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Christina Tosi is just one restaurant owner using the below advice to increase digital engagement with customers.

Restaurants Rise: How businesses should update their digital strategies to meet local consumer needs during the COVID-19 pandemic

How businesses approach digital reach and marketing can make a difference in attracting customers searching for safer, more convenient options

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to shape the restaurant industry, changing consumer trends and needs like safety, convenience, and value meals are becoming more prevalent through their digital habits and online searches.  

But how can restaurant owners take advantage of the growing consumer reliance on digital engagement during the pandemic and pivot to meeting customers where they are?

During a special summertime session of the Restaurants Rise digital summit and live webinar series produced by Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality, Kim Spaulding and Chris Rippey — both representatives from Google’s local advertising and small business marketing teams — discussed data and insights on how restaurants can use digital marketing tools to reach local diners in a changing market. 

“The good news is our data suggests consumers are craving their local favorite restaurants more than they ever have and want some semblance of normalcy,” Chris Rippey said during Wednesday’s Restaurants Rise webinar. “Google searches for ‘restaurants reopen’ have grown by more than 50%. The desire and need for meals outside the home remains important.”

Rippey said that people are using Google to search for what’s local, what’s available, and what’s convenient and safe.

“Customers want help navigating the changing market,” he said indicating that Google searches for alternative dining options are up, while searches for curbside pickup and have grown 3,000% and searches for contactless delivery have spiked 4,000%.

Google broke down their suggestions for restaurants that want to resonate with customers at this unusual time into four categories:

  • Think and act local: The more hyperlocal your advertising and marketing strategy is, the better, Spaulding said. The more you can “finetune your strategy” down to a community level, the better you can differentiate your brand from competitors.
  • Pivot to automation: Don’t be afraid of automating tasks to save you time when addressing different business demands.
  • Stay connected and transparent- Consumers are looking for brands that keep them informed and stay connected with their customer base in a “clear, informative, transparent and human manner.”
  • Optimize digital presence using tools- As the search bar continues to be an important touchpoint for customers looking to figure out where/what to eat, 60% of customers keep searching for what is open/closed, so Google recommends restaurants keep their Google profiles updated with their latest hours and related COVID-19 updates.

Milk Bar — the New York City bakery chain by chef Christina Tosi — has taken Google’s advice and brought most of their customer engagement online over the past few months.

“We have actually taken some of the resources that we would put in stores and have pivoted them to online,” Tosi said in a video during Wednesday’s webinar, adding that they have doubled or tripled their digital ad space. “We have more ads online but we also have a keener eye and deeper focus to educate our customers how and when we can show up for them in real life.”

Panera Bread, another restaurant brand that has relied on virtual space to create engagement, figured out that many of their customers needed access to basic groceries. In April, the company launched Panera Grocery and they used digital advertising and marketing to communicate this new strategy to customers:

“We were communicating basic information to our customers,” Panera chief digital officer, George Hanson said in a video during Wednesday’s webinar. “Our kpi was about awareness and access to customer insights that Google provided shaped how we message our customer.”

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi

This is part of special coverage of the Restaurants Rise digital summit taking place online throughout July and August, powered by Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality. Register for live sessions or on-demand replays at Join us next week for A Leadership Panel: A Return to Innovation on Aug 11, The Future of Restaurant Technology on Aug 12, The Virtual Kitchen's Time is Now on Aug 13 and more live sessions.

Title sponsors for Restaurants Rise include Campbell’s Foodservice, GrubHub, Idaho Potato, ShiftPixy, Wisely and Impossible.

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