Keeping your guests informed and up to date about what to expect when dining at your establishment has never been so critical to the success of your foodservice operation. The restaurant industry remains in a state of constant change, and to maximize the allowable dining capacities, you need to up your communications game.
Start off by keeping these key questions top of mind for a more tactical approach to your communications:
First and foremost, a transparent and authentic approach is critical in achieving effective communications that will leave your restaurant guests feeling comfortable, safe and informed about the NEW dining experience at your establishment. Be first to share your health and safety procedures, operational changes such as seating and team updates, and menu modifications, so guests know upfront what to expect without having to ask. This tactic will help to demonstrate that your team takes the changing circumstances seriously, you’re informed, and you want to provide the best guest experience.
In a recent poll, 59% of respondents shared that they use Google to find out information about a restaurant, while 41% use Instagram.
Reservation booking platforms, search engine listings, your website, social media, and review websites all share pertinent information about your restaurant that informs guests decision-making. The information listed on these digital touch points must to be current and consistent for maximum awareness. There is nothing more frustrating for a guest than showing up to find a closed restaurant, when online it says it’s open.
Here is the key information guests are looking when they search; be sure to keep it updated:
TIP: Help reduce email inquiries, direct messages, and phone inquiries by providing a few frequently asked guest questions and up-to-date team responses on your website, Facebook, and Google Business page!
It’s easy these days to overuse the pandemic in our communication, however when the time is right, focus on the new and exciting things happening at your restaurant to entice guests back in to dine and continue to take out. New menu items, improved service, seasonal drinks, revamped décor and design, weekend events, and special occasion celebrations are all things to communicate that will remind guests of why they should choose to dine with you versus a competitor. Promote what you’re best known for, and feature it on all of your communications platforms!
Social media is your simplest and quickest way to share what’s happening at your establishment with guests, and to spark two-way communication. Up your posting to daily, and share the unique brand experiences that will excite guests the most. With health and safety top of mind for diners, ensure your photography and video content showcase your team following the proper procedures, in order to resolve any guest concerns; transparency is absolutely the best policy. When boosting your social media presence be prepared for increased guest inquiries through direct messages and comments, and have a plan in place to respond within less than 24 hours. The FAQs and responses are also a useful tool when responding on social media.
Whether you send monthly emails or have never sent email communication from your brand, now is the time to get in the inbox. You’ll be fighting for space, however email communication is a great tactic to provide more detailed information for guests to help keep them informed of your weekly or monthly happenings. E-newsletters should be short and sweet, with a catchy subject line, and include hyperlinks either back to your website or a direct email for more information. Utilize email communication to feature operational and safety news, menu features, and special events.
TIP: Can’t afford a graphic designer? Try Canva at no charge for a well-designed branded e-newsletter you can create in no time.
Guests are eager and excited to get back to in-dining, and the most effective approach to filling your seats is to communicate timely and accurate information that sets a clear guest expectation. Your brand can’t over-communicate right now; it’s time to get loud!
Written by Kate Engineer and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com
It’s a fact. Restaurants across Canada are on the brink of reopening, whether to patio dining, in-restaurant meals, or both. Diners are understandably excited to return to their favourite culinary haunts. But what about restaurant staff, many of whom have been furloughed for part or all of the pandemic? How safe is it for them to return?
As Jeff Dover, principal of fsSTRATEGY Inc., says, “Very few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as spreading in restaurants; this includes areas of the country where indoor dining has been allowed. In short, the restaurant industry was [already] doing a good job of keeping staff safe.”
“Very few cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed as spreading in restaurants. In short, the restaurant industry was [already] doing a good job of keeping staff safe.”
Jeff Dover, principal of fsSTRATEGY Inc.
But keeping restaurant staff safe and having restaurant staff who feel safe are two different things. Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition has been petitioning provincial governments to improve restaurant workers’ protections like paid sick leave and overtime pay. As reported in the Toronto Star, Not 9 to 5, a non-profit providing resources for mental-health well-being among hospitality workers, recently introduced the Mind Your Health project. The project includes a certification program on workplace safety from a psychological perspective, along with an online survey to collect data on mental-health well-being among hospitality workers.
“The key for me is to ensure that staff wear masks and, even more so, keep six feet apart when possible,” advises Dover. “When staff have to be within six feet (e.g., taking orders, picking up food), the time of exposure should be limited. One of the primary challenges is tight kitchen spaces such as a line with multiple stations not six feet apart. Redesigning the menu to have fewer kitchen stations will help keep the staff safe. COVID-19 is more likely to be transmitted indoors and in close spaces. Redesign your workflows to eliminate or limit such interactions.”
Sanitize regularly. Tables, work surfaces, and other areas, both front and back of house.
Reduce staff sharing. For instance, kitchen staff should never share utensils at back of house.
Change your menuing. Other changes will need to be instituted to ensure the safety of both your guests and your employees. Reusable menus, for instance, may become a thing of the past. Many restaurants, says Dover, are putting QR codes on tables to limit contact with shared items. “When guests request menus, they should be provided with a single use copy. Condiments should not be kept on tables and should be sanitized before use. Cutlery should be rolled and brought to the table after the guests are seated. Simple adjustments like these will assist in limiting the spread of COVID-19 for both guests and staff.”
Appoint a COVID-19 point person. “I recommend having someone responsible each shift to ensure COVID-19 prevention practices are adhered to,” says Dover. “This person could also be the go-to for questions about practices being employed to keep customers and staff safe.”
Organize vaccination days. A number of restaurant chains in the US have said they are providing pay for staff to get vaccinated and are even helping their employees to book appointments.
Offer paid sick days. This is key, says Dover. “You don’t want staff to come to work when they are not feeling well. Take advantage of federal and provincial paid sick day programs if you can. Paying sick days will be less expensive in the long run than having your restaurant closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.” Should you experience an outbreak, make sure you have records of which employees worked when, along with info on your dine-in restaurant customers and who served them. Contact tracing is key.
Ramp up your communication. Let your staff know what you’re doing to keep them safe, and then inform your guests of the steps you’ve introduced to keep them – and your employees – safe. “If you are able to pay sick days, I would communicate it,” Dover advises. “The restaurant chains in the States paying staff (I heard two to four hours) to get vaccinated received great publicity. We have seen in jurisdictions that have opened up that there is significant pent-up demand. However, not all staff will be comfortable working and not all potential customers will be comfortable in dining rooms. Communication on the safety practices being employed will help alleviate any such fears.”
Employee safety, testing and validation will be key to successful restaurant reopening. Healthcare and foodservice workers may be required to validate their health status before handling food in the post-COVID-19 environment. Here are some protocols you should initiate to ensure the highest level of safety:
Written by Jane Auster and shared with permission from chefconnexion.com.
Even before COVID became part of our daily vocabulary, the foodservice and beverage industry had high rates of mental health challenges and substance use issues. It can be a stressful job at the best of times and the long, variable hours and fast pace make it difficult to always take care of ourselves. Burnout can take hold.
Running a restaurant in the midst of a global pandemic has ratcheted up the pressure, increased anxiety levels and created even more strain on our mental health. “The pandemic has made things worse in so many ways,” says Hassel Aviles, co-founder of Not 9 to 5, which she launched with executive chef and restaurateur Ariel Coplan in 2017. “This is everyone’s first global pandemic so we are all figuring it out as we go, but this has severe consequences.”
Through this challenging time, we’re all feeling extra anxiety, frustration, trauma and grief, she notes. Increased isolation due to physical distancing, job loss and business closures, financial insecurity, and a lack of sufficient support and resources are only piling on the pressure.
Aviles, who has worked as a bartender and server, knows firsthand the pressures and perils of the job. “Back then, no one was having conversations about mental health or addiction with staff.”
When Aviles and Coplan asked their hospitality community, 90 per cent said “yes” to experiencing mental health and/or substance use challenges. Their research and surveys over the last two years have revealed depression, anxiety, substance use, burnout and disordered eating as some of the top concerns.
There are some signs to watch for that can indicate someone you work with, or someone who works for you, might be struggling with their mental health:
Adapted from https://www.changedirection.org
“The best way for employers to ensure they’re paying attention is to create a working environment built on psychological safety,” Aviles says. “It means you feel you can be vulnerable with one another without experiencing any negative consequences. For too long, workers have been told to ‘check their emotions at the door,’ and this intolerance of vulnerability has created an environment of suppression.”
Aviles suggests creating a working environment where all team members are encouraged to seek help when needed, and have easy access to resources for mental health and substance use challenges. “It’s important to have an understanding of what supports are available including workplace accommodations, employee benefits and other means of support.”
Aviles and Coplan have created an online course to educate and train hospitality industry workers to better identify, understand, and respond to mental health and substance abuse challenges. They call it CNECTing, which stands for Change Needs Everyone Coming Together. “We chose this name because connection is essential to make a positive impact and change in our industry,” Aviles says.
Important Resource: Digital assets for the CNECTing course are available here.
Hindsight is 2020, as the old expression goes. Certainly, as we rounded the corner in 2019, the prospect of a bright new year was uppermost in our minds.
Who could have foreseen a pandemic that would upend every aspect of foodservice? But there is a resilience in the industry and a sense of optimism that once we return to some semblance of normality, or at the very least, a new normal, restaurants will shine once again. To get a better read on what’s in store for foodservice, we turned to our data partner, Technomic Inc., to take a deeper dive into the trends for 2021:
Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 spurred calls to action for foodservice companies to fight for social justice and equality. As a result, businesses across the supply chain are committing to working harder to produce meaningful change. We’ll see more conscious efforts to hire, mentor and promote (especially in leadership positions) minority races and ethnicities, as well as women. There will also be an uptick in internal antibias training, partnerships that support minority organizations and donations to social justice-related causes.
Stat: Nearly half (46%) of consumers report that it’s important to them that restaurants are engaged in social justice – consistent across all generations. In addition, more than two-fifths (42%) of consumers, including 59% of Gen Zers, express that it’s important to them that restaurants support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Base: 1,000 consumers ages 18+
Source: Technomic Canadian Omnibus consumer survey data
Example: Uber Eats waived delivery fees for consumers ordering from Black-owned restaurants throughout 2020.
As the pandemic rolls into another year, consumers will continue to prioritize safety when making restaurant decisions. They’ll favour operators who earn their trust by always executing strict sanitation and social distancing protocols, such as proper food handling, rigorous restaurant cleaning and limited indoor seating. This will lead to more touchless digital menu boards, contactless ordering and delivery options, pre-packed and grab-and-go items, tamper-proof packaging, and high-quality air filtration and ventilation systems.
Stat: Nearly two-fifths (38%) of consumers think restaurants could do a better job promoting their safety and sanitation protocols.
Base: 1,000 consumers ages 18+
Source: Technomic Canadian Omnibus consumer survey data
In anticipation of a vaccine, operators across the world will innovate highly buzzworthy products to attract guests back into restaurants and stand above the competition. This is a tactic we’ve seen Asian markets employ during a previous easing of lockdown restrictions. Compelling menu development will include inventing wacky mashups and next-level collaborations, expanding into new mealparts and dayparts, and investing in product improvements.
Stat: Most consumers agree that they are likely to visit a fast-food (65%) or fast-casual (71%) restaurant that they don’t typically patronize if it has a unique limited-time offer.
Base: 551 and 701 consumers ages 18+
Source: Technomic Ignite consumer data featuring the 2020 Canadian Future of LSR Fast Food & Fast Casual Consumer Trend Report
Example: Woodhouse Brew Pub launched a modern take on nostalgic TV dinner trays with its “Hungry Friends” reheatable meals. (Toronto)
COVID-19 has motivated both consumers and operators to quickly embrace foodservice technologies that offer contactless and/or touchless aspects, including mobile apps, ordering kiosks and digital menu boards. Operators will test more advanced technologies in the coming year as consumers continue to prioritize safety and convenience. On the horizon innovations will include more GPS tracking, voice ordering via an AI assistant, facial recognition systems and drone delivery to provide frictionless off-premise services, as well as greater investments in robotics to maximize labour efficiencies for both back and front of house operations.
Stat: Nearly a quarter (23%) of consumers 18-34 strongly agree that if available, they would be interested in having items delivered via innovative delivery technologies (e.g., drones, self-driving robots, etc.).
Base: 1,282 consumers who ever order off-premise
Source: Technomic Ignite consumer data featuring the 2020 Canadian Delivery and Takeout Consumer Trend Report
Example: Swiss Chalet updated its mobile app. The chain’s new version of its mobile app features an updated interface where guests can save their favorite items, collect coupons in the Coupon Wallet, opt in or out of receiving silverware with their order, tip ahead and more. It also includes a “giving” feature where customers can gift Swiss Chalet meals to friends and family.
Operators will increasingly look to black and deep purple ingredients in 2021. All of these ingredients provide a wow-factor colour when featured in food and drink, and some also have either umami flavour profiles or immunity-boosting benefits (due to their anthocyanin-rich capabilities). Ingredients to watch include dark berries, such as saskatoon serviceberry and blackcurrant; purple corn and potato; black salt, kale and gnocchi; activated charcoal cocktails; squid ink beyond pasta dishes; and ingredients in ashes, such as ash-covered cheeses, onion or leek ash, etc.
Example: RGE RD’s Purple City cocktail with Park Distillery vodka, Hanson Distillery cherry rye, maple saskatoon berries and plum bitters (Edmonton)
Movements to support Canada’s economy will grow as borders remain closed and small businesses continue to struggle. We’ll see operators increase their sourcing from area suppliers and visibly promote these collaborations on menus. At the same time, community-minded consumers will actively seek to patronize restaurants where their money also helps support local farmers and other purveyors. Driving this effort will be distributor partnership with local suppliers and producers that help spread awareness of their products and fulfill growing patron demands.
Stat: Approximately two-thirds of consumers (67%) say they are more likely to purchase and/or are willing to pay more for food and beverage that is locally sourced.
Base: 355 consumers ages 18-73
Source: Technomic Ignite consumer data featuring the 2020 Canadian Generational Consumer Trend Report
Example: The Pickle Barrel celebrated Ontario farmers by rolling out LTOs featuring local ingredients, including rainbow trout from Manitoulin Island and corn from Waterford
Off-premise services have served as a lifeline for operators throughout the pandemic. But as consumers grow accustomed to the perks of these occasions (i.e., convenience, speed and contactless experiences), operators are hedging their bets by incorporating off-premise into their long-term strategy to offset future dine-in disruptions. We’ll see an uptick in new and remodeled stores that emphasize takeout, delivery, drive-thru and curbside pickup, as well as new and upgraded technology to make these services seamless and distinctive.
Stat: Approximately a third of consumers say they plan on ordering food and beverage for takeout (38%) and delivery (31%) more in 2021 than they did in 2020.
Base: 1,000 consumers ages 18+
Source: Technomic Canadian Omnibus consumer survey data
Have you opened a drive-thru to supplement income from takeout and delivery? Here are some key considerations to make sure you have the safest, cleanest window selling environment, from Paul Medeiros, Managing Director, Consulting, Technical and Retail Audit Services at NSF International.
PHYSICAL DISTANCING REMAINS KEY
Drive-thru employees may find the two-metre distance guide challenging, especially if drivers stop their vehicle too close to the window or if staff need to take the meal out directly to a parked car. Here are some ideas that may help keep physical distance working:
1. Ensure your bollards are properly positioned (and present) to help guide drivers away from the window. Attach a small flag (similar to the flags you see protruding from the side of bikes to keep cars away.
2. If your drive-thru window design doesn’t allow the installation of a plexiglass shield (like those in grocery retail), train employees to avoid leaning out the window or moving closer than necessary to the vehicle. A plexiglass is still the best bet, and all you need is around 12 inches at the bottom to slide through products.
3. Place signage at your drive-thru menu board, letting your customers know that you’re ‘keeping space’ and asking them to do the same.
4. Consider using takeout trays for all drinks as they reduce the risk of employees making direct contact with customers.
COMMON TOUCH POINTS FOR THE CONSUMER
Restrict payment to tap only, online payments or other ‘frictionless’ ordering methods. If cash is used, the employee needs to wash hands thoroughly after handling the cash and before touching other surfaces or items. The debit card machine keys also need to be wiped down between customers.
COMMON TOUCH POINTS FOR THE EMPLOYEE
Conduct a safely check and verify the drive-thru window automatic open/close mechanism is working. Manually opening and closing the window introduces a common touchpoint.
Employees need to wash hands thoroughly after each customer order.
Even though your staff will wash their hands after each order, care must be taken to avoid hand contact. Bags are easier to handle in this case but takeout drinks and trays often result in hand-to-hand contact. Note: with all the extra handwashing, rotate employees often so that hands get a rest from washing.
Most customers are very considerate, but some have taken to throwing out potentially dangerous items in drive-thru trash receptacles. The option of removing these (and posting accompanying signage) is an option, but could result in greater littering. The most common option is to make sure the employees who handle the garbage wear adequate PPE (gloves and apron) and that the garbage is double-bagged. Assume all garbage contains potentially harmful materials including used masks.
Do not handle a bag or package after it has been given to a customer. If a customer tells you an item is missing from the order, hand them another.
Hospitals and nursing homes taught us long ago the value of ‘cohorting’ staff and patients. Cohorting basically refers to the segregation of people into ‘groups’ or ‘pods’ or ‘bubbles’ or ‘shifts’. By cohorting people and avoiding contact between cohorts, you minimize the spread of infection. If someone in a cohort gets ill, then only that cohort is affected. The food industry has been applying this concept as one way to address COVID-19 risks. This should serve as a reminder to all foodservice companies with multiple sites to make sure they limit their employees to working one site only. If possible, maximize employee hours so they are not incentivized to work multiple part-time jobs, which introduces them to various ‘cohorts’ and could increase both their risk and yours.
And two other tips:
• DRIVE-THRU SHOULD SUPPLEMENT TAKEOUT. Not everybody has a car so recognize you may be missing out on sales if you do away with instore/curbside takeout.
• CASH MAY STILL BE KING AT TIMES. Not everybody has access
to noncash payment options, so be prepared to have to handle some cash or deny
some customers access to food.
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