If we think back to March, it’s shocking to realize the sheer amount of activity that has been condensed into the past three months. After the restaurant industry scrambled to implement operational changes that would comply with new social distancing rules and keep revenue coming in, we’re faced with what seems like the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, as states, counties, and cities begin lifting stay-at-home orders and reopening dining rooms, restaurants are once again ready to quickly shift operations and get back on track.
Meanwhile, as these turbulent times unfold, customers still have many questions and wonder if it’s safe to eat out again. It can seem daunting for a brand to communicate during this uncertain time but, simply put, the solution is clear and concise communication. In these unprecedented times, consumers are searching for an authentic brand that will, ultimately, show them your goal is to earn their trust and adapt alongside them.
Share a concise message on safety protocol.
First thing is first: safety has to be the main message shared, accompanied by a straightforward strategy of what the business plans to do to help keep communities safe. This is especially important when it’s reported that 68 percent percent of Americans say they would feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant, according to a survey from SAP’s Qualtrics.
Proactively take concerns into consideration by highlighting your safety protocol, right down to the nitty gritty. Don’t assume all sanitation procedures, such as hand washing, are implied just because everyone else is talking about them. Communicate those key safety messages in a tangible way for consumers to reference, either through in-store signage, your website, etc.
Additionally, remember not all customers are ready to dine out again. Enticing them with a promotion or discount offer will not change that. Lead your conversation with safety protocol and they’ll come to you when they’re ready. In the meantime, be sure to demonstrate access to delivery, drive-thru, takeout, and curbside pick-up.
Have a crisis plan in place.
We are all entering the unknown and, with that, preparedness will be your best friend. Restaurants should be prepared to respond to the myriad of situations ranging from customer inquiries to COVID-19 exposure.
A great place to start is by training your staff on how to properly respond to customer questions and potentially prevent complaints from escalating. As we’ve seen in the news, some customers still expect the same fast service they got used to pre-pandemic despite restaurants working under very different circumstances. Meet these concerns with messaging that is evergreen, adapting it for social media comments and online reviews, as well.
Don’t lose your brand voice.
When all of this started, brands wanted to make sure they were using the same COVID-19 language public health organizations were sharing to communicate. But now, terms like “social distancing” and “face coverings” are part of our everyday lives; customers get it. Now you have an opportunity to return to your brand voice to connect with customers in an authentic way that was part of the reason they choose to dine with you in the first place. While it’s still important to clearly communicate necessary safety protocols, restaurants should feel comfortable to do so their way—even if that means having a little bit of fun. We could all use it
Stop cluttering that inbox!
The delivery of how customers receive your information is just as important as the words being delivered. While email is an effective way to share updates with customers, it is important to not rely on only this form of communication, but rather, utilize multiple channels of communication to strategically share messages.
Many customers will want to be prepared for what to expect before they leave home to make their visit as smooth—and safe—as possible. Create an FAQ page on your website, where customers can find all the information they need about ordering, menu changes, takeout and delivery, social distancing rules, capacity limits, and more. Showcase this FAQ site on your homepage to easily redirect customers in one click. Also, engage in real time on social media to vet those questions. Especially during quarantine, screen time is skyrocketing, providing a perfect channel to communicate with your customers.
Be open to feedback.
Which brings me to my final point: be open to feedback! This is new terrain for customers, as well, and, as they explore reopening alongside your brand, they’re bound to have some feedback. Be open to this and provide proper channels of communication, such as online surveys. Likewise, it is just as vital to gather the thoughts of franchisees and employees. They’re the ones in the field who know what is working for them and what isn’t.
Lorne Fisher is CEO and Managing Partner of Fish Consulting, a full-service national communications firm specializing in franchise public relations and marketing services. Fish is proud to leverage its experience in franchising to serve some of the industry's leading restaurant companies including Dunkin’, FOCUS Brands, Denny’s, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Chicken Salad Chick, and more. The agency's core services and capabilities range from national consumer and business public relations, franchisee recruitment and internal communications to crisis communications, social influencer marketing and grand opening support. Fish is based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with operations in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and London. For more information, visit www.fish-consulting.com.