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5 Clever Strategies for Restaurant Marketing During COVID-19

June 11, 2020

“Heard!”

If you have worked in restaurants in the past, you know this saying—and probably have flashbacks of the head chef yelling! An expeditor or lead calls out an order, and the rest of the crew yells, “Heard!” Pretty simple, but what people don’t know is what lies beneath the surface of this statement. A noisy kitchen with communication like this is a sign of a well-oiled and healthy machine. But in the age of COVID-19, restaurant kitchens across the world are quiet for the first time.

empty restaurant

During the pandemic, the hospitality industry has been looking for new ways to stay agile while also staying true to their mission. As a past restaurant manager myself, I know it isn’t easy to try and change the core of your operation. We’re in the age of third-party delivery services and roadside pickup—we were already talking about the ways the industry needs to modernize, and stay-at-home orders have forced restaurants to do so quickly. For restaurants looking for ideas or inspiration, here are five of the best strategies I’ve seen:

  1. Sell meal and cocktail kits
  2. Host your own online cooking classes
  3. Share your recipes
  4. Switch up your social ads
  5. Add donated meals to your menu

Let’s talk more about each of these.

1. Sell meal and cocktail kits

Buying a meal is a perk in itself, but buying the experience is something that is hard to replace. Some restaurants have begun to sell meal and cocktail kits that allow consumers to craft their own restaurant-quality meals and drinks right from their home. The best part? This doesn’t replicate the experience of dining in a restaurant, but it does offer an appealing alternative.

Take Sugar & Spice, a local restaurant around the corner from our Boston office. They have curated a menu of “survival kits,” or meal kits that allow you to enjoy their top menu items handcrafted in your own kitchen. By offering an activity, as well as a meal, restaurants are able to offer a fun date-night idea, family bonding session, or a creative alternative to bingeing another TV show.

meal kit on Facebook from Sugar & Spice

And the consumer isn’t the only one who benefits from this type of strategy. When properly analyzing if a restaurant is making money, managers and owners look at three crucial elements: rent, labor, and food costs. When restaurants across the world were shut down, labor was drastically cut in the industry—but what about the food? It almost breaks my heart to think of the empty walk-ins with food that had no choice but to spoil. 

meal kit on Facebook from Curds and Co.

By handing off the labor to the consumer, restaurants can focus their workforce on sanitizing their locations and developing a phase plan for when they can reopen their doors for dine-in service. Sure, not everyone is going to want to pay to make their own meal, but in these times it is always worth offering. People dine at restaurants for comfort, and if they can supply that comfort to their friends and family (and take the credit), both parties can win.

2. Host online cooking classes

I had a bartender colleague of mine post on Facebook the other day that they would charge $10.00 on Venmo to teach a lesson on how to make a cocktail for an hour. Although I knew she was trying to be funny in her post, it got me thinking about other ways restaurants can bring the experience of new cuisine to the public’s home. MasterClass and YouTube have supplied tutorials for any culinary knowledge level, but it’s hard to mimic the perfect dish from the mom-and-pop from across the street. I have always learned best from someone guiding me, but during these times when I can’t even visit my grandma’s house so she can teach me how to make her famous snickerdoodles, we need to rely on video sharing.

Bully Boy, a local distillery, has been offering a series of virtual cocktail classes to fill this need, get people interacting with their brand, and encourage bartender hopefuls to purchase their goods. Although this may not be an instant revenue stream, this can help protect their brand by continuing to offer that connection while people are home.

virtual cocktail class on Instagram from Bully Boy

Famous chefs around the world are taking the public into their homes through Facebook and Instagram live for the very first time to teach recipes and procedures that were once “secret,” which leads me to my next point.

3. Share your recipes—yes, even those secret ones

One of the most coveted pieces of a restaurant’s puzzle are the recipes. Some are constantly changing, some have stayed the same for generations. Even big brands have a cult following around some! Social distancing has not stopped the foodie cravings, so brands both large and small have released their recipes to the public for the very first time. Not only is this a way to remind people that brand’s care, but to also remind them that they aren’t going anywhere!

If you are a Disney fan like me, you probably immediately think of the hundreds of treats you can enjoy when you are exploring the parks. My favorite by far is their famous Dole Whip recipe that I enjoy at least twice a day when I visit. Like many others, I was forced to cancel my trip later on this year, so I thought I would have to wait to enjoy my favorite treat. As a great way to boost excitement and keep people engaged while their parks were closed, Disney’s blog started to release recipes for the Dole Whip, their famous churros, and other meals that people (like myself) miss dearly.

Does this replace a vacation? No, but it reminds me that when this is all over, I will be able to enjoy them again.

If you are a restaurant that has its own similar cult-like following in your local area, you likely have consumers who also want to be in on the secret recipe. Meal kits are a great way to send the items over and not completely reveal the recipe components, but if you are willing to open yourself up to the public this could be a great way to keep your customers engaged.

4. Switch up your social ads

With millions of Americans working from home, people have been sticking to the same routine day after day. I have been trying to break the vicious cycle of monotony, but sometimes it can be hard when I am stuck in the walls of my apartment. I spend some of my free time scrolling through social media (like many others who can’t spend time with family and friends), and have encountered some pretty clever ads along the way. Make sure to use high-quality photos, and consider adding a promo code like Pink Taco makes me realize that I miss the familiar cuisine from local restaurants even if I didn’t think I was hungry at first!

Instagram ad from Pink Taco

You can also use these ads to take people to your own website instead of operating through third party apps like UberEats and GrubHub. This can help decrease the amount of fees you have to pay to these third-party apps, which can help optimize your revenue. For more ideas, check out our Facebook advertising strategies for restaurants.

5. Add donated meals to your menu

Although restaurants have taken a huge hit in revenue due to COVID-19, the industry has largely chosen to give back during these hectic times. Nurses and doctors from around the world are working overtime and, unfortunately, it’s often in high-risk and hazardous conditions. Sometimes the best way to say thank you is by offering a warm meal free of charge.

donated meals from Pagu

Pagu, a Japanese and Spanish Tapas restaurant, has been making enormous amounts of paella and other warm meals for the nurses on the front lines. They give the specific hospitals a shoutout through Instagram and Facebook stories, and also have a little segment about their initiative to provide comfort to these heroes. Knowing the brand that I want to purchase from (and miss terribly) is working to support emergency room workers not only boosts my confidence in them, but also secures consumer brand loyalty.  

Instagram post of donating meals

Other restaurants are letting users buy donated meals for healthcare workers, adding the option right to their delivery or pick-up menus. Either way, start serving up donated meals if you can.

Focus on connecting with your customers and your community

According to the National Restaurant Association, over 1 million restaurants are fighting to survive during this uncertain time. By implementing strategies to help reinforce the connection between restaurants and the diner, brands can stay agile while also keeping true to their mission. Danny Meyer, the famous restaurateur and author of Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality and Business says it perfectly: “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.” During these tough times, the public is still looking for restaurants to provide that same level of comfort and feeling they experienced just a couple of months ago. Although the process may be a little different for the time being, restaurants are beginning to “hear” the consumer more than ever. The public is still desiring that element of normalcy, which shows the mark that certain chains, local hubs, and large brands have left on their life. And their response?

“Heard.”

Kaitlyn Boehm

Kaitlyn Boehm

Kaitlyn is an onboarding specialist at WordStream, where she helps clients navigate through their first month at WordStream. She is also a foodie who has no problem sharing her not-so-secret secret recipes!

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