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How to Talk to Your Customers About Coronavirus

Dahlia snaiderman

Dahlia SnaidermanAuthor

Restaurants across the country are reaching out to their customers directly to keep them updated and let them know what they’re doing amid this difficult situation. Some are sharing closing announcements on social media. Others are telling their loyal customers that they’re still offering takeout and delivery, and that they need their support now more than ever. 

No matter what the scenario is, patience and understanding are crucial when grappling to survive COVID-19, and your restaurant communications shouldn’t be treated any differently. 

Your restaurant should be using social media as a channel to keep the lines of communication open between you and your guests. Here are some tips to help you craft posts about your business operations and promotions:

Ramp Up Customer Communications on Social Media

  1. Speak from the heart and address that this isn’t business as usual, and ask for support and empathy in this difficult time.

  2. If you’ve remained open for just takeout and delivery, reassure your customers and explain that restaurants already must adhere to high-frequency handwashing and other health and safety measures. Then, you can communicate how you've increased these safety precautions by having your staff wear gloves or masks.

  3. Promote your online ordering channels. Recently, off-premise dining sales have increased to around 75% of restaurant revenue. Guests are looking at your social channels for updates on if you're still operating and, if so, how to order from you. Let your customers know whether to order from your website or an app, what pickup and delivery options you offer, and what your hours are.

  4. Give your customers a way to support your business without necessarily coming to the restaurant, like waiving minimum order sizes for online orders, offering curbside takeout, or suggesting that guests buy gift cards to use when the virus has died down. Some restaurants that have closed until further notice have provided their guests with a “digital tip jar,” a Venmo or Cashapp account where guests can send money to support the restaurant’s staff. 

  5. Show appreciation for the support you’ve received so far.

Here are a few social media posts from restaurants for inspiration. Remember that being transparent and leading with your values will help these messages land and provide a little bit of comfort amidst all this uncertainty.

Art of the Table (Seattle). This fine dining restaurant has pivoted to doing prix fixe takeout menus with comfort food that can feed a family.

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!THIS WEEKS TAKEOUT MENU! *keep in mind, sides subject to change based on availability* We are forced to shut down our dining room until further notice. But we're still offering our takeout option! If you reserved a table with us, call to reschedule and/or reserve a pickup meal! These are uncharted waters and we appreciate everyone's support and patience through this process. If you've had a takeout meal from us, please share this post or share your experience on your social medias. The more eyes we get, the easier it will be to survive these crazy times. Thank you all. ❤ #artofthetable #aott #chefsgold #seattlerestaurants #bestfoodseattle #eaterseattle #eatseattle #localfood #wallingford #tastingmenu #alacarte #farmtotable #gastronomy #foodspotting #foodporn #artofplating #seattlesbest #cocktail #cocktails #takeout #covid19 #wine #savelocalbusiness

A post shared by  Art of the Table (@artofthetable) on

Barcito (Los Angeles). Swipe through the pages of this Instagram post to read owner Andrea Borgen's statement on how they're moving forward with reduced hours and waived delivery fees.

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A message from @aaborgen 💕

A post shared by  barcito (@barcitola) on

North (Providence, RI). North's message shows that they're doing whatever they can to keep their staff safe and healthy, including paying for their health insurance as long as they're able to even though they've closed their doors.

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Life, as always, comes at us fast. We’ve been working on a dozen different ways to diversify our business to help keep our staff paid while also serving folks that want to eat, but everyday it seems more foolish. We have been busy the last two days - really busy. That support from this city has been tremendous. But it’s not what the city needs right now. While there have been no confirmed or suspected cases, the fact that covid19 can spread between people not showing symptoms is what has me shook. I have staff that have been working and just told me they are immunocompromised. I have staff that live with their elderly parents and grandparents. And we have guests that I’m certain are in the same boat. And if I was complicit in the serious illness or death of a staff member, guest, or their family? I wouldn’t be able to handle that guilt. The only option for us is to close. Effective immediately. I spoke to the Department of Labor and Training yesterday and the state has waived the unemployment insurance waiting period so our staff will be able to collect immediately. I will continue to pay the health insurance bill and support employees in other ways until I and the business run out of money. I encourage the city to institute a city and statewide shutdown, and for their to be a temporary reprieve on debt collection, rents, mortgages, etc. We live in a culture of constant work, in a culture of invincibility and where we can solve all the problems by working harder and being more clever. There’s no thinking or working our way out of this one on a restaurant level. The only option is to stop.

A post shared by @ foodbynorth on

Call Your Mother Deli (Washington, DC). Click below to watch the video message where co-owner Andrew Dana explains the restaurant group's choice to close for two weeks while still paying staff full time plus benefits. 

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Beginning tomorrow, Monday March 16th we will be closing @callyourmotherdeli @timberpizzaco @turuspizza @ballstonservicestation for two weeks. This isn’t an easy decision, but we feel it’s the right thing to do in the best interest of the health and safety of our team, our guests, and the DC community.⁣ ⁣ We will continue to pay all staff their hourly wage during this two week period, pay for benefits including health insurance, and provide food for our staff to take home. ⁣ ⁣ We’ll get back to doing what we love (bagels, pizza, pizza bagels) as soon as it's safe to do so. In the meantime, please be well and stay connected to one another virtually. We’re here if you have any questions at all. We love you and thank you for all your support!

A post shared by  Call Your Mother (@callyourmotherdeli) on

Gene and Georgetti (Chicago, IL). In response to everything going on, long-running steakhouse Gene and Georgetti have closed for dine-in service, but have expanded their delivery radius and started delivering family-style meals.

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Recognizing the realities of growing concerns over COVID-19, we have worked quickly to present new offerings to create both convenience and ease for you, our guests – many of whom are facing new challenges to your schedules with work and school closures, cancelled spring break trips, depleting foodstuffs/supplies at local supermarkets or even exposure to the virus. We have increased our delivery range on @doordash from 7 to 12 miles and we will soon be on @grubhub as well. We are also offering take out, including a special “Family Style Take Out” menu with curbside pickup available. Check the link in bio for more info. We are here to help, and we look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

A post shared by  Gene and Georgetti (@gene_georgetti) on

Oisa Ramen (Boston). This restaurant has never offered any kind of off-premise orders, but they're rolling with the situation and explaining to their customers how to order takeout. 

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Good morning. 🐰💕I’m still staying strong. 👍 Everyday, I’m needing to make a difficult decision that could possibly affect the wellness of many and the community we all love. I discuss with my team everyday, what they want to do. I check in with them to see how they are feeling physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. We have yet to close our shop. Today is our first day off. Even though my team is made up with strong, responsible, determined people with passion to share comfort and happiness, I feel we could use an extra day off. So, Oisa will be CLOSED all day tomorrow, Monday 16th. We will be back open on Tuesday 17th but ONLY for PICK UP and TAKE OUT with shorter hours of operation 11:30am - 5pm. We will be offering our entire menu including ramen! Oisa at home is a DIY ramen kit. It will come with a simple direction. It’s like an instant ramen but not. 😉 I have never done pick ups, and our phone line doesn’t work... so please place your order by DM here or email me at [email protected] . Please feel free to schedule a pick up for Tuesday. Thank you so very much for your continuing support for Oisa and for my wonderful team.

A post shared by  Oisa Ramen おいさラーメン (@oisaramen) on

Big's Chicken (Portland, OR). Big Chicken shared that they're operating on reduced hours with off-premise dining only, and they thanked their guests for their support so far. 

The Quiet Few (Boston). This neighborhood bar shared a few days ago that they decided to close to protect the public from any COVID-19 risks, and got an outpouring of support from their community. Then, they shared this post full of different ways that guests can contribute to The Quiet Few's staff and business by buying merch, gift cards, or drinks for when they reopen, and donating money. 

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Virtual hugs and elbow taps all around! We’ve received so many messages and comments and texts and calls asking about gift certificates and other ways you can help keep us and our staff going while we’re closed. The outpour has been so incredible and humbling. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you! So we’re gonna (hopefully) make this super easy and fun. Here’s a list of stuff we’re selling. Send us the 💰 via Venmo (@TheQuietFew) or scan the third pic, and just let us know specifics (item, size, amount, pay it forward...). And then we’ll get you that thing, or have it waiting for you when we open our doors back up! • Items include: • Some scratch for our staff! (100% goes into the staff kitty, obvies). • shirts - $30 ($10 goes into the staff kitty). • beanies - $25 ($10 goes into the staff kitty). • snapbacks - $35 ($10 goes into the staff kitty) • TQF coozie w/toilet paper roll - $5 (100% goes into the staff kitty). • gift certificates (name your price!). • Whiskey of the Week on the Pay it Forward board ($13, includes tax). • Picklebacks on the Pay it Forward board ($8, includes tax). • Late night grilled cheese on the Pay it Forward board ($10, includes tax). • please note, all items come with hugs once it’s safe. All merch prices include shipping. Must be 21+ to redeem Pay it Forward items. . . . #thequietfew #thequietfeweastie #supportsmallbusiness #tipyourbartender #eastboston #jeffriespoint #weloveandmissyouandcantwaittoeatanddrinkwithyouagain #❤️ #topshelflowbrow

A post shared by  The Quiet Few (@thequietfew_eastie) on

Communicate Restaurant Changes Through Email

Email newsletters are a great way to reinforce your communications on social and ensure that your loyal guests who might not follow you get updates as well. Many of the restaurants listed above have sent the same information to their customers via an email newsletter. In fact, we’ve put together a few email templates in case you need some more support in reaching out to your guests.

Update Your Website to Reflect the New Normal

If you're announcing your business changes through social media and email, you'll need a place to link back to in order to drive business. 

Your website should reflect the same information you've provided through these customer communication channels to in order to limit confusion. Optimizing your website will also ensure that your guests are purchasing directly from you. 


Restaurant Website Checklist

This template will help you update and optimize your website, so guests can easily find and order from you.


Take Care of Your Community and Your Customers

To say customer communications is difficult during a time of crisis is a given - that's why larger franchises and corporations have entire teams dedicated to crafting the perfect message. However, staying true to your restaurant and acting with empathy and humility will help ensure that your guests know you're making the right decisions for your people. 

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