Restaurants Are Usually a Valentine’s Day Staple. Not This Year

For consumers’ second pandemic-era Valentine’s Day, COVID-19 concerns and personal finances will have them staying home to celebrate, writes food & beverage analyst Emily Moquin

Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Sara Wickersham

Omicron has had a relatively muted impact on consumer comfort levels with dining in restaurants, but mid-winter limits to outdoor dining, the potential for concentrated holiday crowds and financial concerns are combining to keep consumers from going out to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. But there’s a big opportunity for food & beverage brands to cater to at-home needs, and if coronavirus-related pressures ease, pent-up demand will likely return consumers to restaurants for future dining-out holidays in 2022.

Half of Americans plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2022, which is similar to pre-pandemic (2017), when Morning Consult last collected this data. But restaurants shouldn’t count on a rush this Valentine’s Day: Only 43 percent of those celebrating plan to go out to dinner, compared to 69 percent who said the same pre-pandemic. Fifteen percent said they don’t know if they are going out to dinner this year, up from 4 percent in 2017. Much of this discrepancy is due to current consumer uncertainty around dining out, but it could also be a reflection of the different timing of the polls. (The pre-pandemic poll was fielded closer to Valentine’s Day.) 

Share of respondents who plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day by…

Polls conducted Jan. 22-23, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,108 U.S. adults, and Feb. 9-10, 2017, among a representative sample of 1,014 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

COVID-19 concerns continue to factor into consumers’ decision-making: Those who are very or somewhat comfortable dining out given the current state of the pandemic are 13 percentage points more likely to say they are going out to dinner for Valentine’s Day (56 percent compared to 43 percent among all celebrators). 

This year’s economic volatility is also a factor. Those with an annual income of $100,000 or more are more likely to say they plan to go out to dinner than those whose annual income is less than $50,000 (49 percent versus 40 percent). Nineteen percent of those in the lower income range are still undecided about going out to dinner, compared to 11 percent in the highest income group, suggesting that lower-income adults may be waiting until closer to Valentine’s Day to evaluate their financial comfort with dining out.

But brands have opportunities to connect with the 77 percent of consumers who said they plan to celebrate at home this year. Among those who said they’re not going out to dinner, 63 percent plan to make a special meal at home, and 35 percent plan to order takeout.

Amid dining-out uncertainty, few plan to make reservations 

Reservations may feel like too much of a commitment to wary consumers this year: Just 22 percent of celebrators plan to make a reservation for a Valentine’s Day meal, and another 14 percent are still unsure. Furthermore, while around 4 in 10 say they intend to make dinner reservations for Monday, Feb. 14, 71 percent of those making reservations say COVID-19 concerns are impacting their timing, indicating interest in staggering their reservations to off-peak times.

Of the 78 percent of celebrators not planning to make reservations or still undecided, half cite COVID-19 concerns as the top barrier holding them back. Uncertainty about where to go and financial reasons were the other two biggest factors; the latter is especially likely to be a concern for those with an annual income of $50,000 or less. 

Share who say the following is a consideration for not making reservations:

Poll conducted Jan. 22-23, 2022, among a representative sample of 863 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

Restaurants may still be able to bring in some of the one-third of celebrators who are unsure about where to go by playing up safety protocols or offering specials or deals. Beyond Valentine’s Day, restaurants and food & beverage brands can expect the same factors to play into consumers’ plans for future dining-out holidays in 2022, like Easter and Mother’s Day, at which point springtime weather and hopefully lower case counts could ease consumers’ most pressing concerns.

Morning Consult