Reopening bars and restaurants in a world where a deadly virus spreads in close contact and indoor spaces… Well, it’s a challenge to say the least.
However, as infection rates drop, many venues are beginning to reopen in some form – mostly for outdoor dining, at the moment.
So what do venues need to bear in mind as they open up? How should they market and communicate with customers?
There are six things we think will be vital:
First, understand your consumers.
There are thousands of articles you can and should read – and being aware of research and news is vital. But no one venue has the same customers, or the same set of circumstances. So one of the best things you can do is simply ask your customers directly. Use your social channels, email and ask them in person, if they’re coming in for takeaway. What do they want to see?
Make safety messages a part of all communications.
Talk about capacity restrictions and the need to pre-book ahead of time; making a selling point of cleaning and sterilisation procedures, promote outdoor and distanced dining – and communicate all of these messages across all channels – from the website to social media; in-venue, email marketing and via staff interactions – and keep going. Some people may not come back for months, but they will need the same reassurance.
Internally, also, keep communicating these messages to staff and reiterate the importance of conveying them to customers. Some issues around safety are yet to be worked out – such as the use of public toilets – so clear communication about what customers can and can’t do will help them prepare and feel in control.
There’s no need for things to feel stiff – things can be done with a light, creative touch. At Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, there’s a proposal to fill seats with mannequins in Victorian attire to ensure customers keep their distance at tables. Other bars in the group with botanical and wartime themes will have staff in beekeeping outfits and gas masks respectively, as PPE.
Bars and venues that reopen should keep delivery and collection as alternative revenue streams.
Social distancing recommendations mean that many bars and restaurants will struggle to survive on the reopening revenues alone. Summer weather won’t be here forever, and so autumn and winter will be even harder.
The impulse behind visiting bars and pubs has changed too. While people may venture out for special occasions, a lot of the ‘casual’ visits will have gone – after work drinks won’t look the same for some time. People may be less willing to travel across cities to meet friends, so the virtual meet up will continue. How about packages delivering drinks to those who can’t visit in person, and making hampers for the park?
Go local – very local
As mentioned above – people will be much less willing to take public transport to a bar or restaurant for some time – and of course, tourism will remain slow. So as well as keeping virtual experiences and deliveries in mind; communications should focus on your local area. Can you support businesses in the area with lunch deliveries, or after work drinks? Reach out to other local brands too and build a supportive local network.
Be a stand up, decent brand – always
Bars and restaurants around you will close. People will lose their jobs. If you remain open, focus on the community, and how you can best serve the local network, as mentioned above, that is now your core focus.
Of course, the need for hygiene measures has also temporarily halted the focus on single use plastics and environmental concerns – but if you’re able to communicate what you’re safely doing here, it will reassure customers that you have a focus on the long term too.
It probably goes without saying, but now is also no time to stop the NHS discounts (and anything else you have in place for front-line workers).
Build an engaged online audience
Much of the above of course relies on having a strong network of customers online that you can communicate with. Many venues will have set this up, but some won’t. If you haven’t – it’s not too late.
Practically, whatever stage you’re at, this means improving some core measures on your website (user experience and customer conversion rates); having a good social strategy (that doesn’t involve asking an intern/junior relative to post for you), growing your email marketing database and beginning influencer marketing, where appropriate. (Influencers aren’t all Kardashians – some are local parents and businesses in your area).
Ultimately, we’re all making the best of the situation we’ve been handed. But if we can learn anything from what’s going on around us – it’s that mixed messages make things harder. Clear communications will help you and your customers navigate through this together.
By Tom Harvey, co-founder, YesMore drinks marketing specialists