The polarisation in the hospitality sector between quicker, convenience-led solutions and longer, richer, experiential occasions will deepen post-coronavirus, insight from MCA reveals.

The UK eating out market was already diverging into both accessible convenience and high-end premiumisation prior to the pandemic and the impact of coronavirus will only accelerate this, MCA and HIM’s new UK Eating Out Market Report 2020 reveals.

On the one hand, lockdown will leave a lasting legacy, with consumers continuing to cook from home more often and looking to limit discretionary spend through the impending recession. The report finds 63% agree that they now have more time to make meals and 57% have been cooking more often at home.

However, operators offering good value for money and more affordable options, including food to go, fast food and sandwich shops/bakeries, can tempt consumers, as demand for fast, low cost meal options continues.

The report finds 77% of UK consumers have missed eating out at restaurants.

However the squeezed middle market restaurant sector has the most to lose, and is predicted to face a continued upward battle to attract footfall, following a prolonged period of contraction.

The report highlights how fast food outlets have benefitted from simpler conversion to delivery/takeaway only, increased its share of visits at breakfast (+1.3pp); lunch (+2.7pp) and dinner (+7.3pp).

Consumers still want high quality-led experiences, which will drive them to more aspirational pubs and restaurants, where trading up with better quality alcohol and more experiential food should see spend rise.

Blonnie Walsh, head of insight at HIM & MCA, said: “With many operators preparing to open their premises in the coming weeks, the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic will soon become clearer. Prior to lockdown we were beginning to see market polarisation and the pandemic will only have accelerated this. Consumers miss eating out but will remain cautious when returning to their favourite outlets. Fast convenience-led solutions with more flexibility around how they serve consumers will tempt consumers, as demand for low cost solutions increases.

“In contrast, with customers still yearning for trips to their favourite restaurants, there will be demand for more premium, experience-led options. Those consumers that reduce their eating out frequency are likely to be more selective on the occasions they do eat out. Building loyalty and creating an experience that meets the needs of consumers will be even more critical.”