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Marketing & Beyond: 5 Essential Strategies to Ensure Your Small Business Survives the Pandemic

The State of the Restaurant Industry

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on small businesses, particularly for those in the restaurant industry. “According to Yelp’s Local Economic Income Report from September 2020, there were 32,109 restaurant closures as of Aug. 31. Of those closures, 61%, or 19,590 closings, were permanent.” - USA Today. Thankfully, an overall decline in new cases, growing consumer confidence, and alternatives such as outdoor dining have buoyed many restaurants through the summer.

Unfortunately, the worst could be yet to come.

With the coming of autumn, we’ve seen a surge of new cases in the United States. With winter around the corner, the trend will no doubt continue. Coronaviruses similar to COVID-19 reliably peak in December or January. For restaurants here in the U.S., the coming winter will almost certainly exacerbate the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. Not only could the winter surge of the virus mean renewed mandates and regulations, but also more strictly tangible impacts as well.

The fate of outdoor dining.

During the warmer spring and summer months, outdoor dining offered restaurant owners a safe way to circumvent strict occupancy caps and maintain much needed cash flow. While it may yet be unsafe to lift restrictions on indoor dining occupancy, something must be done to assist restaurants. Without change, restaurants won’t be able to overcome the looming challenges coming in the winter months – they’re already barely hanging on in the face of enduring fears of the virus, tight margins, and compliance to the current regulations.

The outlook of the restaurant industry is bleak. Perhaps more than ever, small business owners must ensure that they are making use of every tool at their disposal to secure the success and survival of their business.

We’ve compiled 5 key marketing strategies that are essential to the survival of your business during the pandemic.


1. Keep your customers updated

By far one of the most important things you can do right now is to keep you customers updated. Widespread closures and special operating schedules have conditioned consumers to verify store hours and operating status prior to making plans. To make sure that your customers can visit with confidence, make use of your website and business search profiles to communicate your hours and services.

Your website and business profiles should highlight the following information

  1. Operating Status

  2. Hours of Operation

  3. Updated Menu

  4. COVID-19 Service Updates (delivery, takeout, dine-in, outdoor dining, supported delivery apps)

  5. A Message Regarding COVID-19 including safety measures and how your business is adapting business and making things safe for customers. You can also share your difficulties, appeal to customers, and thank them for their support.

Advanced Guidance on COVID 19 Yelp Optimization:

  • Yelp shows how long it has been since hours have been updated. If three or more months have elapsed since the last update, Yelp will display the disclaimer “Hours updated over 3 months ago,” to the right of store hours. Avoid this at all costs. Try to update hours at least once a month during this time so that customers have complete confidence in their accuracy.

  • Share images of any updates you’ve made to your restaurant to accommodate operation during the pandemic. If you have outdoor dining, a new quick service window, or if you’ve installed plexiglass separators, you’ll want to share that with your customers. If you have an enhanced business profile, we recommend you adjust your featured images to help reflect your COVID-19 friendly offerings.

  • Even before the pandemic, sharing a clear updated image of your menu offerings was incredibly important. The same is true now, especially if you’ve adjusted your menu offerings.

  • Yelp offers a feature to allow you easily communicate the availability of certain key services like delivery, takeout, and outdoor seating.

  • Along with these updated services, Yelp also offers the ability to share a COVID-19 Update message on your business page. Don’t leave this blank. This can be an incredible opportunity to share insights into your business and the precautions you're taking to make service safe for your patrons or draw attention to important new offerings or service changes.

Here's an example of what you should aim for with your Yelp profile.


Advanced Guidance for Google Business Listing Optimization:

  • Hours: Unlike Yelp, Google doesn’t show how long has passed since hours were updated. Instead, Google automatically shows a disclaimer that "Hours or services may differ." This is done to help maintain the accuracy of listings on Google during the frequent closures and hour changes on the pandemic. Luckily, removing the message is fairly simple if not entirely straightforward. To remove the warning message, simply edit your special hours on your Google business page. If you're not already familiar with this function, it's typically used to indicate changes to your regular hours for special dates such as holidays. Still not sure how? Here's Google's official guide on setting special business hours..

  • Similar to Yelp, Google allows you to highlight the availability of certain services such as dine-in, take-out, and delivery.. Be sure to update this section to reflect the latest offerings of your business.

  • COVID-19 update post: Google has added a special post feature to help businesses share information and updates about their response to COVID-19. These posts will show at the top of your business's knowledge panel that displays in Google's local search results. This makes them an ideal area to share updates about changes in hours, new safety measures, temporary closures, and more. Like other Google posts, COVID-19 updates will only last 14 days. We recommend keeping an active post at all times. If you want to keep the same message, you'll need to renew the post every 14 days.

  • Add secondary hours. If your dining room closes earlier than your takeout and delivery offerings, you should add "more hours" or "secondary hours" for your business. This can allow viewers to view a "see more hours" button next to your regular hours to get more detailed information.

  • In certain cases, other features offered by Google My Business can be powerful as well. For example, adding gift card buying or donation links can allow the community to support your business directly. You can also accept bookings and appointments for things such as online classes that your business may be offering during the pandemic.

  • Read more on Google's official guidance for businesses affected by COVID-19 here.


2. Social media

Restaurants can use Instagram and Facebook to keep connected with customers and updated on important changes to hours, outdoor dining accommodations, and new services. Social media is a highly underutilized tool in communicating with customers both in and out of the pandemic. Now, the online audience is even larger and the potential is even higher. Take this opportunity to stay connected with customers. Share details on your enhanced cleaning and safety protocols. Provide updates on operation status, outdoor dining availability, special menu items, and more. The right social media plan can go a long way in assuring customers feel safe returning to your business.

Shake Shack's topical instagram content is a prime example of thoughtful marketing during the pandemic


3. Optimize your customer experience and secure more reviews

Reviews matter. From SEO to projected conversion rates, studies definitely show that an abundance of positive reviews are closely related to the success of a business. Now with online searches peaking, reviews have an even greater impact. The best way to secure good reviews is to simply provide customers with a positive experience. With the dominance of the pandemic, however, there are new things that customers are seeking in a positive experience.

Create an environment that inspires consumer confidence and communicates that your business is proactive and considerate of your customer’s safety. Thoughtful safety measures like special partitions, open windows, air filters and hand sanitizer placed near the entrance and restrooms will go a long way in creating a good experience. Not only will these measures offer enhanced safety for your customers and employees, but it will also help improve the experience of your customers and inevitably lead to more positive reviews.

Safe dining precautions are a major influencing factor in generating both business and positive reviews

Delivery and takeout will almost certainly play a part in any successful business plan this coming winter. Consider adjusting your menu and your packaging to ensure that your customers will have a positive experience. Make sure that the food you offer on your takeout and delivery menu will hold up for at least 20-30 minutes in a to go container. Look into investing in higher quality packaging to improve the taste and presentation of these delivery and takeout orders as well. Don’t forget to update your customers through your website and social channels as you make these improvements.

Finally, don’t leave things to chance. Remind customers to check you out on your online business pages, especially your Yelp page. Just be sure to tread lightly in order to stay in line with Yelp’s strict guidelines!


4. Get creative

It's important to There are a few pioneering restaurants that have already begun to employ excellent strategies to create additional streams of revenue during the pandemic. Where states have relaxed regulations and have relaxed regarding “to-go alcohol sales,” businesses have found tremendous success selling cocktails, or cocktail making kits. Other businesses have keyed in on the demand for new experiences and self-improvement resources by offering cooking classes or cook-along kits. Innovative businesses have catered their menu to the new needs of customers while reducing their own operating costs by offering a new fixed menu of family meal solutions. Yet others have cut down on operating costs, their storefront in lieu of ghost kitchens and committing to online orders.

3 Times NYC has doubled down on their frozen food offerings during the pandemic
Auntie Anne's DIY Kits for making pretzels at home

5. Reassess your marketing plan

The pandemic has not had an equal impact on businesses in different industries. With restrictions and higher risk of infection in commercial areas, people are spending more time at home and in nature. This decrease in physical business has been accompanied by a trend of increased online activity. People are consuming more media, engaging in online self-learning, and doing more shopping online. Indeed, the New York Times reports that the tech industry has been largely immune to the economic effects of the pandemic and are in fact, reporting record earnings this quarter.

On the whole, there are larger audiences to be reached with social media, helpful organic content, radio, podcasts, and more. Additionally, for paid advertising, there are both more users online and fewer companies investing in advertising. This means the cost of reaching your audience, frequently measured as CPM, is lower across the majority of advertising platforms.

Savvy business owners will take advantage of these changes as they adapt their marketing strategies and perhaps invest resources in securing a presence on new platforms. For example, new offerings such as classes or cook-along kits can be effective avenues of supplemental income during the pandemic, and they can also be perfect resources for crafting powerful marketing plans on platforms that support video content.

With money tight, it can be important to find the right resources or enlist the right help to ensure that your marketing strategy is efficient and effective. Even if you're cutting your marketing budget or have simply not budgeted for marketing before, the increased potential returns means that it could actually be an incredibly economical time invest in your marketing.

If you're not sure where to start, get ideas flowing by setting up a free consultation with an advertising agency like our partner NU Media.


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