Why I keep coming back: What a small business in my community has been doing right during COVID-19

I’m a customer who lives in an enormous city. There are limitless choices about where and what I want to eat or buy. Standing out in an already crowded field like the restaurant business is not always easy in the best of times. Limited by the need to practice social distancing, stay inside, not travel, and avoid crowds, I can no longer drop in to say hi or can a delicious aroma beckon me in the door. There’s one small restaurant in my neighborhood called Allison that keeps me coming back for more. Here’s what they do.

How we stay in touch

The owners use a wide variety of digital strategies: social media, website, and email marketing. They designed their website to feel as if you just walked in the restaurant. The photos and color capture the look and ambiance of the actual space so it feels familiar. I do ordering through the restaurant website and not a third party. This allows me to customize my order as if I were talking to my server (hold the onion). Instagram is also visually exciting and customer posts get reposted in Instagram Stories reminding us they know who their customers are. Email marketing and social media are timed well so you don’t feel bombarded by too much communication. Email confirms your order and lets you know when it’s ready.

What gets communicated is important

Every communication starts with expressions of concern and care for the customer. The owners themselves are doing the communicating and provide an update on how they are doing as well.  There is complete transparency about what they have done about safety concerns, which makes me believe when things open up they will take the issue seriously. You’re clear there are multiple ways to communicate, and there’s an immediate response when you do. I personally love seeing the way the owners have been creative and nimble in how they’re approaching their challenging situation. Because they’re sharing it with me, it makes me want to get behind them and cheer them on.

Photo courtesy of Lyn Slater

Mixing it up and giving choices 

Just when you feel like something different, a new time-limited dish appears in your inbox, or it’s looking delicious on Instagram with a swipe up to the site. There’s the option for doing pickup or delivery depending on your comfort level. Sometimes I just like to pop in and wave hello across the dining room. What started as being able to order a bottle of wine with dinner has now become a wine and craft beer shop as you walk in the door. When you least expect it, a free bottle of wine or dessert will find its way into your bag. Offering the opportunity to get a gift card suggests there will be a future. Everything they do as a business conveys a sense of optimism and grit.

Giving back to our community

Seamlessly incorporated into the website and social media is a way to donate and give back to our community. The owners have provided hundreds of meals to healthcare workers in a hospital that lives in our local community, which was especially hard-hit. Showing the deliveries and the reactions of the workers on social media let us see how our money was being used and made us feel very much a part of a community.

Even more than before, these strategies have made me feel a bond and loyalty with the owners that means I will be a customer for life.