For restaurants, the pandemic is the start of a new normal. Off-premises dining became the only option for restaurants to bring in sales during COVID-19. It’s wise for restaurants to be set up with off-premises dining options, including no-contact online ordering, pickup, and delivery. Even now, as restrictions and closures begin to lift, restaurants still need to maintain a heavy focus on off-premises dining, since customers may be understandably wary to return to dine-in activities. This presents new challenges, especially since restaurants must keep their customers safe and help slow the spread of COVID-19 by adhering to safe and sanitary operations and guidelines.
1. Offer No Contact Delivery, Payment, and Pickup
Because everyone is aware of the health and safety concerns with COVID-19, it’s essential that your customers feel as safe as possible in their dining experience, from order to fulfillment. There are a few ways you can accomplish this.
The first is a no-contact delivery option, which is perhaps the most effective way to ensure safety. You can do this through your own restaurant, or integrated third-party services. Delivery staff can drop off orders at customers’ doors and let them know when it’s ready by phone call or text. Contact is not only minimized, it is entirely avoided.
The second is a no-contact payment option. Your online ordering system should ideally be set up to take payments through your website or app, making the process quick, easy, and secure— all while ensuring your customers’ safety. If that’s not possible with your business, you can accept credit card orders over the phone. If you must accept cards in person, you may have to alter your processes to limit contact as much as possible. For example, the employee can hold the payment processor, or the processor can be covered, so all the customer has to do is insert their card, no button or signing required. It’s best to avoid cash, but if needed, make sure your employees wear gloves when handling cash, and changing them after every transaction.
The third is through no-contact curbside pickup and takeout options. Even as restrictions are being lifted, curbside pickup is becoming the norm. It’s important to have an efficient and safe pickup system in place, understanding the best use of the space outside your restaurant. It should have clearly marked entrance and exit paths, with signs and cones, to make it easy for customers and staff to navigate. Include parking spots for customers to wait in their cars and have their food brought to them, and a pickup table for customers to grab their food themselves if preferred. Consider technology that enables customers to notify restaurants upon arrival for no-contact pickup.
Staff members should be properly trained on all of these options, and on the most efficient and sanitary ways to do so.
2. Leverage an Integrated Restaurant Loyalty Program
With restrictions in place it hasn’t been an option to communicate directly with customers, as many choose to—or have no choice but to—stay home. This is why a restaurant loyalty program is more crucial now more than ever.
Loyalty programs enable you to stay in contact with your customers. They prevent customer relationships from slipping, since you can use customer data from a loyalty program to send emails, mailers, and text messages to communicate with them. This contact can include updates on business hours, menu changes, ordering and fulfillment options, and ways you are prioritizing safety.
With data from your loyalty program and POS system, you can create and promote personalized offers to your customers. For example, cater to what they like—don’t offer them the meat lover’s special if they regularly order a veggie burger. The idea is to turn data into actionable insights; tailored offers create much more personal customer experiences that are more likely to be ordered and remembered. Some examples of ideas are spreading the word about specials that you may have newly implemented during COVID-19 to keep customers engaged and excited, such as family bundles and meal kits.
A loyalty program is a tool that can be leveraged to encourage and reward loyal customers. It’s important to make sure your customers know their business is appreciated during this time. Because this is a special time, consider adjusting your loyalty rewards to match your adjusted business model, like giving extra points for delivery and family bundles.
3. Prioritize Safe Food Handling and Packaging
Safety and health are the number-one priorities during this pandemic. To keep your employees and customers safe, proper food handling and packaging is essential.
Ensure food is prepared properly and follows safe time and temperature requirements for optimal safety. Prevent cross-contamination among ingredients, meals, and kitchen supplies, like knives and cutting boards. Properly and regularly follow cleaning and sanitizing protocols. Ensure sick employees stay home and consider screening upon return by checking their temperature before their shift. Lastly, properly seal and minimize tampering for to-go containers, using receipt labels to do so. These are only a few tips to ensure safety and sanitation in your restaurant.
4. Promote Restaurant Gift Cards
Gift cards can be a great way to immediately generate revenue and interest for your business. This, with your online ordering, pickup, and delivery efforts, should be optimized to drive restaurant sales during the pandemic.
Gift cards can be promoted and sold during pick-up orders at your restaurant, or even promoted during the order and delivered with an online order. Electronically is the ideal today; customers can purchase gift cards online and have it sent to their email, eliminating contact altogether. This is also a great way to encourage customers to buy them as gifts for others—all they have to do is pre-pay for an electronic gift card and have it sent to friends and family.
Spread the word about gift cards through email and social media, and leverage holidays, such as the upcoming Mother’s Day, as gift opportunities for their loved ones. You can even offer special deals, such as BOGO half-off, and extra loyalty rewards for gift card purchases, like double points on gift card spending.
Thrive Beyond COVID-19
There are still ways to thrive in the new normal of off-premises operations. Off-premises dining is expected to remain the top choice even after restrictions are lifted and doors open back up. Therefore, restaurants should be looking for ways to maximize sales, strengthen customer loyalty, and prepare their businesses for the future.
HungerRush offers a range of revenue-boosting technology, such as HungerRush Online Ordering and Loyalty Program solutions, which integrate seamlessly into your POS and can assist you in your off-premises operations. For more information, view our Survival Guide Ebook, or contact an expert at HungerRush today!