Planning the Great Restaurant Comeback

As states begin lifting stay-at-home orders, some regions have resumed in-person restaurant dining operations. The National Restaurant Association recently issued guidance on food safety and social distancing precautions as restaurants begin their reopening planning efforts – preparing for significant shifts in the traditional dining experience.

In response to these changes, many restaurants will be serving in-person diners at a limited capacity, while maintaining an accelerated demand for food deliveries. Restaurants will need to adjust their marketing strategies based on the evolving impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviors and industry restrictions and regulations.

Restaurants will need to adjust their marketing strategies based on the evolving impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviors and industry restrictions and regulations.

Restaurants will also need to modify their strategies to engage old and new customers and stand out from the competition. To ensure that the comeback is greater than the setback, here are a few marketing strategies that restaurant owners can leverage:

Evaluate how to deliver based on consumer appetite. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand consumer demand, preferences and what drives the needle most for your business. A key part of successful preparation will be to identify your restaurant’s key revenue drivers and, if applicable, what dishes drove your off-premise sales during the pandemic. Focus on your core strengths to sustain sales and keep your customers coming back.

In addition to optimizing your menu, consumer demand for efficient services including delivery will also play a role in profitability. Technomic’s recent Generational Consumer Trend Report notes that off-premise dining was already on the rise with more than two-thirds of meals being consumed at home even before the pandemic. However, this trend has continued to accelerate with a Valassis survey finding 20 percent of consumers increasing the frequency in which they use restaurant delivery services during the pandemic. Even as restaurants begin to re-open their doors, they must be prepared to cater their services, menu and digital ordering platforms to the reality that guests won’t always choose to dine-in and may opt to remain home.

Valuable deals can motivate customers to try something new. As every restaurant is planning its comeback, competition will undoubtedly be stiff and consumers will continue to place a heavy emphasis on value amid challenging economic market conditions. A recent study by Prosper Insights shows that 30 percent of adults feel they will dine out less because of economic concerns. Timely deals, promotions and offers will be a key for driving traffic as Path to Purchase Institute research found 83 percent of guests actively look for some kind of coupon or incentive to lighten their financial load.

For delivery in particular, customers often act on impulse and the path to purchase is very short. Valassis research shows that 77 percent of consumers are making their restaurant decision less than 30 minutes before they order. Additionally, 63 percent of customers have changed their mind about what restaurant to order from because of a coupon or promotion presented to them while browsing. Therefore, it’s important that your marketing reaches consumers through multiple touchpoints and communicates value to remain top of mind during spur-of-the-moment decisions.

Leverage multichannel messages to elevate brand awareness. In terms of marketing campaigns, you’ll need to focus on two core audiences: both existing and potential guests. If relevant for your business, maintain an open line of communication with customers who have remained loyal and leveraged pick-up and delivery services throughout the pandemic. Convey your appreciation for their business through “bounce-back” offers that will motivate continued patronage. For new customers, develop a local acquisition strategy that expands the reach of your existing media tactics and targets new customers in your region.

Another facet to consider is how consumers’ media consumption has changed in response to the ongoing pandemic, and then use this insight to identify new channels for marketing campaigns. As consumers spent more time at home the last few months, a recent Valassis survey shows that more than half of consumers have increased their time spent on channels including social media (51 percent) and streaming TV (55 percent). Some have even reignited a newfound appreciation for direct mail – for example, 37 percent of consumers said they’re more excited to receive mail and 30 percent spend more time reading marketing promotions via direct mail than prior to the pandemic. Restaurants should take advantage of these changing habits by experimenting with new marketing channels to reach consumers and identify the best combination of media tactics for reaching target customer demographics.

As doors reopen, timely offline and online data sets – in-market signals, past purchase behavior, media preference and demographics – will be crucial for developing focused marketing plans that ensure you are engaging the right consumers, at the right time, with the right offer. Even as consumers begin venturing out again, their behavior will remain changed as people continue to place a heavy emphasis on value. Restaurants that can offer value, empathy and community support will be best positioned to sustain customer growth and retention.