In early April, at the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, Response Labs surveyed consumers to find out what they thought about takeout/delivery from restaurants as a meal option. Six weeks later, we ran the same survey to get a gauge for how consumer preferences may have shifted. The results provide four keys to restaurant marketing during COVID-19 and roadmap for success in the coming months.
#1 – Lean-In On Takeout and Delivery
Unsurprisingly, as time has worn on and people have exhausted their meal options, they’ve become more receptive to restaurant takeout/delivery for their meal choices. While half of the audience is moving forward at the same levels they have been, consumers stating that they are now “less likely” to order takeout/delivery dropped a whopping 46% while people saying they would order “more” increased 41%. The biggest shift was from people that said that simply “won’t order” takeout/delivery declining 71%. That presents a clear market shift in favor of restaurants working on their non-premise offerings.
The biggest opportunity for restaurants based on this shift is to engage with these new takeout/delivery consumers with an onboarding journey that provides an excellent user experience. With fickle consumers who have many choices, you get one opportunity to make a great first impression. It’s unlikely that a consumer is going to place one order and become loyal right away. As marketers, we need to make sure that we provide the right personalized messaging, at the right moment, on the right device to give consumers that “This is awesome!” feeling we’re shooting for. This comes from having the right strategy, planning, technology and execution to start to build loyalty and drive increasing lifetime value.
Capture email and/or SMS number ASAP through incentives such as discounts, free delivery, etc. This is where digital messaging begins.
- Welcome New Subscribers/Customers
- Purchase Acknowledgement & Thank You
- Refer A Friend
- Excellent Experience Reviews
#2 – Price Appropriately for Takeout and Delivery
Since our first survey 6 weeks ago, what consumers expect to pay per person has risen. Those who expected to pay less than $10/pp decreased 22% while we saw increases at every level ($11-$15/pp, $16-$20/pp, $21-$25/pp, and $26-$30/pp.). The survey sweet spot is still in that $11-$15/pp range with 55% of responses. There was a nice 211% spike in the $21-$25/pp range.
Understanding consumer expectations is a key to getting the marketing messages right. Knowing that consumers are shifting expectations to higher costs presents the opportunity to deliver move value through targeted price points to drive purchase. A consumer who expects to pay $15/pp views an online offer for an entree that is usually $20 discounted down to $15 would feel the psychological gain of seeing this discount, but only if they discovered the discount themselves while on the ordering site — without promoting the discount. Otherwise, if a promotion is used, the consumer’s previous expectations are negated by the promotion. It’s the timing of the discovery of the pricing change that is important here.
Use available marketing channels and non-promotional messaging to get consumers to your online store or app, and then, and only then, show discounted offers only available in the store/app to provide the consumer with an immediate feeling of gain to convert them to make the purchase.
- Free Delivery
- New Product Offering
- Support Local
- Customer Reviews & Testimonials
For a more detailed look at these types of strategies, visit How Price Expectations Drive Customer Decisions.
#3 – Support The Local Community
In our first survey in April, supporting local businesses was the most important reason for ordering takeout/delivery, beating COVID-19 preparedness by restaurants by a fair margin. Surprisingly, price was a distant third. The latest survey shows that as the pandemic wears on, COVID-19 precautions are almost table stakes, and the importance of supporting local businesses has taken share from that, increasing a substantial 21%.
Restaurants, both local and franchises, can lean in on supporting local businesses as the pandemic persists across many parts of the country. This should be done in tandem with appropriate messaging and COVID-19 precautions the restaurants are taking, because not only is it the second most important reason consumers select a particular restaurant, but with more new consumers entering the market, it’s important to ensure them that their food, and families, will be safe.
Craft messaging and programs that support the local businesses. Supporting the local restaurants, or franchise with local employees, is one way. Another is to develop programs or partnerships with other organizations better suited to help those most in need. And don’t forget that while these are important, make it very clear that your restaurant is COVID-19 prepared.
- Donation per order programs – “For every order we deliver, we’re supplying one PPE to the local hospital.”
- Front Lines Specials – “For those on the front lines, enjoy a free XYZ on us!”
- Portion of Proceeds to Local Business – “We’re donating 15% of your orders to XYZ Barbershop and Salon who are providing free cuts to essential employees.”
- Get creative with your own situation.
#4 – Have a Long-term Plan Into 2021
In the April survey, 94% of respondents thought that dine-in restaurant restrictions would last less than 6 months. That figure dropped to 74% with a huge shift of people thinking that the restrictions will last 6 months or more.
Fortunately, many regions are already beginning to open dine-in options so this is partly do to unrealistic expectations on the consumer’s part. This is where communication is key. Make it easy for people to understand exactly where your restaurant is in the re-opening process. If you know the date that the reopening begins, get that in front of your customers and prospects. If you’re already open, use your available channels to communicate that along with your preparedness moves and any special instructions necessary to ensure safe transactions for everyone.
When restaurants reopen, it’s going to take an ongoing campaign to get people back in the dining room. A battery of messaging strategies make sense to test to figure out which combination entice visitors back to the dining room.
- Current, fresh reviews. People believe people. Incentivize customers and make it easy for them to spread the word about their good experiences.
- Demonstrate the lengths that you go to to keep the restaurant COVID-19 prepared.
- Show tables at appropriate distances from one another.
- Promote outdoor seating.
- Provide reservation start and end times to ensure proper restaurant turnover so everyone interested in dine-in gets a table.
- Continue to invest in the takeout/delivery experience. Restaurants have a big opportunity to keep their share of the uptick.
The New Normal for Restaurant Marketing
Who would have thought a few short months ago that the restaurant business would be turned upside down like this? It’s definitely frustrating, but successful leaders know that with change comes opportunities.
A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.– Winston Churchill
After the pandemic is over, the restaurant industry will not look the same. Dine-in is going to be different – with spacing, airflow, contactless transactions and more. Takeout/delivery are already stealing share from dine-in and that trend is likely to continue. How consumers view their relationships with restaurants will shift from “We’ll just go there to eat” to “I’ll swing by on the way home from work and get a good meal for the family to eat at home.”
No one knows exactly how it’s all going to play out, but what we can do is listen to consumers and operate in a lean environment allowing for testing, changing and ongoing optimization to grow our businesses in “The New Normal.”
We hope this survey data helped spark some thoughts for how you will approach messaging with your prospects and customers over the coming months. If there’s anything the Team at Response Labs can help with, just let us know.