As vaccination rates rise and local restrictions ease, businesses across most industries are relaxing their own protocols and easing back into pre-pandemic operations. That’s particularly true for the restaurant industry: All across the country, restaurants are steadily increasing their seating capacities, extending operating hours, and even easing mask restrictions to attract more business while giving patrons the dining experience they’ve been anticipating for more than a year.

But as tempting as this return to normalcy may be, it could have unintended consequences for restaurants that misinterpret the desires of their customer base. Rather than fully reverting back to the “normal” business models restaurants used prior to the pandemic, those businesses could actually strain customer relationships by moving away from services and policies that customers grew fond of during the pandemic.

From safety protocols to customer service conveniences, these new wrinkles to restaurant service might offer continued value as part of a “new normal” that incorporates popular pandemic strategies with a more traditional restaurant business model. Here are some tips to plan a successful recovery through services and advertising that satisfy enduring customer expectations.

Don’t Abandon All of Your COVID-Era Conveniences

While most restaurants and diners will be eager for plastic dividers and limited indoor seating to be retired once they no longer serve a safety need, some services and conveniences developed during the pandemic may be here to stay—at least if customers get their way.

One of the most popular pandemic-inspired services is contactless pickup, including curbside pickup. For many consumers, curbside pickup offered a valuable convenience that let them order takeout from restaurants without standing in line or entering a restaurant to pick up their food.

Now, as restaurants transition back to normal operations, consumer expectations for curbside pickup haven’t gone anywhere. Many remain interested in this convenience, and continuing to offer curbside pickup could create competitive advantages for restaurants that want to maintain their strong takeout service. As you look for ways to streamline your services and your business model, don’t switch back to your old business model without considering the value some of your pandemic-era services may continue to provide for your customer base.

Engage Cautious Customers Through Sensitive Messaging and Business Practices

On the whole, restaurant patrons are becoming more comfortable with dining indoors again. But every customer is moving at their own pace, and while some may be eager to eat indoors without any safety precautions, others may be much more reluctant to patronize your restaurant.

This more cautious segment of your customer base is worth prioritizing in your ad campaigns. Create sensitive messaging that promotes your restaurant while also demonstrating your commitment to a safe dining experience for all. If your restaurant can establish a reputation as a safe dining destination in your community, you won’t just increase your sales opportunities in the short-term—you might increase brand loyalty and deliver long-term value through your customer-minded advertising.

Target Keywords Related to New Restaurant Services

Restaurant services, hours of operation and other information is changing fast as business operations evolve and expand. To find reliable information, many consumers are turning to online search to find restaurants that offer in-person dining, curbside pickup, delivery, and other service options.

While these subjects and their related keywords may not be part of your traditional restaurant advertising strategy, it can pay to target these keywords during a period of time when reliable information is hard to find and always changing. Long-tail, localized keywords can help your restaurant increase its search visibility and deliver display, mobile and other forms of advertising to local consumers searching for restaurants that meet their criteria.

Concentrate Resources on Hyper-Local Advertising

Research shows that the pandemic increased consumer interest in using their spending habits to support local businesses. Restaurants can leverage this shift in customer behavior by increasing their advertising focus on hyper-local campaigns targeted to the community and even neighborhood level.

By concentrating your efforts on attracting customers from just up the street and around the corner, you can leverage the benefits of your restaurant’s proximity to local residents and strengthen your brand as a local establishment with strong ties to its community. You can even sponsor local community events and highlight local charitable contributions to further strengthen your local presence.

After a long period of struggle and business disruption, restaurants can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. But as you plan your business recovery, remember that your customers’ preferences and dining habits have changed.

Build advertising campaigns that recognize these changes and proactively address them through a customer-focused ad strategy. Contact Cox Media today to see how we can help.