Customer Engagement Takes on New Urgency for Restaurants

December 17, 2020
CCB_CommunityHero_12172020_Customer Engagement

As restaurants try to make their way through the current pandemic, it’s clear that customer engagement is more important than ever. If you make it easy for customers to reach you and keep up to date on what’s happening at your establishment, there’s a better chance they’ll choose you when they decide to dine out or get takeout.

The good news is, unlike building an outdoor dining space, customer engagement isn’t necessarily expensive. It simply means making effective use of technology and social media platforms, with perhaps a bit of creativity tossed in. In this post, we’ll run through some practical tips to ensure you’ve got your engagement bases covered.

Be easy to reach

At the simplest level, customer engagement means making it easy for customers to reach you via their chosen method.

Despite all the technology around us, many customers still want to simply call a restaurant and talk to someone, whether it be to make a reservation or place a takeout order. If they have to call repeatedly because the line is busy, they may well go elsewhere. Similarly, constantly being placed on hold is a turnoff.

A simple solution is to make sure you have enough phone lines – and personnel to answer them – so customers can get through without an issue. An extra phone line is not expensive; if it means one or two more customers can get through each month, you’re likely ahead of the game. Setting up your establishment’s landline to ring on your mobile device can also ensure you’re reachable even if you or staff have to step out.

Your website is also on the front lines of customer engagement. Those who don’t opt to call are likely to go there instead. So, basic information such as what your hours are, where to find menus, whether you offer outdoor dining, and how to make a reservation should be readily apparent to prospective customers.

If you do offer outdoor dining, post some photos to give customers a sense of the space, especially if you’ve invested heavily in it. It’s remarkable how many restaurants forget to take this simple step, especially when they’ve got nice, comfortable, socially distanced outdoor spaces.

Effective use of social media

Social media channels are a great way to keep customers updated on goings-on at your restaurant. Yelp is table stakes – your customers will be using it, so you should as well. Be sure to “claim” your restaurant so you can provide a link to your website and respond to customer reviews when appropriate. Showing appreciation or kind words and concern for those who had a problem shows true customer engagement.

Otherwise, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can help you get the word out about specials, events, or just to serve as a reminder that your place is ready to serve the public. Posting regularly can help keep you top of mind with potential customers. And they’re all viable, easy-to-use, and free online channels for posting photos of your place, including that outdoor space, your attractive dishes, and of customers having a great time.

Do think hard about special offerings and try to get creative. Family meal deals, for instance, appeal to families who may want to eat out or get takeout more often but can’t swing it with their budget. If you can offer them enough food to feed a family of four at a reasonable price, that’s going to be attractive.

Online reservations and takeout ordering

Encouraging customers to make reservations or place takeout orders online provides several benefits for your restaurant. For one, it will ease the burden on those taking phone orders – and likely reduce the possibility of staff errors. In a recent survey conducted by YouGov and Comcast Business, respondents indicated that the number one way they intend to support local businesses was by ordering takeout from restaurants and 44% said the number one technology feature that would spur them to shop more at local and small businesses was the ability to order online and pickup their goods.

Perhaps more importantly, online reservations and takeout ordering gives you access to a trove of valuable data on your customers. Used effectively and responsibly, you’ll have a record of each time a customer visited or got takeout and what they ordered. Armed with that data, you can then present highly targeted special offerings. Got a special on short ribs tonight? Be sure to let all your customers who ordered them within the last few months know about it, such as by email. When customers are placing an online order, past orders can help inform timely upsell opportunities.

Takeout orders have been ticking steadily upward for several months. In the last week of October 2020, 66% of adults said they ordered takeout for dinner, up from 58% during the last week of February, according to research by the National Restaurant Association.

That mid-60s figure has held steady since early May but is poised to head upwards. Among adults who ordered takeout for lunch or dinner in the last week of October, 32% said they expect to increase their frequency during the next three months. Making it easy to place orders will help ensure you get your share of that business.

WiFi splash page

Finally, a strong WiFi network should be business as usual these days for a good customer experience, and a requirement if you’re offering online menus. But WiFi is another opportunity for customer engagement.

Before allowing a connection to your WiFi network, send customers to a splash page where they will find relevant information about your restaurant, like menus, links to your social channels and upcoming specials. Also, use it as an opportunity to collect their email address and/or phone number, perhaps in exchange for a free drink or dessert.

This type of data can be valuable in later providing in-store personalization in real time, using systems that can identify customers by unique identifiers on their phones. If you can offer a customer a great deal on one of their favorite offerings on the spot, they’ll likely be both impressed and delighted. (Learn more about splash pages here.)

As we head into the winter months, it will be more important than ever to stay engaged with your customers in order to earn their repeat business. Hopefully, you’ll find some of these tips can enable you to do just that.

Learn about phone and internet solutions from Comcast Business.

Learn how restaurants are boosting customer engagement to attract diners online and off.

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