Ever since the second shutdown of dine-in services in Michigan, we’ve been working hard to help restaurants make moves to stay open and stay safe. After two lockdowns and nearly eight months, here’s what we’ve found works.
Few industries have been hit as hard as restaurants in this pandemic. The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association has gone so far as to sue Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Safety after the most recent order, estimating that as many as 6,000 establishments and 250,000 employees could be affected by permanent closures in the state by spring. Of course, the closures do come on the heels of ample and growing evidence that dine-in services are one of the riskiest scenarios for COVID-19 transmission. Those who say they’ve eaten at a restaurant are twice as likely to catch the virus as those who do not, according to one study. Both claims should have businesses worried; fight for dine-in and risk prolonging the pandemic, or go all-in on curbside?
Those who have chosen the latter have fared exceedingly well. Speaking with a number of Traverse City restaurant owners, many have found that curbside and delivery have done enough to keep the doors open, or at least, the kitchen open. Customers are learning new habits that are starting to incorporate things like ready-made meals prepared by restaurants and cooked at home, plus good ol’ fashioned delivery staples like pizza. In short, there’s a recipe, and the ingredients are simple.
Frictionless. Every pause, every question, and every second waiting for a page to load or an order to be found adds resistance to a consumer looking to create a new habit. Ensure your website is fast by reducing even your professional photos to a more web-friendly size and format and cut the clutter; simple is better because simple is fast.
Make it a point to test out your ordering system yourself, or ask trusted customers to order and give you honest feedback on just how seamless your online ordering and curbside system really is.
Nail Your Branding. Across all channels, your brand and your look should be instantly recognizable so that hungry customers make clear associations with you. We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning up logos, copy, menus, even food descriptions on services like DoorDash and GrubHub for clients who, after hurriedly tossing up what they needed to to get started, simply left their look unfinished. Try using the same photos across all your marketing efforts and menus to reinforce the connection between your food and those rumbling stomachs all over the Internet.
On Social, Be Social. It’s easy to toss posts against the wall and look away. Engage! Ask your customers what they want on the menu, challenge them to be your biggest advocates by tagging you and sharing their positive experiences, and respond to critics on social and review sites like Google and Yelp!. This time of year, it’s time to play small ball; manufacture sales and repeat business by really reaching out and yanking people back.
Loyalty Matters. The hardest sale in the world is to a stranger. The easiest is to a happy customer you’ve already served. Bring those people back through a dedicated loyalty rewards system that uses email or text messages to entice and reward the customers that already know they love what you do! Many companies like DoorDash also provide $5 coupons; stick those in with repeat orders to say thanks to your digital regulars.
Be Influential. Both small towns and big cities have influential personalities that can really draw eyes. If you know of some active and reputable folks, invite them to try curbside with a coupon code! It can go beyond individuals, too. This is the perfect time to dream up collaborations with other local businesses to combine their products and your food. Create an experience themed around the holidays, a specific dish, or anything that makes sense, and make the most of your combined marketing efforts.
It’s the most overused word in a year that’s been saturated with tired terms, but the pivot isn’t just to make it through winter. Incorporating curbside and delivery, and honing your digital marketing to leverage both, will be make-or-break aspects of restaurant services for the long-haul.
Need a hand? Take social media off your plate and let Q+M handle your organic social content, paid campaigns, newsletters, and more!