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5 Ways Restaurants Can Get More Customers During COVID

There is no denying it, COVID has hurt restaurants arguably more than any other industry. If you need data to see just how bad, OpenTable has an interactive data tool to see just how affected the restaurant industry has been.

While retail was challenged as well, that industry could be propped up by ecommerce solutions that allowed businesses to ship their products. Unfortunately, restaurants do not have that luxury and the closest solution of meal delivery options is still in its infancy. As the economy slowly emerges from shut downs and limitations, here are five ways you can adapt your restaurant business to drive more customers in-store or ordering online.

To be clear, it may be a while before your restaurant reaches pre-pandemic levels, but these three growth strategies can help you beat the trend and keep your restaurant alive and maybe even thriving.

Each of these alone require support from various components of your business and your marketing, so be sure to read each strategy in full in order to fully understand how to maximize the result. 

Overview of strategies. You can click each one to jump to that section.


Implement an online ordering platform

Even before COVID hit, consumers expected to be able to order online. With the pandemic, this has become the gold standard. While you could try to create your own process for setting up online ordering through your website and implementing back-of-house, the best way to do this is by utilizing a platform that is already built and provides all of the tools you need.

One of our favorite is Toast. Their platform offers a comprehensive solutions for point of sale to the order system that your kitchen uses back-of-house. But even beyond the system itself, it is a really intuitive platform for both your staff and your customers. 

Toast also offers an entire suite of solutions beyond POS and online ordering that can help you grow your restaurant even more. The best part is that you can add on solutions as you grow, so it's not all or none.

Using Toast will make it easy for you to implement the following strategies in this article.

Improve your restaurant website for mobile users

We know people are spending more time on the mobile devices during COVID, which means they are definitely viewing your website on their phone. Keeping in mind what their needs are now (i.e. order online), we need to make sure that your website is easier than ever for them to find and use.

In order to do just that, we'll need to adjust your site a little bit. For one, we need to make sure the "Order Online" is a very visible call-to-action on your website—either at the top or anchored on the screen so the user can always place an order.


As you can see, Zoes Kitchen has actually placed two calls-to-action on their homepage. This is a great example of how you can work the buttons into your existing site design.

Increase your ratings on directory sites and presence on social media

One of the toughest things for a restaurant to do is get found. In the digital world, you can improve your "location" by having a presence in multiple places and increasing your visibility through frequency.

Did you know that 89% of internet users research restaurants online prior to choosing a place to eat? And that is a pre-pandemic figure, so it has probably gone up since.

The two place consumers look are review sites and directories, such as Yelp and Google Business Listings, and social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram.

Now is the time to ensure that you implement a concerted effort to reach out to your customers and ask them to give you a 5-star review online. While they may not be able to support you by dining in, a 5-star review could help you get more customers now and in the future.

Secondly, you want to be sure you are posting more frequently on social media. Now is the time to get creative. One of the best examples of this was from a local business that came up with a funny video series. They launched a parody video of pop culture staples every week to promote their pizza delivery. They became a citywide hit.



Offer your own delivery service

This may sound like a lot of work and like an impossible feat, but consider this—pizza joints have been delivering their own pizzas from the beginning of time. The meal deliver service is not a new concept and you don't have to depend on the Uber Eats, Door Dash, and Waitrs of the world to offer this service. There are many restaurant owners who have experienced negative financial implications from these companies. And if that's not enough reason to dump your delivery apps, a poll conducted in 2018 by Morning Consult showed that 82% of consumers prefer to order delivery directly from the restaurant and not go through a food delivery app.

Offering your own delivery service can be on your own terms, so you don't have to commit to delivering food to the next city (unless they want to pay extra). Have a flat fee for deliveries within a set radius of your restaurant, and have an up charge for each additional mile. You can also have an order minimum for any deliveries.

This is where the Toast platform can come in handy. They offer an entire solution around offering delivery services.

As far as who is delivering the food, there are a couple ways to approach this. You can hire independent contractors that are not employees or you can have an employee make the deliveries. Now there are some details to be ironed out around insurance and legal implications surrounding having your employees deliver, so you will want to consult with your accounting, insurance, and legal professionals to ensure you have everything buttoned up.

But the goal is to create a system that will benefit your business now and long into the future, so don't let mild challenges keep you from creating long-term growth and profit.


Launch a localized digital marketing effort

Now that you have the foundation for growth in place, it is time to start driving more awareness and traffic to your restaurant. Implementing an effective localized marketing campaign can help you get in front of prospective customers on a daily basis.

There are two channels for advertising you can use to maximize your budget and impressions and those are Facebook/Instagram (ok, three platforms, but Instagram ads are managed through Facebook) and Google Adwords. These are the places where people are spending hours of their day and you want to be where people are looking.

The best way to leverage Facebook and Instagram is by targeting a radius around your location(s). The radius should take into consideration the following:

  • How far away does someone live that is willing to drive to your location or how far are you willing to deliver
  • Where do people live and work in the area
  • Is there an area you want to draw more people from

Now there are a lot of nuances to targeting, messaging, and visuals, but here's the Cliff's Notes. You want to show you ad to the people who are most likely to buy your food. You want to entice them visually and potentially with an offer. 

The goal of your campaign should be awareness because you want to stay in front of these people at all times. Impressions are more valuable than clicks, even if you do have online ordering. The reason for this is because they may not be looking to eat the moment they see your ad. It's not an impulse purchase or a purchase that can be made until they are ready to eat.

For Google, you want to target keywords that your audience would be searching for. As an example tacos near me, bbq restaurants, restaurants open in midtown, restaurants that cater near me, etc. Focus on the phrases your audience is looking for and go after those.


Does your restaurant have what it takes to grow?

Would you like to get more customer in your doors or orders placed online? It all comes down to a handful of factors that drive more sales to your restaurant. And of course your amazing food!

Take the Restaurant Growth Quiz