7 minute read - Sep 11, 2020

Eating Out In A Changed World - How restaurants are adapting to COVID

The pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry to the tune of $120 billion in lost sales in just the first three months of the shutdowns. The restaurants that are surviving -- and even thriving -- have followed four key strategies.
Marshall Pierce
Enterprise Partnerships

According to a nationwide survey by the National Restaurant Association, 78 percent of U.S. adults agree that going out to their favorite restaurant was one thing they missed the most during the COVID-19 shut-downs.

More than half -- 56 percent -- of survey participants also said that they knew a restaurant in their community that permanently closed during the outbreak. Those findings echo a July report from the online review site Yelp that said 60 percent of the nation’s restaurants have shut down for good. These numbers represent the highest total business closures, even surpassing the also hard-hit American retail industry.

The restaurants that have made it this long have not done it by luck. They have been nimble enough to adapt and provide services in different ways or offer new ways to meet the shifts in customer demands. Here are four strategies that are helping restaurants not only stay afloat but succeed during this challenging time.

1. Offer outdoor seating and curbside pickup

Many of the nation’s re-opening timelines coincided with warmer temperatures. Yet, indoor seating was either banned or limited. At the same time, people who were tired of being stuck at home began looking for ways to enjoy restaurant food while keeping safe. 

The solution? Curbside delivery and outdoor dining. Restaurants who had outdoor dining areas prior to COVID expanded them, and others added new spaces. Many cities relaxed their outdoor eating restrictions, allowing restaurants to temporarily use sidewalks, adjacent parking lots, and even street spaces to encourage outdoor dining for restaurants.

The Vault - San Francisco, CA

In addition to outdoor dining, many restaurants focused on optimizing to-go orders by delivering orders curbside. They also introduced or expanded home delivery options by hiring new or furloughed employees or using popular food apps like DoorDash and GrubHub.

According to research by the finance service company Rewards Network, 42 percent of the nation's restaurants added delivery options, and 31 percent said they planned to continue the service for the long haul.

2. Engage with customers on social media

It’s no surprise that results from a survey by Statista reveal that folks stuck at home during the pandemic spent more time on their social media accounts than ever before. That statistic also explains why the restaurants that drew customers back in after the shutdowns were the ones that actively engaged with them online. 

These establishments shared posts about new dishes and ordering options, and they highlighted changes that focused on safety, such as new hours and seating options.

To keep their customers engaged, restaurants should post fresh new content on their Facebook and Instagram accounts and consider adding other platforms such as Twitter and YouTube. These accounts will not only help attract new customers but will help encourage existing customers to reorder. A study by Buzzsomo found that including images on Facebook increases engagement by 2.3X!

Mr Holmes Bakehouse - Los Angeles, CA
Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar - Arlington, TX

3. Build loyalty with rewards programs

Today’s restaurant loyalty programs go way beyond the punch cards of the past. They leverage social media accounts, phone numbers, and emails to keep track of points and re-market to customers, reminding them to order more to get that free meal or discount.

Building customer loyalty makes sense at any time, but it can be critical to a restaurant’s success today. Here’s why. Attracting a new restaurant customer can cost up to five times more than retaining an existing one, and increasing customer retention rates by only 5 percent can boost your restaurant's profits by more than 25 percent, according to a research study by Bain & Company.

With many customers working at home, the added incentive of a loyalty program encourages them to place that pick-up order or splurge on an outdoor meal at your business.

4. Attract customers using high-quality photography

Photo by Snappr photography

The common ingredient of implementing each of the previous strategies is the use of stunning photography.

Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days, but not everyone has the expertise to stage food and restaurant spaces to their best advantage. That is why successful restaurants can attribute increases in sales to their use of professional photographs. High-quality photos help build your brand identity.

In our post-COVID world, professional photos also demonstrate that your restaurant is committed to health and safety. Sure, you can list your health and safety precautions, but we are all becoming a little numb to the guidelines.

Images work better at getting your message across since people tend to remember only 10 percent of the information they read. When you add an image, retention increases to 65 percent. So, why not let your professional photos do the talking as you show your staff wearing masks and disinfecting tables?

Additionally, the key to getting more online orders is having an irresistible menu with lots of high-quality professional food photos. In fact, adding food photos to online menus is shown to increase online sales by at least 30 percent. Data from Deliveroo, the UK’s largest food delivery platform, shows that more online orders are going to restaurants that use more photos in their menus.

Many restaurants are making a big mistake by merely uploading a PDF version of their physical menu and not providing enough high-quality photos with visual appeal. Professional food photos are essential for a high conversion rate, and restaurants that do not use quality menu photos risk losing valuable online orders and customers. Take a look at these examples from some of the biggest brands providing full photos in their online menus.


Having high-quality professional photos is now essential to getting online orders. How can you find a professional photographer in your area? That’s easy with Snappr.

Snappr has the world’s largest network of trusted photographers providing professional work on-demand. Photoshoots can be done anywhere and anytime - often with as little as two hours advance notice.

And with the best-in-category tools and API, Snappr is the fastest and most effective way for companies to manage shoots at scale. Best of all, every Snappr shoot is professionally edited by a single in-house team, resulting in high-quality images that are always consistent with your brand.

Ready to take your restaurant to the next level and make a real impact on your bottom line? Contact Snappr’s Enterprise Team today to learn how we can boost your restaurant’s brand with professional photography that is second to none.

About the author

Marshall Pierce
Enterprise Partnerships

Marshall Pierce leads partnerships for enterprise Food clients at Snappr. He has helped dozens of major players in the industry with their content strategy. He is available for a no-obligation consultation about your Food photography needs.

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