Marketing, Restaurants

Restaurants can withstand the COVID-19 threat – Here’s how!

It may be awhile before things get back to normal, and there are tough times ahead. That’s why it’s crucial that US businesses, particularly restaurants, develop a game plan to stay afloat and weather this storm tactfully.

Public life has come to a near-total halt across the world as people gear up for the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Health officials have issued warnings for dine-in restaurants to close and for people to avoid these and other crowded areas. 

This means that whether you’re a five-star restaurant or a small start-up, you are gearing up for your business to take a significant hit from the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

But that doesn’t have to be the case. You don’t have to lock the doors on your restaurant and give up your dreams of making a livelihood. You won’t even have to exploit your workers or risk the well-being of your customers to make your business work.

It takes a bit of careful planning and some tried-and-tested marketing tactics to get your business up and running – despite a pandemic raging in the world. 

Here are some ways to ensure that your restaurant can continue to be in business despite the circumstances:

Offer pickup and non-contact delivery services

Alex Hult’s new restaurant, Flights, is a testament to the fact that companies can survive the economic challenges of a pandemic while also being a force for the good of their communities. However, to do it right, it is imperative that you redesign your offerings, modify prices to be more family-friendly, and offer safe curbside pickup and delivery solutions to cater to the new demand. 

Drive-through, home delivery, curbside pickup, and self-service options should take the forefront on customer service channels. When you add these options to your service mix, you assure customers that you’re equipped to meet their needs in the direst of situations.  

Additionally, throw paper money out of the mix and encourage customers to pay online or use other cashless payment methods! This works well because handling cash is also known to lead to infections. 

Expand the range of your services, and show them that they can stay safe and still enjoy your food. 

You can even sell food kits that customers can use to cook 5-star meals at home. This works exceptionally well for fast-food chains that can quickly sell items like patties, buns, and add-ons separately, to be assembled at home by customers who crave the fast-food experience at odd hours during a lockdown. 

Your restaurant should also consider revising menus: with the pandemic in play, bulk-buying trends have increased, meaning customers now want larger, family-sized meals that will keep them settled at home for a while. 

This way, they can recreate your restaurant experience from the safety of their homes. 

Manage inventory to keep the essentials

With customers practicing social distancing and self-isolation, you can’t count on consistent sales and cash flow. Once you’ve redesigned your menu with your new offerings, let it be your guide to inventory purchases for the near future.

The chances are that you also won’t be able to utilize most of your current inventory on time, and it may go bad as a result of that. So make sure that you cut back on purchases, especially of niche items that aren’t ordered often and won’t sell quickly. 

A smart move would be to examine operations and identify other potential areas where you can cut costs. These measures will help to manage a tighter budget and control cash burn.   

Talk to your landlord

If your restaurant is built in a rental space, making rental payments will be very difficult, if not downright impossible. 

Have a meeting with your landlord for a review of your case, and to possibly negotiate a concession. It may be impossible for them to waive your rent for the next three months, but there are other options. 

Perhaps, they’ll agree to break up the payment into smaller installments or even offer a one-time discount considering the situation. 

Let’s face it; most businesses will need some time to recover from the pandemic. Lay bare your restaurant’s financial situation and let your landlords know in clear terms how you are with the lack of customers.  

Let them know that they’ll be hard-pressed to come across other tenants in these trying times. Some money is better than none at all, so they’ll be keen to work out a mutually-beneficial solution with you.

You must start the negotiations before the next due date so you can have a solution as soon as possible.    

Market safe, clean food and pickup

As a general rule, restaurants are expected to maintain top-notch cleanliness. But it’s more important now than ever to follow strict hygiene and cleanliness protocol, even if you are delivering food and have closed the dine-in spaces for now. 

However, it is critical that you also effectively market your healthy and safe food. Also, talk about your coronavirus-safe delivery options to let your prospects and customers know that your restaurant is dedicated to ensuring their well-being at all times. 

There are several ways you can do this. 

Use communication mediums like email, text messaging, and social media to inform customers that your business is still operational and offers a delectable menu to choose from. Let them know that you can make sure your food gets to them.

A little encouragement goes a long way – offer a small discount on their next order and a generous reward for sending their friends and family your way.     

Like we said, your cash reserves will be at an all-time low, and a nifty way to build them up would be to add family-sized meals to your menu. Bulk-buying trends are growing, evidently apparent from the rather unexpected toilet paper shortage. 

It’s important to understand that people are generally afraid of leaving their homes at the moment, but they’ll appreciate the fact that you are willing to deliver the food to them. Understand their concerns and use this as a viable business growth opportunity. 

Of course, pickup and delivery is not for every restaurant. The store premises end up getting wasted away, and the problem becomes acute for larger establishments. But creative minds have found a solution for that too. 

Sell groceries

Yes, you heard me. Many restaurants all over the US have taken another route to getting customers. As discussed earlier, bulk-buying is in, and many grocery stores are struggling to provide essentials to their local patrons (think toilet paper and cereals). 

People like Anthony Strong, owner of a family-style restaurant, Prairie continue to use their restaurant premises as stores, with great results! They’re holding out their restaurant in these dire times by not succumbing to delivery services, which can create a hole in their already thin margins with delivery fees.  It also makes use of space that would otherwise waste away in a closed or delivery only restaurant. 

The best part? They and many others help communities get their groceries along with prepared food. It’s definitely not business as usual, which is why this strategy will work until the situation normalizes. 

Hear out Adam Rosenbaum, CEO of The Meatball Shop, and how he’s gauging the whole situation. He talks about the necessity of finding a solution that works best for one’s own business, as every restaurant is different from the other.

Make an emotional appeal

There’s no doubt that coronavirus is a tragedy. However, it has been generating interest all over the globe, and you can use it to propel your business to greater heights. 

Your marketing initiatives should take a softer, more humane approach to selling as you share photos and stories of staff working hard to put food on their tables, preparing and delivering quality meals to customer’s doorsteps. 

Moreover, your marketing efforts can also take on transparency and show initiative: inform customers of the challenges you face in staying open. Also, talk about the preventative measures you are taking to ensure the safety of your customers and your workers. 

Now is the right time to tug at heartstrings and emotionally appeal to your audience, compelling them to choose your local business over the bigger corporations. 

Additionally, use your marketing message to assure customers that your employees are being looked after actively. Often, your customers develop friendly relations with your staff, and they’ll be delighted to know that their friends are well taken care of. 

At a time where employees are being laid off, audiences are bound to appreciate your gesture of goodwill towards your waiters, cooks, chefs, and delivery staff. You help them take care of their families and get to look good! A win-win situation.    

Take Guinness Beer’s St. Patrick’s Day Message – the powerful branding coupled with messages to “raise each other” for emotional appeal. Moreover, their follow-up with ‘We Will Toast Again’ proves consistent, heartfelt words resonate with customers.

Use social media to reach a greater audience

Humans are visual creatures, and nothing will get your message across quite effectively as videos and images. Now is the right time to integrate social media into your marketing plan and create viral content that is likely to be shared across multiple channels. 

Customers are in a predicament as they are forced to stay home, – the only interaction they can enjoy with their favorite restaurants is online. There could not have been better timing for you to cement your relationship with them.

Increase engagement levels on your social media pages – reply to comments and queries on the go, host one-on-one interviews on your pages with your staff to let the world know how they are coping, and use this time to add a human element to your dealings online.

As a business, now is not the time to refrain from telling the truth, nor should you let fear silence your voice. Times are harsh, but you can find a balance with staying positive in your marketing, while also acknowledging the situation at hand.  

Pret does this well by announcing their move to becoming a takeaway only business, and offering discounts to National Health Service (NHS) workers. 

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Powerful messaging is key: Entice your audiences by creating engaging visuals and graphics that power your online marketing initiatives and remind them of their safety during this time. Try our customizable poster templates to create visually inspiring messages and inform them of pandemic-related updates.

Add value to ensure long-term gains

Youtube recently announced that they’reslowing down services to quite literally, prevent the internet from breaking. With everyone at home, it makes sense that the internet is bursting with content-hungry people.

That presents your brand with the perfect opportunity to get your message across to wider audiences. Paid ad campaigns can only get you so far in the short run, and right now, achieving quantifiable results is impossible.

It’s crucial that you add value to what you put out – buyer guides, how-to videos, informational style posts – these are all forms of information that, by no means, is necessary to share.

However, it makes customers value your service more, especially when you aren’t taking advantage of them. Customers are facing multiple barriers to access when it comes to their favorite restaurants. Short 30 -60-second recipe clips can come across as a symbol of goodwill.

By sharing quick, easy to follow recipes, customers can enjoy amateur imitations of your food at home, until they can savor the real thing once the pandemic is over.

Take on aggressive SEO campaigns that utilize your customer’s search intent to increase your chances of being seen. ‘Add Value’ content will still be ranking in the long run and yield higher ROI.

Watch what others in your niche are doing: In South Korea and other Southeast Asian countries, the delivery staff is required to give their temperature readings to customers to ensure safety and accountability. Adopt similar measures to make sure your business continues to get orders.

In conclusion

Suffice to say, your business may not operate at full capacity, but there’s no need to shut it down just yet. People still need good food, and we bet you’re more than willing to cater to their needs.  

Now is the time to excel at customer service and thank your patrons for their continued support. Times are hard on us all, and a little appreciation can make them feel wanted and welcome.  

Come up with a plan for when your restaurant gets back on track and emerges even stronger than before.