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The hospitality sector has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19. This blog looks at the impact it’s had, and introduces some best practices moving forward as we slowly step out of lockdown across the country.

The Hospitality Sector’s Digital Switch

The digital switch within the hospitality sector was well under way, even before COVID-19. Whether it was booking a table, checking the menu, leaving a review, social media, listings information or something else, there was a wealth of information and systems in place for diners to arrange their next meal out. Of course, COVID-19 has changed everything, hasn’t it?

Restaurants could no longer welcome diners in and fill their tables, and all communications moved online in a matter of days. Guests searched online to know which restaurants may be open, which ones are offering delivery or take-away services. The search term ‘Delivery’ related to food categories reached an all-time-high according to Google trends.

hospitality sector

COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the UK’s hospitality sector but savvy companies can bounce back as lockdown is lifted.

 

The ‘F’ Word

Of course, here in the UK, COVID-19 also brought a new kind of complication: furlough.

As businesses were forced to shut down, cutting revenue temporarily, the large majority of operators applied to the Job Retention Scheme provided by the Government to allow their staff to remain employed whilst not at work at 80% of their salary. This decrease of employees available to maintain online communications then created a further strain on hospitality sector businesses, regardless of their size. Social media accounts and listings information still needed to be kept active, but with less staff on-hand to do this, it became a problem.

The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation needed by hospitality sector businesses that now have to rely on technology to increase the speed and efficiency of their processes, and provide an even more customer-centric experience. Hospitality businesses are turning to technology to foster customer loyalty, communications and automated processes to maintain data accuracy in all online environments a consumer may stumble upon.

Digital Transformation

Although lockdown is easing and certain sectors, retail as perhaps the most recent example, are slowly coming out on the other side, there are still actions operators should implement to maintain business continuity and come out of the crisis in the best possible way when it comes to their online reputation.

We’ll split them into three categories: Google, Social Media, Surveys:

Google

This is your new front door. More than half of Google searches are zero-click, meaning consumers find the answer to their search on the first page without having to click further or visit your website. This also means that your Google My Business (GMB) knowledge panel can experience up to 10 times more traffic than your website, and so investing in this listing is key to appear on top of the search results in the best possible light.

  • Google Reviews: Reviews were briefly paused during the peak of the pandemic, but things are slowly getting back to normal and so generating Google reviews should be top of mind as business is resuming via delivery and click-and-collect. Request reviews to your customers and respond to all reviews posted on your GMB pages.
  • Update Hours: Google added a temporarily closed feature. This does not impact SEO and provides an easy way for customers to know if you are currently operating. Google also now allows Secondary Hours, allowing restaurants to distinguish opening hours and take-away hours for example.
  • Business Information: Your business’s long description is a great place to provide details about extra precautions you are taking or new services on offer. Similarly, update your Attributes if you’ve added delivery options to your offerings.
  • Google Post: This is the best way to maintain your GMB page with up-to-date blog-style information. These posts expire every 2 weeks, so keep posting updates to maintain engagement. This post can include Click-To-Action buttons linking to your website or a special offer landing page. Note that Google also lifted chain restrictions to allow multi-site operators to publish Google posts to several GMB listings at once using platforms such as Reputation.com.

Social Media

Even though Google captures the vast majority of search traffic, consumers interact with brands from within their preferred social media platform. Although Facebook and Instagram account for the most users, other social channels allow you to engage with different demographics, and from Twitter to TikTok, they are all unique to consider and manage.

  • Communicate any changes at your locations that local communities need to be aware of, including accommodations such as delivery services or updates to normal business practices (i.e. social distancing and updated hours).
  • Inform your audience about your sanitisation efforts, such as installing sanitiser stations throughout your kitchens or implementing more frequent professional cleaning services.
  • Share how employees at your locations are taking precautions, for example, staying home if they don’t feel well, washing their hands more frequently or practicing social distancing.
  • Post major updates on ALL channels to ensure all your followers are aware.
  • Share the positive news that’s happening around town, such as acts of service and kindness your staff is involved with, to help calm audiences and inspire positivity.
  • Monitor social channels for customer feedback and direct mentions. This is not just about the content that you post on social media platforms as social listening also plays a significant role.

Surveys

As operations are adapting to new requirements at their locations, surveys give you the opportunity to ask your loyal customers what they wish to see happening in your restaurants.

  • Ask your customers about their expectations. What safety measures would make them confident to come back on site? What services such as click-and-collect and delivery they would like to use? 
  • Engage genuinely with your local community and gather more data by having a wide enough sample so you can gather qualitative data you can rely on.
  • Create a survey easy to respond to on multiple channels and devices to ensure a successful completion rate. Implement operational changes addressing customer needs based on the learnings you’ve captured.

The industry has experienced a profound shift where customer expectations will be to find all the information they need to make a decision about where they will eat online quickly and easily. Now more than ever, consumer confidence and trust is now altered and they will make detailed searches before deciding on their next meal out. Will your restaurant show up in their next search?

Reputation.com has written a report to summarise our research into exactly how COVID-19 has impacted Google My Business the effect this has had on opens and clicks. You can download the full PDF here.