The COVID Communications Checklist for Restaurants

    Now is the time to pivot your messaging and business strategy.

    Coffee mug with the words "begin' on the front.
    Unsplash/Danielle MacInnes
    Even quick-serve needs to communicate and speak to customers and the world in a serious and understanding tone.

    There’s an iconic scene in the popular 90s sitcom Friends, where Ross, Chandler and Rachel are attempting to carry a huge couch up their apartment stairs. Ross continues to yell the word “pivot,” even though it’s painfully obvious the couch will not budge.

    Funny thing is, this scene is not all that different from the current pandemic-induced environment companies have been forced to adapt to. With the couch already halfway up the flight of stairs, or in this case COVID-19 having enveloped the globe, there is no turning back. Just like Ross and his friends, companies are struggling to pivot within unknown circumstances. Eventually, the “friends” manage to get the couch upstairs, and similarly many companies have emerged and pivoted within this unique state of play. The quick-service restaurant industry has been no exception to the new normal that is the year 2020.

    The category has not only been forced to pivot their business strategies, but also importantly their messaging. During this chaotic time period, to effectively pivot marketing communications, brands need to harness and empower their social media tools and acumen.

    Brands are Not only Pivoting their Messaging and Communications, but their Business Too:

    A business pivots when it makes a fundamental change to how it operates or communicates in order to meet a change in the market. That may mean quick-service restaurant marketers dropping planned campaigns or highlighting aspects of the business that are now more important than ever.

    Consider how well brands have transitioned to grocery during the pandemic. McDonald’s in Germany partnered with Aldi to help keep their employees working by letting Aldi temporarily hire their employees (if they wanted to). This kept people in paid work while shifting resources to the most crucial sectors during the pandemic. This show of empathy for their employees and well-being went a long way with both employees and customers.

    Other companies like Subway and Panera pivoted their businesses into the grocery category, providing a groceries-for-delivery model. By allowing customers to purchase ingredients, like footlong bread or an assortment of deli meats, these chains have opened up a new source of revenue while wisely pivoting to a growing market of individuals who were stocking up on groceries rather than going or ordering out at quick-serves.

    ECommerce Pivots:

    OK, so quick-service restaurants are adapting its business models pretty well, but what about their online ecommerce experience? Customers in all sectors want to be heard, reassured and have their new needs met. Now’s the time to provide proactive customer service. People want to see that brands they love are supportive and understand what their customers need, want, and fear.

    Marketers must situationally adapt to focus even more fiercely on B2C, i.e. ensure a good customer-facing e-commerce experience, promote take out and online apps for delivery, while increasing online delivery services and quality of web-based service interactions.

    Take Action Empathetically:

    Even quick-serve needs to communicate and speak to customers and the world in a serious and understanding tone. For example, Wendy’s was uniquely affected after one of its stores burned down in Atlanta following the controversial shooting of Rayshard Brooks. But the brand’s response on Twitter illustrates a thoughtful and well-crafted social strategy during the crisis. It outlines their thoughts on BLM and their actions, and if you scroll through the comments Wendy’s is always replying to questions and supplying answers in a serious and empathetic way.

    Your Communications Checklist:  

    Focus on customers: Be Proactive. People want to see that brands are supportive and understand what they need, want and fear.

    Focus on message relevance: Your pre-COVID-19 may be creative and engaging, but are they right for the current situation? Social media can be a great way to talk about the brand’s response to the pandemic in a more organic, empathetic, and natural way.

    Listen to what people are saying: Use social listening tools to help identify consumer emotions and developing trends. Don’t just hear what people are saying, act on it.

    Communicate and demonstrate values: Now’s the time for brands to live their values. Those brands that go above and beyond for their customers will be remembered—as will those that talk a good game, but fail to behave in a way that supports their values.

    Maintain Relationships without being intrusive or insensitive: Consider how you can use social media to keep the relationship with consumers going, while also acknowledging that the situation is not “business as usual.”

    With over 20 years of experience in digital marketing, Ashley Cooksley runs the North American arm of The Social Element. Formerly in charge of global sales and marketing teams, she has been at the agency since 2008. A former e-Commerce manager, Cooksley created online customer care approaches for large U.S. retailers and publishers and helped develop the online community strategy for the Kids and Teens areas of AOL. A mother of two, she is a passionate music lover, a mean beachcomber and a reluctant workout enthusiast.”