Politics has pushed COVID-19 coverage further down in the headlines in recent weeks, but the coronavirus hasn’t gone away—and many medical experts predict the pandemic will worsen as temperatures drop in the fall and into the winter. Pizzerias have weathered the storm better than most in the restaurant industry so far, but operators must continue to think ahead and plan for a challenging winter. In this new series of articles, we turned to leading pizzeria operators, chain executives and consultants to get their advice on how operators can keep their doors open through the remainder of 2020 and beyond.
Richard Bailey, Client by Design
Author, guerrilla marketing coach, consultant and technologist Richard Bailey is the president of Client by Design, a provider of marketing communications tools, products, and services for local/small businesses. In an email interview, Bailey offered his insights for marketing to customers and creating a satisfying dining experience.
PMQ: Assuming the coronavirus actually worsens in the fall, what’s the No. 1 smartest move a pizzeria owner can make to keep their doors open?
Bailey: Now is the time to build a customer list if you haven’t already. Customers will need to know that you’re open for business and that you’re actively preparing and selling the foods they love. We encourage our clients to use a text messaging system to stay in touch with their customers. During any crisis, including the COVID epidemic, customers can be notified of specials, promotions and new dining options and just be reminded that your business exists. You can email or, better yet, call your customers by phone for a personal touch, and you can also use an automated system like our own TextMotive to reach them on their mobile device.
Start looking at easier cashless options to take payments. Do it for the safety and comfort of your customers. If at all possible, allow customers to place orders online (to limit waiting around at your location and to avoid possible currency shortage issues). If your payment system isn’t touchless, find out what options are available from your POS provider to allow already stressed and weary customers to not have to press buttons or sign documents for payments to go through.
PMQ: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen restaurant operators make during the pandemic?
Bailey: In the quest to become touchless, some businesses make customers feel as if they’re going to a funeral, hospital emergency room or the DMV to get their car registered. Customers should always feel as if they are getting a dining experience even when doing takeout. Smile, thank them, ask them to come again, or at least say, “See you soon.” Be optimistic, and remember “touchless” should never mean personality-less. Let your personality come through that mask, and let your customers feel important, appreciated and cared for.
PMQ: Assuming the unemployment rate doesn’t improve significantly by the fall, how can pizzeria owners create a sense of value for their cash-strapped customers?
Bailey: By staying in touch with customers you can remind them of specials and promotions that are sympathetic to their current income situations. You don’t have to give away totally free food, but you can offer more for a customer’s money by adding additional items to larger orders, especially for families. Also, include coupons for their next purchase and, of course, stay in touch with your customer list and make sure they know that you understand the current economy and how it affects your customers.