As restaurants temporarily close your physical space during COVID-19, we know your work doesn’t stop there. Whether your restaurant transits to delivery-only business  or curbside pickup, building relationships with customers remains ongoing. The prolonged isolation means more time spent on social media, consuming content, and supporting local businesses virtually. 

Here are some creative ideas you can implement into your restaurant social media efforts.

Share Your Story

You probably have customers who have been visiting your restaurant for years, maybe even your most loyal customers, who know nothing of your restaurant’s story. Beyond the food and services, who are you as a business? 

When times get tough, it can remind us why we worked so hard to open a restaurant in the first place. Use social media to tell customers the story of how and why your restaurant opened. Shed some light on your personal background. Do you have a funny story to share about the early days of the restaurant? Perhaps you could join the “Throwback Thursday” trend by celebrating past employees or milestones. Tell customers what you love about running a restaurant and highlight the gratitude you feel for their ongoing support. 

These stories will help customers feel connected to your business even if they can’t visit. It can even help build greater loyalty as you show the true, honest soul of your business.

Host a Virtual Happy Hour

With all this social distancing, lots of people are starting to feel a bit lonely and cut off. Give your customers a chance to reconnect with friends by hosting a virtual happy hour.

You can do this through Instagram Live or even by hosting a public Zoom event. As the event host, you could show customers a few of your most popular cocktail recipes or have a happy hour themed gift card giveaway. You could invite them to join in ahead of time with a special happy hour pricing on delivery orders.

The key is to make the event fun and engaging. Your customers are stuck at home and probably missing their weekly after-work happy hour with friends. They will likely appreciate the chance to connect.

A great example: Chipotle Together – “a virtual lunchtime hangout for 3,000 fans that will feature celebrity appearances/Q&A, exclusive content and much more.”

Livestream a Cooking Session With Your Chef

Another option for restaurants looking to engage their social media audience is to host a livestream with your restaurant chef. This behind-the-scenes look at your restaurant can be fun for customers and gives them a chance to see a bit of the magic that makes up your recipes.

Have the chef create one of your most popular dishes and if there’s a “secret ingredient” maybe this is the time to share it. Another alternative could be to host a cocktail lesson with your top bartender.

Offer Take-Away Cooking Kits

Some restaurants don’t have the ability to sell delivery orders. Maybe your dishes don’t travel well and will end up soggy by the time they get to a customer’s house. In that case, consider selling a take-away cooking kit with all the ingredients a customer would need to make your food in their own homes.

To make it more fun and social, invite customers to share their cooking experience or results on social media. Ask customers to tag the restaurant and be open to answering cooking questions through your social media accounts.

A great example: DIY ShackBurger Kits from ShakeShack

Share Mouthwatering Photos of Your Food

If you are still open and serving delivery orders, you want your customers to be craving your food. If you are closed, you want customers to be eagerly awaiting your reopening and the chance to enjoy your food again. 

In both cases, social media gives you a chance to wet the appetite of customers by sharing delicious pictures of your food. You probably do this already but now is the time to up your game.

Share photos and recipes of your top dishes. Ask customers to share and tag you in old photos they might have taken at your restaurant. A picture says a thousand words. Your loyal customers will probably appreciate the chance to share a few of their photos again though – for a good cause!

Establish a Cooking in Quarantine “Hotline”

Your cooks, chefs, bartenders, and waiters are experts in what they do. Let them share their knowledge with your customers stuck at home!

Set up a “hotline” type offer through your social media accounts and make it specialized to your restaurant’s niche. If you have a great wine menu, consider a “cheese and wine” hotline to help customers find the right pairing options at home. If you are a bakery, you could set up a “sourdough starter” hotline and encourage customers to try making their own sourdough at home. 

Create or Support a Hashtag Initiative

The majority of restaurant customers want to help the industry but many don’t really know how. Consider using your social media platform and audience to support not only your restaurant but the local industry as a whole through a hashtag initiative.

Trending hashtags like #TheGreatAmericanTakeout are helping consumers see and understand the true impact coronavirus is having on the restaurant industry. Local hashtags such as #TakeoutNYC are helping smaller restaurants get the word out that they are still open and delivering.

If there isn’t a trending hashtag in your area, consider starting one of your own and inviting other local restaurants to join in. 

Get Creative

The restaurant industry is full of talented, creative people. Engage your staff in brainstorming for your social media content. If your restaurant is still open, make sure you are using social media – at a minimum – to share new menu items, delivery options, safety practice, and opening hours with your customers.

Finding the Silver Lining

The coronavirus has radically changed the restaurant industry. Some estimates are that up to 30% of restaurants could be forced to close permanently. In the shorterm, the industry could lose up to 7 million jobs by June. The industry is being forced once-and-for-all online. We shall see how customer behaviors change in the future. 

Take this time to evaluate your systems – your website, POS systems, online ordering options, and social media presence. For restaurants that survive, the outcome could be stronger customer connections and a more diversified business model.

With your employees staying at home, revamping your social media and online presence could add significant values to your business. Connect to your existing customers and reach out to new potential customers in any creative way you can.