As more US states prepare to lift lockdowns, American consumers are considering under what circumstances they will begin returning to bars and restaurants.

The biggest concern is social distancing, according to research carried out by Nielsen CGA among 1,600 consumers from the states of New York, California, Illinois and Florida over the weekend of April 24-27.

Overall 28% said they would return when venues demonstrated they could facilitate social distancing, while 23% said they would go back once the number of COVID-19 cases didn’t start to increase again. This was followed by 22% that would return as soon as outlets reopen.

During lockdown, 61% of consumers said they had to rearrange or cancel special occasion celebrations, with 22% now planning to celebrate the events missed in bars and restaurants once they reopen.

The top things consumers want to see in venues when they reopen are: having fewer tables or patrons within venues to accommodate social distancing (50%); additional hygiene programs taking place in outlets (49%), and take out/ delivery offerings still being available (41%).

Nielsen CGA’s RestauranTrak dataset also shows that take-out and delivery sales from restaurants that have remained open have stabilised, with total sales down 68% in the week to April 24 and 67% down in the week to April 18, compared to 75% down at the start of the month.

Selling alcohol with take-out foo is also increasing, with 14% of US consumers ordering a take out or delivery that included alcohol last week, up from 9% in the previous two weeks, the Nielsen CGA research shows.  The number also increased for 21-34-year-olds, from 18% to 28% had ordered a take out or delivery with alcoholic drinks.

The survey also revealed a shift in consumption and delivery of alcohol. While half of the consumers are still drinking the same amount of alcohol in the last two weeks as pre-COVID, the balance between those drinking more or less alcohol has tipped in favour of drinking more at 27% versus 22% drinking less in the last two weeks. In the 21-34 age group, 35% are drinking more than pre-COVID, and 33% of 35-54s are drinking more than usual.

Half of consumers said they plan to eat (53%) and drink (50%) out the same or more often than pre-COVID-19. Half of US consumers also revealed they visit more local bars and restaurants to support smaller or independent businesses than pre-COVID.

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