flickr: FHKE

With outdoor dining out of the picture for many, brands are going to have to stay connected with guests.

What Can Restaurants Do During Winter to Combat COVID-19 and Keep Sales Up?

Communicate directly with customers wherever and however you can, even one at a time.

As we head into winter, we head back into more uncertainty. Outdoor dining was a blessing while it lasted, but the approaching colder months will make it hard to keep customers outside.  Take this time to consider your options for a revamped business model—think about this as more than just survival; use this time to “go on offense”and experiment with your customer engagement model.

Many of your customers want to dine with you as much as you want them to. The problem is they don’t know how to work with you in these uncertain times. Proactively seek them out—communicate directly with them wherever and however you can, even one at a time.

Focus on your core customers

On average, 65 percent of small business dollar volume comes from repeat customers. Seek out your best customers directly and pull them back in. If you have contact information—whether it’s via social media, your POS system, or email, make use of it—let them know you are open for business and how they can safely purchase from you. Find them and connect directly, even one at a time.  Ask them what it would take to bring them back. Curbside pickup? DoorDash?  Delivery? Seek their advice. Your customers already like you, they just need to know how to be your customer again. Turn them into champions and influencers and make them part of the solution. Repeat customers are worth 10x as much and cost 5x less than acquiring new customers.

Also, consider focusing your offerings on your customer’s favorites. Prepare their favorites and limit the menu to your top-sellers.  This can help to manage inventory costs and avoid waste during times where revenues are less predictable.

Bellwether’s founder Ricardo and I have been methodically calling each and every one of our customers during the pandemic. Even if there isn’t much that can be done, just the act of connecting does pay dividends and creates loyalty to your brand. 

Social media targeting

Social media is a powerful tool for connection and customer engagement. Leverage social media channels as an avenue for a consistent conversation with your core customers and a way to learn about how this unique time is affecting their comfort level in your restaurant or shop.

Targeted ads are a great and low-cost way to acquire new customers as well. Identify your customer type by age, geography, and similar likes as an efficient and effective way to continue to grow awareness for your business. Include ways your business is unique in relation to the current environment, such as offering a drive-thru, curbside pickup, or e-commerce options.

E-Commerce & Delivery

Delivery services like DoorDash, Caviar, and PostMates have expanded incredibly quickly during COVID.  If you aren’t on one of these platforms already, jump in and try them out. For locations lucky enough to have a drive-thru, push and market it. Drive-thrus have proven to be highly effective during the pandemic.

If a traditional drive-thru is not a possibility for your business, consider putting more of a focus on e-commerce through website sales, subscription offerings, or loyalty rewards. Coffee retailers can still supply their caffeine-starved customers through online sales of roasted bagged coffee. This will enable a new stream of revenue for the business that can keep a certain demographic of customers who may not be comfortable coming into the location as much or at all anymore.

Stay nimble

Though it feels like we will reach a new and better chapter by next summer, it is likely to remain a roller coaster ride. Create contingency plans, be ready to open and close again, and think of this as par for the course. It is a curvy road you are on.

This requires a relentless focus on cost and cash. Consider where you can reduce or restructure consistent cash outlays. Have you negotiated with your landlord? Asked your distributors for price breaks? Better payment terms? The worst that can happen is they say no, and many individuals and institutions are making concessions amid the pandemic.

Bellwether has been taking these past six months as an opportunity to dial-in more automation for onboarding customers, creating easier ways to connect with them directly, as well as lower cost, higher yield ways of marketing. We are using this time to align our foundational systems and ensure efficiency.

Be transparent with employees

Your employees already know the world is uncertain—meaning their jobs are, too. Be straightforward and tell them about your own scenario planning.  For example, letting them know that if you can hit a certain target of revenue everyone keeps their job, if you don’t you make more cuts. Further, create an upside incentive. If you can hit this stretch goal for revenue, folks could receive a bonus or profit-sharing. Be transparent and make them part of the solution.

Experiment = Empowerment

Trying some new business practices may not always work, but just the act of piloting and experimenting is very empowering and can feel like you are taking advantage of this uncertainty rather than being a victim of it.

We will get out on the other side of this. By going on offense, you can emerge in Spring with a better customer engagement model and more loyal customers—all built on a lower cost structure.

Nathan Gilliland is a veteran entrepreneur and leader in companies where technology meets sustainability. Nathan is currently CEO of Bellwether Coffee, which is transforming the value chain of coffee, from farm to cup.  Bellwether provides hardware and software to coffee retailers to not just make better coffee, but to make coffee better.

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