When it comes to marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, what is your local restaurant strategy? At the Main Street Strong Restaurant Conference, industry experts — including restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and DoorDash executives — shared insights on how they've adapted their marketing efforts to the current industry landscape. Here's a round-up of their top tips and strategies.
1. Meet new needs with events, meal kits, pantry items, and more.
"The foundation of great marketing is getting an understanding of what people need — their dreams, their desires — and then figuring out what brands, products services meet those needs," said Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, Vice President of Marketing at DoorDash.
Of course, things are more complicated than usual in 2020.
"People want to have a sense of community, and they want things to do. The more you can give that to people, the more you will benefit," said Jill Gray, co-owner of Tortello in Chicago. At Tortello, they met this need by organizing a sagra, modeled after the outdoor dining events that take place in small rural villages in Italy. Diners came to the sagra to feast on roasted chestnuts and dine outdoors. A similar event they hosted before the pandemic hadn't been as popular — this time, the tickets sold out in days.
Another way to meet new needs is by offering family meal kits to your customers. Chen-Chen Huo, CEO of A La Couch and MAC'D, both in San Francisco, and Basu Ratnam, founder of NYC's INDAY, both noted that many people were experiencing "cooking fatigue" after months of cooking at home.
Restaurants across the country are taking notice. In Philadelphia, Pizzeria Vetri ran a promotion with DIY pizza meal kits for families. In Los Angeles, The Brothers Sushi added DIY sushi kits to their menu — including an option for kids. San Francisco's Che Fico now offers several Take & Bake options from ravioli to fruit pie.
"Be creative and find new ways to add value to customers — this is a better time than any," says Huo.
Restaurants can also drive revenue by offering produce, pantry items, and home goods to their customers. Tender Greens offers seasonal grocery box options and cocktail mixer fixings.
Any of these items — meal kits, pantry items, home goods — can easily be added to your DoorDash menu.
2. Team up with local businesses to provide new services and generate buzz.
Joining forces with another neighborhood business is a great way to boost visibility and establish a new revenue stream.
"Partnerships are a low-lift way to engage with other brands as they don't require a complete overhaul," says Amoo-Gottfried.
Umami Burger also relaunched their 2017 Artist Series to feature burgers created by celebrity artists like Diplo. While global celebrities are not an option for most local businesses, partnerships with local personalities — e.g., food writers, musicians, or politicians — are a great way to leverage a "celebrity" angle and generate buzz.
3. Show up for people in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on frontline workers and underserved communities. If you are able, supporting people in need — from healthcare workers, first responders, and the homeless — is a great way to strengthen your community and boost your team's morale.
There are many different ways to show up for your community:
Donate a meal to a healthcare worker for every meal purchased, like Birdcall in Denver.
Partner with local hospitals to provide food for healthcare workers. In San Francisco, Johnny Doughnuts created "Operation Comfort" to bring doughnuts and coffee to local healthcare workers.
Work with other local restaurants to establish a hotline or request service where individuals and nonprofits can request emergency food deliveries. Everytable spearheaded this effort in Los Angeles.
Offer a discount to customers if they donate PPE or other necessities. In Chicago, Happy Camper offered 50% off orders in exchange for PPE, which they donated to healthcare workers.
Work with customers to provide food for neighbors in need like Norma's Cafe in Dallas, who launched a "Favor a Neighbor" program.
4. Create a virtual connection.
If dine-in isn't an option — or reduced capacity requirements leave your atmosphere to be desired — there are ways to create meaningful emotional connections with your customers virtually. Virtual events don't just keep you connected with your customers — they can also help generate some extra income.
Get your food (and yourself) in your customers' kitchens with virtual cooking classes or tasting events. San Francisco's Nopalito held virtual mezcal tastings, while Ina Mae Tavern in Chicago offered virtual cooking classes with Executive Chef Brian Jupiter.
There are also plenty of ways to virtually connect with customers that don't require any event planning or coordination. You can also:
Make "behind the scenes" videos of your staff and post them to social media.
Share a "secret recipe" with customers who sign up for an email list.
Let your customers know how you and your team are faring with a heartfelt message on social media or email.
The bottom line? Communicate with your customers.
No matter what your marketing strategy is, make sure people know about it! Use multiple social media platforms, email lists, in-store signage, and website updates to keep your customers informed about new offerings, events, and important updates.