Pub PR: how can operators reassure customers returning after 'Freedom Day'?

Reopening strategy: Whatever your views on ‘Freedom Day’, it’s important that the industry continues to support each other (image:Getty/dragana991)
Reopening strategy: Whatever your views on ‘Freedom Day’, it’s important that the industry continues to support each other (image:Getty/dragana991)

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For the hospitality industry, the road to ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July was a bumpy and tumultuous journey.

Since the country went into lockdown in March 2020, one of the most negatively affected industries has been the hospitality sector, with extended lockdowns and restrictions in place ever since, causing almost 10,000 licensed premises to close their doors permanently. 

But is the easing of restrictions 19 July a cause for celebration or a time for caution? 

As some joyously embrace newfound freedoms with plans to party with large groups of friends and family, others are cautiously trying it on for size, mask in hand. 

So, with two such opposing approaches, how can you reassure your customers you are ready to welcome them through your doors once more – whether they’re sprinting or they’re tiptoeing across the threshold?

Know your audience 

Depending on where you are located, what type of venue you are, your offering and your branding, you will most likely have ‘typical customer’. And by using listening tools, you can gauge how your audience is feeling. 

Social media is often thought of as an outward communication tool, but actually one of their main purposes for businesses should be to listen to their customer and to gain an idea of their behaviour and thoughts. 

Platforms such as Facebook can be used to determine what your followers are engaging with, what issues they are talking about, which communications they like and which ones they didn’t.  

The Facebook insights feature will help you to determine this, as well as tell you more about their demographics, such as gender, age, and location. You can also use polling features to pose conversational questions, such as ‘Will you be ditching the mask after ‘Freedom Day’: Yes or No’, which will help to give you further insight into your follower’s thoughts. 

As well as using online listening tools, it’s also important to encourage your teams to talk to your customers and monitor how they’re feeling over the upcoming weeks.  

They can either help to put apprehensive customers minds at ease or communicate to management teams any issues that may need addressing. 

Clear messaging 

Hopefully by now you have a clear stance on where your venue stands on the measures you have put into place post ‘Freedom Day’. 

Whether these measures celebrate autonomy, or whether it takes a more cautiously protective stance, it’s important to show that they are considered and that they have been put into place with your consumers interests at their heart. 

It’s also worth remembering that the general public has been subject of restrictions for more than a year, and so even those eager to break the restraints will be looking for guidance. 

It may be a good idea to issue a statement across your own channels – your website, social media platforms and e-mailers to your database – outlining what your stance is, what people can expect when they visit and what, if any, restrictions remain and why. 

It’s also important to continue to keep people informed beyond the initial lifting of restrictions, as a reminder to new and returning consumers, and to keep them up to date with any adjustments. 

Promote your USPs 

If your venue has features you think would appeal to the majority of consumers, make sure you’re promoting these along with their benefits. 

For example, venues with outside spaces are in the privileged position of being able to promote having a good time in the relative safety of the outdoors.  

Other key features you may want to focus on post-restrictions include table service, a separate bar and dining area and take-out options.   

Gentle encouragement 

Your more apprehensive customers may need a little encouragement when it comes to returning to socialising. 

Of course, it’s important to respect the decision of those who chose to stay away from unnecessary close contact with others, but for those who would like to get back to some sort of normality, there are some activities you can do that may help to alleviate their fears.  

Research and consider working with local high-profile, well-respected people. That may be an influencer, celebrity, sporting professional, the local paper or even an MP.

Invite them to your venue, making sure they experience the best you have to offer, and encourage them to post about their experience in the hope others will see and feel reassured by their endorsement.  

You could also hold an event such as a new menu taster evening, a family fun day, or a themed night. If it’s aim is to appeal to post-restriction sceptics, you may want to start small and with caution to ease the back into social gatherings, but hopefully it will be of interest to your audience and make it an attractive enough prospect to encourage them to leave their homes. 

Creative ideas that consider your audiences’ needs will not only attract more footfall, but by communicating messages that consistently put their needs first will help to establish loyal and reoccurring customers. 

Working together 

The hospitality industry has faced many challenges over the years, none more so than in the last year. 

Whatever your views on ‘Freedom Day’, it’s important that the industry continues to support each other. 

Although it has divided many people, Covid-19 has shown the importance of communities and community spirit. This is a message the hospitality industry can maintain and perpetuate long after the pandemic is over.  

Ultimately whatever measures you decide to put into place, do so based on the best interests of your consumers and focus on this as the basis of clear and honest communication. 

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