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.

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 SurveyMonkey.com and was designed to provide a better understanding of how diners make restaurant decisions. Prizes were given to randomly selected survey participants.