With restaurants and bars sitting idle due to COVID-19, the industry is facing a challenge like never before. Many restaurants have had no choice but to close their doors, a move that will sadly be permanent in some cases.
Some eateries have been able to adjust their services and remain open. Drive through, curbside pickup and delivery options remain feasible in many areas and restaurants have ramped up their famous fighting spirit in an effort to survive.
Just as it is in regular times, marketing is an essential ingredient in the recipe for success. We offer the following ideas for marketing managers who wish to whet their customers’ appetites.
1. Communication is Key- In this period of change and uncertainty, nothing is taken for granted. Are you open? Do you deliver? If you offer take-out, what’s the protocol for pickup? Utilize your social media channels, exercise your email list, put a sign in the window. Many people are bored and hungry. They’re probably on their phones right now. Assume that they know nothing about your current offerings, and get busy telling them!
2. Group Promotions, Listings and Hashtags- Canada Take Out Day is a campaign that encourages people to order out on Wednesdays. Breaking Bread is a directory that lists restaurants and food services currently serving Canada’s major cities. Two relevant hashtags are #saverestaurants and #openfordelivery. Get involved and spread the word.
3. Emphasize Safety- People are nervous. If you’re taking extra sanitary precautions in the kitchen or offer contactless delivery, make sure you include such reassuring details in your communication efforts.
4. Make it an Event- The first Canada Take Out Day was presented in affiliation with an online concert featuring Canadian music stars such as Jim Cuddy and Tom Cochrane.1 In Calgary, the Beltline Business Association created the Beltline Balcony Bash, a weekly DJ livestream that encourages viewers to enjoy the music with food purchased from participating restaurants. Part of the reason people enjoy eating out is the social aspect. Although a night in will never truly replicate a night out, adding a communal element to the meal helps replicate the event experience.
5. Appeal to the Human Side- The restaurant industry is hurting. Potential permanent closures represent a threat to the livelihood of staff. Remind patrons that they’re not just purchasing food, they’re assisting in the survival of an important industry.
6. Take Advantage of Delivery Service Deals- Delivery service platforms have been part of many restaurants’ operations for some time, but they may never have been more important than they are now. According to Total Foods “Uber Eats is cutting delivery fees for independently owned restaurants! Use this to your advantage!”2 It’s important to investigate potential deals being offered by delivery service platforms in your area and to communicate your affiliations with these services.
7. Get Creative with Add-Ons- Thank you cards, colouring books, party favours; all are nice bonuses to take-out night.
One restaurant in Spokane got particularly creative. “The Swinging Doors’ offer to add up to two rolls of highly coveted toilet paper for $1.50 each to any take-out order. While some accused the restaurant of price gouging, the business responded on Facebook that it was simply trying to keep employees working and thus able to feed their families.”3
8. Do It Yourself Kits- Piggy backing on the success of services like Hello Fresh, restaurants have been offering meals in varying degrees of completion. From family-friendly pizza kits to cocktail packages featuring high end ingredients, restaurants are combining fare with activity. For an extra level of interaction and exposure, have your staff create a fun social media video with preparation instructions.
9. Giving Back- Some restaurants are choosing to donate meals to struggling charities. Others are simply encouraging gift cards or meal purchases as a reward for deserving recipients, such as doctors, nurses or parents. Feel good stories such as these are bound to connect during times of stress and uncertainty.
10. Adjust Your Menu- New wave act Devo once sang ‘Freedom of choice is what you’ve got, freedom from choice is what you want.’ While this may not always ring true in the food services industry, some restaurants are paring down or adjusting their menus for practical purposes.
“Research the most searched for dishes in your area to make sure you’re cooking all the dishes that your customers are craving,” advises Medium, adding “In times like these, comfort food is king.”4
11. Photos, Hashtags, Contests- Let’s face it, many of us are craving community and activity right now. Contests are a great way to encourage customers to utilize hashtags or upload photos of themselves enjoying your food. Observing your patrons chowing down may inspire others to follow suit.
1 William-Ross, Lindsay. “National ‘Takeout Day’ Encourages Canadians to Support Our Food-Service Industry.” Burnaby Now, April 8, 2020. https://www.burnabynow.com/news/national-takeout-day-encourages-canadians-to-support-our-food-service-industry-1.24115203
2 ByTotal Food Service, Total Food Servicehttps, Food Service, Total Food Service, and Food Service. “How To Adjust Your Marketing Plan During Hard Times.” Total Food Service, April 15, 2020. https://totalfood.com/how-to-adjust-marketing-plan-during-hard-times-takeout-delivery/
3 Scott, Chey. “Weeks into the Pandemic-Induced Shutdown, Local Restaurants Continue to Creatively Serve the Community.” Inlander. Inlander, April 20, 2020. https://www.inlander.com/spokane/weeks-into-the-pandemic-induced-shutdown-local-restaurants-continue-to-creatively-serve-the-community/Content?oid=19379344
4 Foods, Impossible. “21 Restaurant Marketing Tips to Drive Revenue During COVID-19.” Medium. What IF?, April 14, 2020. https://medium.com/impossible-foods/21-restaurant-marketing-tips-to-drive-revenue-during-covid-19-677ab0d8cad9