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Restaurants have had a rough couple of years. But things are starting to return to the way they were pre-pandemic, in more ways than one.

Americans are eating out again, at levels last seen in 2019, according to a new report released today by Vericast. And while many people in the early days of the pandemic were willing to pay full price to venture outside the house and get food to go, or to help support their local businesses – they’re once again hungry for good deals and discounts.

“Diners have steadily been returning to restaurant tables,” Vericast’s 2021 Restaurant Report finds. But while customer demands are changing, and restaurants have had to adapt to changing restrictions and staffing challenges, “one thing that hasn’t changed,” the report notes, “is that many restaurant-goers love a good deal.”

As prices are rising for just about everything these days, 61% of those who participated in a Vericast survey said that restaurant dining has becoming too expensive. So more than half of respondents said coupons and discounts are important to help them save money on restaurant visits.

And it’s not just older diners who are influenced by deals. Nearly three-quarters of millennials say a coupon, discount or promotion affects which restaurant they choose to visit or order from. And almost a third of Gen Z diners say unless they can get a discount, they will not patronize a restaurant at all.

“It’s a difficult time for the restaurant industry,” the report reads. So for restaurant owners, “it’s never been more important to get your marketing strategy right.”

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54% of survey respondents said coupons and discounts encourage them to try a new restaurant, while another 54% said they’ll spend more at a restaurant when they have a coupon. 45% said they feel more positively about a restaurant that offers coupons and discounts.

And dinnertime deal-seekers are hunting for discounts just about everywhere. “Diners are looking online and on mobile more than ever for deals and reward programs to help them make spur-of-the-moment decisions when they eat out,” the report finds. Nearly half of those surveyed said when they eat out, they didn’t plan it in advance – they decided to do so that very day. Two-thirds who order takeout said they decided that day as well. So an appealing deal at the right time in the right place can make the difference between a potential patron who goes out, and one who stays home.

When making a last-minute decision on whether to eat out, nearly half of survey respondents search online for deals. And millennials are most likely to download restaurant apps for discounts, with more than two-thirds checking their app for a deal.

But that doesn’t mean print is passé. 65% of survey respondents said they will look through print ads for restaurants. Even among Gen Z diners, 51% are influenced by paper ads and discounts.

So it’s curious that the report comes just about six weeks after Burger King discussed its “intentional shift away from paper coupons,” saying their “effectiveness has eroded a bit over time, especially with the younger consumers.” Older Burger King fans may protest the chain’s shift to digital-only discounts, but according to Vericast’s findings, younger fans who still peruse paper ads might not be happy with the restaurant’s decision either.

Whatever form it’s in, however, any deal is better than no deal.

“Deals and incentives can spark an appetite for your brand,” the report advises restaurant owners. The right deal could give restaurants “the opportunity to have diners eating (and saving) out of the palm of their hand.” We may not be able to fully live life like it’s 2019 just yet – but if we can save like it’s 2019, that could be a pretty important step in the right direction.

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