Dinner with a side of Pfizer? Absolutely, according to a survey showing 70 per cent of customers wouldn't eat at restaurants without a vaccine pass check.
But while the research conducted by the Restaurant Association of New Zealand has found strong overall support for vaccine mandates, younger people appear less concerned about following Covid mitigation measures than older people.
Only 30 per cent of all survey respondents said they'd dine out if there was no vaccine pass check in place. However, that figure rose to 61 per cent for those aged 18-20 and dropped to just 16 per cent for those over 65.
The survey of 1900 people (94 per cent of whom reported being vaccinated) found 77 per cent of participants "agreed" or "strongly agreed" they felt safe dining out. When "neutral" responses were added, that figure climbed to 89 per cent.
Research was carried out late November and released to the Weekend Herald in a draft Dining Insights report. It canvassed attitudes to Covid rules, but also quizzed participants about how often they ate out and what influenced their dining decisions.
Marisa Bidois, Restaurant Association chief executive, acknowledged consumers appeared more supportive of vaccine passes than the hospitality industry itself had been.
A members' survey conducted last September found only 26 per cent of operators supported the use of passes during periods of Covid community transmission, and only 23 per cent were in favour of their implementation across all alert settings.
Bidois says further members' research, conducted in December after passes became mandatory, revealed two-thirds of businesses had experienced issues with the new regime.
"This ranged from aggressive customers unhappy about the new rules, lack of awareness of the new rules and challenges using the app. . . 40 per cent of respondents experienced issues with rude or aggressive customers.
"We're confident that as diners and hospitality workers become more used to the pass, these will iron out, but there are clearly still challenges from those customers who either do not understand the system or who are not in support of it. Sadly it is hospitality workers who bear the brunt of these frustrations."
The Herald has previously reported businesses like Auckland's 150-seat Sumo Sushi were unable to reopen for dine-in customers because it could not find enough staff to meet the new enforcement rules. Meanwhile in Moeraki, celebrated restaurant Fleur's Place remained shut, with an answer phone message telling customers that it was unable to operate while more than 50 per cent of staff were unvaccinated.
According to the Dining Insights report, an establishment's compliance with Covid-19 regulations (including vaccinated employees, mask use, distancing and vaccine passes) was "very important" to 95 per cent of diners.
But Covid was not the only thing on customers' minds, with the report stating: "They are still looking for lovingly crafted meals, first and foremost. While services and decor may set venues apart, how food looks on Instagram is not as important as how it tastes and the memories it gives our customers."
Survey respondents rated great food (92 per cent) as the most important ingredient in a positive restaurant experience, followed by great service (88 per cent) and cleanliness (65 per cent). Top drivers of a negative experience were poor service (74 per cent), unclean premises (70 per cent) and poor food quality (63 per cent). Bugbears like overly loud music and receiving the wrong order were of less concern (at 13 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively).
Meanwhile, locally sourced produce was ranked as the most important dining trend right now, by 87 per cent of all respondents. Seasonal produce came in a close second (86 per cent). Environmental sustainability was third overall (74 per cent) but placed first by respondents in the under-25 age group.
"Covid has undoubtedly changed the way we view our own produce," said Bidois. "The idea of eating locally grown has never been more compelling and our food is imbued with the hard won gains of our 100% pure reputation. . . "
Home grown staffing was also under the spotlight. Bidois said hospitality business owners had traditionally relied on a pool of overseas workers - lack of skilled employees was the biggest immediate challenge for the industry and it was imperative to start building a local workforce.
"The rate of growth in hospitality over recent years has been impressive and until the Covid-19 outbreak, the industry was booming."
While the new research showed dining out frequency had dropped since pre-Covid times (with those in higher income brackets cutting back the most) almost 30 per cent of respondents indicated that, in the next six months, they intended to eat out more often than usual.
One Auckland survey respondent, Louise (aged 31), said she used to eat out more than four times a week, but in lockdown, had realised how much money she was spending.
"That was a trigger for me to realise that was money I can save quite comfortably and easily and I have kind of adjusted my habits in that respect."
She said she felt "absolutely safe" dining out and, while she had not been asked to show her vaccine pass on every occasion, it had not deterred her from entering those restaurants.
"The Covid numbers have gone down, and at this point, my mental sanity is what feels most important. We've been quite deprived of going out and enjoying restaurants . . . A vaccine pass check is not crucial for me, but I don't think it's a bad thing either. The first time I was asked, I could tell the girl at the restaurant felt really awkward. You can pre-empt that by just having it ready and saying 'here you go'."
Vaccine pass requirements had contributed to a sense of safety in restaurants for Nelson-based respondent, John, aged 75, who estimated he dined out two or three times a month. He supported the continued use of passes, even in areas where the virus was not yet in the community.
"I want to keep the virus controlled. I think it's inevitable the new variant will mean it will spread, but in the meantime, I think we should take precautions and I'm happy to follow the rules that the Government has introduced."