Across the country, restaurants are feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders typically limit restaurants to pick-up and delivery only — which has been a challenge for many establishments whose primary source of profit came from dine-in eating. The restaurant industry as a whole is expected to suffer a $225 billion loss from March through May of 2020.
While there isn’t much that anyone can do about the stay-at-home orders (other than comply with them), there are steps that restaurant owners can take to continue to engage with their customers during this time. Many people want to support local businesses like restaurants — and even more are tired of preparing meals for themselves and their families three times a day. Using a range of marketing techniques, restaurants may be able to weather this storm — and stay in business long past the pandemic.
We have gathered some top tips for marketing your restaurant to combat the impact of COVID-19. From using custom-branded items for delivery and take-out to creating content, pick the ideas that work best for your business during this time.
Creative Marketing Ideas Other Restaurants Are Utilizing
In addition to focusing on your own marketing efforts, you may find inspiration in studying marketing strategies that other restaurants are currently utilizing. Featured below are some notable examples from across the country:
- Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant is offering delivery of essential grocery packs with grocery items that come from the restaurant’s vendors.
- Spoon Table & Bar is offering frozen family-sized entrees for purchase to give families frozen meals they can be excited to eat.
- J&M Diner is utilizing Yelp’s waitlist feature to manage takeout orders. Customers can join the waitlist. Once a customer reaches the front of the que, J&M will call to take their order.
- Ardyn is offering a $600 Doomsday Dinner Party complete with a suggested music playlist and drink pairings to set the mood. Meals are delivered by drivers in tuxedos with bunny masks.
Revamp Your Website and Retool Your Online Presence
In the daily grind of owning and operating a restaurant, you may not have much time to think about your website. Perhaps your website is bare bones, without a menu or pictures. Or maybe you’ve neglected your Google My Business account — or haven’t even taken advantage of it. Now is the perfect time to get to work on your online presence.
Perform A Full Website Audit
The first step that you should take is going through your website, page by page. Make notes of what works and what doesn’t. Check to see that all information is up to date, that your images are fresh, and that your website is optimized for both mobile and desktop use.
Think about how your website can be more useful for customers. Can you build in a reservation system through an add on? Would your customers like to get notifications about special events and features? If you don’t already have one, add a tool that can capture emails, which can be used to build a mailing list and to keep customers engaged.
Perhaps most importantly, look to see if you can sell gift cards online during this time. Most website platforms offer simple storefront solutions that will enable you to make these sales. This is particularly critical now, when people may want to send gift cards to essential workers or to buy gift cards to support your restaurant through a closure.
Incorporate Storytelling Elements
At this time, you may also want to add more engaging content. Many restaurants have a story to tell, which is often interesting to customers and may even drive them to visit your business. After all, if you have your grandma’s secret recipe for the best ____ in the state, why would they eat anywhere else? At the same time, consider putting in bios about your chef and key staff. Personalizing your restaurant in this way can help to build loyalty among customers.
Optimize Your Google My Business Profile
After you have revamped your website, the second item that you should tackle is your overall online presence. As noted above, if you don’t already have a My Business account set up through Google, do so now. Inputting necessary information — like your hours, address, website, and phone number — will allow your restaurant to pop up on the right side of the screen when someone searches for you or businesses like yours. Best of all, it’s completely free to have an account.
Optimize Your Other Online Profiles
Once you have finished this, think about other important online platforms. Do you need to update your Yelp entry, or respond to reviews there or on another site? Even if customers aren’t actively searching for you right now, they will be — so spend the time now to take control over how people see your business online.
On your website and in other spaces, you may want to add information about your availability during COVID-19 closures. If you have closed, explain why, as well as how you are supporting staff. If you are open, note any limitations on hours or services. You should also let people know how they can support you (such as buying gift cards) and how to stay connected.
Create Content That Works for Your Brand
One of the best ways to increase the visibility of your restaurant online is by creating fresh content on a regular basis. It is also a great time to do so, given that many customers and potential customers are spending more time than ever online and are hungry for new things to watch and read. Depending on your brand, this content could take many forms.
One of the easiest ways to share is through social media. It is also usually a cheap or free option, requiring a smart phone and time to create content. When making content, however, be sure to remember that what you are sharing could impact the stability of your business. Don’t just grab a phone and go live on social media — take some time to plot out a strategy for what you are doing and how you will accomplish your goals.
Proven Content Ideas That Work
Ready to make content? Here are some ideas:
- Share recipes or tutorials for favorite dishes. Several major brands have already taken this step (like Doubletree releasing its famous chocolate chip cookie recipe). Doing this can create loyalty and goodwill among customers. And remember, even if you give people a recipe for a popular dish, chances are good that they won’t be able to recreate what you do at your restaurant. When you open back up, invite guests to come and see how their cooking compares to the “real thing.”
- Do a virtual cooking class. Similar to the first idea, this is a way to engage with customers while offering something practical. The class can be live or pre-recorded. You may even tailor a class for kids — something that will appeal to parents desperate for ways to keep their children entertained while they are home from school. You’ll be showing off your expertise AND your generosity at the same time.
- Get personal. This is a great chance to tell your story: how the restaurant came to be, how certain dishes came about, and more. You can also introduce your staff, personalizing the restaurant for existing and potential guests. This is also an opportunity to talk about how you are coping with the pandemic, including steps that you are taking to keep your staff and the public safe (if you are still operating).
- Give back. Restaurants throughout the country have been incredibly supportive during this difficult time. Both small and large food businesses have donated meals, food, and more to essential workers at hospitals, police stations, fire departments and more. If you’re helping to support your community, let people know about it. Remember that in this time of heavy news, we are all eager to hear a positive story. Doing an act of kindness is not only good for your community — it is also an incredibly effective way to market your restaurant.
These are just a few ideas for how you can create content — you may have additional ideas based on what is happening in your community or the needs of your restaurant. You can share this content on your website or social media.
You may even decide to try new social media platforms during this time. TikTok may have seemed irrelevant when you had a steady business and growing profits, but it could be worth another look during the pandemic. Take some time to watch popular videos on the site (such as recipe videos) to get some ideas for how you could make your own viral video.
Plan Your Return
If there is one thing that we know, it is that eventually, this, too, will pass. While we don’t know the exact timeline yet, other countries that experienced the pandemic earlier have slowly started re-opening businesses, including restaurants.
A popular meme circulating on social media asks what people most want to do when this pandemic is over, or what restaurants they will visit first. This time of social distancing has been hard on everyone, and people are eager to do the things that they normally do, like go to restaurants. Why not capitalize on that sentiment by planning your return?
Of course, we don’t know when restaurants will be allowed to open again. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a plan for re-opening and start enticing customers with that plan. Putting together a special tasting menu or scheduling entertainment for a re-launching party can help to keep your restaurant top of mind in your community.
An event that marks your reopening may help to drive business at your restaurant once this is all over. It will also give you something to do, and a goal to achieve. Start making a list, think about what is feasible, and then let customers know what you are planning. It could be just what you need to get you through this difficult time.
How to Get Custom-Printed Items for the Pandemic and Beyond
Without a doubt, this is one of the most challenging times to be a restaurateur in America. With pick-up or delivery the only options for most establishments, profit margins may be razor-thing, or even non-existent.
At Budget Branders, we understand the needs of small businesses. Our company is dedicated to helping restaurants like yours get the customized supplies that they need at prices and quantities that work.
Branded cups, bowls, and bags can keep your name at the top of your customers’ minds when they eat your food at home. Beyond the pandemic, these products can be used to build your brand during daily operations, at special events and more. To learn more about how we can help you promote your restaurant’s brand, contact us today or submit a quote request for one or more of our products. Our branding experts are always available to answer questions. Simply press the live chat button to get started.