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Self-isolation and social distancing measures due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are impacting restaurants worldwide. Depending on the public health recommendations in your region, you may need to close some or all locations immediately or adjust operations to takeout/delivery-only en masse. Additionally, from our own research, we’ve seen a significant spike in search queries for terms like “food delivery”, “drive-thru”, and “take out near me”, further indicating consumers are seeking convenience and searching for restaurants like yours to satisfy this need.

In this post, you’ll learn the critical local marketing implications of this action for multi-location restaurant brands—and what you need to do now to protect your customers, employees, and brand reputation.

COVID-19 Food Service Business Interruptions – Follow Public Health Recommendations

Above all else, please ensure that you are following the guidelines established by municipal, provincial or state, and federal governments in your region. Keep in mind that COVID-19 is a fast-moving issue and that regulations are changing quickly. Additionally, the CDC regularly updates its website with the latest alerts regarding COVID-19. 

As you may know, always look to official government and public health agency publications (including their website) to verify any information you are hearing or reading before making a major business decision.

3 Steps for Managing Local Presence in Coronavirus-Related Restaurant Business Interruptions

1. Prepare a contingency plan that can be executed at scale as locations are affected in different regions. We recommend asking the following questions:

  • How and when will your franchisees and local managers notify staff of business interruptions?
  • Who is the point of contact at corporate for franchisees or local managers uncertain of their obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What communications can you prepare now at the corporate level to ensure that the information being distributed to employees, customers, and the general public is an accurate reflection of your brand’s values?
  • How can you support each location in communicating this information to customers? (More on that below.)

2. Prepare messaging appropriate for the channels in which it will be distributed.

  • If your message is simply that “X” number of restaurant locations have closed until further notice, keep it simple. Members of the public are being overwhelmed by email communications from every list they ever joined. It may not be necessary to send an email blast at this time. It also may not be useful to send a media release given how overwhelmed all media are with COVID-19 coverage.
  • If you do have a lot of information to convey—for example, you are transitioning to takeout and delivery-only across a set of stores and need to communicate your enhanced sanitization standards and how people can order—prepare one long-form communication. Publish it on your website and syndicate it to each of the affected local landing pages
  • Restaurants can receive online orders for pickup or delivery directly from Google Search, Maps, or the Assistant (if you are in the United States, Australia, or India). Ensure all restaurants that are open and able to have pickup/delivery orders are utilizing this feature in Google My Business.

Takeout order example

  • Mark those restaurant locations that have closed as “Temporarily Closed” on Google My Business.
  • Update the business description for each restaurant location that has closed, changed hours of operation, or is adjusting their operations in any way. Let customers know how they should reach you and what precautions you are taking (and that they should take, as well).
  • Add updates to make your customers aware of any restaurant closures.

Google Post Restaurant Closure Example

  • Make good use of Google Posts to have visually engaging cues in your Knowledge Panel that draw the eye in the SERPs to the important information you are sharing. Remember that you can link to a blog post, webpage, or other longer-form sources of information from your Google Post.
  • Publish major changes to your Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts with a link to the longer-form notice for more information. Include an email address or phone number for those who have questions or need help. Where possible, use the “announcements” feature for a period of time to keep the notice at the top of your brand’s feed.

Social Media Restaurant Announcement

3. Keep channels open for employee and customer communications and feedback.

  • Continue monitoring reviews to ensure that any negative input is escalated to the appropriate person and that positive reviews are acknowledged. This is a time of uncertainty and stress across the board. However, as your business operations return to normal in the future, the reviews generated today will live online for all to see. *Note: Google has currently suspended new reviews and they will not appear on your Google My Business profile. At this time, it’s uncertain if new reviews will be posted once Google lifts this ban. Yelp and your social media channels still remain great alternatives for receiving and responding to reviews.
  • Dedicate an email inbox to employee communications. Make sure this is distributed at the local level and that employees receive a response to their communication with head office or corporate. Again, there may be stress and frustration expressed in the coming weeks and months as the pandemic affects our way of life. Some employees may want to be heard and it is better to give them an internal channel to achieve this than to have them feel their only method of communication with the brand is through an online review or on your social channels.
  • If it is possible to have these channels manned, turn on messaging through Google My Business and Facebook so customers can contact you instantly for assistance.

The near future holds a great deal of uncertainty for us all. Focus now on continuing to nurture the trust your customers and employees have in your company by communicating clearly and effectively. Keep your local pages and local listings up to date across the brand to avoid inadvertently sending customers to a closed location or otherwise communicating misinformation at the local level. 

For the latest information on how COVID-19 is affecting restaurant operations in the USA, please see the National Restaurant Association’s ‘Coronavirus Information and Resources’ webpage.

North of the border, look to Restaurants Canada’s Navigating coronavirus: COVID-19 resources for foodservice operators