Table for one has fast become table for none for the foreseeable future. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis rages on, all types of restaurants have had to abruptly close their dining rooms and quickly open up new ways of doing business to survive, protect their employees and serve their customers’ rapidly shifting needs. Find out how COVID-19 is impacting the restaurant industry and the three areas marketers should focus on now to support their restaurant brand.
How Times Have Changed for the Restaurant Industry
Watching the restaurant industry fall on hard times due to the pandemic is hard to come to grips with considering a few short weeks ago, the $899B industry contributed 4% to the United States’ GDP. Consumers typically spent close to 50% of their monthly food budget on dining out until COVID-19 forced them to break the habit. With the U.S. government’s shelter in place restrictions now in effect, consumer behavior has had to change seemingly overnight. In fact, in just three short weeks, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults have decreased how often they eat out as a result of COVID-19.
With this decline, the U.S. economy and restaurants’ bottom lines understandably have taken big hits. And restaurant workers and their families have absorbed some hard blows: In fact, research firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported over 600 food service industry jobs were cut due to the pandemic, and 7.4M jobs in the sector could soon be cut or impacted severely.
How the Restaurant Industry Continues to Serve Their Customers
Fast, casual and fine dining restaurants everywhere are quickly rallying now with a fighting spirit in the wake of COVID-19 – fully shifting their businesses to accommodate takeout and delivery. Some establishments have turned to food delivery services like Caviar, DoorDash and Seamless to help meet current consumer demand. Yet the trades are predicting this trend will steadily decline too, as individuals become more wary of food handling risks in the midst of a pandemic. “There’s no making money right now,” says Ben Walker, VP of sales and marketing at Baldor Specialty Foods. “It’s redefining our role to keep the food supply running – from farmer to consumer.”
Wholesale suppliers and restaurants are indeed redefining their role right now, and doing so on the fly. Food supply wholesalers, who typically serve restaurants and schools, have pivoted to selling essential items to consumers now that some grocery store shelves stand empty. And restaurants are taking care of their own and their customers, providing meals for their employees and families and selling chilled ready-made meals, fruits, vegetables and other provisions, such as cleaning products and toilet paper.
How To Prepare Your Restaurant Brand for a Brighter Future
What should you be doing now to best support your restaurant brand and fortify it for the future? Our digital advertising experts recommend marketers focus on these three areas:
- Be Timely and Responsive: If you change your restaurant services, menus or hours, keep your customers informed. Update your website, social media and directories. (Surprisingly, many restaurants haven’t done this yet.) Ensure your phone lines can handle high-volume calls and quickly train your staff to seamlessly carry out new processes to keep your customers happy and satisfied. Now’s the time to innovate. Meet and serve your customers and communities where they are now. Consider offering free meals to essential workers and first responders, special meal deals to go, “assemble at home” meal kits or gift cards at a discount – whatever you can do to lend a hand.
- Prioritize Health and Safety: Establish safety measures and mention them at the forefront of your marketing efforts to ease customers’ fears. Service-minded messages, such as curbside pickup, contactless delivery or pay as you can, can go a long way in creating customers for life once the lockdown ends and the restaurant industry rebounds.
- Focus on Your First-Party Data: Gather and organize the data you own and examine it carefully to glean new insights. Find out who your best customers are and then connect with them regularly. Model new audiences from your own customer data to extend your reach for the biggest gain.
If you retool your business and act on your customer data insights, you can engage and grow your audience despite these turbulent times. And as you do, remember we’re here to offer our full support. Or sign up for our newsletter, and be the first to receive COVID-19 digital advertising best practices, industry trends and the knowledge you need to look ahead and carve your own new path.