With the COVID-19 pandemic at our door, communities have banded together in plenty of innovative ways to support one another. Businesses have followed suit. Many have adapted their business models to better serve their communities in safe, sustainable ways.
Today, we’d like to review some ways that quick service restaurants (QSRs) can get in touch with their communities and adjust their services to provide some relief to those on the front lines. A few simple changes to your ordering system can earn you recognition, goodwill from the community, and yes, some profit to sustain you during these tough times.
Stay Open While You Support the Community: QSRs Can Do Both
To illustrate what we mean by community-centered QSR service, let’s look at an example of how a coffeeshop might put this plan into action.
The subject of this story is Tom’s Coffee (for example purposes), a small, locally-owned coffeehouse in the Midwest. Tom’s Coffee is feeling the effects of the pandemic like most other QSRs, but unlike bigger restaurant chains, Tom’s doesn’t have many resources to fall back on. If its doors close, it’s likely to be permanent.
It’s a given that Tom’s Coffee wants to stay open. Beyond that, they want to do something that lets them be a part of the solution—something more than to just keep the doors open for those who want a morning caffeine kick. Fortunately, they have a few ideas up their sleeve to achieve both of these goals at once.
1. A Framework for Community-Centered Service
In the beginning, the coffeeshop adapted to the public health best practices mandated by the government: They’re open for delivery or curbside pickup, they’ve updated their online website for ordering, and they even re-arranged the store near their Square point-of-sale (POS) register to maintain proper social distancing for any customers who walk in.
These practices are a great start to drum up business, but they’re just that—a start.
Companies like Tom’s Coffee can take it a step further and make community outreach a key part of their pandemic business models. In our example, the coffeeshop plans to create new menu items and a new marketing campaign that highlights how their services can support those on the front lines.
Here’s how it could look. Rather than sell individual coffee drinks or bakery items as usual, Tom’s Coffee can adapt its Square POS and mobile ordering app with items grouped together in a bundle: Large carafes of coffee, batches of a dozen cookies, big bags of chips, and so on. Each of these bundles is designed to serve 12 to 24 people and is not something Tom’s Coffee would normally include on the menu.
But rather than just create these bundles and sell them as normal, Tom’s Coffee positions these bundles as “community uplift packages” designed to brighten the day of essential workers: grocery employees, teachers, police, and first responders. After all, since they do so much for us, don’t they deserve to be greeted with a hot cup of coffee and sweet treat at the start of their day?
2. The Marketing Side of Things
The overarching goal here is to compensate for decreased sales volume by selling larger batches of products (at an encouraging discount) and market those bundles as a saving grace that customers can utilize to support essential workers. Should a bundle get ordered for, say, a local elementary school, Tom’s Coffee whips up the order, delivers it out to the school, and snaps a couple photos that show the delivery person as he met with the customer and thanked her for the business.
Tom’s Coffee then publishes the photos on social media to thank the customer, show community support, and raise awareness of the service. This provides several key points of information for any customers watching:
- Tom’s Coffee is still open and eager for business
- They’re making public safety a priority within their business model
- They’re being proactive in show appreciation for hard-working, essential employees
Of course, Tom’s Coffee donates a few of these bundles on their own terms as well. The thrust of the campaign is to position Tom’s as the “partner” company that can deliver the customer’s well-wishes to whoever needs them.
And given that Square merchants can integrate their loyalty point programs directly through PoppinPay’s mobile order ahead app, Tom’s Coffee can leverage its loyalty program to its benefit here, too. It’s easy to provide bonus loyalty points for specific purchases, which is the perfect way to further incentivize these larger, bundled orders.
Naturally, any community-centered approach needs to be backed by a solid social media marketing strategy that highlights these orders and creates visibility for the service. But these angles don’t just prop up Tom’s Coffee as some kind of hero; rather, they recognize the workers who put themselves on the line and create a direct connection between a customer’s purchase and those who receive it.
These are just a few examples, but QSRs can get creative here. It’s possible to incorporate other marketing elements into this strategy as well. For example, plenty of cash-strapped companies are setting up GoFundMe pages to help cover rent, bills, staffing costs, and other expenses during the economic slowdown. If Tom’s Coffee were to set up a page like this and strategically plug it through social channels, they could earn far higher donations than they might through a standard GoFundMe page alone.
Tom’s Coffee has created community-consciousness around their brand, so they’re far more likely to receive goodwill from other community members in turn. This is how a local QSR competes with the larger chains, even during these tough times.
3. Bring the Community Into Your Brand
The above framework is a type of community-focused marketing that many companies don’t strive for in the course of their normal operations. But in the wake of the pandemic, this social element can be a powerful tool to generate buzz at a time when we’re more community-conscious than ever.