During a recession or economic downturn, virtually everyone struggles. One of the first instincts for cost-cutting measures is to eliminate marketing. However, history shows time and again: businesses that continue marketing through downturns emerge stronger, and enjoy robust consumer loyalty. A flexible public relations and marketing program can help create interesting promos to draw consumers to your business, as well as generate timely media stories of interest to your customers and community. Pro tip: having a PR crisis plan in place is vital as a crisis situation can easily arise! Let’s look at some of the ways foodservice businesses can survive and even thrive during this unprecedented time.
Businesses that continue marketing through downturns emerge stronger, and enjoy robust consumer loyalty.
When people are being urged to stay home except for essentials like food, healthcare, medications, and fuel, heading to a favorite restaurant for a sit-down meal is unlikely, and sometimes, impossible. Keeping a restaurant in business, let alone the top of mind during this crisis requires getting innovative. Turning your marketing focus toward helping people and bringing your local community together can help keep sales going and some money flowing until the crisis is past. When it comes to doing business in this crisis, here are just a few of the tips and innovations we’ve seen or suggest for our clients – most are relatively easy to adapt and deploy. For instance, communicating with your customers through popular social media channels like Facebook and Instagram is vital. Don’t forget NextDoor – the audiences you’ll reach are all within the immediate area. Make sure to share frequent updates on changes in opening and closing hours or temporary closures, and how your facility is mitigating risk for employees and customers. Highlight the importance of good nutrition and sharing a meal with family or friends. Post recipes, cooking tips, and photos of your best dishes to tempt taste buds – and let folks know how to order them.
Take inspiration from José Andrés, a Spanish-American chef and founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters. The organization has provided meals for entire communities, like in Puerto Rico, where the team mobilized after a devastating hurricane destroyed virtually everything in its wake.
Incorporate new distribution strategies, such as no-contact delivery or curbside pick-up. Haven’t partnered with a food delivery service like GrubHub or Postmates? Now is the time to do it. Many restaurants are going mobile and embracing the food truck trend to bring their restaurant to their consumers, or creating pop-up curbside shops for distribution.
Depending on local laws – many are being relaxed during this crisis – creating and selling ‘make a meal at home’ kits for popular menu items is a proven success. Include all the ingredients similar to Hello Fresh and other boxed meal services. You can even incorporate a live or pre-taped social video element via Facebook Live, Instagram video or YouTube to cook along with your chef.
Many restaurants are partnering with customers, HOAs, and neighborhoods to do themed food delivery nights. Neighbors and even entire blocks are banding together to create bulk orders from local restaurants to have neighborhood pizza night, taco-fests, Greek night, etc. A single drop-off point helps streamline food delivery and minimize risk. Rotating the offerings weekly allows people sheltering at home to take a break from their regular cooking routines while lending support to local restaurants and their employees, and foster a sense of community togetherness.
Selling gift cards and certificates for future use is another great option to keep money flowing while business is slow. One of our commercial real estate clients, Levrose, is buying gift cards for local restaurants as thank-you gifts for their staff and clients. It’s a great way to give back, as well as generate positive media stories and goodwill, and you can bet their PR team is on top of the opportunity to tell the story.
Another way to generate goodwill is to support the food insecure. Larger chains and even many non-chain restaurants are partnering with national, regional, and local nonprofits to help fill gaps to make sure some of the most vulnerable members of the community like children and the elderly are getting the nutrition they need.
With so many schools closed nationwide, it’s estimated that underprivileged students could be missing out on more than 100 million meals per week. In response, the PR and marketing geniuses that drive the iconic Burger King brand and sales have established free kids meals with any order program through their app and online ordering. Not to be outdone, Popeyes announced their partnership with No Kid Hungry. When ordering through the Popeyes app, customers are prompted to donate a dollar to the nonprofit, and Popeyes will match each donation dollar for dollar. We expect to see similar programs popping up to help keep our vital healthcare professionals and essential workers well-fed through boxed meals from local restaurants and chains.
It’s tough for everyone out there, and innovative marketing, promotions, and PR can help keep your business afloat until things get back to normal. While uncertainty is still the order of the day, remember, your restaurant is an important part of the community. We are proud of each and every one of you.