The fallout from COVID-19 has significantly altered the restaurant industry as a whole. As we look ahead, the pandemic aftermath will continue to change how consumers source food and engage with brands.

Eateries will need to apply new approaches to their food delivery marketing strategies — like curbside pickup — to send a crucial message to customers: We’re still here, and we’re ready to serve. This was the topic of discussion during our joint webinar with Technomic, titled “Delivering Sales-Generating Insights During the COVID-19 Crisis,” which took place on April 8, 2020.

Presented by Matt Lukosavich of Valassis and Melissa Wilson of Technomic, and moderated by Heather Lalley, editor of Restaurant Business, the discussion concluded that the restaurants most ready to use insights to strategize beyond their usual engagement methods will be the ones that survive these trying times.

COVID-19’s Impact on Consumer Needs

Social distancing continues to affect most of the country, with many states still adhering to dine-in shutdown orders. Even if restaurants could offer table service, a consumer survey from Technomic conducted during the week of March 22 found that 86% of consumers are avoiding crowds and 71% fear for their safety when going out.

Consequently, we’re seeing operators explore different modes of serving to increase customer loyalty in their restaurants. About 22% of respondents to Technomic’s survey said they added a delivery option, and 65% saw a spike in delivery orders after stopping dine-in service.

This growing trend is actually building on a pattern we saw before the pandemic: More meals were being prepared at home or ordered online. Delivery has been outpacing restaurant sales in terms of growth, with Technomic’s 2019 “Off-Premise 3.0” study estimating it as a $40 billion industry before the outbreak.

To adapt quickly, marketers need to be able to use the information available at our fingertips. Those insights can help build a digital marketing strategy for restaurants that meets potential diners where they are and responds to their shifting needs.

Pivot Your Restaurant Marketing Strategies

To capitalize on the high demand for top-shelf food delivery, restaurants need to get inside of consumers’ heads. Restaurant operators can use these sales-generating strategies to build a strategic playbook for serving consumers in their new world.

1. Connect to consumers more to spark action. Take a look at how companies have reacted to previous economic recessions, and you’ll notice that it’s the ones that double down on advertising strategies that come out on top.

During the Great Depression, for example, Kellogg’s doubled its advertising spend1 and managed to increase its profits by 30% while other brands moved slowly and ended up going under. Staying consistent with go-to approaches — or adopting newer ones — can help maintain some semblance of a restaurant’s momentum.

Current customers are increasingly tech-native and able to make quick decisions about their food purchases. Dining at home via delivery is a much more spontaneous activity than dining out at a restaurant. In Valassis’ “Defining Consumer Path-to-Purchase for Third-Party Delivery” study — conducted with Technomic in December 2019 — 77% of delivery-diners choose their venue less than 30 minutes before ordering. Use the insights pulled from these customer connections to inform your approach better.

2. Cater offerings to changing consumer behaviors. Advertisers can’t rely on past knowledge of their target customers. Consumer preferences are changing by the day, and restaurants must serve these new personas if they’re going to succeed during this time of extreme uncertainty. From offering convenient delivery to family meal deals to adding in-demand products like groceries and hand sanitizer, restaurants everywhere must find ways to follow consumer demands.

Additionally, examine how changing economic statuses affect buyer behavior and consumer responses to advertising. For example, 64% of consumers surveyed in Valassis’ study said they would order more often if they were offered coupons or discounts on their meals — and 51% would actually spend more.

3. Distinguish your messaging. While you work to serve customers’ new needs, you can differentiate your brand by getting creative with advertising and communication. Promote the features you’re offering that directly solve people’s present concerns, such as contactless payment and delivery. You can also cut through the noise by offering incentives, adding humor, and relating with empathy.

4. Connect with guests in innovative ways. The companies making waves during the pandemic are the ones taking leaps into unknown territory to help their customers out. For example, Chick-fil-A is installing hand-washing stations in its drive-thrus,2 and neighborhood grocery stores are hiring delivery drivers. Meanwhile, Burger King is offering free kids meals3 and supermarkets are setting special shopping hours for frontline workers.4 Find new ways to provide comfort and joy.

5. Do more with third-party collaboration. It may seem crazy to think about doing more in this time of cutbacks and social isolation, but ramping up your advertising by working with partners could help you meet new customers. Find third-party restaurant delivery services that fit your mission, grow your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, and use strategic targeting tactics to impact a wider audience.

Restaurants throughout the industry will need to work together to capitalize on minute-by-minute opportunities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Develop a marketing strategy that embraces online food delivery and options outside of traditional dine-in services to empathize with and delight your customers at the same time.

Are you interested in hearing the full discussion from “Delivering Sales-Generating Insights During the COVID-19 Crisis,” including insights from Valassis Senior Marketing Manager Matt Lukosavich and Technomic Principal Melissa Wilson? Click here to watch the full presentation on-demand.



1. “What Kellogg Can Teach You About Marketing During a Global Pandemic,” Spin Sucks, April 16, 2002

2. “Chick-fil-A Adding Handwashing Stations to Drive Thrus,” QSR, April 2020

3. “Burger King to offer free kids meals amid coronavirus pandemic,” Today, March 19, 2020

4. “Grocers turn attention to first responders and healthcare workers,” Grocery Dive, April 3, 2020