Successful Restaurant Marketing Strategies during the COVID-19 Pandemic
These are unprecedented times. While restaurant marketing has always required a multi-faceted approach, today’s marketing strategies look very different than they did even three months ago.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw restaurants go from takeout and delivery only to opening dining areas at decreased capacities in accordance with state regulations. As of the publishing date on this article, some states are still not fully open for business while many restaurants struggle to fill even reduced reservation numbers.
In this post-COVID-19 world, restaurants must not only win guests over with appetizing photography, special offers, and quality menu items but also reassure them dining areas are safe to visit. Striking a careful balance of public safety precautions, strategic marketing spends and efficiency-focused targeting will be key to successful restaurant marketing in today’s vastly different food and beverage landscape. But, as we have proven as an entire society, what is difficult is not impossible and we can overcome even the toughest of challenges.
To help restaurant operators and marketers looking for answers and advice applicable to our current situation and as we move into the summer season, our team put together three essential restaurant marketing recommendations. Here’s a look at the inner workings of a successful restaurant strategy post-pandemic.
Use Your Marketing to Reassure Diners
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain brands went under fire for publishing “tone-deaf” content and advertising or failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines inside their stores. Whether it was footage of large groups dining out together or crowded lobbies lacking special accommodations to keep those waiting on orders safe, the restaurant industry was one of the most heavily affected by the pandemic and it saw a severe drop in consumer trust levels. To this day, restaurants are struggling to regain that trust despite best efforts.
To combat customer apprehension about dining out or even ordering takeout and delivery, we’ve seen major brands invest in TV spots highlighting their contact-free food prep and delivery. But you don’t need a Papa John’s-sized ad budget to reassure your diners your restaurant is safe to visit.
In times like these, creativity trumps spending power. Take another look at your existing marketing materials—everything from your website to search engine and social media advertising—to identify any changes you can make at a minimum cost. This could mean adding a content block on your homepage outlining how you’re ensuring diners’ safety while at your restaurant, including increased sanitation practices, limited seating, and any other precautions you are taking. You could also shift messaging on your existing marketing to touch on these precautions, adding key phrases to your ads such as “social distancing” to ad copy.
Don’t Pull Back on Advertising
Speaking of marketing, although store sales may be down for many restaurants, now is not the time to cut back on advertising. More than ever, restaurants must remain top of mind for consumers, while keeping those consumers top of mind with increased health and safety regulations. Messaging that demonstrates your commitment to diner safety, paired with accurate targeting and message repetition, can be essential to getting guests through your doors.
At the same time, we recognize many restaurants both local and international may be dealing with a significant drop in sales. This could force some to slash marketing budgets in favor of managing other business expenses. While we do recommend keeping advertising running (with appropriate messaging) it is important to take a look at where and how you’re spending your advertising budget to maximize the impact of every dollar.
Maybe you had allocated a certain amount to a catering campaign or to trade show sponsorships. Even as reopenings and recovery efforts continue to expand, these outlets may simply not be an option in the coming months. It might prove beneficial to reallocate those funds to strengthening your digital advertising strategies.
Focus on Targeting Existing Customers
As you focus on maximizing the efficiency of your marketing budget, another area to note is your targeting. Navigating a post-COVID world, many restaurant-goers will remain loyal to the spots they frequented before the pandemic. Winning over a new customer that has never dined with you before may become increasingly difficult during this time, which is why our recommendation would be to focus on retargeting those who have visited your restaurant before.
When it comes to winning repeat business, it’s all about building and cultivating a connection between a customer and your restaurant. Every person has a favorite eatery, and if that’s not your restaurant, it means you must convince that diner to actively choose something other than their proven favorite. This is no small feat, which is why nurturing a relationship with your guests is so important.
There are a number of ways you can keep in touch with past customers, ranging from social media to email marketing and even retargeting those who have physically been to your location with tailored ads. Whether you narrow your efforts on a single channel or employ a combination of strategies, the key is keeping your name in front of those most likely to come back to your restaurant.
This summer may not bring with it a full house every Sunday brunch, but what matters is that we keep looking and moving forward together. As normalcy—or “the new normal”—returns around most of the world, it’s important to continue supporting each other and being mindful of each others’ needs. Restaurant marketing is no exception. Commit to public health, let your community know you stand with them and connect with those who have shown you their support before, the pieces will fall into place.