As eateries across the nation navigate the new normal, restaurant owners and managers are focusing not just on operations but on communication to help keep patrons safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, new health and safety protocols are effective only if diners understand what’s expected of them.
Restaurants need a communications game plan for every stop along the dining journey, from before patrons even arrive to when they’re paying the check and heading home.
“It’s so there’s no ambiguity with your customers,” says Jim Hopper, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. “You need to be very clear on what the expectations are for the people that are going to patronize your restaurant.”
Get the Word Out With a Multichannel Communications Strategy
Take advantage of every arm of your online presence to alert guests to new procedures. Start at your website, where you can put a notice or pop-up about your restaurant’s changes on the homepage. You could also add a notification bar, which displays a message to users regardless of the page they’re on.
In addition to communicating your reservation policies and business hours, post your menu on your website. When guests are at your restaurant, they can access it with their phones to avoid handling paper menus. You could also put a QR code on your physical menu that instantly opens the digital version of the menu when a guest scans the code with a smartphone.
Social media is also an effective way to deliver updates. Given the character constraints of social media, you can list key policy changes in bulleted, one-sentence blurbs and provide a link to learn more. Wherever you post this information, clarity is crucial, so the messaging itself should be straightforward and to the point.
“Basically it’s: ‘Here’s what we are doing in our restaurant to keep you safe and to keep our employees safe. And here’s what we ask you to do,’” Hopper says.
Communicate Changes During the Reservation Process
Train your employees to notify customers of new procedures as they take reservations. To further help customers, employees can direct them to the places online where they can learn more, such as your website and social media accounts.
“The restaurants that are operating well are training their employees and having meetings before shifts to say, ‘Here are the things that we need to relay to our customers,’” Hopper says.
Post Signage Liberally
Place messages detailing safety measures — such as mask requirements and social distancing protocols — at all entrances and gathering areas. Signs that promote everyday coronavirus protective actions, such as covering your mouth when coughing and avoiding touching your face, are also useful.
Download and print free workplace signage that communicates key COVID-19 safety messaging. For restaurant-related signage, visit your state’s chapter of the National Restaurant Association, which might provide industry-specific messaging.
If you make your own signage, keep a few things in mind:
- Make the message simple.
- Provide a visual element that catches the eye and provides clarification.
- Use contrasting colors and text that’s as big as possible.
Provide Detailed Instructions for Carryout and Curbside Pickup
Even guests who have dined at your restaurant before might be confused about carryout and pickup protocols. Make it clear where to park, whom to contact about picking up an order and even where to stand when picking up food to help operations run more smoothly (and safely). For example, will guests need to leave their cars, or will a restaurant employee put the order in the trunk?
Use signage to establish designated curbside pickup zones, such as a few parking spaces near the entrance. Number each space and post signage that prompts the customer to call or text a number to let employees know what the customer ordered and what spot he or she is in.
Place social distancing signage at pickup windows where there might be a line, and put tape on the ground indicating where customers can stand to remain 6 feet away from others.
Set the Stage for Safe Indoor Dining
Use signage and floor decals inside to help manage traffic flow for customers who don’t use curbside options. Place signage on tables explaining that they have been disinfected since the previous customers left. If you’re limiting capacity, make that clear with signage on unused tables or bar stools that says something like, “This table is kept empty for your safety.” Put signage in restrooms urging customers to wash their hands, providing instructions on proper handwashing.
“It is creating confidence in the dining public and doing the things that are necessary to protect people and to prevent the spread,” Hopper says.
Additional Resources on Reopening During COVID-19
Check out these resources on reopening safely during the pandemic:
- American Industrial Hygiene Association’s reopening guidance for the restaurant industry
- National Restaurant Association’s reopening guidance
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) considerations for restaurants and bars
- Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) best practices for reopening retail food establishments