Communicating in a Time of Crisis

COVID-19: How to Communicate in a Time of Crisis

Most people become chefs or restaurant owners because they love to make people happy.

During times of crisis, such as the current Coronavirus pandemic, your customers, employees and neighbors are worried, confused and craving a familiar voice that can ease their fears.

When we watch or read the news, it gives us a snapshot of what’s happening globally or nationally. However, what we really want to know is what’s happening in our own neighborhood. You can be the person you’ve always been for your guests and customers by keeping the lines of communication open and flowing.Global restaurant consultant, Aaron Allen, of Aaron Allen & Associates, says that restaurants and foodservice operations are part of the ecosystem of a community that has now been disrupted and is craving a sense of normalcy. “The Coronavirus is affecting the routine of so many people, including the people who work and dine at restaurants,” he says. “They want to know what’s happening, but they also want to know how others are doing.” Here are a few more pointers from Allen for keeping the lines of communication open. 

Don’t be silent. You may be accustomed to chatting with guests in your dining room or place of operation about a variety of topics; the conversation doesn’t have to stop—it just needs to move online. Keep connecting and updating your website, blog, e-newsletter and social channels. Whether you’ve shuttered temporarily or are offering take-out and delivery, this information needs to be posted on your website and social media. Don’t leave customers wondering what happened to you. 

Share what you know. If you have access to information that can help locals with CDC guidelines, unemployment information, local closures, store hours and testing sites, post it. Not everyone knows how to find information online, but if they’re connected to you and trust you to share reliable information, you can be that source when and where it’s needed.

Stay positive. “The spirit of our industry is to express compassion, empathy and service to others,” says Allen. And, while the current climate makes it difficult to have a “glass half full” attitude, positivity is exactly what people need from you right now. It’s about finding a balance and not putting more negativity out into the world, according to Allen. “You want to be realistic, but don’t vent,” he says. “Be optimistic and be the example you want to see.”

Make it personal. Over the years, marketing experts have touted the importance of being authentic and personal in your messaging with customers. Now more than ever, that advice could not be more relevant. 

TV hosts and celebrities have been taking viewers into their homes. This is the time to get more personal on your own social channels, too. Open your kitchen and share favorite recipes or kitchen tips. Host a virtual wine class or happy hour. Share a video about how your team is packaging food to go. Host a Q&A session where you answer questions sent in by followers. There are dozens of ways to connect when your customers are needing it most.

Be Available. Updating your website, blog, and social media is great, but if customer responses and messages are lying dormant on your pages, you’re not bringing the message full circle. People need to know that you’re available to answer their questions. This includes customers, staff, former staff and possibly your local media. Don’t set it and forget it. Put aside a few minutes every day to respond to posts, emails and phone messages. Not only will your response be appreciated, but you may learn something you can share in future messaging to the entire group.