How the Coronavirus Created a Worldwide Social Experiment in Our Restaurants
Harvard Business Review calls our current landscape a social experiment and we couldn’t agree more. COVID-19 and all that it comes with has created an entirely foreign experience for us all. Whether grocery shopping, ordering to-go meals, working from home or even walking our dog down the street, things have changed. We are literally writing the rule book as we go. The most disheartening part about all of this is that most scientific experiments have a desired outcome, a goal to achieve; that’s not the case here. Restaurants are just trying to survive the pandemic with no timeline and barely any parameters or support. This does not have to be a death sentence, but it does require change. Here’s the kicker, the extraneous variable to this experiment. Restaurants are evolving beautifully with all of the ups and downs that this pandemic brings, employees aren’t.
Don’t get us wrong, just about everyone is adhering to mask-wearing agenda and sanitation requirements, you know, the basics, but dive deeper, how has the consumer experience changed? Nearly every person on this planet is stressed out, begging for a break; that includes your employees. We all know that isn’t in the cards right now. They have to work harder and smarter than ever before, on top of everything else that was already required of them pre-COVID-19. A lot of that can be fixed with repetition and responsiveness from our team members and leaders alike, but the other half of the story is where things get interesting.
During COVID-19, we as the restaurant industry have inadvertently lost the trust of our customers, at no fault of our own. Consumers are panicked, especially around dining out. Add to that, the stress of historically high unemployment and you have a perfect storm for agoraphobia. We all need to accommodate these fears and realize we have even more work to do. It isn’t enough just to reiterate company standards. We must reinvent ourselves, just as the consumer as. At ACG, we created something to help, the pandemic protocol, the “4 R’s”: Retain, Retrain, Reassure, and Remain. Let’s dive in.
The 4 R’s:
- Don’t get so lost in growing your business, though important, that you forget about the loyal customers supporting you now. Just because they are a guaranteed weekly order, does not mean that’s a forever guarantee. Put in the effort to keep them happy, they will help you with the reassurance piece via word of mouth. Thus the retain. Retain your regulars. If they feel comfortable at your establishment, they’re likely to help spread the word for you. Word of mouth is an incredibly powerful tool, don’t end up on the wrong side of it.
- Conflict resolution: How’s your team at defusing “Karen” and her aggression towards not wanting to wear a mask? Teach them it’s more than just an apology or a scripted safety procedure. Teach them about the human aspect of the business and what that consumer is really chasing. Find ways to accommodate, others will see your actions and gain confidence in your leadership as a brand. In this day and age, young employees are much more willing to film an angry guest and post it to social media, versus managing the situation. If they are equipped with updated tools, they’ll fight for you. Retrain your team. Relying on outdated training materials is not enough, COVID-19 has changed everything.
- Be obvious about your efforts with safety and sanitation. I don’t mean loudly cleaning a table for all to see, although some may find that amusing. I mean doubling-down protocols via your digital presence. Reassure your guests of your procedures. Walk them through the steps you’ve taken. Make it part of conversations. Get credit for it! Its a lot of work, show them you care. Reassure your consumer that you are safe and welcoming place to visit in any way you can.
- There’s not a single restaurant out there that can say that they have remained the same after COVID-19 hit. It’s impossible and that’s okay! Think of what makes you and your restaurant you; why are you unique? And why do your consumers love you? Hopefully that answer is easy for you, if not, let’s chat. This should be a pillar of your brand, a foundation for you to stand upon. Anyways, I digress, if you realize that COVID-19 took away that unique aspect of your brand, that’s a “911”. You’ve lost your identity, the reason customers came to you in the first place. Remain the same. In other words, don’t lose what makes your brand special. Keep it front of mind in all transactions. Your consumers will subconsciously feel at home and maybe for a small moment forget about the pandemic. That’s the goal, right? Create those memorable experiences by being true to your brand.
Everything seems so inexplicably overwhelming right now. Take it one bite at a time (no pun intended, well.. maybe). When we train restaurants new procedures, we think of the smallest common denominator; we try to make it as easy as possible. In other words, the “4 R’s”, easy to remember, easy to implement. Okay, okay. None of this or will be a walk in the park, but there are lifelines out there that can help. Altered Concepts Group can teach these principals and more and help you wade this tough time.
Thanks for reading! In the future, if you’d like to read our thoughts about a specific subject, feel free to let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org. And please don’t be a stranger, www.alteredconceptsgroup.com