High Hopes & Higher Expectations: Families on Restaurants, Post-COVID

April 21, 2021

Spring has sprung, COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out across the U.S., and C3 has the latest insights from families on indoor dining.

During the first week of April 2021, we surveyed over 500 parents from across the country. Here’s what they had to say about taking their kids (ages 3–12) to restaurants in the coming months:

1. They’re ready to take their kids into restaurants (or will be soon!).

In fact, many have already been doing so.

  • 47% Now: I’ve already taken my kids/we’ll be going any day now
  • 25% Soon: Once I’m vaccinated/as soon as the rules in my state allow it
  • 18% Later: Once I and a large percentage of adults are vaccinated/once cases go down and stay down
  • 11% Much Later: Once my kids are vaccinated/not for a long time

2. They’re excited & joyful!

Families are feeling hopeful and enthusiastic—if a little anxious.

When thinking about dining indoors at restaurants in the near future, what emotions do you feel?

  • Top 3 emotions:
    • 50% Excitement
    • 45% Hope
    • 44% Joy
  • But a minority are still cautious:
    • 24% Anxiety
    • 22% Hesitation
    • 17% Fear

3. Their expectations of restaurants are high.

They want reassurance that restaurants are doing everything they can to keep them safe and provide good experiences.

When you are ready to take your kids out to eat at a restaurant, will your expectations of having a great dining experience there be higher or lower than they were pre-COVID?

  • 54% Higher Expectations (I don’t want my family to be disappointed/restaurants have incentive to impress their customers right now)
  • 34% The Same (pretty much back to normal)
  • 10% Lower (I’ll be giving some grace)

What is your biggest concern as you think about taking your kids out to eat?

  • 60% The restaurant’s cleanliness

4. They’ve missed the experience of going out to restaurants, and they’re excited to come back.

Going out to eat means a lot to families, and they can’t wait to get back into the swing of things with their favorite restaurants.

During COVID, what, if anything, did you miss about going out to eat with your kids?

  • 55% Special family time
  • 51% The experience of going out to eat
  • 44% Eating our favorite foods
  • 37% A place to gather with extended family/friends

In the next 6 months, how do you expect your family’s behavior at restaurants to change compared to during COVID, if at all?

  • 56% plan to increase or dramatically increase eating inside fast food restaurants with kids
  • 54% plan to increase or dramatically increase eating inside fast casual restaurants with kids
  • 54% plan to increase or dramatically increase eating inside casual dining restaurants with kids

So what does this mean for restaurants?

1. Despite staffing challenges, restaurants have an opportunity to make a positive impression on families with friendly service

Prioritizing a warm and welcoming atmosphere is more important than ever, especially for those families who still haven’t been dining out yet.

Which of the following will you expect restaurants to provide?

  • Welcoming staff (67% definitely expect, 31% somewhat expect)
  • Efficient service/No long waits (50% definitely expect, 43% somewhat expect)
  • A fun atmosphere (46% definitely expect, 45% somewhat expect)

Thinking of the first restaurants you’ll visit (or have already visited) to eat inside with your kids, which of the following will make you choose one restaurant over another?

  1. 51% I trust their sanitation and safety procedures
  2. 46% They’re kid friendly!
  3. 44% They have my favorite food/food I’m craving
  4. 44% It’s a place my family used to love to go
  5. 40% They have my kids’ favorite food

2. Families expect entertainment and activities for kids, so why not provide these while they wait, not just once they’re seated?

Between enhanced cleanliness procedures, limited seating and more, most families know to expect longer waits—surprise and delight them by helping entertain the kids before they even reach the table!

Current expectation:

  • 66% expect fast food restaurants to provide toys or give-aways for kids
  • 85% expect casual dining restaurants to provide crayons and activity menus
  • 83% expect fast casual restaurants to provide crayons and activity menus

(Interested in easy wait-busting activities? We’ve got ideas! Reach out to us here.)

3. All of that said, many engrained off-premises habits are likely here to say

There’s no easy switch to flip to go back to how things were before … but we can expect families to keep convenient new habits, even as things return to a new normal.

Which of the following do you think your family will do regularly after COVID gets under control?

  • 57% order pizza
  • 40% use drive-thru restaurants
  • 40% eat restaurant food at home (instead of at restaurants)
  • 32% go to drive-in restaurants
  • 31% use curb-side pick up
  • 26% use third-party delivery apps

Whether off premises, outdoor seating or comfortably back inside a favorite restaurant, going out to eat represents an opportunity for connection and bonding for families with children. How will your restaurant help create these emotionally satisfying experiences for families?


C3 is a Kansas City-based marketing and brand activation agency that brings brands to life for families with children through experience, entertainment and more. C3 uses strategy, guidance and award-winning design to create programs and products that get results for major restaurant and hospitality partners in the US and abroad. More information about C3 and their kid and family expertise can be found here.

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