Communicating Through COVID-19: Top Five Best Practices for Restaurants

In a time of such uncertainty where restaurants are experiencing mandated shutdowns in cities and states across the country and the industry is facing a loss of $225 billion as a result, according to the National Restaurant Association, it is more important than ever for brands to engage and communicate with their customers effectively.

These are unprecedented times, with neighboring restaurants all facing similar challenges, so having an authentic way to remind guests that you’re open is critical for building brand loyalty in our current environment.  We’ve laid out our top five best practices for restaurants to communicate with customers through this uncharted territory to ensure they engage consumers and take every step to survive through COVID-19 and beyond.

Having an authentic way to remind guests that you’re open is critical for building brand loyalty in our current environment. 

Deliver a Customer-First Message

Customers need reassurance during times of uncertainty. To reiterate your support, state your commitment to the health and safety of your employees, customers and community, and your compliance with public health guidelines. It is important to outline clear steps being taken to address all possible concerns.

Clearly articulate the business status and highlight all dining options available such as online ordering, pick-up, curbside delivery, and third-party delivery, including a call to action to let consumers know how they can place orders. Commit to delivering new information as it becomes available and extend your thanks for your customers’ ongoing support and loyalty.

Be Clear, Consistent and Frequent

Checking in with customers promotes confidence in your brand. Determine a regular cadence in which you will be communicating with customers. Whether this is once or twice a week, this will help you build a stronger rapport and manage expectations with customers, but be sure to offer new information each time.  With changes from day to day, inform customers on what is new –  share your highlighted takeout offerings, the latest on opening hours, curbside pickup processes.  Ensure all customer communications are consistent across channels. This includes not only key messages but also look and feel, voice, timing, and business processes. Align your communications strategy across all key stakeholders company-wide — from corporate departments to franchisees and employees who are critical ambassadors on the front lines.

Reflect Your Brand Voice

Consistent branding is crucial to an overall clear message. Ensure your messages reflect your brand voice, yet are appropriate for the times and reflect that sentiment. Build trust through transparency and authenticity and maintain a calm, collected and confident tone. 

Communicate Effectively at the Right Times Across Channels

For general communication use every channel available, including email, text, push notification, and social so your message is cast broadly. For targeted communications, send messages over your customers’ preferred channels. Deliver your messages at optimal times, such as 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. when customers are most likely to engage.

Listen and Respond to Your Customers

Gather, act on, and measure customer feedback to keep a pulse of customer sentiment and expectations. If negative customer feedback is provided, respond quickly on the same channel showing appreciation and how you will take action–not defensiveness. Sluggish responses will reflect poorly on your brand. Err on the side of experimenting with new approaches and tactics rather than being a perfectionist. Speed and iteration outweigh slow and careful deliberation during rapidly changing conditions.

As this situation continues to unfold, the future is unknown, but it is critical to give every restaurant a fighting chance to come out the other side of this up and running again to serve their communities.  Staying in touch with consumers is key.  If you don’t have them already, open social media accounts to share updates, engage on social media posts to attract consumers to your page, and share the latest on what is being offered and served at your establishment.  Engaging with your existing e-club members and mailing lists is critical.  In a time like this no stone can be left unturned in reminding your customers that you are open, ready to serve and here to support the community in its greatest time of need.