How to talk about covid-19 to customers

How to talk about covid-19 to customers
July 3, 2020 Georgina Quach

As pubs and restaurants reopen, the challenge of trying to ensure returning customers social distance is an intimidating one. Not only will the industry be required to self-regulate in a way which could be detrimental for the bottom line, but customers are likely to have quite varied expectations about the level of social distancing which is prudent. 

In the US, there have been some fights between customers and staff over this. It’s very common to enforce “no mask, no entry” in some shops there, and some customers have not respected these rules. (The UK is the country with one of the lowest mask adoption rates in the rich world. ) In the press, there is a debate about one metre or two, and if scientists and political authorities can’t agree, how should hospitality venues manage people?

Here’s our tips for communicating with your employees and customers about covid-19.

1. Know your customer hygiene rules 

For different venues, different rules are appropriate. You might have rules such as: masks only, masks only in certain areas, two metre social distancing, one metre social distancing. You’re also likely to have rules about the number of people in at one time, and rules around the way that patrons can interact with staff.

We’re not here to advise on what’s best, and it seems like the number of rules should scale with inherent risk factors of the business. Is your business cramped, indoors? Does it require everyone touches the same things over and over? Or is it a golf course?

If you are a pub or restaurant in the UK, you’re also required to collect the names and contact details of patrons by law. This can be done via our Order & Pay software which you may already be using.

2. Prioritise systems over culture 

The distinction between systems and culture is an important one. To use an example about traffic law, cultural change would be raising awareness to make drivers less aggressive, whereas systems change would be altering roads physically to subtly encourage less aggressive behaviour. Cultural change is generally less successful than systems change; and attempts to affect cultural change are more likely to result in disputes.

Some examples: creating a one-way course around your tables outside with arrows on the floor might be more effective than simply telling patrons not to squeeze past each other.  Adding a pile of cheap masks and a sign saying, “please use indoors” is better than simply requiring that patrons bring their own masks. Adding a screen to your bar might be better than asking patrons not to shout at bar staff. (Or better yet, using a phone ordering system is better than telling people not to crowd at the bar.)

Some of this borders on what sometimes gets called “nudge theory”. You could add hand sanitiser to tables, sell masks (some stores now sell branded masks). This should help you cut down on the total number of enforceable rules and therefore minimise the risk of disputes.

3. Communicate any required behaviour changes from customers early and visually 

“You can’t say we didn’t warn you” – unfortunately, people are often not interested in reading and adhering to the details of rules. That’s part of the reason that it’s important to shrink to a small and memorable number of rules. It has to be more of a propaganda effort.

Lots of printer shops have produced a large number of out-the-box signs which you can place all over you restaurant or pub. If you feel comfortable doing design yourself, it may fit more closely to the design of your pub or restaurant to have the message communicated in your own style and language, as many of the pre-written signs are aggressive.

4. Keep customers in the know 

The new rules stipulate that if one of your patrons has covid-19, you may have to shut up shop for two weeks.

Therefore, we’re likely to enter a period in which the reopening is patchy. It’s possible that at least one of your locations will open and shut again.  Our advice is to keep on top of your Google Business Directory  your Facebook Page, and if applicable, your Twitter. Ensure all your outgoing social says whether you’re open or shut. (While Twitter is less common, part of its USP is that it’s about “what’s happening” and a good source of live informal information.)

It’s also worthwhile to add your Takeaway details if you’re continuing to serve takeaways. Your Google Business Listing will be the first port of call for people checking whether you have reopened, and therefore is a superb marketing channel for takeaway services. 

5. Be More Social Than Ever

Don’t stop posting on your social media channels when you’re down. 

The Ivy House, a community pub in Nunhead, posted this list of guidelines on their Facebook page recently. This is effective at addressing uncertainty because it foregrounds “wellbeing”. The Ivy House is taking these steps to make the experience safer for customers and staff.

Ivy House Guidelines

Engage your followers by encouraging them to share happy memories of your pub or restaurant. Set up a hashtag so that you can show new customers all this content in one place, or, try posting a #throwbackthursday. This hashtag is used to refer to a happy memory. 

We believe that with an effective communication strategy you can boost the vitality of your pub or bar and stay top of mind. However, communicating with your staff and guests can be a challenge, especially in this unprecedented time. 


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