The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the restaurant industry. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places in the U.S. have either closed their doors temporarily or for good. Many of the restaurants that remain open are still struggling to bring in enough customers to pay their bills.
Beyond the financial impact, the pandemic has also changed the ways that restaurants interact with their customers. It has presented a new challenge: how to keep your restaurant’s customer experience personal from a distance.
Achieving this will require restaurants to embrace modern technology and shifting consumer preferences to find new ways of meeting their customers’ changing needs. Of course, this is easier said than done. But we’ve put together a guide to show you how to get started.
Keep reading to learn:
- How the pandemic has changed the way restaurants work
- How restaurants are responding to these changes
- How you can keep your customer experience personal from a distance
What makes a good restaurant experience?
A restaurant experience can be considered good if it satisfies or exceeds customer expectations. So if you want to provide your customers with a great dining experience, you need to first understand what that looks like to them.
This can vary somewhat depending on the type of clientele you serve. For example, a good restaurant experience may mean something quite different to an establishment that serves family-style favorites as opposed to one that serves upscale entrees.
That being said, there are some themes that all restaurants can benefit from embracing. For example, customers always want friendly, personalized service. Your staff should treat your guests like the humans they are, not as just another check.
The quality of your food is also important. It should be consistently delicious and exactly what you promise your customers. The easiest way to provide a bad restaurant experience is to provide a guest with a poorly made dish.
A good restaurant experience also means providing efficient customer service. You should make the process of ordering food at your establishment as streamlined as possible. A fast dining experience can leave a significant, positive impression on your guests.
The pandemic has irrevocably changed the way restaurants work
Restaurants that were doing well before the pandemic can’t automatically assume that they’ll continue doing well once it’s over. COVID-19 has irrevocably changed consumers’ dining preferences. Your restaurant needs to embrace these changes in order to keep up. Here are three examples of this shift.
Consumers expect to dine in the way that they’re most comfortable
When COVID-19 first hit, the majority of restaurants in the country had to close their doors to indoor customers. To keep their businesses alive, restaurant owners began offering delivery and pickup. Those services have become super popular. More than 70% of consumers have been using them during the pandemic.
A good number of these customers will be happy to return to indoor dining when the pandemic is over. But many will also develop a preference for either picking up their food or getting it delivered. It’s important that you continue offering these services to satisfy this shifting consumer preference even after the pandemic ends.
Health and safety are everything
Consumers have never been more conscious of their health and safety. Don’t expect this to go away completely when COVID-19 passes. Instead, it’s more likely that a sizable portion of your customer base will continue caring deeply about the health and safety practices of your restaurant.
Customer service is more important than ever
Many restaurants have had to furlough key staff members or lay them off entirely due to the pandemic. That makes providing the same level of pre-pandemic customer service very challenging for a restaurant. But don’t expect your customers to let you off the hook.
Your guests still expect you to provide them with excellent customer service. In fact, diners will notice poor customer service more than ever during the early days of your restaurant’s reopening because customers will expect the very best out of their first few in-restaurant dining experiences.
5 ways restaurants are adjusting how they interact with customers
Many restaurants have already adapted their practices to better address the post-COVID needs of their guests. Here are five types of changes that we’ve seen practiced at increased levels since the pandemic.
Contactless pickup and delivery
Perhaps the most obvious shift: contactless pickup and delivery are hugely popular right now. These services blossomed out of necessity. But they should also remain important even after the pandemic ends. Customers have grown accustomed to ordering from restaurants in this way. Many will want to continue doing so.
Connecting with customers through technology
For restaurants, connecting with customers in person has increased in difficulty during the pandemic. So, in response to that, some restaurants are embracing new types of technology. For example, many have used digital signage to build personalized connections with customers who they might not have been able to reach otherwise.
Partnering with other brands
The pandemic has forced restaurants to get creative with their marketing strategies to stay afloat. Building partnerships with other brands opens up new channels to drive revenue. Restaurants that partner with other brands have the potential to expand their customer base tremendously.
Investing more in social media
Social media has played an incredibly important role during the pandemic. It’s helped restaurants remain connected with their customers even when there was no way to do so in person. It’s also a fantastic way to generate new interest in your business.
For example, nearly 3 out of every 4 customers have used Facebook to make restaurant decisions. Similarly, 71% of customers are more likely to recommend a restaurant that responds to them quickly on social media.
Building a more robust reservation system
Reservations have played a crucial role during the pandemic. They’ve helped restaurants manage the number of people in their dining rooms to keep them safer for guests. This is a shift that should last well into the post-pandemic world.
More restaurants use text messages and emails to manage their reservations than ever before. Restaurants are also giving themselves more control over their reservation systems to ensure they’re as accurate as possible.
Changes like these are helping restaurants maintain a personal customer experience despite the shifting demands that COVID-19 has placed upon them.
Keep your customer experience personal from a distance
The best restaurants continue to provide a strong customer experience to their guests despite the distance between them. They’ve achieved that in several different ways.
For example, as mentioned above, more and more restaurants are focusing on social media outreach. This provides you with opportunities to maintain relationships with your diners even when they aren’t visiting your restaurant.
Social media also offers the opportunity to perform outreach on a person-by-person basis. You can use that ability to answer your customers’ questions, respond to the comments they make, and generally forge a more personal relationship with them.
But restaurants have also had to focus on providing a personal experience from a distance to customers who are inside of their restaurants. One way that they’ve done this is by embracing new technologies like QR codes and digital signage.
Digital signage can keep your customers connected
Digital signage is one of the best ways to keep your customers connected. It offers the ability to utilize your in-restaurant screens to forge improved relationships with your guests. You get to choose exactly what that looks like.
For example, you might use some of your screens to display social media posts that reference your restaurant. This can be a fantastic way to build some hype. If someone realizes their posts will show up on screens at your restaurant, then they’ll want to share content they create for their 15 minutes of fame.
Restaurants also use digital signage and integrated QR codes to instantly provide customers with menus. This is especially helpful during the pandemic, as it enables customers to read the menu without having to leaf through a physical menu that would have to be disinfected between each use.
You can even use digital signage to incentivize your customers to take specific actions. For instance, if you want more app downloads, you can display a QR code on a digital sign that offers a free drink or side in exchange for a download.
UPshow can help your restaurant provide a personalized touch from a distance
Digital signage offers the ability to captivate your diners with in-venue marketing outreach. With it, you can grab your customers’ attention with interactive social features, and other eye-catching promotions that support your growth and sales initiatives. It’s the perfect way to prepare your restaurant for the shift in consumer demand that has arisen out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’d like to learn more about how digital signage can help your restaurant, reach out to UPshow. We’ll set you up with a demo so that you can see precisely how digital signage and our platform can help you prepare your restaurant for post-COVID success.
Want to increase customer experience? Check out our Bar + Full-Service Restaurant Solutions