Why So Many Restaurants Were Unprepared to Deal With The Pandemic – From a Marketing Point Of View

First of all, my heart goes out to all restaurant owners, I understand that the last year has been incredibly difficult.

That being said I have a few thoughts from a marketing perspective. Before the pandemic, my experience was I saw very few restaurants doing strategic long-term marketing planning.

Most were doing inconsistent, haphazard marketing. They had no marketing plan to fall back on during COVID_19.

For example, I dined in many restaurants before COVID_19 and I can’t remember one occasion where an attempt was made to capture my email address or cellphone number so they could encourage me to come back again and again. Far too many restaurants treat their customers like “one-night-stands”.

Research has shown that email marketing is one of the most cost-effective tactics for restaurants. It’s targeted, personalized marketing, but few restaurants consistently take advantage of it.

I would venture to assume that restaurants that had a consistent email marketing strategy were in a much better position to communicate with their regular customers to keep them updated and maintain their relationships.

Imagine you were the type of restaurant owner who relied significantly on dine-in for your daily revenue and all of a sudden you have to switch to delivery and pick-up only, how to get that message out to your customers?

What about social media? Yes, that could work, but you need to be prepared to invest a few dollars to get the reach because organic reach alone will not be effective for most restaurants.

According to the last data I saw, the average restaurant has about 600 followers. And you have to remember that Facebook says they will only show your posts to about 10 % of your followers for free.

In my opinion, a significant number of restaurants do social media marketing all wrong, they have no objectives. Posting photos of your dishes is the minimum, but for many restaurants, that is all they do.

When it comes to what strategy restaurants should be using, it’s not email marketing vs. social media, it’s BOTH! And there are many other marketing strategies that restaurants should have been using consistently before and after COVID_19.

There is no marketing silver bullet for restaurant owners. Even with a limited marketing budget, restaurants can still use a multi-channel marketing mix.

They need to find strategies (free and paid) to find more customers and to get them to order online or dine-in again and again.

Every restaurant owner knows that the profits come from getting lots of repeat, regular customers, but few put in place a marketing system to achieve this.

Another reason so many restaurants were unprepared for a shutdown is they had no website or a poor one, so they were not positioned for online ordering. Some went to delivery services like Skip The Dishes, but they take 20-35% of the order which often leaves very little for the restaurant owner.

My contention is that too many restaurants were just surviving before COVID_19 due to their lack of effective, consistent marketing.

So, when COVID_19 came along it didn’t take much to push them over the edge. Will the surviving restaurants focus on improving their marketing even more so they will be in an even better position to cope when another crisis like an economic collapse comes along?