In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow, whereby the stout mayor pronounced there would, sadly, be six more weeks of winter. In the darkness of February, Americans look for any glimpse of hope to stave off cold nights, dry skin and indoor confinement.

The Coronavirus’s indefinite outlook conjures up the same feelings of the blues and surrender. Covid-19 will indeed last for an indefinite period and we must brace for it as a nation. We erred, much like the marmot prognosticator occasionally does, by assuming that Covid-19 would only last “three months” on Feb. 26, 2020.

Phil the Groundhog

Because we are a foodservice consultancy, this piece will nonetheless revolve around the uncertainty of the U.S. restaurant industry as well as non-commercial and retail foodservice. The truth is, we have no idea how long or how severe the pandemic will be.  

But what we do know, is that Americans hate uncertainty and are inclined to prepare for the worst. One can refer to FDR’s quote “the only thing to fear is fear itself,” to better understand the historical mindset of an American.

The Final Four: The Mindset of the U.S. Consumer and its Impact on Food Away-from-Home

Group Traits Impact on Foodservice
The Fearful
  • Terrified the virus will kill them or their loved ones.
  • Border on obsessive-compulsive when it comes to cleaning.
  • Resent those who do not follow Covid-19 suggested rules, such as wearing a mask or gloves.
  • Even if a vaccine is found, the fear of mutation will keep them sidelined.
  • May be susceptible or have a close family member who is immune deficient.
  • Unfavorable and most impactful. If a vaccine is not found, these consumers will not shop or go to a restaurant.
  • Delivery of food and takeout is also at risk because of food handling concerns.
  • Realize the severity of the virus and follow state and CDC rules.
  • Will wear a mask and gloves frequently, but not all the time.
  • Apt to go out to the grocery store or retail store 1-2 times per week.
  • Do not intentionally break any state or federal rules for protective wear.
  • Neutral. Because they will follow the rules, takeout and delivery ordering will be minimal.
  • Few will venture into a unit to pick up items, instead using the drive thru.
  • Benefit QSR, but not casual dining.
The Followers
  • See the virus as an inconvenience, but are not too distraught about it.
  • Visit retail and restaurants frequently, but also sometimes wear protective gear if the social context calls for it.
  • Favorable impact on foodservice traffic and ordering.
  • Once the bans are lifted, this group will be among the first to eat out.
  • Ordering takeout, curbside and delivery is common to this group.
The Ambivalent
  • Throw caution to the wind and let their “immune systems” handle any infection.
  • May resent others taking the pandemic “too seriously.”
  • Very unlikely to wear protective gear unless it is mandated by a retailer.
  • May believe the pandemic was created by the government or an enemy within or outside of the United States – or is simply a creation of the media.
  • Favorable impact.
  • The indifference to the pandemic’s severity means behavior will return to normal once restaurant operations resume.

Source: Foodservice IP

We have developed four groups of consumers based on attitudes and behavior during the pandemic. Granted, we are not sociologists, but our work involves studying the consumer to better predict the peaks and valleys of the U.S. foodservice industry. The table describes The Fearful, Cautionaries, The Followers and The Ambivalent along with observed characteristics and their assumed impact on the vitality of foodservice (we encourage readers to estimate the percentage of the population that falls into each group along with the share each group impacts the health of foodservice.)

What we can do is educate

The foodservice sector has among the strictest standards of food handling, hygiene and food safety of nearly any industry. Salmonella, e-Coli or Norovirus are always lurking and operators must fend off the possibility of reputational damage – with or without the presence of Covid-19.


As industry leaders, ensure the public understands the actual risks of the Covid-19 virus and debunk any misinformation immediately using evidence-based information from reputable and trusted sources.

Tim Powell is a Managing Principal of Foodservice IP. His responsibilities include recommending and developing business strategies, market sizing, designing qualitative and quantitative research methods, strategic planning and project management. Tim serves as a trusted foodservice adviser to management at several food companies.