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Groundbreaking Survey Reveals How Diners Choose Restaurants


Angelsmith recently conducted a survey of more than 500 self-described food aficionados in an attempt to find out how they influence the dining decisions of others and in turn how their personal restaurant choices are made.

Even though nearly half (48.9 percent) of survey respondents seek information from trusted friends first, more than eight of 10 (80.1 percent) respondents go on to do additional research after receiving a restaurant recommendation.
Influential Dining Survey

The survey revealed that in most cases word of mouth doesn’t work independently, but is supplemented with additional research on consumer generated review sites, blogs and restaurant websites.

Respondents were asked to rank the most important places they use for additional restaurant research after receiving a recommendation from a trusted friend. User generated review sites (27.7 percent) and the restaurant’s website (27.0 percent) were in a near statistical tie as the most important places consumers turn. Other friends (25.2 percent) and food blogs (16.4 percent) were ranked as the second most important places for additional restaurant research. Rounding out the top rankings, Google search was cited by 16.5 percent as the 3rd most important place for those who do additional research.

It became clear when analyzing the data that consumers take a journey of complex steps and apply different levels of importance to various influences before they choose a restaurant. All of these pieces work together to move the consumer from the consideration phase to their ultimate dining decision.

Angelsmith created the Dining Decision Ecosystem™ to provide restaurant marketing departments with a simplified understanding of how the flow of recommendations moves seamlessly between offline and digital environments.

The Dining Decision Ecosystem™ is a new framework that provides insight into how and what most influences diners when selecting restaurants. Based on the survey results and Angelsmith’s experience, The Dining Decision Ecosystem™ outlines the symbiotic relationship between awareness, trial and recommendation, and validation in the consumer’s process and works in the following way.


  • Earned and paid media drive awareness for those consumers who are passionate early adopters of restaurant and food review content.


  • Family, friends and co-workers with both the personal experience and / or the information to pass along recommendations.
  • This phase is where awareness can rapidly accelerate through social circles and the recommended restaurants become part of a larger consideration set with other dining options.


  • User-generated review sites, bloggers, and restaurant websites sway undecided consumers and legitimize final decisions. If the recommendation isn’t validated by external sources, the restaurant can be vetoed.

If any of these critical marketing pieces are missing, restaurants run the risk of losing out on gaining new diners. Word of mouth can place a restaurant into the consideration set, but in most cases additional ammunition is needed to get individuals to choose one restaurant over others.

The survey also asked respondents how often they dined out (including breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks) on the assumption that more frequent diners might prove to be more influential.

Most (52 percent) of the survey respondents reported dining out between 2 – 4 times per week. Thirty percent of respondents reported dining out 5-10 times per week followed by 13.8 percent who dine only one time per week, and 4 percent who reported eating outside of the home more than 10 times per week. When we isolated each dining segment there was no measurable difference in reported influence between these groups.

However, regardless of dining frequency, nearly 8 out of 10 (79.5 percent) of survey respondents reported influencing their friends, family, and co-workers. This is an eye-opening statistic which demonstrates that given the opportunity, just about anyone exerts significant enough influence on dining decisions in their social groups to move their friends, family and co-workers through to a purchase.

Prior to this survey, the long held belief of dining influence was that there was one or just a few passionate individuals in each social group who could sway others in the group. While this model may hold true for other categories outside of restaurants, influence appears to be much more broad-based in the dining category.

We believe this high rate of reported influence in the dining category is due to the commonality and frequency of dining out. Dining out of the home is an activity shared by most people and talking about a great restaurant experience is a natural part of everyday conversation. New restaurant tips most likely flow from this type of passive recommendation.

The survey, however, did uncover a subset of highly influential diners who are relied upon to make much more active recommendations. This subset of 15.3 percent of respondents, reported that they were ‘always asked’ for restaurant recommendations from friends. Everyone in this subset reported influencing their friends’ dining decisions and nearly 97 percent reported being actively sought for restaurant recommendations.

The commonality between these diners is that they report above average consumption of both newspaper and blog reviews and content. 52.5 percent of all respondents reported that they frequently read the dining section of their local newspaper and 70.4 percent of those with higher levels of influence reported reading the paper. There was an even greater divide for blog readership, 68.1 percent was the overall reported rate while 92.9 percent was reported from those who are ‘always asked’ for dining recommendations.

While would-be diners still turn to some friends and associates more than others, the survey demonstrates that the circle of people who might impact dining choices is significantly larger than previously believed.

Outside of personal word of mouth recommendations, the channels that consumer’s relied on most were user-generated review sites, such as YELP; the restaurant’s own website, and blogs.

When ask what most influenced a dining decision, a restaurant’s website was listed in 5th place (5.2 percent) just ahead of Food Network shows (1.7 percent) and Google Search (4.4 percent). But, when consumers go on to do additional research after they receive a recommendation from a trusted friend, the website is one of the top places visited for validating a dining decision. The restaurant’s website can be a persuasive tool that can make or break a potential diner’s decision to try a new place.

Traditional media, which used to be incredibly influential in the dining space, has lost ground to digital channels. Newspaper reporters were listed by only 7.6 percent of respondents as being the most influential when making a dining decision, lagging behind food bloggers (9.4 percent).

For a complete review of the survey findings, please sign up for our free webinar on August 23 at noon here: How Diners Decide: The Dining Decision Ecosystem

Additionally, we will have a downloadable report with all of the survey results. If you would like a copy of the free restaurant marketing report, please sign up here:

We won’t share your email with anyone or send you anything but this report.

The first Influential Dining Survey was conducted by Ink Foundry, a word of mouth marketing agency, in the first quarter of 2012 and tallied results from the more than 543 restaurant and food bloggers, restaurant influencers and frequent diners associated with the agency. Survey analysts include Carin Galletta Oliver, William ‘Bill’ Freed and Ryan Owens. The survey was delivered to select individuals in Ink Foundry’s email databases and through social media channels. The digital survey was hosted on and was designed to provide a better understanding of how diners make restaurant decisions. Prizes were given to randomly selected survey participants.

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Eric Oliver


August 8, 2012

Thanks much, Kim! This survey definitely raised additional questions and we’re planning on doing more in the future.

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

August 8, 2012

Thanks Kim,

We uncovered a ton of information on how diners decide on restaurants that we weren’t expecting. We uncovered a ton of restaurant dining statistics from this survey and will continue to release additional data (as soon as we can write it!) We are also hosting a Dining Decision Ecosystem webinar on August 23. You can sign up here:

As Eric mentioned we plan on additional restaurant marketing surveys, so let us know if you have any topics you think need examining.




August 13, 2012

Interesting findings but the survey audience is no where near representative of diners across the US. You need to be careful when presenting so called “groundbreaking” research data when the sample is made up of only restaurant and food bloggers and other ‘friends’ of your agency. I’d like to see you conduct a similar survey among a gen pop sample of US diners and compare/contrast results. Using just this particular sample as the basis for your findings is absolutely misleading, especially when you position it as ‘restaurant dining statistics.’

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

August 13, 2012

Hi Jen,

We are completely transparent in our survey findings. The first paragraph specifically says that our goal was to see how important influencers are in the dining decision process and we wanted to know what influences those who are making the most restaurant recommendations to others. It was never our intent to see how the general population is making their dining decisions. You can get that information from Yankelovic, Keller Fay and / or Forrester, all great research firms.

The intent of our survey was to dig deep into influencer marketing in the dining category.

Many brands are spending valuable resources on influencer marketing and we wanted to provide restaurant marketing departments with an opportunity to fully understand the what, who or how to influence their influencers as well as have a better idea of their value in the marketplace.

Please let me know if I can provide any further information for you. Our goal is to be a valuable resource to those interested in influencer and word of mouth marketing.


September 7, 2012

Hi there. Hoping you’re still tracking comments on this post. I tried to download the full report yesterday (and today), but never received it. Was hoping you could send it my way. Thanks!

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

September 7, 2012

Hi Heather,

I just emailed it to you.

Have a great weekend. cheers,


October 10, 2012

I too have been unable to download the report. Could you please email me a copy.


October 12, 2012

Hi Carin,

Great survey topic and definitely good insight to focus on how influencers initially discover new restaurants, then how they influence their networks.

I provided my email address to get a copy of the full report several days ago, but I haven’t received it. Would you mind forwarding me a copy?



October 25, 2012

I don’t eat out very much at nicer restaurants except when on vacation, but I did find your blog post to be interesting. It is very much the way I tend to try out a restaurant. When I am planning a trip to some place new, I post on Facebook to see what recommendations my friends have. Just as your post says, I do a little research and check out what others have to say. Thanks for posting this!

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

March 12, 2013

Thanks for including our restaurant marketing statistics in your post.


March 12, 2013

I am currently doing my dissertation at university and is based on a restaurant discovery
and booking online application. This report would really help me with research. obviously full credit
and referencing would be given.

I am unable to download or havent received it. Please could you send it me. Thanks

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

March 12, 2013

Hi Nathan,

We will do that right away. Thanks, and let me know if you have any questions. – Carin @InkFoundry

Why online reviews are important -

March 21, 2013

[…] – as another survey reveals – after receiving suggestions for a restaurant from a friend, about 80% of the potential customers look for further supplementing reviews online. And since the popularity of online reviews on other services and on the most various products […]

georg steiner

August 28, 2013

Hello Carin,

this is Georg Steiner from Germany. I have found this interesting study during the research for my bachelors thesis. As in my paper I am examining the restaurant choosing habits in Southern Germany I would like to implement some of your study’s results into my work.
Therefor, I am asking you kindly if you could email my a copy of the full version of your study.

Best Regards and Greeting from Germany
Georg Steiner

Carin Oliver

Carin Oliver

August 28, 2013

Hi George,

No problem. I will email you the ebook on the How Diners Choose Restaurants study as soon as it’s ready. I think that should be next week. We also recently published the results of a survey on what consumers what in restaurant website design that can be accessed here:

You will find some additional information about how a poor restaurant website design can make people choose another restaurant if they can’t quickly find the information they need.

And feel free to hit me up on skype with any questions: carin.galletta

georg steiner

August 29, 2013

Hello Carin,

thank you very much for the quick reply and for your efforts. That sounds really good, I would be very glad to hear from you as soon as the document is ready.
Thank you also for the advise about your other survey, I will have a look at it.

Best Regards


November 26, 2013

Hi there.
I amd really hoping you’re still tracking comments on this post. I tried to download the full report yesterday (and today), but never received it. Was hoping you could send it my way. Thanks!


January 16, 2014

Hi Carin, Just came across this survey… excellent insight here. Would appreciate if you can email me the full report.. i was unable to download it from the website. Thanks!


June 12, 2015

I was hoping to download the report. Could you email it to me? I’m also trying to figure out who actually ends up making the final decision, which probably changes by demographics/psycographics. Would you have any information on this or point me to some resources. I really appreciate it!


June 17, 2015

As many others, I’m looking to receive a copy of the survey “how dinners choose restaurants,”

Also, are you working on anything more recent in the same area of study? I’ve have already reviewed “what dinners really want from restaurant websites.” I’d be interested in anything new coming as well.

Thank you and your team.


April 12, 2016

Hi Carin,

I hope the comments thread is still active till now.
This seems to be an interesting read and would immensely help me in understanding the consumer behavior.

I handle marketing for a leading table reservation app in India. Would it be too much if i can request you to mail me a copy of the study report.

Off course, if it’s not an issue for your firm.

Abhijeet Bhattacharya

survey app

February 15, 2018

This is a nice share on the importance of surveys for restaurants. With the help of survey apps, i am sure restaurant owners can customize and get quality feedback from customers

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