How catering businesses can communicate effectively during the pandemic

Coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on the UK’s catering trade. There has simply never been a situation like this in peacetime. Restaurants and catering businesses are having to pivot at dramatic pace to remain in operation. Many have switched to providing takeaway or delivery or even become temporary grocers.

With change happening at a breakneck pace, good communication is critical to ensure stressed and worried customers are aware of these new services. With everyone spending more time at home, businesses can also nurture a sense of loyalty during this time by offering useful content—especially through digital channels they have perhaps underutilised previously. Here’s how catering businesses can maintain awareness and communicate effectively at this time.

  1. Adopt an omnichannel approach

It’s vital for restaurants who now have a new business model to get their message out there. Organic social media promotion on Facebook and Instagram—ideally within a radius of each location—is a great way of reaching relevant people quickly.

With evidence that watch times on IGTV and YouTube are shooting up, it may also be an opportune time to focus on video marketing. Video, after all, can be a relatively quick way of producing a “broadcast ad” promoting your new approach.

Above all, consider people’s most pressing concerns at this time. The hygiene rating will be more important than ever, so it’s critical to communicate any additional measures you are taking.

  1. Be honest about your challenges

Many restaurants have embraced home delivery almost overnight. Platforms like Just Eat and Deliveroo are of course a quick route to market, and we shouldn’t underestimate the willingness of the public to support catering businesses at this time—but those doing it themselves have to be open and honest about the challenges creating a distribution network.

Ensuring full transparency is key. Use prominent messaging on your website to inform customers about potential delays. In other words, buy some breathing space by managing expectations before the customer has paid.

  1. Keep your listings up to date

Google My Business (GMB) listings are critical at this time of rapid change. For those offering takeaway or who have now turned themselves into shops, it is vital to have correct opening times so that customers don’t make wasted journeys. Google is already displaying provisos that opening times can differ, but it is always better to be one step ahead. If you need to update information, do it quickly, and ensure consistent messaging across all your platforms.

If possible, switch to card payments only—and let your customers know about it. You can be sure that coronavirus will rapidly speed up the journey toward a cashless society.

Ultimately, accurate store and payment information are an important courtesy for customers even during normal times. But if you inadvertently cause fruitless journeys during lockdown, your customers will not soon forget it.

  1. Focus on user-generated content

Another rapidly developing trend is people cooking and baking at home and sharing recipes online. Restaurants can join this conversation, provide practical resources and expertise—and generate good brand awareness in the process. Consider offering recipes and challenging customers to replicate restaurant-quality dishes—then share the content. Recipe ideas that boost immunity could be particularly popular with people concerned about getting ill. 

Great user-generated content not only creates positive sentiment, but keeps customer dialogue open. You could also look to utilise channels like YouTube or Facebook Live to run cook-alongs with customers. This sort of engagement (and boredom relief!) will be appreciated. It also answers the question: how are you benefiting your customers at this time?

  1. Tap into the new community spirit

One positive side effect of this pandemic is the rediscovery of community spirit and the willingness to support public sector workers. Businesses throughout the country are thinking about how they can help people at this time. It is the right thing to do with people suffering hardship and needing our health service—and it is also good business practice as it can generate great goodwill and positive PR.

Examples of catering businesses doing this well range from the small scale—such as a fish and chip shop offering free food to NHS staff—to the enterprise level, with a consortium of restaurants led by Leon crowdfunding to offer free hot meals to key workers on long shifts. Others are sending supplies to under-pressure food banks.

With physical contact restricted, catering businesses need to communicate the smart thinking behind the pivoting of their businesses—and support their local communities in their time of need.

By Mike Fantis, VP, Managing Partner, DAC UK

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