Survey serves up snapshot of British Columbians’ tastes in dining out

The end of the holiday season brings British Columbians hurriedly back to the regular routine.

After many days of homecooked meals, residents may be eager to try something new to eat. January also marks the start of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival in the Lower Mainland, where local restaurants offer fixed menus at discounted prices.

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With this in mind, Research Co. wanted to take a closer look at the eating habits of British Columbians away from home. The survey looked into three broad themes: frequency, actual experiences and what it takes for a restaurant to become a favourite hangout.

Across the province, almost half of residents surveyed (48 per cent) said they go out for dinner about once a month or less – a proportion that includes 60 per cent of those aged 55 and over. And while 27 per cent of British Columbians dine out about once a week or more often, the number jumps to 35 per cent among those in the 18-to-34 millennial age group.

Technology is affecting the way we select where we go for dinner, with almost half of British Columbians (47 per cent) saying they visited a restaurant’s website before making a reservation over the past year. This is an important figure for owners of restaurants whose web presences have become stagnant.

One in five (19 per cent) took a photograph of a dish that was served to them or someone at their table, including a third (33 per cent) of Instagram-friendly millennials. The practice appears to be restricted to the Lower Mainland, as fewer residents of other parts of the province have taken their cameras out during dinner.

British Columbians aged 18 to 34 are also more likely to say they waited or stood in line for more than an hour to enter a restaurant (12 per cent). This persistence is not a feature of baby boomers, with just two per cent of those aged 55 and over queuing up for food for more than 60 minutes.

Looking into the actual experiences of diners, there are definitely some residents who recall recent dinners fondly. Over the past year, almost four in five British Columbians (38 per cent) have left a tip amounting to more than 20 per cent of the cost of their meal, and more than a third (35 per cent) say they complimented a manager for good service.

Still, there are some issues that need to be addressed. One in four restaurant patrons (25 per cent) sent a bad dish back to the kitchen, and a slightly larger proportion (28 per cent) were served food that was too cold. One in five British Columbians (21 per cent) left a restaurant without tipping, but only 15 per cent actually complained about bad service to a manager.

The results provide a thought-provoking psychological profile of British Columbians. On one hand, we are more likely to take action at a restaurant when things go well. Praising good service is a full 20 points ahead of directly complaining about it. Leaving a sizable gratuity is 17 points ahead of walking out of the restaurant without tipping.

Still, some gender and age discrepancies are worth exploring. Women are more likely to have sent a dish back to the kitchen than men (31 per cent to 26 per cent).

British Columbians in the 35-to-54 Generation X age group are more likely to have complained about bad service to a manager (19 per cent), while those aged 55 and over are more likely to have complimented good service (43 per cent). Three in 10 (29 per cent) in the 18-to-34 age group have left a restaurant without tipping, but these young adults are also more likely to have tipped more than 20 per cent than their older counterparts.

Finally, the survey explored what makes us go back to a particular restaurant, even if the perfect combination of food, service and price is unattainable. Unmistakably, the least favourite recipe is great service but terrible food: only five per cent of British Columbians would go back to a restaurant with these characteristics.

More than half of British Columbians (52 per cent) say they would go back to a restaurant where the food is great, but expensive. Just over a third (36 per cent) are willing to endure terrible service again if they visit a restaurant where the food is great. Millennials are significantly more likely to make this sacrifice (38 per cent) than members of generation X (21 per cent) or boomers (14 per cent).

A restaurant where the food is cheap but not great is a place where 24 per cent of British Columbians would go back to. But this is where we find the biggest gender gap, with 29 per cent of men saying they are fine with this, but only 18 per cent of women concurring. This should give couples something to think about before selecting a venue for a Valentine’s Day dinner.


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