How to Market & Talk to Your Customers During COVID-19

How to Market & Talk to Your Customers During COVID-19
Dew Smith

By Dew Smith

Table of Contents

    The coronavirus pandemic has, without question, shaken the restaurant industry to its core. With new social distancing and self-isolation practices keeping diners home, your customers aren’t going out to eat. With mandatory closure of dining areas across the states, it’s also likely that you aren’t able to serve diners in-person at all. However, thanks to the modern technology landscape for restaurants, all is far from lost.

    Many restaurants across the world have pivoted to a delivery and pick-up only model that resembles a ghost kitchen. While traditional fast casual restaurants have more experience with delivery and utilizing platforms such as UberEats or GrubHub, fine dining and full-service restaurants are also starting to dip their toes into the delivery waters to diversify their revenue—even 3-Michelin Star Alinea in Chicago is preparing meals to go for only $34.95!

    With this systemic change in how the restaurant industry is servicing its customers, it is more important than ever to learn how to market your restaurant, and how to do it affordably during the coronavirus crisis.

    1.Talk about your experience through COVID-19

    Show honesty & gratitude

    Being empathetic with your customers, being transparent around the COVID-19 situation, and showing your gratitude is crucial.

    This video from Teddy’s Brewhouse in Brownwood, TX is a heartwarming example of how restaurant owners can talk to their customers during COVID-19. In this short video posted on their social media channels, the owner explains in detail their new operational procedures and how to order delivery with them directly. Be yourself and be as upfront as possible.

    Thank your awesome customers for their support.

    Use this as an example for how to communicate with your diners on your social media channels and website. Show your gratitude for their service and they’ll continue to support you!

    Talk about sanitization

    Being upfront about your restaurant’s coronavirus safety measures—from sanitization to social distancing—is important to encourage diners to order from you.

    People are now taking extra precautions when grocery shopping and ordering food for delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are also heightened anxieties around whether food delivery is safe. From the line cooks to delivery drivers, many people are interacting with food before it’s delivered, and the customers need to feel safe ordering from you.

    Whatever precautions you are taking to protect your staff and your customers, share it on social media to calm any nerves your diners have. The newest Tim Horton’s commercial is a great example of this.

    Checkout this post by Farmer Jane which shows sanitization efforts they’re installing in-house with a new sneeze guard.


    “To increase safety for everyone we now have sneeze guards in place. We're just like Subway but with better ‘lettuce’! Open regular hours with curbside pickup and delivery available.”

    Mention employee safety and internal communication

    Talk about how you update and communicate with your employees on self monitoring, hygiene, and social distancing during this difficult time. You can also talk about frequent sync-ups with your kitchen and delivery staff to make sure they don’t have symptoms or didn’t visit anyone before work.

    If customers see that the management is tapping into effective communication tools and methods to constantly keep employees updated and safe they will feel safer while ordering from your restaurant.

    If you haven’t prepared your communication strategy yet, don’t worry—nobody was prepared for this. You can read our tips on how to navigate the situation for staff and restaurant in presence of COVID-19 in the city.

    If you need a communication tool for announcements and messaging, we have you covered.

    2. Market your new services (delivery or otherwise)

    Co-marketing efforts

    Anyone who owns or operates a restaurant knows that it’s really a team sport. In addition to your immediate team, most restaurateurs are surrounded by a strong community of adjacent businesses they rely on to continue operating, from suppliers to vendors.

    When it comes to extending the reach of your marketing efforts, consider looking to your friends and network to see how you can work together to comarketing your products and services. If both you and your network can promote your offerings you will be able to reach more consumers without having to spend more to reach them.

    This can be as simple as providing customers of your network’s business with a small incentive when they patronize their business; think a free appetizer or dessert at your restaurant when they spend a certain amount at your partners’ businesses. Or, can be as elaborate as offering your own food for sale by your partners.

    Toronto restaurant group Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality have implemented this to great effect with their supplier and friends Levoy Rowe butchers. During the COVID-19 shutdown they are selling frozen meals through their partner, which provides them more business and provides the restaurant with an alternative source of income.

    Promoting delivery and pick-up

    If you have your own delivery team and are accepting pick-up, tell your customers exactly what the process will look like. Explain how your delivery drivers are practicing social distancing during the delivery at the customer’s home and talk specifically about where to park and how to make a payment (we would recommend avoiding all cash and taking credit card payments over the phone). This will give your customers a sense of security when ordering from you.

    Greg Gnys, owner of Counterpart Brewing, has been offering personalized delivery for quarantined customers and optional curbside pickup for those customers who do not feel comfortable getting out of the car.

    “We've worked really hard to earn our customer's trust and now we're working harder than ever to keep it. We've taken a more personalized approach in regards to communication and have done the bulk of that one on one through social media and by phone to address any concerns or requests they may have. People are scared right now so communication is vital as is a willingness to be flexible and go the extra mile to make your customers feel comfortable and appreciated.”

    Don’t be afraid to get creative with your delivery marketing, either. Checkout this post by Oak Steakhouse Alexandria—they’re offering a special Easter menu for delivery in April, calling it “Easter at home.” This is a great way to get involved in holidays and family traditions when dine-in isn’t an option.

    Want to keep it simple? Have a post that details your delivery process/hours so your diners know what’s up—just like Citizen Cafe Bakery.

    Customer loyalty programs

    Now more than ever, restaurants need the support of their communities and customers. Use your social media channels to ask the communities to order locally and, if they can, purchase a gift card for a later date. Consider marketing your loyalty program at this time and think about how customers can be incentivized to order from you more regularly.

    You can turn loyalty into contests on social media like how White Orchids does with their gift card contest—where every delivery is automatically entered to win. Not only will it prompt people to order more food from them, but they’ll be rewarded for their loyalty!

    Have other forms of loyalty programs, like an app or loyalty card? Now’s the time to market it! Checkout how Page One market’s their app—by offering $5 off when they download.

    View this post on Instagram

    Support your local caffeine dealer! SMALL BUSINESSES NEED YOUR HELP NOW❤️ Given the crazy times we are all experiencing now, it goes without saying that @pageone_cafe want everyone to be safe, respectful, and caring over the next few weeks. We take the health & safety of our customers and staff seriously, therefore have increased measures and are following the advice of public health officials to make sure we are sanitizing and cleaning effectively and often. As a small business, we are also deeply aware of how many people will have their livelihoods greatly impacted. The reality is that many small businesses may not survive! This message is a plea to everyone in our community to PLEASE support small businesses. Keeping within the required restrictions, we are working hard in the hopes that we can pay staff, suppliers, and ultimately remain open to offer our community take-out service. Here are some ideas you can do to help your local small business: 1.Buy gift cards 2.Buy retail products, e.g. Coffee Beans, Teas, cups etc. 3.Shop local online and off (you can download our app from the app or android store and load a balance or order online for easy pickup) you can scan the code in the picture attached to get $5 off immediately just for signing up! 4.Tip a little more than usual, our staff really deserve it and they will surely appreciate it. Thank you all for your support during this difficult time and please stay safe ❤️

    A post shared by 🅟🅐🅖🅔 🅞🅝🅔 🇨🇦 (@pageone_cafe) on

    3. Stay active on social media

    Without extra money for marketing budgets to promote via traditional paid channels, restaurants are relying on their loyal customer bases on social media to get the message out there that they are still open for delivery.

    Go LIVE

    Both Facebook and Instagram have live capabilities. Now is a great time to connect with your customers 1:1 and send a message to your loyal customers. Example?

    If there is a strong or urgent message you want to deliver going live is the right format. It notifies the users who are online and can quickly have hundreds of users listening to what you have to say.

    Try holding a cooking class to teach your customers new recipes or new cooking skills.

    Facebook

    Now more than ever, customers are spending their free time on social media connecting with friends and family and staying up-to-date on news about COVID-19.

    Restaurants can turn to Facebook to build communities of their local restaurants and diners. According to an article by FSR Magazine, “Facebook groups have been a huge contributing factor to support local businesses and to increase communication. In these groups, members of the community can post which restaurants are staying open during this period, and how food orders can best be placed.”

    Local consumers are wanting to show support to their local businesses now more than ever, and Facebook groups are a great way to bring people together digitally.

    Instagram

    Instagram is a great way to connect with your customers—publish videos, stay connected, and take some questions from customers. Whether it’s about COVID-19 survival, the business, or delivery, Q&A is a great way to keep in touch with diners when face-to-face isn’t an option.

    This video by Bar 47 on how to make a dirty milkshake is a great example of posts you can make to engage your diners on social during COVID-19.

    Post food photos made for delivery every day and show that you are active and ready to serve every day. Photos and videos add a reality check to your message and can keep your diners engaged—whether you’re open or not!

    Stories

    Add micro-messages through stories. Deliver a quick message about your daily challenges, gratitude and every day work. Stories are effective when done regularly. Followers like to consume short and relevant content from their favorite accounts.

    Sharing

    Encourage your customers to share their delivery experiences, post photos of the food, and generali support you to their own network. This is a totally free way for your loyal customers can support you during this time.

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    Dew Smith
    Dew Smith

    Hey! I'm Dew, the Brand Strategist at 7shifts. I cultivate 7shifts' social and content garden, and I'm always looking for ways to grow our network of restaurateurs, local talent, and tech companies.