CHICAGO — In parts of the United States where restaurants remain open, the cleanliness of the venue is more important than the taste of the food, its location or the value of the meal, according to a March 19 report published by the market research company Datassential. The report includes the results of a survey that was conducted March 17 to 18, includes the opinions of 1,000 consumers and highlights the dramatic transformation that has occurred in the past few weeks.

Datassential has been publishing regular reports about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting foodservice operators nationwide since March 12. The March 19 report showed consumer concern regarding COVID-19 has spiked, with awareness reaching 100%. Sixty-one percent of consumers said they are very concerned about the risk and are “hugely” worried about their own personal health.

The level of concern prompted 47% of the consumers surveyed to say they will “definitely avoid eating out,” 29% said they are nervous about eating out, and 24% said they have no concerns whatsoever. Sixty-three percent of baby boomers said they will avoid eating out.

While many consumers don’t feel comfortable eating in a restaurant, they do view their car as a protective barrier as 57% said drive-thrus are a viable option. Baby boomers, who are most afraid of COVID-19, are particularly open to drive-thru and pickups at a store after ordering ahead, according to Datassential.

Regarding food choices, the survey shows operators should stick to the basics. When asked what foods consumers want from restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis, 63% said they want pizza, 51% said burgers and sandwiches, 50% meal entrees and 44% pasta and noodle dishes.

“Our advice for now is to stick with the favorites,” Datassential said. “Many who in the past might ‘live to eat’ have shifted to an ‘eat to live’ mindset. Focus on popular menu items and show the customer that they’re totally safe.”