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The New Marketing Communications Playbook During COVID-19


As the restaurant industry begins to adapt to what is our new normal for the foreseeable future, business practices are transforming to adjust to government mandates and changing consumer behavior. With restaurants modifying operations, brands need to make sure they’re taking the appropriate measures to keep customers engaged and reminded that they are here to take care of their daily foodservice needs – particularly as the trips to the grocery store become less and less appealing. By adapting their communication and marketing messages across channels, brands can optimize customer engagement and work to retain customers during these unprecedented times. Here are a series of tactics brands can use to guide their current marketing and loyalty strategies.

Deliver Timely Communication (Multi-location businesses)

  • Ensure local franchisees and managers have the most up-to-date information regarding customer interaction guidelines, operations and campaigns with current offers
  • Create a two-way dialogue so franchisees and managers can provide insight into local government mandates that may differ from the national government or headquarters
  • Provide and share branded content for local social media use, for example at home how-to’s and recipes for favorite menu items

Build Trust Across all Channels

  • Determine and keep a regular cadence for customer communications with authentic and transparent messaging
  • Deliver customer-first messages through an omnichannel approach including, email, text, push notification, and social. Important Reminder: Don’t forget to un-schedule any non COVID-19 related messages that may appear insensitive
  • Gather, act on, and measure customer feedback to keep a pulse of customer sentiment and expectations

Refresh Website Content

  • Provide transparency into the health and safety procedures you’ve implemented. Share the messaging on local pages or link back to the corporate page
  • Ensure local pages are updated for changes to hours and any closures with information to the nearest open location
  • Highlight each location’s options such as online ordering with pick-up, curbside delivery, and third-party delivery; include the “how” so no questions are left unanswered

Update Google My Business (GMB) Listing Pages

  • Include current operating hours and any food service changes
  • If any locations are closed due to COVID-19, instead of removing the restaurant’s hours completely, use GMB holiday hours to indicate you’re temporarily closed which will help with local SEO
  • Add a GMB Q&A about your restaurant’s status and highlight your location’s options, including the specifics for how to order, pick-up or get delivery

Create Digital Campaigns

  • Shift money from print to digital campaigns as people are now spending more time on devices and are more concerned about anything they have to touch
  • Create digital campaigns that demonstrate your ability to serve customers during this time and provide an incentive to drive action. Examples include, online ordering, contactless delivery, free delivery, healthy or low-contact grab & go options, family bundled meals, etc.
  • Emphasize franchisees as small business owners and members of the community by highlighting local efforts such as free kids meals or special health care appreciation offers

Leverage Social Media

  • Use social media broadcast posts to update customers on hours and food service operations
  • Get creative and post a “how to” video or recipe using your menu items
  • Consider creating and supporting a local campaign to drive sales around surplus food items with a short shelf life or delivery specials

Analyze Paid Search and Paid Social

  • Monitor state and local government dining-in mandates as they will impact search results and make adjustments daily
  • Brands with international locations need to consider how to shift marketing dollars based on changing country COVID-19 updates
  • Automation may be lagging behind trends and you should consider switching to a manual process giving yourself the most control so your dollars are put to work in the most efficient way possible

Maintain Your Online Reputation

  • Monitor your brand reputation closely during this time of great uncertainty to quickly engage and promote positive responses and act on negative comments
  • If you receive negative customer comments, respond quickly on the same channel demonstrating the resolution you’re providing. Sluggish responses will reflect poorly on your brand
  • Add additional keywords related to your COVID-19 posts and campaigns such as  #WereOpen, #CurbSide, #CarryOut, #DineLocal, #supportlocalbusiness, etc.

During this time of such uncertainty, we urge restaurants to adjust communication and marketing practices in order to hold consumer interest and maintain a strong brand voice. By leveraging social media and digital tools as well as appropriately communicating information throughout internal and external channels, brands can connect with customers quickly and effectively, particularly when things are changing by the hour. Stay safe and stay strong.  Together our industry will weather this storm. 

Sastry Penumarthy is the Co-Founder and VP of Strategy at Punchh,

About the Author

Sastry Penumarthy is the Co-Founder and VP of Strategy at Punchh, a provider of dynamic, one-to-one customer engagement through artificial intelligence, mobile-first expertise, and omnichannel communications for restaurants and retailers. Along with his co-founders, Sastry built Punchh from its alpha product to becoming the market leader in the restaurant industry with nearly 200 global enterprise brands.

Prior to Punchh, Sastry led product marketing teams, launched products, and ultimately grew revenue at various CRM and marketing platform companies like HotSchedules, InsideView Inc., BEA Systems, and Siebel Systems. In addition, he co-founded Nuevora, a big data analytics services company where he designed and developed analytics capabilities for Fortune 500 companies.


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