Back of House Staff | September 16, 2020, 05:56 PM CDT
At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants across the continent have figured out all sorts of ways to communicate to their social media audiences about COVID-19. But having reviewed dozens upon dozens—or is it hundreds upon hundreds?—of pandemic-related posts from restaurants' accounts, we've noticed that the messaging really falls into one of two categories: good, and not-so-good.
One thing is for sure: simply ignoring the devastation wrought by the coronavirus isn't really an option—at least, not if you don't want your restaurant to come off wildly tone-deaf to the situation at hand. (See also: this cringe-y supercut of clichéd messaging. Eesh!) So how are restaurant brands striking the right balance between being realistic while remaining hospitable and true to their brands?
So glad you asked. Below we've assembled some smart, successful, and even—dare we say?—fun examples of how restaurants have leveraged their social media channels to communicate with their customers during the pandemic.
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First things first: people are still (understandably!) nervous about returning to dining, so taking time to showcase on social media what your restaurant is doing to keep diners and staffers safe is always a good idea. Taco Bell lays out exactly what steps they're taking to make their restaurants as safe for staff and patrons during COVID-19 as possible. T
To get across a bunch of detailed information in a digestible format, the chain created a graphic that it can share across multiple social media channels; independent operators interested in doing the same can check out a free design tool like Canva to come up with their own version.
It's also a good idea to use your social media account as a means of keeping customers up to date on any covid-related moves you're making. For instance, while LA's Eggslut's Instagram account is primarily known for their delightfully enticing style of food photography, they also know when and how to announce important info like a reopening—with clean design, straightforward messaging, well-chosen typefaces, and brand colors.
Taking a different—but equally effective—tack, Brooklyn's Olmsted uses their caption to clearly communicate a temporary closure to their outdoor dining room, offering clear delivery options instead.
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Promoting a DIY meal kit is a great way to utilize social media right now. This Facebook post about charbroiled oyster kits from local favorite Drago's in New Orleans was smartly pegged to a Father's Day promotion, but that could easily be replaced with a socially distanced gathering or any kind.
While putting together a meal kit might sound like it's more trouble than it's worth, think of it this way: by providing everything your guests need to recreate a favorite menu item at at home, you're providing guests with a social media-friendly hands-on activity, a reason to engage in your social media campaigns, and a reason to return.
Another great example of meal kit success: Sol, which offered a sliding scale meal kit so folks can make their iconic plant-based "fried chik'n" regardless of income levels.
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There's no replacement for the on-premise experience, but if/when your restaurant has to return to carry-out-only service (or if it never stopped being carry-out-only this whole time), we're a huge fan of using social media to create virtual experiences that keep your diners in touch with your brand—and contributing to your bottom line.
For example, Charleston's Edmund's Oast Exchange is using Instagram to promote their livestreamed weekly wine-tastings, then use Zoom to actually do the event. It's a smart, fun way to offer customers relief from the monotony of quarantine and offer them a valuable experience from afar. Win-win—or in EOX's case, win-wine. (Sorry.)
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One tactic that is working: restaurants that utilize social media accounts to showcase genuine action they're taking to help communities that have been adversely affected by COVID-19 (which, let's be real, is pretty much all of them.)
On a local level, some restaurants, like Zahav in Philadelphia, sold gift cards in order to benefit their own hourly workers who were necessarily laid off due to the pandemic, while thousands of local restaurants turned their attention to donating meals to healthcare workers.
Mimi Cheng's, which completely refocused their business on their Dumplings for Doctors campaign, made sure to get a photo with medical staffers to share on their social channels. This is a smart move, and one you should try to mimick if you feel comfortable. It's no big secret that independent restaurants are having a rough time right now, and people are typicaly eager to support—especially if it's something as simple as posing for a photo when you're delivering them a free meal.
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Fact: people have pandemic fatigue, and talking about COVID-19 in every post is bound to turn off even your diehard fans. To avoid just become noise on the grid, don't be afraid to work in posts that you would have made pre-pandemic—it can give folks a much-needed break from fretting about an uncertain future. Pretty much everything has changed... but your audience's love for casual, compelling food porn probably hasn't!
If you have to close... well, what you choose to say about such a heartbreaking outcome is entirely up to you. But if you feel up for it, saying farewell to your customers and community may offer you some closure as you wind down your business and contemplate what comes next.
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