9 ways to engage guests during a pandemic

As restaurants and diners prepare for a potentially long winter, here are some ways to stay connected with guests.
Illustration: Tommy Parker

The pandemic doesn’t appear likely to end anytime soon, and with colder weather on the horizon for many parts of the country, restaurants are going to need more than a patio to keep things running. Here are nine restaurant marketing ideas from earlier in the pandemic that are just as relevant now for staying connected with consumers who might prefer to stay home. (And check out our full list of 50 Great Ideas.)  

Chicken and chill

Through a promotion called Fried Chicken 'n Chill, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen provided its Netflix username password to the first 1,000 customers to post a picture of themselves with a Popeyes meal and the hashtag #ThatPasswordFromPopeyes.

Bingo night

Anyone who ordered meal delivery, a cocktail kit or CSA Box from Canlis in Seattle received free bingo cards for a livestream bingo night every Friday. Prizes included Canlis gift cards.

Flash-mob dinners

North Palm Beach, Fla., restaurants invited residents in the area via Facebook to order takeout from a different restaurant each night of the week. The idea was to give the operator lots of business that night, as well as time to purchase and prepare food and hire enough staff.

Virtual prom

Jack in the Box and Chipotle hosted virtual prom events on Zoom and Instagram, respectively, for high school seniors missing out on the springtime rite of passage. Chipotle's included giveaways and instructions for how to make corsages and boutonnieres out of burrito foil.

Brands in the background

Chains such as Dunkin' and Applebee's created Zoom-friendly backgrounds to remind consumers of their brands, even when dining rooms are closed.

Neighborhood taco night

Some Moe's Southwest Grill franchisees organized Neighborhood Taco Kit Nights, taking orders for an entire neighborhood and then setting up a station for people to pick up their orders. The drops helped Moe's stay connected to the community while also delivering meals in a safe and efficient way.

Restaurant bonds

Milwaukee restaurant Lazy Susan along with seven others offered "restaurant bond" gift cards to be used later. The cards could be purchased for $25 and would "mature" to a value of $30 in June, $35 in July and $40 in August and after.

Date night pizza challenge

DineAmic Hospitality's Bar Siena sold pizza-making kits for couples to make together, post on social media and challenge other couples to top their creations.

Meals with a soundtrack

A number of restaurant operators, looking to bring the dine-in experience to people's homes, created on-brand playlists. Red Lobster's featured romantic tunes for date night, while Zaxby's created a set of ambient restaurant sounds with titles such as "Friday 9:45 PM."

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