It’s easy for restaurant experiences to be impersonal and ordinary right now, with face masks and takeout containers dictating the nature of dining. With so much of a focus on health and safety, other details and levels of service are understandably pushed to the backburner. This presents an opportunity for foodservice operations to stand out by elevating guest experience in the age of COVID-19, giving consumers a sense of exceptional service and memorable experiences they used to source from restaurants. While the safety of guests and staff should remain the top priority, there are a few strategic ways that operators can elevate their service to retain and grow business right now.
Upgrade Your Takeout Experience
The area of restaurant operation that presents the most opportunity for improvement is takeout and delivery. There has been a massive uptick in these markets over the last year due to widespread restaurant shutdowns and restrictions. And while it’s impressive to see how many businesses pivoted to offer these services, they are sometimes executed with less care than is given to dine-in service.
Restaurants can stand out to diners by ensuring they put as much care into delivery as the rest of their operation. Delivery is still all about the guest experience and your value proposition. While you can’t control the service that the third-party companies provide, you can control the dining experience: the quality of the food, the temperature of the food, the presentation, etc. A poor guest delivery experience reflects poorly on your brand and can affect not only future delivery orders but eat-in visits as well. Make sure that every guest’s dining experience is the best it can be. Only include items on your delivery menus that you know are going to “travel” well. Also, put care and consideration into the guest experience when they receive the food – how it is packaged, the containers that you use, and so on.
With new liberties awarded to restaurants this year, there is further opportunity to elevate your takeout offerings by providing alcohol to go; wine pairings and takeout cocktails will serve to upgrade and differentiate your restaurant’s takeout service.
Restaurants can easily elevate guest experience by differentiating their offerings, atmosphere and more, with current restrictions in mind. With so many operational hurdles currently in place, many foodservice businesses are following similar models in terms of what they’re offering and what it looks like; you can stand out and build your reputation by doing something different.
For example, if you have a patio, you can offer branded blankets to keep guests comfortable. Offering unique photo opportunities in your space can also provide a safe way to make any meal more special. In areas where indoor and outdoor dining are halted, restaurant operators can plan these initiatives in advance, to hit the ground running upon reopening.
Aside from fun, entertainment-focused initiatives, it is also essential to make sure everyone feels safe in your environment. Considering your guests’ different levels of comfort will go a long way in elevating their experience and demonstrating your commitment to excellent customer service. Provide various seating options, such as indoor vs. outdoor, larger and smaller tables, and ensure that all patrons are abiding by your business’ protocol as much as possible. Due to the pandemic, some diners will be more hesitant than others to return to restaurants, so having options and regulations to keep everyone feeling safe is key.
Lastly, stay connected with your customers to keep them in the loop and engage with them on a deeper level. Ensure that you update your social media channels and website with any changes to your hours of operation, menu, capacity, etc., so guests always have the correct information. With protocol changing quickly and consumers increasingly relying on digital mediums to get information and interact with businesses, this is crucial to providing excellent customer experience.
You can also interact with your audience on a more personal level. Share photos of menu items to keep people engaged with your brand and maintain top-of-mind awareness, even if you’re closed. Reposting user-generated content on social channels is also a great way to show that you care about your customers and are engaged with them in person as well as digitally.
All in all, there are many hurdles preventing restaurants from providing the same levels of service and experience now as pre-COVID. But with a bit of effort and creativity, your restaurant can stand out by aiming to provide a 10 out of 10 guest experience, even amidst a global pandemic.