Restaurants Navigating COVID-19: Examples and Actionable Best Practices

To all of those in the restaurant industry, we are thinking of you during this unprecedented and extremely challenging time. While your focus is undoubtedly centered on the possible consequences of this crisis as they relate to budget, employees, and the future of the restaurant business in general, we aim to provide support and actionable best practices where we can. Keep reading for examples of how restaurants are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and thinking strategically about how to engage customers.

El Pollo Loco: Get the Message Out

El Pollo Loco has committed to a free delivery partnership with Postmates. To support this initiative, they’ve released a campaign titled “Free Delivery for However Long Necessary” which addresses the realities of the stay at home policy that many are facing and is being promoted via Television, Digital, and Social Media platforms.

Chipotle: Capitalize on Safe and Easy Ways to Interact with Customers

Along with offering free delivery and adding tamper-evident packaging seals, we’ve also seen Chipotle double down on the promotion of their Chipotlanes. These pickup lanes require customers to place their orders via the Chipotle app and pay in advance. It only takes about 12 seconds to get the customer their food when they pull up because everything has already been taken care of. Given the current environment this is an ideal solution for safer, quicker customer interactions that keep the pick-up lines moving.

The Capital Grille: Leverage Creative Ways to Uphold Brand Standards

The upscale steakhouse is now offering a Butcher Shoppe selection of uncooked steaks, hand-carved by its in-house butcher to be prepared at home. This is a creative approach that helps maintain their brand standards for high quality, fresh food while also keeping their customer base engaged. 

Insomnia Cookies: Be Flexible

This late-night cookie hotspot is offering delivery to customers outside of their normal delivery radius. They’ve also updated their online ordering platform to allow customers to choose whether they want to meet their delivery driver at the door, outside of their home, or have their delivery left at the door, depending on their level of comfort. 

Noodles & Company: Reward Customers for their Loyalty

Noodles & Company has transitioned to pick-up and carry-out only, where guests are able to order free delivery online and on the Noodles Rewards App. Noodles has also updated their rewards program to offer an additional 1,500 bonus rewards points (which is enough for a free entree) to new users who sign up for Noodles Rewards through April. This is a great way to engender a relationship and give back to new customers during this difficult time.

Based on what we’ve learned from our customer base and the restaurant industry over the past few weeks, here are a few conclusions and best practices to consider moving forward:

  1. Leadership must focus on being compassionate yet rational; keep the mission top of mind, concentrate on your customers and employees, and prepare for both opportunities and fallouts
  2. Customers are going to lean on their favorite restaurants during this time – it’s important to identify those loyal guests and go above and beyond to make them feel recognized and appreciated
  3. Loyalty programs with fast and flexible segmentation capabilities are critical for future success
  4. Communicate often to your guests with emphasis on cleanliness and safety policies
  5. Pick up and delivery is here to stay and now has a cemented base of new customers
  6. Focus on the future – we are in the beginning of a new normal that is reshifting the way customers interact with restaurants. The brands that set themselves up to meet those customers where their new priorities lie are the ones that will come out on top 

It’s difficult to predict how the COVID-19 crisis will continue to play out – but it’s reasonable to say that customer’s habits and behaviors are rapidly changing as a result. Restaurants that continue to pay close attention to these new dynamics and lean on agile technology that allows them to adapt to changing customer habits and expectations are the ones that will likely come out winners in the end.