COVID Variants: How to Leverage Tech to Sustain Restaurant Recovery

Amid all the unknowns COVID-19 has served up over the past year and a half, a few certainties have emerged. Within the hospitality industry, there is universal agreement that restaurants have been through the ringer. And it doesn’t appear the ups and downs of this pandemic will end anytime soon. 

With delta variant cases surging and a second pandemic winter looming, restaurants are desperately trying to sustain and fuel their recoveries. In a recent Alignable poll, restaurants topped a list of industries worried about the delta variant and 88 percent of those establishments said they feared the variant will impede their rebound efforts and hurt their businesses. 

Restaurants need all the help they can get today to entice guests, make them feel safe and comfortable, create a memorable experience and earn their repeat business. Now, more than ever, dining establishments need to delight customers at every touchpoint, gain real-time customer feedback and secure competitive insights. The solution for an increasing number of marketers is online reputation management.  

How to Attract, Convert and Delight Diners

Managing brands online is rapidly growing in importance, particularly in this pandemic business environment. Recent marketing research shows people now trust customer reviews and recommendations more than advertising, and surveyed marketers attributed a combined 58 percent of new customers to search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation and referrals. 

Savvy restaurant leaders now recognize the need for and the value of an all-encompassing online reputation management tool to attract, convert and delight diners.

  • Attract: When it comes to attracting customers and getting them in the door, restaurants need to look for marketing technology that helps them keep their business listings up to date, and collect online reviews and customer referrals. Listings are vital for guests who search online for places to dine out. It’s critically important businesses can be found online and the information for their locations is accurate, up to date and relevant. After all, listings determine how potential guests find and interact with establishments online.

It goes without saying that reviews are important in the restaurant business. But how dining establishments manage the review process varies widely. The easiest approach is to employ a tool that automatically manages the review process – including the generation of diner reviews, and the monitoring, analysis and response to them. With the right technology at work in this digital business environment, restaurants can determine the sentiment of a guest’s review, gain insights from it and identify opportunities to improve the dining experience.

Referrals are just as important for restaurants as reviews. Leaders who equip their businesses with modern technology can translate word-of-mouth marketing and turn diners into ambassadors in just a few clicks. Businesses grow through happy customers and happy guests should be easily empowered to refer their friends and family to the dining establishments they love.  

  • Convert: Once restaurants attract potential guests, they need to get them in the door and convert them to actual diners. With COVID-19 safety, hygiene and government mandates top of mind, converting potential customers into actual diners means meeting guests where they are, being responsive to their needs and expectations, and relaying timely information.

Leaders should look for a solution with seamless, unified messaging that can answer questions instantly, send reservation reminders, promote new menu items and even accept touchless payments via text. The trick is being able to message potential guests at any point in their customer journey and manage their messages across one, easy-to-use platform. As the delta variant throws restaurant recovery into flux, it’s particularly important to be where customers are and to engage with them there.   

  • Delight: Once restaurants have attracted potential guests and converted them to actual diners, establishments need to delight them. That’s how companies will drive repeat business, after all. Delighting guests may sound daunting but it’s actually easier for companies that employ solutions with payments, surveys, insights, benchmarking and ticketing functionalities. 

There’s no excuse today for restaurants not soliciting feedback from guests and mining that feedback to improve the dining experience. Marketing technology empowers establishments to send fully-customizable surveys, gauge diner satisfaction and even identify insights around a particular location’s operations. Surveys are vital to benchmarking dining experiences and comparing them to competing restaurants in the area. The right online reputation management solution should be able to turn competitive insights into an advantage.

And when diners do offer feedback or suggestions for improvement, restaurants need a ticketing system that allows for proactive problem-solving. Resolving issues before they escalate is key as establishments look to earn repeat business and sustain their COVID recoveries. 

What lies ahead with COVID isn’t known for anyone or any certain industry. Which means restaurants need to control what they can, particularly now. Leaders who are focused on sustaining and fueling their pandemic recoveries should look at online reputation management technologies to see how they can help attract potential guests, convert them into diners and delight them enough to earn their repeat business. Solutions are out there if leaders are motivated enough to employ and leverage them.