBistro, we’re committed to helping restaurants around the world be successful through our software, services, and resources. And we know that getting customers through the door is half the battle of running a thriving business, so we set out to understand how today’s restaurant goers choose the restaurants they dine at, including their dining habits, decision makers, and deal breakers. 

And we did just that – after working with an independent research firm to survey 521 participants across the US of varying ages, geographies, and life stages, we found out what’s getting people in the door and what’s keeping them out. 

Key Findings

Restaurant goers are eating out more often and are regularly looking for new places to eat.

  • Almost half of participants eat out between 2-4 times per week (48%), while more than half eat out at least once a week (56%).
  • Restaurant goers occasionally look for somewhere new to dine (64%), while only a slim percentage stay with the same restaurants (18%)
infographic showing dining frequency alongside likelihood of choosing a new restaurant

Restaurant-goers choose restaurants first and foremost based on type of food and great food can even outweigh a poor customer experience.

  • The majority (63%) of restaurant goers say that the type of food would have the biggest impact on their restaurant choice, ranking higher than the other four factors, including location, recommendations from friends, online reviews, and popularity on social media.
  • Almost three-quarters (70%) agreed that they would re-visit a restaurant that had bad customer service if their food was good.
infographic ranking decision making factors like food type location and recommendation from friends

Restaurant-goers take recommendations from friends seriously.

  • 91% of restaurant-goers had visited a restaurant they’d never been to purely based on a friend’s recommendation, opposed to 68% who tried based entirely on positive online reviews, and 41% who tried based entirely on positive feedback on social media.
  • Almost three-quarters said they would avoid a restaurant if their friend gave them negative feedback
infographic displaying diners choose restaurants based on things like recommendations, promotions and discounts and online reviews

Most restaurant-goers regularly look at online reviews to help make new restaurant decisions.

  • The majority of participants (68%) said that they had tried a new restaurant based on positive online reviews.
  • Almost half regularly (45%) check online reviews before deciding on a new restaurant. 
  • Millennial restaurant-goers are more likely to look at reviews when deciding on a new restaurant than others (67%).
infographic showing millennials and Gen Xers are more likely to look at online reviews before trying a restaurant

Locally sourced food and live music options attract restaurant goers.

  • When it comes to food options that attract restaurant goers, locally sourced food would have an impact on the restaurant choices of almost half of surveyed restaurant-goers (49%).
  • For entertainment, live music is a compelling attraction for nearly half of surveyed diners (44%).
Infographic ranking entertainment like live music, Wi-Fi, TVs and games as factors

Discounts and promotions continue to fill seats.

  • Old marketing mainstays still fill seats, with 80% of restaurant goers visiting a new restaurant based entirely on receiving a discount or promotion.
Infographic eighty percent of restaurant goers have tried a new restaurant because of a discount or promotion

Millennials have substantially different habits than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

  • More Millennials (66%) eat out multiple times per week than Gen Xers (50%) and Baby Boomers (54%).
  • Millennials are much more likely to look at online reviews (67%) and social media (34%)than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts.
  • Baby boomers are significantly less driven by specific food options, like gluten-free, locally sourced, and vegetarian.
Infographic showing difference of choice making factors between age demographics

Urban restaurant-goers have substantially different habits than small town and rural diners.

  • Urban diners frequent restaurants more often, are more likely to try somewhere new every time they go out, and perform online activities before settling on a new restaurant.
  • Small town and rural dwellers are less likely to use review sites, are less influenced by online reviews, and are less attracted to restaurant entertainment options.
infographic displaying that urbanites more often choose new restaurants over suburban and small town folks

Ballers – or those in high income brackets – have finicky tastes.

  • Ballers are more finicky about where they eat – they more frequently check online menus (69%) and reviews (62%) than other income brackets before committing to a new restaurant.
Infographic suggesting higher income households are more likely to check a menu online before deciding on a restaurant

These findings only scratch the surface of the powerful insights gathered from the study. From a breakdown of how different generations research restaurants, to insights on the factors that would make a diner avoid a restaurant – this report is packed with actionable data, interesting findings, and a peek into future trends that will impact the way restaurateurs run their businesses.

A handbook spread of illustration of food and text
Understand How Diners Choose Restaurants

What gets customers in the door – and what keeps them out.

Download Report
Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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