Serving Up Social: How Restaurants Can Use Social Media During COVID-19

From the earliest-ever PSL release date to Christmas Pins picking up traction five months earlier than usual, 2020 has drastically changed shoppers’ seasonal behaviors. While the sooner-the-better mentality may be helpful for those excited to usher in a new year, there’s one group that’s likely less excited for the onslaught of cooler temps and holiday cheer: restaurateurs. 

According to recent data from Yelp!, more than 60% of U.S. restaurants have permanently closed since the start of COVID-19. While many restaurants are worried that winter weather may mean another downturn in sales, some are starting to slowly recover (national weekly sales hit just above 71% of pre-COVID-19 volume in August). As U.S. shoppers become more fatigued with their at-home cooking routine, it makes sense that many are beginning to spend more time and money at restaurants—they’re just not telling their social circles about it

In the pre-COVID-19 era, food lovers were constantly “feeding their phone first,” with 27% of digital shoppers on Instagram sharing pics of their meals, and #food earning more than 250MM uses each month. However, in a COVID-19 world, decreased in-restaurant dining has also likely decreased the volume of earned impressions for restaurants. Now, restaurants may have to rethink their approach to social media in order to entice diners back in (or out, as the case may be). Here are three ways they can do so.

1. Use Ads to Drive Online Orders

A lot of people—almost one in three—say they don’t believe they’ll be comfortable dining at a restaurant until 2021. While restaurants can try to entice the 39% who are comfortable eating out to do so at their establishments, it’s likely less work to attract those who are already ordering more takeout (and spending more money doing so). One of the easiest ways to do this is through Facebook advertising; from automatically showcasing menu items through dynamic ads to enabling online orders through Instagram Stories, Facebook’s ad network has powerful potential to drive sales for restaurants. Bonus: Restaurants should consider an ecosystem-wide approach, using Google Business Profiles to showcase their availability for pickup, curbside, etc. 

2. Reconsider Influencer Partnerships

According to a recent GlobalWebIndex and Influencer report, 96% of social media users who follow influencers are engaging with them at the same or higher levels than they were before the pandemic began.. While food and drink continue to be among the most engaging categories for influencers, many restaurants have had to cut back on comping meals for their semi-famous clientele. This has led to a change in how restaurants and influencers work together. Now, the focus should be on fewer partnerships that drive deeper, more authentic connections between the influencer and the restaurant. 

3. Show—Don’t Tell—Your Safety Measures

Restaurants can tell shoppers about the safety precautions they’re taking as much as they want, but the truth remains that 78% of consumers trust each other more than they trust advertising. As such, it’s important to show consumers that they can trust a restaurant by using other consumers’ perspectives. There are a number of ways to do this, including using quotes and verbatims in organic content or creating Instagram Story highlights showcasing user-produced images of to-go orders and in-restaurant dining experiences that highlight distanced tables, tamperproof containers, etc. 

It’s hard to tell whether the behavioral effects of COVID-19 are short term or here to stay for a while. And while some can already imagine what the restaurant of the future will look like, others simply want to enjoy a meal they didn’t have to cook themselves. 

Contributed By: Susan Parsons, Director of Social Media & Content, Integer Denver
Image Source: Unsplash