As bars and restaurants reopen across the country, many consumers are still hesitant to return, according to an ongoing study by AMC Global and OpinionRoute on consumer preferences during COVID-19.
How do you help alleviate these fears? By making customers feel safe. According to another wave of the same ongoing study quote above, 90% of consumers want to hear how companies are protecting them from COVID-19 exposure.
What makes an establishment “safe” will differ for each customer. “The whole issue of the pandemic is very polarizing,” says Brand Strategist and Founder/CEO of Sol Marketing Deb Gabor, who explains that one camp feels it’s an overblown distraction, while the other views it as a real health risk. “Be very thoughtful and deliberate about understanding what your customers are going to expect from you and then what are the risks and rewards.”
The study also found that 89% of consumers are interested in how businesses are protecting employees.
Gabor says focusing on your employees is a recipe for success in the current environment. “The organizations that are focusing first on their employees and ensuring that their employees are well taken care of and are safe, they’re having a much better time with public sentiment,” she says, noting that many consumers won’t patronize a business that treats its employees bad. “[The thought is,] ‘If they treat their employees like this, how are they going to be able to maintain my safety and my health when I patronize their business?’”
Of course, one of the biggest fears in the current environment is that one of your staff members or a customer will contract or be exposed to COVID-19 while in your establishment. This has already happened in states like Florida and Texas, where restaurants and bars started reopening earlier than other states. Due to COVID-19 outbreaks, some establishments had to close their doors again to disinfect and regroup.
So what if, despite your best efforts, this happens in your establishment?
First and foremost you should do some contact tracing to determine who may have been exposed and to limit spread. Next, be sure to deep clean your establishment. The CDC has recommended guidelines you can follow.
When it comes to your PR strategy following a COVID-19 outbreak at your bar, Gabor says empathy is key. “Follow the rules of good crisis management, which are first show regard for humanity,” she says. “Take responsibility—the part of it that’s yours.”
She also recommends being transparent and honest in your communications. Hiding things just leads to consumers becoming more distrusting of your bar. “You have to communicate authentically and truthfully, and in some cases, vulnerably,” says Gabor. “People can handle bad news if it’s communicated in the right context, and it’s always better to communicate and take responsibility than it is to hide things.”