The coronavirus pandemic has forced many restaurant owners to shut down their operations for the time being and the rest of us to limit activity outside the home. While everybody finds different ways to spend this down time, it might be a great opportunity for you to look at some restaurant marketing activities in order to stay top of mind.
Staying engaged with customers while your doors are closed is a major part of weathering this storm – it’s reported that we could see up to 30% of restaurants close down permanently before the end of the COVID-19 outbreak.
That said, just because your guests have been forced into self-isolation doesn’t mean they can’t support and root for you online. The new reality for restaurateurs is that going digital is no longer a unique differentiator – it’s the price of entry.
In this guide, we’ll go over a few restaurant marketing tactics that will keep you connected to your existing guests and introduce you to new ones while you’re shut down, including:
Content creations ideas to market your restaurant
Ways to optimize your website and social media channels for the future
Ideas to partner with other restaurateurs and influencers
Plans for your comeback
Create Compelling Content
We don’t want to belabor Bill Gates’ often-quoted “content is king,” but it kind of is. Creating unique content regularly is a great way to boost your brand and keep customer attention, even while you’re shut down.
The best part is that content is relatively easy to create, just by using your smartphone (more on that in a moment).
So, what kind of content could you create to boost your restaurant marketing efforts?
1) Behind the Scenes
People love your food, but more importantly, they love you. One of the big reasons your guests dine with you is because of how you make them feel, not just because of how delicious your food is.
Take your audience behind the scenes into your dining room, your kitchen or even your living room. Here are a few ideas:
Tell them the story of how you got started in the restaurant business
What was the inspiration behind starting your restaurant?
Why did you want to become a restaurant owner?
Virtually interview members of your staff about what they love about your restaurant and what it’s like being a part of your team (you can record your video calls for free using a platform like Skype or Zoom)
If you’re not sure people want to see behind the curtain, just look at what Gordon Ramsay has been doing with restaurants.
2) Share How You’re Coping
Having your restaurant shut down is tough. This is a great opportunity to also show customers and loyal fans how you’re dealing with what’s going on – especially since everyone is online right now.
For example, if you’re taking extra measures to support your staff in some way, you can share that on your website, social media, or by email.
There’s a very real, very human story behind every restaurant, especially at a time like this. Don’t be afraid to let people see that side of your business.
3) Share Recipes, Tutorials, and Live Cooking Shows
With so much time at home, people are looking for something to do – why not give them a miniature cooking class? Teaching your audience about some of your beloved dishes could help build equity in your brand and an appetite to dine with you later.
Have the best spaghetti Bolognese in town? Publish the recipe with stunning images of it being prepared, step by step. Do your customers rave about your Eggs Benedict? Teach them how to poach an egg through a short video tutorial you can house right on your Instagram story – great for people to watch and simple for them to make. Does your food lend itself to some great family meals? Go live on Facebook each week with a cooking show that engages that whole family.
We get it – this may sound counter-intuitive. Why would you share your secrets and potentially give your competition visibility into your operations? We’re not suggesting you livestream how to make your secret sauce, but you can walk people through a simple recipe that will make them feel more connected to your brand – no secrets required.
Even if you showed your audience every step of how you make a certain dish at your restaurant, you’re still the expert. That’s why they love coming to dine with you.
Though your audience can’t dine with you in-person right now, letting them in on what makes you special lets them be a part of your brand from home. They’ll likely attempt a few of your recipes themselves before coming to your establishment for the real stuff when you open up again.
4) Reach a New Audience on a New Social Media Channel
Now may be the time to test different social media channels and features as part of your COVID-19 marketing strategy.
Connect with regulars and reach new potential guests by experimenting with social media channels and features you’ve never tried before.
Have you been curious about trying live streaming on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube? Or what other restaurateurs have been publishing on TikTok?
Many TikTok users have been creating their own recipe videos using the rapidly-growing platform. Because of its recent popularity, this could be just the space for you to try and reach a new audience.
Of course, don’t forget to give your usual social media channels – like Instagram – some love by remaining active.
5) Use Your Smartphone
If not wanting to hire a professional team has been a barrier for your restaurant marketing in the past, it no longer has to be. Your smartphone is powerful enough to create scroll-stopping content.
Advancements in smartphones mean they have:
More processing power for video and photo editing
More storage for long-form audio and video files
Stronger cameras to capture images and footage in high-definition
To perform any of the above marketing tactics in this guide, all you need is your smartphone, an Internet connection, and occasionally something to prop up your phone like a set of books or a smartphone tripod.
Revisit and Optimize Your Online Presence
People may not be searching for you online right now, but they will.
When the restrictions have been lifted and everyone starts looking up places to dine, where will you be in those search results? Take some time to optimize your online presence and ensure your social media channels are consistent.
A great place to start is by making sure you’re set up with Google My Business. It’s free, easy to use and allows you to manage your online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. This helps guests find you more easily – now through various marketing tactics to keep them engaged, and later when you open your doors.
When auditing all of the pages of your website, ask yourself the following questions:
Is all the information up to date?
Does your menu view well on desktops and on mobile devices?
Do you have a reservation system integration on your website for easy booking?
Are your images up to date?
Are you capturing emails and building a mailing list?
What else can you add to your website that might be valuable to your audience? (Our story, chef bios, etc.)
You can also make sure to include information people may need to see now regarding your operations, including:
Your decision to close due to COVID-19
How you’re supporting staff during this time
How guests can support you (through gift cards, relief funds, etc.)
How to stay connected with you throughout the closure (email sign-ups, social handles, etc.)
Just remember, anything that goes on your website should be consistently reflected across your social media channels.
Lastly, optimize your website for search (SEO). This may be a marketing activity that was put off in favor of all the other operational considerations when running a restaurant. But now’s the best time to make sure you’re optimizing your website to be found for relevant search terms. It may seem complicated, but we have a full guide that can help you do this.
Find Partnerships and Influencers
You are not alone in the struggle caused by COVID-19 – this is an industry-wide pain. Restaurateurs around the world are all in the same boat and that means you can all lean on each other for community and hope.
Many restaurateurs are partnering around relief, lobbying, and charitable initiatives in this time of need.
For example, PINCH Kitchen+Bar in Miami has joined several restaurant industry leaders in their community to create a relief fund for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just because your restaurant is shut down right now, doesn’t mean you can’t come together with others in your local neighborhood to create some positive support for the industry.
Restaurant influencers are also keenly aware of what’s happening in the industry and right now might be a great time to begin building relationships with them to help reach a wider audience.
Start proactive outreach to influencers in your city or state and ask them how you can help each other in this time of need. While these can be great relationships, be mindful of cost – they may be willing to volunteer some time and energy for these partnerships right now, but many influencers have a price tag attached to posts or collaborated efforts. Be mindful of your budget based on current income before making any decisions.
Start Planning Your Return
We know this is hard right now and we know it hurts, but this situation won’t last forever. And when the world eventually stabilizes, you can help capitalize on your business’ return with a re-launch event.
The plan doesn’t have to be solid right now, but putting some ideas together could help you open with a bang, when the restrictions are finally lifted. Start thinking about tasting menus, loyalty, referral offers, and entertainment.
An event to mark your return could be just what you need to kickstart your restaurant again. More importantly, it’ll also give you something to look forward to.
No Time Like the Present
The entire world has been asked to practice isolation or social distancing for the foreseeable future in order to get the coronavirus outbreak under control. While everyone moves inside and online, you could take this down time to prepare for your return once things ease up while keeping people engaged in the meantime.
Performing a few restaurant marketing activities, like creating content, optimizing your online presence, looking at partnerships, and preparing for your re-launch will all help you stay top of mind with your guests.
Let them into your world with some savvy marketing and they’ll reward you with loyalty when this is all over.
In the meantime, let us help you get to that re-opening. email me for marketing assistance us at firstname.lastname@example.org