4 Important Strategies for Attracting Customers During the Pandemic

According to Toast’s 2020 Guide to the Restaurant Guest, potential customers are finding their way to restaurants in much the same way as they did before the pandemic struck. Now, however, it’s becoming increasingly important to enhance the digital experience with a solid online ordering system and channels where you can update COVID-19 safety procedures.

Toast’s guide is based on the views of over 700 restaurant guests. When asked how they discover restaurants, almost 50 percent said recommendations from friends and family. This was followed by online reviews and a restaurant’s website which both came in at 35 percent. Finding a restaurant on Facebook came in at 27 percent while restaurant social media was close behind at 25 percent.

Almost 50 percent of these same guests are turning to a restaurant’s website to find updated information regarding COVID-19 safety precautions.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at 4 important strategies for attracting guests during the ongoing pandemic.

  1. Update Your Website

Potential guests are turning to a restaurant’s website now more than ever. Besides checking out your menu, they are looking at online takeout or delivery options and seeking information regarding the safety precautions you’ve established.

They also want to know if you’re open for in-house dining and if your hours have changed because of the pandemic.

The truth is that going digital is no longer an option, it’s a necessity.

There are numerous online ordering software platforms available specific to the restaurant industry, and many fall into the affordable range. By initiating online ordering, you’ll also be leaving out the middleman, the third-party ordering apps whose commission often falls into the 30 percent range.

Shift4 offers SkyTab Online—an online ordering software that integrates with your POS system. According to their website, the service is free. ChowNow offers an online ordering system and app, particularly important in our mobile world. Customers can place orders via the website, Facebook page, and mobile app.

When sharing your COVID-19 protocol on your website, consider thinking out of the box to garner some extra attention. News that some restaurants were using teddy bears for social distancing went viral, with global news agencies reporting the giant bears in a French café in Paris, a  café in Mexico City,  and another restaurant in South London. The restaurant in England reported that it had been a great success—besides interviews from the news media, people are stopping and taking pictures and asking if they can sit by the bears.

Mei Mei, a restaurant that is currently closed to in-house dining, is using their website to offer virtual classes. These include Dumpling Making for $33 and a Hand-Pulled Noodle Masterclass for $45.

  1. Manage Online Reviews

Make sure your restaurant is listed on popular review sites such as Yelp, Google, OpenTable, and TripAdvisor by completing a profile and adding awesome photos. Then be sure to respond to every review that comes in.

Many moons ago, two Berkeley economists reported that just a half-star improvement on Yelp’s 5-star rating resulted in a 30 to 49 percent better chance that a restaurant would fill up for the evening.

And, yes, negative reviews are inevitable. There are those people that you just can’t please, or circumstances may have been such that some guests really did have legitimate issues with a meal or service. If or when this occurs, respond privately before making a public statement, never make the guest wrong, and keep your emotions out of the world wide web where they can’t be retracted once you’ve calmed down.

The more reviews you have, the less effect one or two bad reviews will have on your ratings.

  1. Stay Active on Social Media and Consider Paid Ads

While it can feel like keeping up with social media content is a full-time job, it doesn’t have to be. Consider your target market and then determine where this “person” lives online.

There are multiple platforms that work with the restaurant industry. Here’s a YouTube video showing Gordon Ramsey making a 3-minute pizza at his Street Pizza restaurant. Customers love getting a view of the BOH where the magic happens.

Here’s another example of a restaurant using Instagram to share what stores are open and new menu items that are making the cut. Sweetgreen is great at keeping their brand’s voice throughout all their social media posts.

Facebook is used by 71 percent of all adults in the U.S. and 74 percent of these users log in every day. The owner of Trattoria Da Luigi, a restaurant in Michigan, posted a video on his Facebook page of the ghosts his wife had made to help social distancing measures. Francesco, Maria, and Geniale are just a few of the ghosts that their customers will be dining with. And they also made it into the Daily Tribune.

Twitter is another important social media site for restaurants that allows operators to reach thousands of people every day without spending a lot of time on the platform. Make your Twitter followers feel special by offering a Twitter promo just for them.

Wendy’s, famous for roasting their competitors on Twitter, launched a campaign during March Madness, delivering branded messages that included polls, promotions, and video highlights. Close to 615.000 people voted in their Pick ‘Em polls. Even more impressive? The campaign resulted in more than 2 million Tweet engagements, 140 million impressions, and a 12 percent increase in foot traffic among new and/or lapsed customers through the messaging of their new offering—$5 Biggie Bags.

If your marketing budget allows, consider paid ads. Some of the best ones for restaurants include Facebook Location Ads which are targeted at people within a certain range of your restaurant and Instagram Ads that can dramatically increase your followers.

  1. Reward Guests that Recommend Your Restaurant

With word of mouth still being the number one way that restaurants obtain new customers, it’s important to recognize and show appreciation to those guests that have shared a good word or two with friends and family.

One opportunity to say thanks is sending a table a complimentary appetizer when regulars come in with new guests.

Another approach is to start using a Net Promoter Score (NPS) to determine which guests are likely to recommend your establishment to a friend. An NPS is a simple survey that consists of one or two questions. Once you know who your promoters are, award them and develop a customer referral program. Companies such as Pollen will set up a restaurant referral program for you.

Even though our world has transformed in ways no one could imagine, some things stay the same. Give your guests incredible food, outstanding service, and a safe and engaging environment, and they’ll be referring friends and family even without a gentle nudge.

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