How Canadian restaurants can better assist customers during times of uncertainty

Natalie Green, Ryan Olohan / April 2020

Restaurants are at the social and cultural heart of many of our communities. They play a vital role in feeding us when we’re hungry and hosting our everyday moments and special occasions with families, friends and colleagues. They also play a critical role in Canada’s economy. In 2018, 7% of Canada’s workforce was employed in the restaurant industry, including one in five Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24.1 My own early jobs included scooping ice cream and serving coffee.

The pandemic presents unique challenges to this vital industry. And while the path forward is not yet clear, it has been amazing to see how many national chains and independently-owned restaurants have quickly pivoted their business models to provide their customers with expanded services across food pick-up, drive-through, take-out and delivery. It has been even more inspiring to see how despite these challenges, these restaurants have rallied to support our frontline health care workers by soliciting donations and offering complimentary meals.

There is no doubt that restaurants will have a myriad of decisions to make in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, here are some strategies that restaurants are adopting today to best support their customers in this unprecedented moment in time.

Help your customers plan and prepare

When uncertainty is top of mind, people are looking for accurate information they can trust. This is even more evident when it comes to accessible and available food options nearby. “Take out” search interest increased more than 100% from March to April, compared to the 30 days prior.2 Being there to help people navigate this new normal with up-to-date and relevant information can make all the difference.

Proactively communicating changes that affect your restaurant across customer-facing channels is crucial.

Proactively communicating changes that affect your restaurant across customer-facing channels is crucial in helping people plan and prepare. Updating your Google My Business Profile is one way to do this. Updates you make on your profile about your location, such as changes in your restaurant hours, including temporary closings or modified hours, will also appear on Google Search and Google Maps. And, at a time when people are assessing what best fits their needs, providing information, like whether you’re offering takeout or delivery is a way you can help users decide what’s right for them.

Communicate takeout or delivery solutions effectively

Consumer behaviour has changed as a result of national guidance to self-isolate. The focus has shifted from searching for “restaurants near me” to alternative mealtime solutions. We saw “delivery” search interest increase 130% from March to April, compared to the 30 days prior.3 And on April 15, as Canadians were prompted to participate in the launch of a weekly National Takeout Day to support local restaurants, we saw the largest spike in search interest for “take out” this year.

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Informing people of your alternate dine-out options helps your customers and employees during recommended social distancing periods. You can update your business listing, and solutions like Local campaigns can help you customize your communication to include only locations where you offer dine-out options such as drive-through or pick-up.

Reassure strict restaurant safety and sanitation measures

Today, more than ever, when choosing where and what to eat, safety is paramount. Reassuring customers that you understand the concerns for safety and are taking important steps to address the current situation is key.

These actions include sharing updates on new implementations, like whether you’ve established a dedicated team to focus on food safety. Other examples may include applying more stringent cleaning procedures, increasing the frequency of hand washing among staff, and updating training materials for employees.

Further, communicating your employee sick leave policy or addressing time off for ill employees is another way to show how you are minimizing the possibility of putting your workers and customers at risk.

Maintain consumer connections through times of uncertainty

Even during this uncertain time, there are opportunities for your brand to make meaningful connections with Canadians. According to Ipsos research commissioned by Google, 89% of Canadians believe it’s appropriate to hear from brands during this time,4 and more than half want to hear how brands are personalizing their approach to meet needs.5

Be helpful and ensure your message has an appropriate tone. By being present and providing customers with convenient choices, offering them relevant and accurate information, and alleviating their concerns about safety, restaurants will be providing their customer with assistance that they will remember and appreciate.

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