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The Changing Concept of Dinner in the Age of COVID-19: Romance Vs. Reality

Posted By Laurie Tema-Lyn and Dr. Donna Maria Romeo, Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Changing Concept of Dinner in the Age of COVID-19

Background

As qualitative researchers —Donna with an anthropological lens, and Laurie with an innovation lens— we often work on behalf of clients to understand perspectives and opinions related to specific brands or communications. As foodies, we enjoy working on projects related to the food industry. So, as we spoke this summer about how COVID-19 was affecting our personal lives, we decided to collaborate on a passion project to explore the nature of dinner in the age of COVID-19.

Our video interviews with folks from diverse backgrounds, life-stages, and household compositions revealed much about habits and practices around food planning, prepping, grocery shopping, cooking, and eating. We uncovered exciting insights that suggest implications for food retailers, marketers, manufacturers, meal delivery services, and others.

A central theme running across the research was the concept of taking stock, both literally and figuratively. The pandemic demanded us to take inventory as we looked through the pantry, fridge, and freezer. More broadly, it triggered us to take stock of our lives mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we grappled with challenging issues that have become a part of our collective experience.

We learned that the question: “What shall I/we do for dinner tonight?” was on everyone’s minds and had become a central focus for the day’s events. In response to that question, we found a larger construct in the dichotomy of dinner, which we have identified as Romance vs. Reality. Although not a new construct, for many, this duality has been exacerbated by life under COVID-19.

The Romantic Dinner 

First, let’s begin by toasting to the romantic side of this equation! Without the grind of the daily commute or hectic shuttling of children back and forth to school and events, many people found more time in their lives as they hunkered down at home.

The Romantic notion of dinner is described as an ideal time when household members sit down together, relax, and talk as a family. Dinner becomes a shared social experience as well as a form of entertainment. Under COVID-19, dinner becomes something to look forward to and even the highlight of the day.

Romantic dinners take preparation. People told us they turned to recipes found in books or the internet, while some took Zoom classes and learned how to bake challah or pizza. Some discovered their inner chef and experimented with new cuisines and cooking methods, such as the Instant Pot or air fryer. A few set the table with the good china and stemware. An older couple dresses up for dinner, with attire suited to the cuisine.  

Half of our respondents regularly or frequently experience these romantic dinners. In many ways, these meals are a throwback to an earlier time, the idea of Sunday dinner with emphasis on wholesome, home-made foods, lovingly prepared and savored over the evening.  

With few reasons to rush away from the dinner table, spouses deepen intimate relationships, parents and children spend precious time together and exchange ideas. Dinner in the age of COVID-19 for them is intimate, social, creative, and soul-satisfying. The Romantic Dinner has helped people emotionally get through the lockdown and restrictions on their freedom.  

While most Romantic dinners are shared with immediate family and others in the extended COVID-19 social pod who safely dine together, some also extend this reach to far-flung family and friends virtually. Several respondents discussed sharing snacks, wine, and even holiday meals like Passover and Easter with distant friends and family via Zoom so they could keep relationships and traditions vibrant, even though people can’t come together physically.

As a form of entertainment, the Romantic dinner was described as an outlet for creativity and experimentation. People feel a sense of self-confidence in trying something new and home-made and even home-baked.

Several spoke with pride of pulling together an appealing and delicious scavenger meal from what they could find in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. Others found the pandemic a perfect time to experiment with foods from different cultures, which in some ways, was a stand-in for the travel they missed.  

For many, the Romantic dinner is an opportunity to show off in the age of COVID-19. With recipe postings and stylized photos on social media, people relish their bragging rights. And all this ties in with the plethora of cooking shows and food porn. 

The Harsh Reality Dinner  

Not everyone answered the “What shall I/we do for dinner tonight?” question with positivity and creativity.  Unfortunately, for some, dinner in the age of COVID-19 is a Harsh Reality.  

The Harsh Reality dinner is a grueling, time-consuming chore, marred by stress, strain, and guilt, and simply a means to an end. Day in and day out, people grow bored with their cooking routine and the increased demands COVID-19 has placed on them.

These sentiments are felt acutely by parents of young children, especially those who work at home.  These folks have many balls in the air—so food shopping, cooking, cleaning, maintaining safe/sanitary practices, and cooking a meal become the ultimate stressor.  

Those who live alone and a few older empty-nesters were in this camp as well. They described dinner as a basic need or “fuel.” There’s nothing romantic about it, and “Netflix is my dinner guest.” For older couples who eat differently due to health issues, cooking is not enjoyable. As one retiree said, “I just wish someone would come and cook for me.”

And to a Gen X mom with two daughters and a husband, each of whom is on a different diet, it’s a veritable nightmare to figure out what to do at dinnertime to keep everyone at least somewhat happy. 

Some people who experience dinner as a Harsh Reality feel guilt and shame at not doing more, not keeping up with others who enjoy cooking or seem to cook effortlessly. They feel the strain of not meeting the ideal, and self-judge as less competent mothers or spouses.

Glimmers of Light  

Fortunately, for those experiencing dinner during the pandemic as a Harsh Reality, there are glimmers of light on the horizon. As some communities are taking control of their COVID-19 infections, many are once again easing the stress of the “what’s for dinner?” question by turning to take-out, curbside, and restaurant dining (alfresco predominantly).

The romantics are a bit sad to see these changes; but the hassled, harried parents who are juggling work, parenting, and homeschooling demands are welcoming the help that restaurant dining affords them.

Conclusion: Implications

For the Romantics… 

  • Brands and companies can provide ongoing ideas for menu planning, new recipes, ingredients, and cooking tools
  • Offer simple, low-cost, and creative ways to beautify table and ambiance
  • Consider bundling opportunities: e.g., spices or ingredients coupled with music (and video) representative of an international cuisine 
  • Design tools/services to enhance smartphone food photos styled perfectly for social media 
  • Advertising and communications can play up the multi-sensory, pleasurable aspects of cooking and dining at home

For those living in the Harsh Reality… 

  • Make it easy for the cook! Easy-to-find recipes, short cuts, and speed scratch cooking ideas 
  • Tools that simplify and make cooking faster and easier 
  • Break down recipes into individual portions for the solo householder or for households where each person has their own dietary preferences or needs 
  • And most importantly, food advertising needs to get real! Communicate in ways that acknowledge all types of diversity, and strive to de-stress, de-shame, and de-guilt the less-than-ideal cook.

About the Authors:

Dr. Donna Maria Romeo, Founding Principal, Romeo Anthropological Consulting, LLC 

Donna is a business anthropologist and customer experience expert with a PhD in applied anthropology. For over 25 years, she has helped global organizations across a range of industries see the world of the consumer through fresh eyes. Her work has contributed to innovations in customer experience, marketing, service design, and product development
anthrodonnatx@gmail.com
https://anthrodonna.com

Laurie Tema-Lyn, Founder, Practical Imagination Enterprises®

Laurie Tema-Lyn is a qualitative research consultant and creative catalyst with 25+ years experience. She is former member of the QRCA Board of Directors. Laurie is the author of Stir It Up! Recipes for Robust Insights & Red Hot Ideas, and numerous articles which have appeared in VIEWS, Quirk’s Media and LinkedIn.
laurie@practical-imagination.com
http://practical-imagination.com  

Tags:  communication  market research  marketing research  mrx  QRCA Digest  qualitative market research  research methodologies  research methodology 

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Re-Thinking the Rules of Engagement for Virtual Research Theatre

Posted By Roben Allong and Barbara Hairston, Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Re-Thinking the Rules of Engagement for Virtual Research Theatre

by Roben Allong and Barbara Hairston

 (Photo credit: Julia M. Cameron)
(Photo credit: Julia M. Cameron)

 

Savvy qualitative researchers are not waiting for new normal to emerge. They are re-thinking engagement rules before they step back into the research theatre, post COVID-19. Engaging consumers post-crisis — when experiences across racial, ethnic, employment, and geographic lines are newly imprinted and quite disparate — is an opportunity to re-calibrate the way we conduct qualitative research, whether in-person or online. To state the obvious, no one has been left untouched by the pandemic’s sudden disruption of human behavior and norms; this requires a new look at the rules for qual research interaction. 

While participants are available and willing to talk, many are still in crisis physically, mentally, and even financially. Qual researchers should not expect that study participants will be mindfully available or fully cogent in responses, especially given their disparate experiences. Post-COVID-19 study designs will require that we look beyond traditional methodologies and techniques. This post will outline five guidelines that can be deployed to elevate engagement for a more insightful studywhether in-person or virtual. These may already be familiar but are worth revisiting; how we apply them in this new normal may also help us elevate the practice.  

Firstbe as transparent as possible to re-establish trustBasic trust between people has been severely upendedTransparency is needed now, more than ever; that includes reassuring participants of the protocols that are in place to ensure participants’ physical and mental health before starting your focus group or interview interactionMeeting vulnerable communities where they are is imperative to rebuild trust. Clearly express participation expectations and also acknowledge that the crisis has had an impact. This is especially important for online video studies where building effective rapport in a virtual environment requires greater specificity and clarity. Transparency helps reduce fear of the unknown and the unexpected that participants may not even realize they are harboring since the advent of COVID-19.  

Second, create and enforce no judgement zone that supports study participants as they share their truth, that may even be new to them. Avoid unconscious bias. Be especially mindful of how you ask questions; choose your words and examples carefully. Tap into unfamiliar emotions that they are feeling and expressing freely without judgement. Don’t assume that what you do in personthe tone, body language and energy you radiate to encourage respondent rapport and engagementis easily transferred to a video platform. There is distance between you and participants and between participants themselves. Subtle body movements, tones, whispers, eye expressions that we noticed and took for granted can go undetected in a virtual focus room. Paying even closer attention is mandatory. Think about the things you do that work well for you in person and how you can effectively alter and adapt them to the virtual environment.  

Thirdbe authentically empatheticDon’t assume that this is participant’s first Zoom “rodeo of the day nor that they are a pro at video callingThey are still living full lives and despite agreeing to take part in the research study, may not be fully present. Allow yourself to feel how being unemployed or working from home, fielding multiple conference calls, applying for jobs online, managing team remotely or household with everyone in it simultaneously, or home-schooling children for the first time, informs their attitudes and perceptions. Be patient and build in extra time for them to collect themselves and their thoughts.  

In order to get a full understanding of mindset and behavior changes, it important to not only have a good representation but also cultural understanding across all ethnicities in order to uncover the hidden stories that lead to critical insights and innovation. Make it a priority to be mindful that, because of racial, ethnic, gender, disabilities, and economic disparities, the pandemic has had a disparate impact on various segments. Build a strong, sharing, and meaningful connection by better understanding diverse cultures and validating unique experiences. 

Fourthincrease pivot-ability. As clients and brands pivot toward quick data insights from quantitative because itrelatively inexpensive and fast, accelerated qual interviews and even faster analysis and reporting will soon be the norm. However, qual by definition is not fast. Getting to the deep emotional recesses of the mind and memory takes time. As Einstein advised more than 100 years ago, time is relative. Pivoting to nimble online tech tools that combine and speed up parts of the qual methodology (such as fielding hybrid studies, insight gathering, analysis, and reporting) is essentialOur current fast-paced climate does not allow for clients to fully “embrace” the qual process, nor do some want toTo meet those emerging needswants, and expectations with more speed and acuity than before, qual researchers need to re-think their process and deliverables.  

Fifthbe even more curious. Everything around us is changing. The past, in many cases, is only a reference point. The more we hear from participants, the broader our understanding will be of the evolving impact of COVID 19. That means we have to be more curious and avoid the temptation to make assumptions. Try to really understand that things that were once tried and true may no longer hold that position, in the minds of respondents. Things that they believed were once under their control, no longer are. Where they felt safe before, even to the point of taking things for granted, they don’t anymore. There has been a paradigm shift. Explore ways to better understand and accurately interpret the new context from the eyes, ears, and circumstances of our study participants. 

COVID-19 has changed the rules of human interaction — which is the equivalent of a seismic shift in qualitative research. COVID-19’s forced contact deprivation coupled with the accelerated wide acceptance of video calling for both business and personal use has hastened a rethinking of how, when, who, and why we connect virtuallyAs the frequency of online qual research accelerates, we have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to adapt what we know and create new best practices to facilitate a different, deeper, more meaningful interaction in a virtual environment. Obviously, the ideas presented here are by no means exhaustive but are designed to spark alternative thinkingAs you ruminate on all the possibilities, what approaches are you are re-thinking for this new post-COVID-19 research theater engagement? 

Roben AllongRoben Allong considers herself a research spelunker focused on exploring what lurks deep in the caverns of the global cultural zeitgeist. As CEO of Lightbeam Communciations, she is an innovative researcher with over a decade of knowledge and trend expertise across a broad spectrum of consumers, brands and industries. She is currently QRCA Board member and Chair of QRCA New York Metro Chapter. 

linkedin.com/in/robenallong 
twitter.com/trendiwendii 
IG @roben_the_researcher 

Barbara HairstonBarbara Hairston has a broad base of experience and expertise conducting studies for public health education, K-12 education, higher education, and social issues clients. Through her firm Resources International Inc., she conducts research using a variety of online and face-to-face methodologies to deliver the best possible research solutions among adults/seniors, general market and African American segments, physicians and allied health providers, and stakeholders.  

Linkedin.com/in/Barbara-kinlaw-hairston-32761a7 
Twitter.com/KinLawBH 

Tags:  communication  mobile research  QRCA Digest  Qualitative Methodologies  Qualitative Methods  Remote Market Research 

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Deep Listening: 10 ways to strengthen connection while social distancing

Posted By Marta Villanueva, Friday, April 10, 2020

Deep Listening: 10 ways to strengthen connection while social distancing

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Standing on a busy corner in Los Angeles with a “free listening” sign was a humbling experience. This was not an experiment in rejection—though I experienced much of that. It was an experiment to engage in conversation with perfect strangers on the street with no other goal than to listen deeply. This required stretching my listening muscles into uncertainty and ambiguity.

This experiment was led by Urban Confessional as part of a QRCA Conference. I have conducted thousands of sessions as a qualitative researcher, which have made me an expert at listening and asking thoughtful questions. My frequent “free listening” via phone or video call to meet the global need for connection these past weeks has further flexed my listening muscles.

COVID-19 has caused a collision of our business and personal worlds in myriad ways. The slurry of emotions being stirred up by this crisis is spilling over into our work. Deep listening on the job is now more important than ever, because our emotions carry a powerful weight. Left unchecked, they can negatively impact our interactions. Compound that with social distancing and we find ourselves in a situation ripe for negativity.

  1. The Good News: Deep Listening Can Overcome the Negative Impact of Social Distancing
    Overcoming the hardships of social distancing requires deliberate connection with those around us. Deep listening can form a bridge to compassion and empathy—much needed gifts in our current reality. Communication with those around you must reflect an understanding which stems from deep listening. This is especially critical for anyone in a leadership role.

  2. The Hurdle: Deep Listening Doesn’t Just Happen; It Requires You to Deliberately Follow a Set of Key Steps
    The following guidelines will provide direction to strengthen your relationships through the practice of deep listening, especially while social distancing.

  3. Bring awareness to the situation.
    Check in with yourself before engaging in deep listening and throughout the conversation. Acknowledge and process any biases toward the person or situation; writing them down can be helpful. Bring awareness to these biases and focus on releasing them as best you can. Ensure you are not engaging in deep listening with the goal of fixing the person’s situation. Focus only on authentic listening.

  4. Set the stage for listening.
    Put aside any distractions. Pretend this conversation is the only thing happening in the whole world. That is how intentional you need to be. Check your body language, even if your listening is on the phone. Your body language can impact your engagement level. When the person can see you, your body language needs to communicate support, encouragement, and active listening. Set your intention for deep listening. Are you listening to connect, understand, or for a different purpose? Decide and commit to staying with that intention.

  5. Monitor your listening.
    Be intentional in regarding the other person’s experience over your own. If your mind starts to wander, redirect it. This can be done with a clarifying question (“How did that make you feel?” “What else is going on?”) or through the use of supportive body language (nodding, eye contact).

  6. Explore and clarify.
    Your questions need to be open and free from judgment. Sometimes a simple, “Say more about that” can be enough to achieve full understanding. Clarifying questions seek to authentically understand further. Make sure that what you are taking in matches what they are saying. Your clarifying questions will help you understand the situation deeply.

  7. Allow space for full-out venting.
    After the person has finished talking, you want to make sure they got everything out that needed to be said. Ask: “Is there anything else?” If there is, you need to go back to listening while deferring judgment. Continue asking if there is anything else until the answer is “no;” you can use this as an indicator to turn your focus to the emotion.

  8. Uncover the emotion.
    To gain complete understanding, you need to get at the emotion behind the situation. Ask: “How does this make you feel?” Once the emotion is expressed, your job is to validate it. Suppose the emotion expressed is sadness; you need to think about a situation that elicited the same emotion (a shared situation is the most impactful). Ask: “Is the sadness you feel similar to the time your son broke his ankle or closer to when you were taken off the new business project?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how sad do you feel?” “What color would you associate with your sadness?” Ask exploratory questions until you truly understand the emotion associated with the situation. This step is key in not only validating the emotion, but also ensuring the person feels completely heard.

  9. Be open to silence.
    While deep listening, you will talk less and listen more. Pauses may seem interminably long. You may feel uncomfortable, awkward, or even like you want to run. Stay with it. Honor the person by holding yourself in deep listening mode. Search their body language for cues when it is OK to talk or listen for the pauses.

  10. Lead with empathy.
    Show the person you are listening, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing. Stay focused on “seeing” the person’s heart. Allowing them the opportunity to have their say without judgment communicates acceptance. And don’t we all need to feel real acceptance right now?

Employ deep listening to connect with those around you. Wherever you may find yourself, people desperately need deep listening. We are all going through a very difficult situation. Nobody is immune. Companies/teams/colleagues/parents all need to be sensitive to the unique needs emerging during this time. If someone shares something that requires professional support, help them find the right resource.

Deep listening will strengthen your relationships when they need a little bolstering. If you need help in implementing these best practices or could use some “free listening,” please reach out. We can all help each other emerge stronger from this pandemic.

 

Marta Villanueva is a Bicultural/Bilingual qualitative researcher/strategist with experience across categories and methodologies (online, in-person, telephone). She has a M.Sc. in Creativity and Change Leadership which adds a rich dimension to every engagement. Marta is the co-chair for the 2021 QRCA conference and the QRCA 2015 Maryanne Pflug Award Winner.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/martavillanueva/  

www.nuthinking.net

@nuthinkinginc

 

Tags:  communication  human behavior  Humanizing Research  humans  market research  marketing research  mobile research  outreach  qualitative  qualitative market research  qualitative research  research methodology 

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Mobile Schmobile: Taking in-the-moment into in-context learning

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 19, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Untitled Document

QRCA member Pam Goldfarb Liss works a lot with kids, teens, and their parents — and she sees that smartphones and tablets are a very important part of the way in which they communicate. According to Pam, you might say that smartphones are a third arm for many of them.

The research territory around the smartphone and tablets is called mobile research — and it allows us to experience our targets’ lives in 3-D. Mobile research is an effective way to get windows into our targets’ world as we complete research tasks. When qualitative researchers provide this perspective for clients, in-context learning leads to powerful product and service insights and ideation.

Yet, Pam says, when we get “in-the-moment” photos, videos or even recorded audio notes, researchers may not get an explanation of the context of that moment: Consumers are willing to share it all, but are not always so good about telling us the reasons for certain actions or behaviors after they’ve posted material for a mobile study.

That’s why choosing the right research tool for your client’s objectives is the most important consideration. Pam goes on to explain several platforms for mobile research, as well as providing rules of thumb for creating appropriate and fun mobile activities.

Read the full article here.

Tags:  communication  mobile  mobile platforms  mobile research  pam goldfarb liss  qrca views  smartphones  tablets  teenagers  views article 

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