By its very nature, the service industry is unpredictable.
Try as you might to design a five-star customer experience - friendly staff greetings on arrival, mouth-watering menu items, a perfect date night ambiance - the simple fact is you cannot control how customers will react to your efforts.
What you can control, however, is how you respond.
Whether you’re faced with an unhappy Yelp! review, a data breach, or a publicity nightmare after a failed marketing campaign (see McDonalds’#McDStories Twitter fiasco), having a robust and well-constructed communication plan will help you and your team react quickly and with the right information.
Communication plans aren’t only intended for communicating with the general public, though; they’re also a great way to promote healthy, effective internal communication about everything from social gatherings and staff meetings to employee scheduling, inventory management, and more.
Curious about what it takes to write a killer communication strategy for your restaurant? Keep reading.
But Before We Begin…
…it’s important to point out that communication planning is something to be done as soon as possible in a restaurant’s lifecycle.
A communication plan is one of the most important tools in your company’s management toolkit. Putting this task on the back burner means you risk compromising your restaurant’s revenue and reputation in the wake of an unexpected bump in the road.
What is a Communication Plan?
A communication plan details your business’s marketing and communication goals and maps out how you plan to achieve them using a simple, step-by-step process (which we’ll get to in a minute).
This process is designed to help you logically summarize:
- What you want to say.
- To whom you want to say it.
- What channels you’ll use to do so.
Although many franchisees can expect communication guidelines as part of their franchise agreement, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to building a communication strategy. This is because the key objectives of, say, an independent pizzeria are drastically different from those of a multi-location QSR. No matter how big or small your audience, any time you broadcast a message you should have sound reasoning for doing so.
Treat people the way you want to be treated, says owner Logan Hostettler of his approach to managing staff.
A Restaurant Communication Plan in 6 Simple Steps
Most communication plans follow a six-step format.
1. Restaurant Overview
Here is where you’ll document where you are, where you want to be, and what makes you, you. Your restaurant’s mission statement, company vision, and value proposition are all key players at this stage.
Maybe you offer a one-of-a-kind dining experience, a competitive price point, or you cater to a specific food tribe; this high-level information helps to frame all future communication, no matter who it is you’re speaking to.
2. Audience Analysis
Arguably the most important feature of a communication plan is your audience analysis.
Identify your internal and external audiences, and then learn all you can about them: priorities, concerns, background, and preferred modes of communication.
Millennials are now the largest generation in America; to them, digital communication is second nature, whereas an older generation may prefer “legacy communication” like e-mail or a good old fashioned phone call.
Interested in promoting a new in-store offer? Depending on your target markets, splitting your efforts between social media posts and traditional mail-outs will ensure you reach as many hungry prospects as possible.
3. Communication Objectives
Let’s say you’re a gluten-free, dog-friendly restaurant; your objective, then, is to educate the public about these unique offerings and entice them to choose your spot for their next meal.
No matter whether your goal is to inform, persuade, or clarify, a best practice is to write your objectives from your audience’s point of view. If you are communicating a new organizational structure, for example, you’ll want to consider what information you’d like each group to know, what (if anything) you’d like them to do, and how they’re likely to feel after receiving your news.
4. Communication Channels
Now that you’ve got your goals, it’s time to decide which communication channels will best serve them.
Social media, blogging, digital advertising, media relations, e-mail, video, and staff meetings are all viable modes of communicating… but that doesn’t mean they’re right for you. Only invest in initiatives that are a good fit for your business, that you’re sure you’ll actually use, and that resonate with those on the receiving end of your message.
5. Responsibilities and Timelines
You’ve got a list of to-do’s. It’s time to to-do them.
Specify the “owner” of each task - the person responsible for delivering key messages - and list required resources, budgetary considerations, and projected completion dates. Timeliness is especially important for communication initiatives carried out via social media, given that platforms like Facebook report average response time.
Remember how we mentioned the importance of having specific, measurable outcomes? This is so you can find out, via testing, which initiatives are working and which might be in need of a rethink.
For example, if your communication objective is to boost your restaurant’s online presence, you might measure success by the number of Facebook page and post likes. Alternatively, if your restaurant is undergoing leadership changes and you’re concerned about staff morale, employee surveys might be an appropriate way to gauge this.
What Does a Restaurant Communication Plan Look Like?
How you format your communications plan is up to you. Some prefer a long-form document, while others organize marketing and communication tasks in a spreadsheet, neatly capturing relevant information in columns and rows.
Not sure how to begin? These restaurant marketing communications templates are a good starting point.
Helpful Hints for Restaurant Communication Planning
Whether you're writing a brand new communication plan or revisiting an old one, bearing these three tips in mind will keep the process as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Get the Whole Team Involved
Including management and employees as active participants in communication planning increases engagement and buy-in. Your team will see firsthand how their ideas translate into tangible outcomes, resulting in a plan everyone can get on board with.
Download the restaurant employee handbook template to outline your restaurant’s rules and staff policies.
Like your employees, technologies adapt and evolve over time. If you wait too long to review your plan, there’s a chance some parts may become obsolete. A regular review (we suggest quarterly, at a minimum) encourages you to stay up-to-date on the latest trends, technologies, and any changes or challenges your restaurant might face.
Mix online and offline channels.
Despite the fact that marketers everywhere are rushing to reassign traditional marketing dollars towards digital initiatives, there is research to support a healthy balance of online and offline communication tactics. Adobe, for example, recently discovered that millennials actually prefer in-person communication at work. Don’t overlook the impact of a face-to-face conversation in favor of trendy digital communication platforms.
With these tips, tricks, and simple steps by your side, you’ll be communicating like a pro in no time.