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Originally post at QSR in May 2020. Original article here.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting government restrictions have had a major negative impact on the restaurant industry in the last month or so. Several restaurants have permanently closed or declared bankruptcy, and this trend isn’t likely to stop any time soon. That said, some restaurants, especially restaurants with strong unit economics, are doing better than simply surviving. You can use these tips to help increase sales and set your business up for growth when the pandemic eases and resulting shutdowns are lifted.

 

Increase your communication with customers

Marketing is crucial right now. Normally, you want to avoid inundating people with messages, but right now more communication is better as people have less to do and are spending more time on their computers and phones. People are focused on how COVID-19 is affecting their lives. They are not thinking about your brand, so the best way to increase sales is to put your brand on their mind often. Keep consumers informed of your hours, special offers and delivery or takeout options. More restaurants are offering deals than in the past, so it’s important to publicize those so you can compete.

 

Make sure you are communicating on the platforms your customers are using. People are home for the most part, so advertising options like billboards aren’t the best during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, focus on social media and email campaigns to reach consumers at home.

 

Reach out to existing customers

All restaurants have an existing fanbase, and those are your best targets for marketing right now. Use your email lists and social media pages to contact previous customers. You may even be able to go a step further if you have other contact information for your customers, as many delivery-focused restaurants do. For example, some of our Rascal House restaurants have called customers individually to let them know the restaurant is open and happy to serve them via carryout or delivery. We aren’t able to do our normal business outreach of visiting and dropping off food samples, so calling our customers has been a good way to increase awareness and sales.

 

Prepare for the new normal

The federal government and many state governments have already released multi-tiered plans for reopening the economy. Think about this in terms of your restaurant, too. We know that things won’t be exactly as they were before in one day, so think about what you will do first and what checkpoints you will have before rolling out a campaign.

 

For example, when people first start returning to work, it’ll likely be less than the entire population and those employees will have different needs than they did before. Figure out what their pain points will be and how you can help solve them. Then, you can base any marketing or deals around that.

 

It’s also important to be ready operationally with policies on sanitation and making sure your team is healthy. You likely have these in place now if you are still operating for takeout and delivery, but they may need to be revised and amplified as things change.

 

You can also use these tips to grow your franchise sales during this time period. Increase communication with potential franchisees. Reach out to and vet existing franchise candidates to see if they are a fit for your brand. Put a plan in place now for how you will jumpstart your franchise sales strategy when you are able to host in-person Discovery Days and travel for market visits again.

 

By thinking about these policies and opportunities now and forming a plan, you’ll be better prepared to start growing sales immediately when the time comes. In the meantime, you can continue to reach out to your customers with the right deals to increase sales now.

 

Niko Frangos is president of Rascal House, a Cleveland-based elevated quick-serve restaurant franchise serving pizza, burgers, wings and more.