When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the travel industry came to a sudden, devastating halt. The profound impact the virus has had on tourism worldwide could very well lead up to a whopping $4 trillion in losses for the global economy in 2020 and 2021 alone.
The closing of borders, various lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders have pushed people to stay in their homes for safety, which also inevitably brought about a hesitation to travel. At the same time, the urge to experience new things and visit new places has only grown.
Today, wider vaccinations allow the loosening of travel restrictions, but concerns about the Delta variant continue to rise as many more people become infected with COVID-19 more than halfway through 2021. What can restaurants do, then, to respond to this appetite for travel? What is the best course of action to ensure that the business keeps running while catering to the needs and wants of customers?
Make Travel Experiences Locally Available
Upon first glance, restaurant businesses seem to have little relation with consumers’ desires to get back into traveling. But recent consumer behavior gives great insight into how restaurant owners can market their businesses today, when consumers are grappling with the desire to travel and their fears of the virus.
Now is a great time for restaurants to assert the “travel” experience that dining affords to customers, without the need for PCR tests and 14-day quarantines. Restaurants with concepts, such as Mediterranean cuisine franchises and other cuisines from farther countries, have an advantage in presenting themselves as a means to satisfy that desire for brand-new experiences.
Building Your Restaurant
Of course, food is not the only way you should market the experience to your customers, although it should be central to its marketing efforts. Find creative ways to replicate the feeling of being in the destination your restaurant’s concept is based on.
Use the five senses as your guide. The taste aspect is straightforward, but here are some ways you can use the other four senses to create a full experience and better market your restaurant both online and offline.
- Sight – What should visitors see when they dine at your restaurant?
For instance, if your restaurant particularly serves Greek cuisine, you want the look and feel of your place to be reminiscent of Greece. You can draw inspiration from Santorini, one of its most popular islands, as a way to transport people to the destination. Make good use of color schemes and architectural elements to achieve this.
It also helps designate a photo area where people can take pictures and post their photos online. This can help drive more online traffic to your social media pages, which can generate better foot traffic for your restaurant.
- Touch – Is there anything your customers want to touch when they dine in your restaurant?
One aspect of this to consider is the material you use for your tables, chairs, and even plates and utensils. Since these are frequent touchpoints for all customers, see how these may differ for the cuisine you are serving.
A distinction that can explain this is the difference between the use of chopsticks in Korean and Japanese restaurants. Korean restaurants often use metal chopsticks, while Japanese restaurants usually have wooden ones. Getting small details right adds a layer of authenticity to customer experience.
- Smell – What smell would help customers associate your restaurant with the country its cuisine is from?
Passersby are drawn to coffee shops and bakeries because of the distinct, pleasing smell coffee and pastries emit. Pull visitors in from the storefront by letting pleasant aromas of food waft from the kitchen into the dining area and even outdoors.
- Sound – Does your restaurant ambiance reinforce the “travel” experience?
Playing songs in the language of your cuisine’s country of origin is an example of doing this, but it could feel a little too tacky or on the nose for some. You can instead choose to enhance the customer experience by playing house music that suits the mood of your restaurant.
Do you want to build excitement? Are you going for a calmer mood? These considerations allow you to choose a mood that works with your whole concept.
Always Bring It Back Online
Make the most of these experiential aspects of your restaurant by ensuring that customers are aware of them. Share photos on your online pages, discuss fun facts about points of interest in your restaurant, the cuisine, and the country itself, and share posts by customers. The battle is largely fought online, so never neglect the responsibility of capturing customers in the digital space through your confidence in what your restaurant has to offer.