As with most life experiences, be they daily affairs or catastrophic events, there are lessons found within their framework, the current pandemic being no exception. For many of us, we have learned to appreciate the small things we took for granted—like walks on the beach, a night at the movies, meeting a friend for a leisurely lunch.
We learned that, in a matter of days, our world and way of life could become almost unrecognizable. Change or die became the motto for many, if not most, businesses in the hospitality industry.
Now, as we look ahead, many of us are considering how it’s best to move forward in an uncertain environment. One consideration is marketing. Have the strategies changed or is it even in the budget? While marketing is often the first cost to be cut in a financial downfall, doing so is like cutting off the communication line that your customers are currently searching for—that connection that has been severed because of a new and persistent virus.
Within the many changes that restaurants and those in the hospitality industries have faced these past several months, lie clues to a successful marketing strategy.
The Three Clues to the New Restaurant Marketing Strategy
Delivery and Digital Marketing
Delivery has become an important if not a fundamental aspect of most brands. Websites have been updated, apps created, and parking spaces turned into curbside delivery. Digital marketing that drives customers to your website and/or app is a top consideration.
Consider directing budgets focused on print advertising, catering campaigns, or brand awareness towards personalized digital marketing. Data-driven technology has enabled lightning-quick changes to content that can be pushed out to all marketing channels. If you haven’t considered it yet, now is the time to try paid advertising on social media. These easy-to-use advertising platforms allow you to set your budget and target your clientele by location (think hyperlocal), demographics, and even interests.
People learn new skills when faced with necessity. In addition to new dances, magic acts, and how to cut hair, they also learned how to order online.
Target Local and Returning Guests
Customers miss you and the camaraderie and connections that they experienced in your establishment. Marketing targeted toward local clientele and old-time customers helps keep your brand in mind as guests consider returning to their favorite neighborhood hotspots.
Gje Greene-Wallace, Director of Marketing for Fish City Grill, a neighborhood seafood restaurant with 20 locations and growing, shared with Nation’s Restaurant News that one of their prime considerations for their new marketing strategy is based on the realization that their customers truly missed personal interactions. Because of this, they made team members a part of their messaging by featuring them in social media posts and other marketing materials. Customers could then see the faces that they remember holding up signs that said, “we miss you” and “stay strong.”
Retarget those that have visited your establishment in the past. Ways to stay connected to past clientele and promote a strong bond include social media and email marketing. Promote engagement and sharing by offering a discount on their next takeout order if they share photos of their favorite meals or pictures of your safety practices in action.
The pandemic has made the world a little smaller and has left many with a sense of isolation and the desire to become more community-minded. Social media marketing that is focused on community-based advertising is a good way to target those in the surrounding neighborhoods. When determining where to target your local market, think city blog pages, homeowners’ associations, and community organizations.
And don’t forget to include your town or city in your online presence—in the title of your restaurant and on your online ordering page—to capture local searches.
Remind Customers that Their Safety is Your Number One Concern
Customers want to know that you’re taking their safety seriously. In a recent Zagat study, 83 percent of almost 7,000 respondents reported that they would be more comfortable dining at a restaurant if social distancing measures were in place and the staff wore masks. How do you let your customers know the safety measures you’ve put in place? Through word of mouth? Better yet—through marketing.
Nothing says “we care” better, during these challenging times, than showing your customers that you are doing everything within your power to keep them safe and healthy. People are, unfortunately, still leery of dining in house. And, while there are several tactics that restaurants are using to help customers feel comfortable, it is the essential guidelines, as reported by the CDC, that are first and foremost in the public’s mind.
From your website to social media advertising, use these opportunities to notify your diners about how you are ensuring their safety. This includes social distancing, pagers that allow customers to wait in their car for a table, staff wearing masks, and sanitation practices. Use key phrases, such as “social distancing,” in your marketing messages, and post behind-the-scenes pictures of your staff wearing gloves and masks with sanitizer bottles in hand.
Greene-Wallace noted that they have a timer in the dining room that goes off every 20 minutes. When the bell tolls, staff stop what they are doing to wash their hands, and the customers take notice.
While the “new norm” is anything but normal, hope remains that, one day, masks will be a thing of the past, and social distancing will be a part of the story that we tell our grandchildren, in hopes they recognize the greatest of all gifts—freedom.