Whether you’re already back in business or are still solidifying plans to open doors again, the way you communicate to your customers and operate amid the coronavirus pandemic will shape the success of your business.

We know this first hand as a PR agency that works primarily with restaurants, franchise groups, and retailers nationwide. When the majority of our clients’ businesses were forced to close in March, we helped them craft important communication to their teams, their customers, and the media. Now, we’re starting the process to help many of them reopen with clarity, transparency, and confidence.

Here are our top four tips to reopening your restaurant or retail shop:

Share Your Guidelines – Everywhere.

Since there is no “one size fits all” guide to the reopening process, customers are going to look at your website and social media accounts more than ever to get updates on how to visit your restaurant or the standard protocols for shopping at your store.

There will be dozens of questions running through your customers’ minds, like:

  • Is a face mask required or just suggested? You could point your customers in the direction of the online stores that sell cloth face mask products for them to buy before stepping onto the premises.
  • I forgot a mask- will they provide one?
  • Have the hours changed?
  • Is it take-out only or can we dine-in?
  • Are fitting rooms open or closed?
  • Are my children welcome?
  • Do I need to stay in my car until the appointment like the other salon I visited?

The easiest way to alleviate their concerns is to keep your social media platforms updated with your latest protocols. On Facebook and Twitter, pin your latest information to the top of your page so it’s easy to find. On Instagram, create a stories highlight and update it often.

Add this information to the homepage of your website. Put a sign on the doors and throughout your building where it makes sense so customers always understand what is expected of them and the staff.

It may feel redundant, but remember, people will naturally look for information on the platforms they typically use. If they visit one and can’t find the answers or reassurance they’re looking for or they are worried about making a mistake, they may move on to a different business altogether.

Plan for the Worst-Case Scenario.

What are your plans if one of your employees tests positive for COVID? Do you know how you will handle it operationally as well as socially?

Since it will likely be a matter of if, not when, you will want to create this plan before it happens.

Make sure you are staying within any mandated guidelines by your state, but overall, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make.

Don’t forget to also plan for how you will communicate any changes or updates to your team and customers in the event you have to shut down temporarily or adjust operations due to potential risk.

Communicate. Then Communicate More.

Consider the importance of transparency to your customers. Some restaurants and businesses have decided they will communicate to the public when they have a confirmed case of COVID and their actions to protect their customers and staff.

A local restaurant recently had an employee test positive for COVID-19. Ownership posted an update on multiple social channels:

“We did not open today. This is not our first case nor will it be the last for any operator in our city… it is not required to make this information public, but we believe in honesty and transparency.”

The most common reaction in the comments of this update was from followers thanking the establishment for staying transparent.

Even if you don’t have a significant update, be sure to respond to all questions or requests from vendors, employees, and customers.

Whether you need time before paying a vendor’s invoice, or you’re not sure when (or if) you’ll be able to re-hire employees, be honest and respond even if the response is that you do not yet have an answer.

Don’t Stop Marketing.

Reopening is a busy time. If your marketing slowed over the past few months, now is the time to ramp it back up- even if you’re not yet fully operating. Customers still want (and need) to hear from you.

Look for opportunities with your local business organizations, chamber groups, or tourism and restaurant associations. For example, here in Grand Rapids, the annual Restaurant Week GR event will help dozens of restaurants restart with free marketing.

While there is no standard guide for reopening and each business situation is different, you’ll find momentum in focusing on consistent communication, transparency, and authentic marketing to get back on your feet post-COVID.