In today's unpredictable restaurant industry landscape, the only thing you can count on is change. Over the past two years, operators learned to navigate a constantly evolving environment and make tough decisions — whether it's streamlining the menu because of supply chain shortages, reducing operating hours due to the labor shortage, or determining their COVID-19 safety policies. As a result, having an effective restaurant communication strategy to keep everyone up to date has never been more critical.
In this article, we'll share eight steps for developing a restaurant communication strategy that empowers your team and keeps customers happy.
Building a restaurant communication strategy
When operators need to announce a change in their restaurant operations, it's hard to know where to start. That's why we put together a restaurant communication checklist to help you improve communication with all internal and external audiences.
Restaurant communication checklist:
Finalize the announcement details
Develop your messaging
Tell employees first
Train staff to answer customer questions
Share the announcement across all communication channels
Monitor and respond to feedback
Reward loyal customers
Apply learnings and optimize your restaurant communications strategy
1. Finalize the announcement details
Before announcing a change in your restaurant operations, it's important to first confirm all the details. Figure out what exactly will change, when and for how long the change will be in effect, and whether it will impact one or more locations. For example, if you're reducing your store hours for the winter, determine the new hours, when they start, and when they will return to normal.
Once you know what you need to announce, determine the timing of your announcement and create a restaurant communications plan using the following steps. Whenever possible, provide advance notice so employees and customers have time to adjust and can ask questions before the change occurs.
2. Develop your messaging
When communicating change, it's important to provide an explanation of why this is happening, and how you came to this decision. Staff and customers will appreciate honesty — so be authentic and transparent. For example, if you're increasing menu prices, provide broader context on inflation and the rising costs of ingredients, labor, and utilities.
Try to find ways to position the change as a positive — e.g., higher menu prices will allow you to continue to pay your employees a living wage, or maintain full operating hours. In some cases, if handled delicately, you can even use the change as a marketing opportunity. For example, if a menu item will no longer be available starting next week, encourage customers to order it now while supplies last!
Sample script for increasing menu prices:
Due to the higher costs of ingredients, supplies, and labor, we will be raising our menu prices by X% starting [DATE]. While this was a difficult decision, it will allow us to continue to pay our employees and maintain full operating hours so you can enjoy our offerings whenever you like! We appreciate your loyalty and understanding and can't wait to keep serving your favorite [MENU ITEMS].
The [RESTAURANT NAME] Team
When developing your announcement messaging, anticipate questions. What information will your employees need to continue to do their job? What answers will customers be looking for? If you're removing a menu item, will you offer an alternative that guests will also love?
And if the answer to some of these questions is "I don't know," that's fine. Just be sure to communicate that you don't have an answer at the moment, but you're doing your best to provide an update as soon as possible.
3. Tell employees first
Before announcing your restaurant's update to the world, first tell your employees. You don't want your team to feel blindsided by finding out about a major change from their employer on social media. Additionally, you'll want employees to be ready to answer customer questions.
Leverage the internal restaurant communication method that your employees are used to, whether it's an all-staff email, text message, in-person meeting, or bulletin board post. Ensure the team has a chance to ask questions before the news is public. Consider scheduling a call with your managers to provide the full context that will help them answer questions from the team.
It's so important to make sure the team is happy, having a good time, and feeling appreciated, because that will trickle down to our guests.
4. Train staff to answer customer questions
Your employees are on the front lines, interacting with guests every day. That's why a smart restaurant communication strategy prepares your team to talk to customers about any changes.
Before announcing a major change to the public, develop materials to train your staff on how to talk to customers, delivery drivers, suppliers, and other third parties. Create an FAQ with the top questions and answers to publish on your website, or for staff to reference when talking to customers, and provide a script so your team can answer questions consistently and correctly. It's especially important to prepare your employees ahead of restaurant communications that may cause confusion or frustration among customers, such as changes in prices or mask policies.
Sample FAQ to help staff answer customer questions about mask policies
(Note: This is just an example. Please check local regulations to ensure your answers align with the latest mask requirements in your area.)
Q: Why do I have to wear a mask when indoor mask requirements have been lifted?
A: While masks are no longer required indoors in most public places, they are still strongly recommended and businesses have the right to determine their own safety requirements. To best protect our staff and customers, we ask everyone to please wear a face covering inside our restaurant when not eating or drinking.
Q: Why do I have to show proof of vaccination?
A: While the [CITY] health department dropped proof of vaccination requirements, businesses can make their own decisions around COVID-19 safety protocols. To keep our space as safe as possible for staff and patrons, we will continue to require you to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test when dining at our restaurant.
5. Share the announcement across all communication channels
Once you're ready to make a public announcement, update all communication channels at the same time. Catalog a list of your restaurant's online and offline platforms ahead of time to ensure you don't forget any. You want to avoid disappointing customers who checked your TripAdvisor profile to confirm that you have indoor seating, but later find out you don't.
Online channels may include: your website, social media profiles, Google Business profile, review sites, delivery platforms, online reservation systems, online menus, and more. Offline communication channels could cover your in-store signage, physical menus, outgoing phone message, and more. If the change impacts your menu, immediately update it across your website, delivery platforms, and in-store physical menus to ensure customers know your latest offerings. (And if you can't print new menus, post a physical sign announcing the change.)
When announcing a change in your restaurant, update these communication channels:
Social media profiles (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.)
Google Business profile
Review sites (Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, etc.)
Delivery platforms (DoorDash, Caviar, etc.)
Online reservation platforms (OpenTable, Resy, etc.)
Online menus (Allmenus, Zmenu, etc.)
Outgoing phone message
In addition to updating profiles, push the news out across key communication channels, such as social media posts, email newsletter, and in-store signage. Displaying the information across multiple formats and channels will ensure everyone gets the same information no matter how they choose to hear from you. In fact, publish multiple social posts to reinforce the message and ensure people don't miss it.
6. Monitor and respond to feedback
Once your announcement is public, the communication strategy isn't complete. Designate someone on your team to monitor customer feedback online — across social media, review sites, delivery platform reviews, and more. Whether the response is positive or negative, respond to customers quickly with a personalized reply that addresses their specific issue. Check in with staff and managers who are hearing from customers first-hand, and update your training FAQ and scripts as needed to empower your team to manage customer concerns.
If the change impacts employees, respond to their feedback too. Give your team a forum to voice their concerns, whether it's an all-staff meeting, 1:1 conversations, or a Slack channel. Great restaurant leaders make sure their team feels heard.
7. Reward loyal customers
If possible, find a way to reward your customers and show them how much you appreciate their loyalty during a difficult time. Consider offering discounts or promotions, such as a percentage off or a free dessert for large orders. DoorDash partners can easily launch promotions within the Merchant Portal.
And if a discount isn't possible, find other ways to show customers appreciation amidst this time of change. Make extra efforts to personalize the guest experience, such as including a handwritten thank you note in delivery orders or on receipts.
8. Apply learnings and optimize your restaurant communications strategy
Once the announcement is out and you've reviewed customer and employee feedback, take time to assess your restaurant communication strategy. What worked well, and what could be improved for next time? Did you miss any communication channels? Did you receive any questions that could have been addressed in your initial announcement?
Talk to managers and check your shift logbook to understand and prevent recurring restaurant communication issues. Then apply these learnings and adjust your restaurant communication strategy for future announcements.
Ensure smooth changes with a restaurant communication strategy
In today's evolving restaurant market, operators need to stay flexible and make quick changes. An effective restaurant communication strategy helps your staff and customers understand and accept changes to your menu, service, and COVID-19 safety requirements. By developing a plan to ensure clear and consistent restaurant communication, you'll keep your team informed and your customers coming back.
Looking for more resources on how to manage restaurant communication and culture? Download the free guide Building a Five-Star Restaurant Team.