As restaurant operators scramble to deal with the day-to-day challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it, there might be comfort in knowing that some brands will emerge stronger as a result of all this. The new revenue streams, the ability to personalize messaging that shows consumers their favorite brands truly care about them—all of this will play a role in where diners eat in the coming weeks, months, and years.
“This isn’t the time to stop marketing to your customers,” says Gary Kurtz, vice president of marketing and sales at The Howard Company. “Now is the time to double down and show people your brand, show them what you’re doing to make them feel safe to come back and eat at your restaurant.”
Here are some things experts suggest doing right now in order to position a brand for success into the future.
- Perfect Drive-Thru Operations
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the average quick-service restaurant operator probably believed their drive-thru operation was adequate. The pandemic has increased drive-thru traffic to and beyond capacity, exposing any inefficiencies in the process. Now is the time to erect signage that makes the drive-thru experience as breezy as possible from a customer’s perspective.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our restaurant partners often thought more about doing brand refreshes only to the interior of their stores, even though they were doing between 50 and 70 percent of their business in the drive thru,” says Doug Watson, President and COO of The Howard Company. “Now the drive-thru number is up to 90 to 95 percent, so, when brands plan a refresh, they will likely focus more on the drive thru.”
Watson views the following as must-haves in the drive-thru space: signage that informs customers where to enter the drive thru, presell menuboards that help customers get a head start on the decision making process that precedes the ordering process, branded signage on clearance bars and entry points, and barriers that separate the drive-thru cashiers from customers—another opportunity for branding, by the way.
- Prepare For Continued Social Distancing
One of the silver linings of the inability to serve dine-in customers is that brands have an opportunity to oversee a facelift of stores’ interiors. Installing shields between tables and booths will help customers feel safe as they return to restaurants.
Watson further recommends finding as many ways as possible to create shields at any point of contact, and to begin focusing on what touchless transactions will look like. It’s also important to remember, however, that if the shields look clunky and homemade, that isn’t going to make anybody feel safe. The shields also offer an opportunity for additional brand messaging.
“We’ve recently added an entire personal protective line,” Watson says. “We have barriers and shields that separate the person on the register from the guest, the employee in the drive-thru window from the customer paying for their order, and even barriers that mount between booths for when things return to the new normal—these are the things that will make a difference, and create a feeling of safety that we’re all craving right now.”
- Partner With Experts
One of the advantages of working with a brand like The Howard Company is the versatility of their expertise that comes from 70 years of industry experience. There is no one solution to how operators can make guests feel safe right now, and brands must take a holistic approach to evaluating every single aspect of a restaurant that presents an opportunity to connect with guests.
“The Howard Company is constantly reinventing itself to do the very best for its customers, so we’re familiar with the need to be agile,” Kurtz says. “While some companies do digital signage, or printed signage, or shields, we do all of those things. We’re going to pull together the best people, the best hardware, and the best software, in order to give our customers the best chance of giving their customers the best possible experience.”
CTA: To find out more on how The Howard Company can help position your stores for success, check out its website.
By Charlie Pogacar