Restaurants across the country are slowly opening their doors again with a slew of limited-capacity guidelines and restrictions in place. From social distancing tables and having employees and guests wear masks, to removing dense traffic areas (like salad bars and buffets), to temperature-checking patrons as they walk in, the checklist varies for each city and state. One aspect remains constant though: occupancy restrictions. Today, almost all states in the U.S. are requiring and enforcing limited seating in restaurants or strongly suggesting a social distance standard of six feet between tables.
As you know, the restaurant industry already has razor-thin margins during normal dining circumstances at 100% occupancy, but now with the added protocols and limitations, deciding to open your doors can make for a very tough decision. A good goal to keep in mind as you reopen for dine-in service is to focus on being as close to full capacity as possible for as long as possible to help offset any revenue loss you may have incurred during shelter-in-place.
Take a look below for effective marketing tactics and tips that have the ability to drive more customers into your restaurant at traditionally slower times.
Rethink happy hour
Featuring a killer happy hour is a great way to get patrons through your doors at off-peak hours of the day. During these uncertain circumstances, consider extending your regular happy hour times as a way to potentially boost early afternoon food and drink sales. And, it doesn’t have to only include beverage deals, it’s a smart idea to make this a more meal-focused promotion and offer food specials too. For example, you can offer bundled options such as a burger, fries, and a beer for a set price.
Also, try revamping your happy hour offerings into a late-night menu. Focus on drinks, simple foods like burgers and tacos, and individually plated shareable appetizers. With many people working from home, this can be a nice reminder to them to indulge in a late lunch or post long workday treat. These meal deals along with single-priced food and drink items can help infuse more cash into your bottom line throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Promoting reservations and call-ahead seating is a key part of managing your restaurant’s limited occupancy guidelines along with customers’ expectations. With such a reduced number of tables/seats available, managing your floorplan, reservations, and table-turn times will be crucial in towing the line between guest overflow and keeping your restaurant as full as it can be at all times. Use your restaurant’s social media pages to alert followers in real-time about how many reservations are available each day and how they can secure one. Creating a sense of urgency is an effective strategy for any marketing tactic, prompting people to act now instead of later. Also, it’s a good idea to update your website to make visitors aware of the dine-in rules that are specific to your city, state, county, etc., so they can be prepared and know what to expect when visiting your location. Leverage your current email list and send out weekly updates on the state of the industry as it relates to your specific establishment, along with a direct link to make a reservation.
Take measures a step further and designate an employee to stand outside your doors, alerting people of the current wait time, dine-in requirements, takeout/delivery options, and future reservation information. Not only will this proactive measure prevent guests without a reservation from congregating outside your space in large numbers, but it allows you as the business owner to control the process and narrative surrounding your restaurant. Having a clear plan for reservations in place can lead to a more seamless seating and dining experience for guests as well as your staff, with the goal of providing a more accurate picture of projected sales.
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to entice customers to return to your restaurant during the unpredictable times of COVID-19. By employing tactics such as offering a “Chef’s Choice” menu that changes each week or a “Deal of the Day,” it creates a fun catalyst for your core customers to order again and again each week, while allowing you to test out new menu ideas and promotions. This type of promotion can extend to all dining mediums — dine-in, takeout, and delivery — and can be a great way to encourage orders directly from your website instead of third-party apps. As an added bonus, you can make sure that the featured dishes incorporate readily available ingredients that you’ll always have on hand or products that your kitchen has been trying to run through and get off the shelf.
Contests and giveaways housed on your restaurant’s social media accounts can be a simple and effective way to garner more brand awareness, engagement, and most importantly, orders. It can be something as simple as asking followers to post a photo of themselves enjoying a meal from your spot or just a pre-isolation photo in general and tagging your restaurant. Questions and polls are also a savvy tactic for spurring engagement as you begin to invite patrons back through your doors for limited-capacity dine-in service. For best results, ask a pointed question such as, “Which menu item are you most excited to enjoy on our patio this summer?” Or, take a poll with limited answer options, such as, “What is your go-to happy hour order? Margarita, Rosé, Beer, or Mocktail.”
To discover other creative ways to garner revenue during coronavirus, check out our blog, “How restaurants can successfully reopen in the coronavirus era.”
Cater to at-risk guests
There are certain people that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider to be at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus. Contributing factors can include being over 65, living in a nursing home, and having an existing underlying medical condition. Although these customers may be at a higher risk, they still miss the experience of enjoying a delicious meal from their favorite restaurant. Cater to this group’s needs by creating special hours they can dine at your spot. Offer an early lunch or brunch to those over 65 years of age, allowing these guests to experience your restaurant at its cleanest and most sanitized early in the morning before other customers have entered the building.
Another strategy that has worked well for many establishments is creating a discounted grocery box for those over 65 that’s available for pick-up and delivery. Include staple items such as eggs, flour, bread, and butter along with seasonal produce and specialty items/ingredients that customers associate with your restaurant. Another tactic that’s seen success in the industry is adding take-home meal kits to your takeout/delivery menu. This can include make-your-own pizzas, cocktail kits, homemade pasta ingredients, and more. When creating your restaurant’s take-home meal kit, play to your most popular menu items and dishes that you know are easy to make at home and will travel well.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has provoked many new and unforeseen challenges for the restaurant industry. By implementing strategic marketing tactics aimed at increasing revenue, minimizing expenses, and garnering new and repeat orders/visits, restaurant owners can begin to build back up their bottom line, while opening for dine-in service. It’s a good idea to keep takeout and delivery business as a core component of your revenue stream during these uncertain times, especially since regulations stipulate a limited occupancy rate for dine-in service at the moment. By employing pointed marketing efforts, business owners can encourage consistent revenue streams and glean valuable customer insights to fuel even better-optimized initiatives in the future.
To discover more restaurant marketing strategies and tactics that can help your business during COVID-19, take a look at our free e-tool, “Coronavirus Era: 13 Restaurant Marketing Tips.”