In the New Normal, Trust is King


Tips for building consumer trust in the new normal

Pre-COVID-19, consumers made restaurant decisions based on a number of factors. Anything from menu choices and location, to price point and decor would have swayed guests. But now, in the wake of a global pandemic, this whole process has changed.

There has been a lag in consumers dining out again. According to a report by the James Beard Foundation, 41 per cent of restaurant owners see their biggest re-opening challenge being a slow return of guests and, for the most part, it’s not due to any of the aforementioned factors but based on consumer trust.

This is an important focus for restaurant owners right now; consumers need to have
confidence in an operation and see a high level of care for their safety and well-being in order for them to dine there. In response to this sentiment, there are a few strategic ways to strengthen guest relationships and build consumer trust in the age of COVID-19 that will set restaurants up for success.

  1. Ongoing, Open Communication

Speaking to your audience is the first, most-crucial step to building consumer trust. People are looking for the human behind your brand — they don’t want to see a cold, automated front right now. The best way to achieve this is by boosting your digital presence.

Operators should post often on social media. Things are changing quickly in today’s world; make sure you share posts at least a few times a week to keep followers apprised of your offerings, hours, seating, relevant changes, et cetera. Strive to make these communications as honest and transparent as possible. Yes, you still want to drive business through your channel, but make sure to have a balance on your feed — not every post should be a call to action. Instead, share behind-the-scenes photos and information about your new health-and-safety protocol, floorplan set-up, re-imagined menus and more. Giving your audience an inside look into your business will go a long way in building trust and creating a sense of transparency around your brand.

Another essential element of this will be actively and rapidly responding to your guests. You’ll likely experience a higher-than-normal volume of messages and questions right now, with so many uncertainties and concerns. The best way to quell any unease is to maintain quick response rates: humanize your brand by engaging with your audience and answering questions in an honest, open way.

  1. Differentiation

Following the same path of other businesses or staying idle can potentially harm consumer trust. Consumers are looking for effort in gaining their trust right now and want to see evidence of that.

Don’t take all your cues from the restaurant next door; develop a thoughtful plan for welcoming guests to your space safely and enjoyably. Brainstorm ways to set your business apart and gain consumer trust — can you offer complimentary sanitizer at the table? Will you create branded masks? Can you donate a portion of your profits to frontline workers or a relevant organization?

According to an article by the Toronto Star, when it comes to brand trust, consumers also consider how companies treated their employees during the pandemic. While this information will not always be public, depending on the size and nature of your business, it’s a good thing to keep in mind. While you work to give guests the best-possible experience, examine how your employees have been treated and what their needs are. They’re key players in building your brand’s consumer trust right now and considering their needs will be crucial to maintaining their support of your business.

  1. Prove It

At the end of the day, trust is founded on actions and accountability, rather than words and promises — you need to show your visitors exactly how you embody all of your values.

Part of this will come from rigorous staff training. This is especially important right now in order to ensure everyone is on the same page. With so many changes and new protocols in place, holding regular meetings to train staff and educate them on key messaging will be essential. They are the face of your brand to a large extent, and their guest interactions are important in determining your reputation.

Another element is immediately rectifying situations when things go wrong. Mistakes are inevitable right now — there are brand-new standards, menus and floorplans in place and it will take some getting used to for operators and consumers alike. More important is recognizing when you’ve made a mistake and striving to correct it. For example, if the service is delayed due to reduced kitchen staff, offer affected tables a complimentary dessert or discount. It will go a long way in demonstrating your effort and care in this challenging situation.

Don’t take all your cues from the restaurant next door; develop a thoughtful plan for welcoming guests to your space

Many factors that were important to a restaurant’s reputation and success no longer hold as much weight, while others are emerging that were never important before. Your ability to adapt as a business while upholding customer service will set you apart in this new era.

Guests are looking for a level of professionalism, safety and care much higher than ever before. It will be imperative going forward to not only reach these standards but communicate everything you’re doing to accomplish this. At the end of the day, if you prioritize being considerate of the widespread fear and concern, and do everything in your power to provide positive experiences despite these challenges, you will set yourself up for success.

By David Hopkins
He is president of Toronto-based restaurant-consulting company, The Fifteen Group Inc.

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