Oh hello there…

Streets are deserted, restaurants are closed, the outside is quiet. Nearly two weeks into government-enforced isolation and social distancing here in the UK, it’s starting to feel a bit more surreal. Are you all still out there? It’s hard to tell, apart from these little fluorescent rectangles telling me so – I’ll have to take their word for it.

Earlier this week we discussed how best to keep your team motivated and engaged in a time of crisis, you can check out this fantastic blog post here, but there is a second group of people you want to keep in touch with, your guests!

When your team return with their A-game, ideally you’d like some guests to tip up and join the fray. Here are five ideas on how to keep in touch with your guests and to keep them engaged with your restaurant during coronavirus or any crisis.

1 – Keep active on social media channels

Now is a great time to focus on some details which might not always get your full attention, or perhaps have never had your attention. You’ve got it, your social media channels are probably your critical lines of communication with your guests at this time. Especially with everyone at home scrolling.

If you’re new to the world of social media, I’d choose one platform and do it well. With over 372 million posts of #food, easy to use with aesthetically pleasing layout, I’d say the best bet for restaurants is Instagram.

Keep them up to date with your news, share any professional pictures you have, re-sharing content is also fine! The likelihood is you won’t need to create new content, here lies the opportunity to have a look through all your tagged and hashtagged photos from your guests, ‘like’ them all, share them on your story, re-post the good ones on your feed and make sure your tag the original account.

Comment on things and engage positively with the community, other restaurants, loyal guests, maybe even your suppliers. Gentle reminders that you’re still there and excited for re-opening, even if uncertain, better to be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.

2 – Email newsletters and updates

Emails are essential for keeping those not on social media, such as your older guests or those currently detoxing (me), up to date. With more time in my day, more time at my laptop and considering the current climate, I have been reading everything coming into my inbox.

Here is where collecting guest email addresses really shows its benefits. You might be surprised by how many you have through various channels: signed up via your website, through online reservation systems, or if you operate a digital and emailed VAT bills and receipts system such as TableYeti. (Check GDPR compliance)

Now you have your list of contacts, time to start keeping them up to date with your restaurant news, plans, and how you’re getting on during this torrid time. If you are new to mass mailers, we’d suggest Mailchimp would be a great launching point.

A company we must shout out for being excellent with their email updates and communication is the restaurant group Maray in Liverpool. The emails are clean and well-branded (just like their website), typically sent once a month giving updates on their events such as gin tastings or book clubs.

Since the current crisis, Maray has been sending regular updates on their vouchers available for purchase, the health and hygiene measures they are taking. Raising awareness for delivery/ collection service, keeping their readers informed of the status of all their restaurants, and thanking their guests for their superb support. As a subscriber, I can tell you it has been very informative and often heartwarming.

3 – Gift voucher promotions

Gift vouchers, as I’ve just hinted with Maray, are a great way to drive future business loyalty and for a bit of a cash injection. It’s okay to be reasonably transparent about this, from what we’ve seen online guests have been keen to support their favourite restaurants by buying gift vouchers, you could incentivise them by giving 10, 15, 20% etc. as Maray have.

Now you can make your guests aware of your gift voucher promotions by talking about it on your social media and emailing your guests an update!

4 –  Live stream a cook-a-long 

Guess where this idea came from? An email that arrived in my account this morning from the wonderful Stem + Glory! They are hosting an Instagram Live cook-a-long three times a week at midday. They’ve sent a beautiful email telling me what they’re going to cook and the ingredients I’ll need. Being mindful with plenty of substitutions, options and alternatives if ingredients are challenging to find or as you’re shopping less frequently.

To host your own, you need to choose a couple of recipes with editable substitutions, post the ingredients on your Instagram and/or out in an email with a time and date for your Instagram Live, and get a willing chef involved to demonstrate.

It doesn’t have to be perfect (I’m cooking tomorrow with 2/3rds of the ingredients), your viewers will love the effort and may even learn a few things, these are the days to practice your cooking skills after all.

Case and point that emails are great, Instagram is great, and that this is a super idea.

Ps – Stem + Glory’s cook-a-longs are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 12 noon on their Instagram @stemandglory if you’re interested. I’m genuinely excited to vary my meals and learn something new.

5 – Hold a cook-off competition

Everyone needs to eat, everyone, therefore, should need to cook, and shopping less often means my cooking is undoubtedly getting more and more inventive.

Set up a cook-off competition? Well, why not indeed. Have guests send in their ready steady cook style recipes with pictures of their food or even a video explaining their dish, you can judge them on content, presentation, inventiveness, wildcard ingredients, the list goes on.

The parameters for the challenges could be:

  • the best meal from “5 store cupboard ingredients.”
  • create your “favourite dish on the menu.”
  • best “lookalike dish challenge” to one of your signature dishes

Give viewers three random ingredients to make a meal out of, best home brownies – it literally could be anything but try and make it relevant to your restaurant.

Raise awareness of it through, you guessed it, your social media and email. Encourage guests to send their recipes to you via email or even better have them post the pictures and videos on social media with your restaurant tagged and a dedicated hashtag (the punnier, the better), which will also raise your social media profile.

I’d take part, so you have your first participant right here 🙆🏼‍♀️.

6 – Blog

Now, bear with me on this and hear me out. Get those creative juices flowing and start a blog on your restaurant website, there are literally hundreds of things you can talk about, and it’s actually quite therapeutic to write (as I’ve discovered in the last week).  

Your topics could include stories about the restaurant; how it cames to be, the story behind your cuisine, your inspirations, how you curated your wine list or your favourite dessert. Your writing doesn’t have to be informative and helpful, people love stories, stories are what we establish connections to and how we fall in love with brands. A strong brand is really just another version of a good story.  

If you fancy being helpful or informative write about your experience of setting up and owning a restaurant, you’re the ones that have done it after all! What were your biggest challenges, five things you wish you’d known before, the things you thought were going to be hard but turned out leisurely, advice for someone else thinking the same, review systems, products, wines or promote your suppliers?  

Even if you’re not a great writer talking about yourself is the most natural thing in the world, you’ll be surprised how easily it comes to you.  

Do I now need to tell you to let everyone know via social media and email updates that you’ve written a blog post? By this point hopefully not.  

To sum it all up, we are social beings, and everyone in the world is craving a bit of social interaction at the moment, its the perfect time to reach out and engage online. I believe it was an online digital marketing video that told me that you are 80% more likely to buy a product if you follow the brand online. Establish that community and relationship now, so when you re-open people will remember and be primed to return to dine with you!   

We hope this has provided you with a little inspiration, we’d love to hear from you about; your ideas, triumphs, thoughts, online cook-a-longs(!) and how you’re finding things.  

If you fancy reaching out, you can also find me at [email protected] or here on LinkedIn.

Take care, keep safe, keep strong and keep connected.

With love from the TableYeti team

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