Many consumers throughout the U.S. will likely wait days, if not weeks, to re-patronize their favorite restaurants and hotels once shut down orders are rescinded, according to a new study from Washington State University.
Nearly 48 percent of the study’s respondents said they will wait between one and three months before patronizing restaurants with a friend and more than 60 percent would wait at least three months before traveling and staying the night in a hotel.
“If you’re going to look at business, look at the consumers — and consumers don’t feel very comfortable going back to restaurants or staying at hotels,” said Dogan Gursoy, who helped lead the study. “One of the reasons is the unknown — they don’t know what is going to happen if they do it, and I think people don’t feel comfortable yet.”
Gursoy, a distinguished professor with WSU’s Carson College of Business, said the research was based on national survey results from 785 respondents. According to the data released from the study, close to 66 percent of respondents did not feel comfortable patronizing restaurants immediately after closures and only about 26.5 percent would be willing to travel and stay in a hotel between mid-June and the end of July.
“The number of deaths keeps going up, the number of people infected keeps going up,” Gursoy said. “It doesn’t make most people ... feel comfortable about going back to restaurants or hotels because of the fear of getting infected.”
Jill Bielenberg, co-owner of Birch and Barley in Pullman, said caution is more than understandable. She said even as a restaurant owner who depends on revenues from in-person dining, she is hesitant to reopen too quickly. However, she said she is hopeful the restaurant will be in a good position to reopen when the state government allows. She said if reopening does become an option, Birch and Barley will take every precaution to ensure they are providing food service safely. Bielenberg said she is already proud of the standard her restaurant sets for sanitation and this will merely be a heightened version of that level of cleanliness.
“I believe that we can provide a safe place, to the best of our ability, for people to come experience Birch,” she said. “We’ll take all those precautions and make sure that we’re staying in line with everything and taking care of our employees as best as we can … and making sure that our guests that are trying to support us with in-house dining stay safe as well.”
Other Pullman business owners expressed similar caution about reopening. Brused Books Owner Bruce Calkins said the closures have been hard on his business and employees, but he would likely hold off on reopening until he can be sure it’s safe. He said when they do reopen, Brused Books will take a number of steps to ensure customers and employees are protected.
“We would definitely require masks and ask people to wash their hands when they come in. And then we’re going to put up a shield like everyone has and keep the distance and we’ll have to limit how many people could come in,” he said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions yet, so even if (Inslee) said ‘go tomorrow,’ I think It would probably still be a couple of weeks before we’d (open).”
Gursoy said another, expanded survey will be offered starting May 24.
Scott Jackson can be reached by email to email@example.com.