Re-opening amid a pandemic is both exciting and daunting. There’s no doubt your loyal customers are excited to come back to your restaurant; however, fear is a powerful obstacle. Choosing to visit your establishment is no longer simply about whether yours is a place they want to eat – but whether the excursion is worth the risk. And all of the work you’ve done and steps you’ve taken to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and guarantee restaurant safety are only worthwhile if your customers absorb the messaging.
The commonly accepted “Rule of 7” indicates that it takes 7 different touchpoints for a message to be accepted by its recipient. Making your customers feel comfortable means communicating with them over multiple channels, and multiple times. As a result, the number one priority for your venue is to establish your contactless communication protocols, and a close second is to make sure you are leveraging this communication regularly, and through a variety of channels.
Here are the crucial factors to consider when communicating coronavirus safety messaging to your restaurant customers in coming months:
1. Be Transparent, Succinct and Give Options to Learn More
As you craft your messaging, prioritize being honest and upfront. Customers seek authenticity, so cutting corners or glossing over communication can damage their trust in your brand.
The best way to communicate clearly is to assume your customers know nothing about your coronavirus safety practices. Explain each of the steps you are taking to ensure their safety, and that of your staff. This includes staff protocols behind the scenes (i.e., in the kitchens, after closing, and during delivery).
For example, let’s say you share a message letting customers know you sanitize tables regularly throughout the day. This phrasing leaves a lot of questions: How often is regularly? Has the table been sanitized between my visit and the previous customer? What about the chairs? In this case, a more effective message could be, “We sanitize each dining area completely between uses.” When in doubt, put yourself in the shoes of your guests, to predict the questions you would have before and during your visit.
When sharing communication, work on creating short punchy information, with opportunities to read more fulsome materials in other places. Make it easier for guests to jump to these secondary destinations using tools like vanity URLs or QR codes. QR codes are a frictionless, contactless way to deliver users directly to an online destination, using only a quick scan from their phone camera. If your marketing software includes a QR generator in their features, you’ll be able to track campaign results in the backend, which can be helpful when optimizing your strategy.
2. Use all Your Channels
Remember the Rule of 7. For customers to understand coronavirus safety messaging you need to tell them frequently and across a variety of channels.
Send out your communications via email, social media, and even text message. Don’t wait for customers to seek out the answers to their questions – instead, deliver the information directly; include new business hours, safety policies, and express the value you place on their health. You may even want to leverage the power of local influencers and host a soft restaurant re-opening, inviting them to post about the safety and quality of the dining experience.
Digital signage is a fantastic, contactless tool to share these communications in-venue, as it’s easy to update and can show multiple messages in a number of minutes. If your signage allows for mobile interactivity, even better. You can leverage this technology to give your customers touch-free access to information they would typically get through physical materials or interaction with staff.
Even when customers leave the restaurant, continue utilizing contactless communication to maintain trust and stay top of mind. Send promotions via text message and loyalty app push notifications to keep customers coming back – or ordering delivery when they’d rather stay home.
3. Show As Well As Tell
Of course, coronavirus safety messaging only works if you follow through in-venue. The proof is in your actions, and customers are paying attention.
Be proactive and provide hand sanitizer throughout the restaurant. If accessible, have disposable face coverings on hand to offer to customers who may have forgotten theirs. Wipe down takeout containers and other items in front of the customer, so they can feel confident in its cleanliness. This is another place where digital tools can be helpful — eliminating high-touch food menus, dessert options, and wine lists and replacing them with more contactless communication, like QR code accessible versions.
This behavior also applies to employees in the back of house, especially those who will frequently interact with visitors. Buy the staff face masks that fit, and train them to wear it correctly, over their nose and mouth. When taking photos for social media, be sure to keep masks on as well – it may feel odd, but it’s the best practice for showing customers you care.
Digital tech is a great tool to promote these practices and educate your staff. Your managers can easily push coronavirus safety messaging, generalized announcements, and new protocols by leveraging your back-of-house screens. Further, staff can take advantage of mobile interactivity on digital screens to interact with training sessions and HR news via their mobile devices. This strategy allows you to regularly update your team on important news, without interrupting their productivity with meetings or emails.
These are unprecedented times. It can be hard to know what to do, or how much. There is no handbook for perfection – just treat your staff and customers like family, and do what you can to educate and protect them.