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COVID-19 Recovery Series: Digital Marketing Management for Restaurants

May 14, 2020 Jen Cialfi
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For restaurants, it is important to stay connected with customers both now and as you begin to reopen and adjust to the "new normal" after this COVID-19 pandemic. Your customers are as eager to get back in your restaurants as you are to start serving them again.

Just because customers may not be able to dine in with you, does not mean they cannot still enjoy your menu items. Clearly communicate with your customers about any delivery or take-out options that you have available. As restaurants start to open for dine in services at a reduced capacity, takeout orders will likely continue to be an anchor for the business in the short term.  

Engaging with your customers in any way possible will keep your brand top of mind  and get them excited for your re-opening. Communicating with your customers should be a mixture of what you can do for them, what you have available for them, and the measures you’re taking to keep them safe.  

Below are some tactics to consider when creating & implementing your digital response strategies. 

Strategic Social Media Communication

Social media usage and engagement is up since the lock-down began (increases are as high as 61% in some studies) which means your restaurant's social channels are a great opportunity to communicate to your loyal customers and entice new guests to try your food. But re-opening your restaurant doesn't mean re-starting your social media accounts and posting similar content that worked well before coronavirus. Here's what to be aware of as your restaurant marketing ramps back up: 

  • Relevant Updates: 
    Post updates on any changes to your availability. Encourage online orders by posting photos of popular entrees with links to your to-go menu.  
  • Paid Advertisements: 
    Since screen time and engagement have increased  significantly, supplementing your organic posts and content with paid ads  is a great way to widen your reach and begin re-populating your marketing funnel.  Use ads  to promote specials and take-out or delivery options.  
  • Food/Drink Spotlights: 
    Host live videos that allow your social audience to engage with your team as they would in person at your bar or restaurant, for example with a spotlight video of your bartenders making signature cocktails for people at home to follow along and make themselves.  

    This same approach can be used to showcase your chef  making popular entrees or appetizers. Another format for engagement that works well is for the chef to host a ‘cook along at home’ series where the most popular menu items are created with the help of a live tutorial video. If you’re doing that make sure you give your audience a few days’ notice and an ingredient list so they can prepare. Encourage your audience to post the results of their own cocktail or menu items, including the best and worst of them with small prizes given out like a free appetizer or cocktail.   
  • Creative Challenges: 
    Social media challenges are another fun way to get your customers to engage with your restaurant or bar. By coming up with your own challenge, it brings your restaurant's name to the front of your customers' minds. Whatever your unique style/selling point is, you can create a challenge around it. However, it is important to consider your tone and not challenge anyone to do anything that could contravene social distancing and mandates that are currently in place or you’ll risk a backlash that could damage your brand.  


Website Content Strategy: Special Offers & Encouraging Online Conversions 

Over the next few weeks and months restaurant businesses will need to place more emphasis on communicating their cleanliness and social distancing than ever before. Anyone looking for a restaurant will need to be entirely convinced it is safe before considering a sit-down dining experience again.  

  • To-Go Orders:
    With significant social distancing restrictions for restaurants and bars likely to be in place for some time, combined with consumer hesitancy about how safe it is to be dining out in public, to-go orders are now a vital way to maintain a viable business until you can full reopen your restaurant seating. 

    Restaurants should view to-go as a fundamental aspect of their service and is something restaurants will need to pivot towards and get comfortable with as quickly as possible.  Updating your website to direct customers to call in an order for pick up or delivery is the first place to start. Make sure this option is visible on your site and easy for visitors to follow. 

    Having a smaller select menu can also help to streamline your to-go operation, especially if to-go is not something you had previously been  equipped to handle. When choosing a pared-down menu, choose your most popular items that are also your most reliable from a food cost and margin perspective. 

    Consumers will understand if your menu is different from what you used to offer but will be less understanding if their order is wrong or takes too long to make and deliver. Also consider what menu items travel well and how you intend to package and transport your food. Although presentation is less important with to-go items, it is still a factor in the experience of good food just like plating is important for in-person dining.   
  • Grocery Orders: 
    Allowing customers to purchase grocery items from you i i.e. meats, produce, bread, dairy products, sanitizers, etc.) is another great outlet to generate income and also help your local community. This option can be for curbside pickup or delivery to allow for limited contact.  
  • Gift Card Incentives: 
    Gift cards are a good way to instantly boost your revenue as you capture the sale upfront regardless of when/if the gift card is redeemed in-store. It also fosters a community spirit to support local businesses and is an easy birthday or anniversary gift. Gift card purchases can be further incentivized by offering add-ons whenever a gift card is sold e.g. spend $50 in gift card purchases and get a free appetizer or cocktail   
  • Keeping Open Communication:
    Using a combination of social media platforms and your  website, keep consistent communication with your guests. Also make sure your Google My Business page is updated with correct hours of operation and phone numbers if those have changed since coronavirus. 

    You should be aware of any website that shows your menu, making sure it is updated to the most recent version. If you use a centralized system like Yext and SinglePlatform make sure those platforms have the correct information that can then be pushed out to all the major directory and review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.  
  • Precautionary Measures: 
    Keep customers in the loop with how you’re handling the adjustment to this “new normal”. Notify guests of any adjustments in hours of operation, standard offerings, and capacity mandates as we navigate this pandemic.  
  • Health & Safety Notices: 
    Make sure your customers know what you’re doing to help prevent the spread of germs. Things such as reduced hours to dedicate adequate time to sanitation measures, limiting the amount of people in the dining room, increased space between diners, etc. 

    This can be done through a combination of pop-up messages on your website, email blasts, social media posts, or even a landing page that goes more in depth. Your updated procedures can also be printed on inserts to include in to-go orders.  

Convincing someone that your restaurant is low risk will take frequent and repeated messages regarding how your business is operating safely and is likely to include positive user generated content from guests who do come to dine with you. Make sure you monitor social channels for positive feedback and re-purpose that content on your own social channels and website (with permission from the content owner).  

For more information about building your digital marketing recovery plan, contact the experts at Vizergy or visit our blog for more helpful tips.  

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