There are a few key steps restaurants can take to ensure a transparent dining experience.

There is a lot of disparity right now in terms of what is acceptable and appropriate in the post-COVID world. While some feel comfortable jumping back into their routines and social interactions, others remain cautious and hesitant. This inconsistency can be especially difficult for restaurants, as consumers have varying expectations from their dining experiences.

A sense of safety can be quite personal, so managing guest expectations ahead of time can go a long way in avoiding conflicts or negative reviews. There are a few key steps your restaurant can take to ensure a more transparent dining experience for consumers in this new normal.

Audit Your Social Media

It may be a no-brainer, but your social media needs to be in line with the current experience you are offering at your restaurant. And this applies to both messaging and images. It is not acceptable to resume your pre-COVID posting schedule; time must be spent carefully crafting new posts. Make sure that you share multiple posts that detail your health and safety protocol, updated hours of operation, capacity, etc. Up to date images are essential too; help your guests manage their expectations ahead of time by showing them exactly what is going on: do you have sanitization stations at the front? Is there a Plexiglas set up? Are masks required for staff and guests? You can rely on old photography to share when it comes to menu items or other things that have remained constant, but not for things that have been overhauled.

Aside from what you decide to post, you will likely have a lot of questions on social media right now. It is a good strategy to put together a list of standard responses to both questions and complaints. Determining how you will address concerns and explain your decisions ahead of time will make this process a lot easier. This is the moment to have quick response times, too. Help ease concerns by quickly getting back to your followers and having someone on standby to field questions. This will go a long way in showing your customers the care and effort you are putting into reopening, with them at the top of your priority list.

Develop a Consistent Message

In-depth and ongoing staff training will be vital to set clear and consistent standards. It is a good idea to compile a list of FAQs and run through the approved responses with your team. Ensure all staff are aware of the new protocol and initiatives in place so that they can relay and explain this information to guests.

There can sometimes be misinterpretation when it comes to who is enforcing health and safety measures at restaurants. While some initiatives are that of the owner or manager, others are government guidelines and out of the control of management. If customers question your protocol, it can be helpful to reiterate that you are operating under the guidance of your jurisdiction.

Reiterate Your Protocol

Having strategic signage inside and outside of your restaurant can field initial questions and concerns from guests. This is a great opportunity to be upfront and set expectations, similarly to social media. For those who don’t look at your restaurant’s Instagram, physical signage is another good platform to cover your bases. You can set up A-frame signs, posters, etc. detailing PPE protocol, updated menu, new seating arrangements, reservation policy and more.

Keep Your Options Open

At the end of the day, some guests may disagree or feel uncomfortable with the systems you currently have in place, even upon managing expectations. The best way to provide a positive customer experience in this situation is to have other options available. Keep your customers apprised of your offerings outside of dine-in service. If you still have take-out, delivery, meal kits or anything else available, let your followers know on social media or through signage. Many people will remain hesitant about dining at restaurants for some time, and keeping them in consideration will go a long way in developing a positive reputation for your business.

One of our North American clients who has successfully managed guest expectations is Pidgin Restaurant.

They are consistently using their online platform to keep customers apprised of protocol, openings and menus while maintaining delivery service through an app, FromTo, that doesn’t require a service charge from restaurants. The owners have even created a COVID-19 handbook for guests, detailing the new experience for entering the restaurant, ordering, using the washroom and paying the bill. While continuing to share photos of their incredible, imaginative menu, they have pivoted to focus on communication and transparency.

These are unprecedented times, and there will likely be disagreement over how restaurants, or any other business, should operate for some time to come. Aside from striving to create the safest and most positive experience for your customers, it will benefit your business to manage expectations ahead of time.

David Hopkins is a restaurant financial expert with more than 30 years in the hospitality industry. He is specialized in menu engineering and systems and procedures to increase restaurant profitability. In 2001, David Hopkins launched a consulting firm dedicated to maximizing restaurant profits through effective sales generation and disciplined cost control management. Over the last sixteen years, The Fifteen Group has grown to be Canada’s number one hospitality consulting company, with offices located in Toronto and Vancouver supporting clients from owner operated establishments to multi-unit restaurant corporations. David has recruited industry leaders to assemble teams of Consultants, Executive Chefs, and specialized restaurant Accountants who have supported more than 950 restaurants. Under David’s leadership, The Fifteen Group team has helped clients achieve more than 20 million in increased profits during this time frame.

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