June 10, 2020

The Media Mix Your Restaurant Needs to Bounce Back From COVID-19 Closures

By Brock Campbell

We’re seeing many restaurant brands embrace the next phase of pandemic messaging in their marketing and advertising. We are beginning to turn the corner from the “we’re here for you” to messaging that’s a little more normal—whatever that is. We’ve seen beer brands bring back humor, even poking fun at COVID-19 related themes like Zoom calls and stay-at-home orders.

No question, messaging is key right now—we’ve recently written on the topic. But there’s an equally important factor of success in the pandemic recovery phase: The media mix.

Media habits changed, some significantly, during our country’s stay-at-home orders. And just as lives won’t be back to normal after re-opening, neither will media habits. Habits, by nature, are hard to establish, but equally hard to change. So don’t expect media consumption to go back to 2019 levels.

What hasn’t changed is that you have to reach your customers on their turf and terms, not yours. Since their turf and terms have changed, a return to your pre-2020 media plan will probably not get the job done.

So, what’s a restaurant brand to do?

Going Dark on Your Media Could Result in Customers Going Dark on Your Restaurant

If your restaurant COVID-19 strategy has been going dark in all media, you’re going to have an especially difficult time with recovery. Consumers will gravitate toward brands that have had a voice over the past several months.

If your restaurant has gone dark since March, this article is unlikely to convince you to turn the light of media on again. But you will have to get back in the game. And, now is better than later.

Consider this recent study showing the direct relationship between brand advertising activity and the opinion that the brand is responding well.

Graph Pic #1

In other words, your specific restaurant messaging might matter less than just being out there. So be there.

Connect Via At-Home Activities by Investing in Social Listening Platforms

Take your connection strategy a step further by reaching your audience through the in-home activities that pacify time and headspace during the quarantine.

Case in point: The Almond Board of California on Twitch.

E-gaming popularity has been on the rise, even before the recent months of stay-at-home orders. Now, gaming is one of the most popular quarantine activities, especially for those under 30 years of age.

Entertainment Pic #2

The Almond Board of California’s recently launched a campaign that leverages the growing audience of Twitch. Their ads highlight the energy power of Almonds to fuel up those on the Twitch channel. The new campaign also includes an influencer partnership with three selected influencers on the channel who were chosen because they lead active lifestyles. The influencer effort launched in mid-May and included a professional bodybuilder and an avid runner.

You’ve probably noticed the #bakingbread trend of the past few months. Red Star Yeast and other ingredient companies were able to engage through just listening and responding on social media. (See Red Star Twitter replies here.)

If an at-home trend appears relevant to your brand, be ready. If you’re not investing in social listening platforms and the required staff, consider that your competitors will probably be in the conversation in your place.

Get Local on Google

If you’re in the brick-and-mortar restaurant business, you should be taking advantage of local search ads on Google.

Consider the search trends (shown here) for the phrase “takeout.” The spike is obviously at the time of at-home restrictions in the U.S.

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Even as we enter the recovery phase, takeout and delivery will continue to be of interest to consumers. So, when they search, consider positioning your brand front-and-center. Your business listing will appear in ads such as the one shown here in this example.

Google Pic #4

Increase Social Media Spend

Media consumption is up across many platforms and social media is no exception. Research shows that at least a third of internet users in the U.S. report spending more time on social media since March.

The good news is that consumption is up. However, engagement in most social channels peaked in late March and has been trending downward ever since. Relevant content is still the necessity to break in-feed clutter. Couple a relevant content strategy with an increase in spending to grow followers and engagement.

Simply put, your customers are on social. You should be too.

Consider TikTok

TikTok is not for all brands. It requires an intentional content strategy targeting an audience that’s probably younger than anyone on your marketing team. Ad minimums could also be restrictive for some brands.

But it’s becoming a favorite pastime for many at-home users right now, even gaining popularity among the over-30 crowd.

Chipotle gets it on TikTok. The brand’s videos are all about showing their fun and lighthearted personality. No hard sells or taking itself too seriously. (Check out the brand on TikTok here.)

Remember Impressions Still Matter

During times of economic uncertainty, marketers tend to cut spending and/or reallocate dollars to limited channels that can be easily measured with clicks.

There’s still a place for awareness-generating media. You can’t expect a high click-through from streaming video or music platforms. But they make a lot of sense to drive brand awareness. Nielsen reported at the end of March that over the previous four weeks, the number of minutes the average person spent streaming TV and movies had jumped 36 percent weekly, from 115 minutes to 156 minutes. Just as the pandemic recovery is a lengthy process, your media mix should include channels that embrace the long-game strategy of driving brand awareness.

Final Thought: Experiment With New Media Channels

Chances are your restaurant has experimented with new operational procedures over the past several months. Some may have worked better than others. You may even find that you adopt some new operations long-term. Think of your media mix in similar terms. Try something new. If a new media channel generates results, consider adopting it to your longer-term media strategy.


  • A diverse yet adaptive media mix is a must for any brand during this period of pandemic recovery. A restaurant brand needs to be engaged in the conversation. And, they need to be ready to connect with consumers on their terms—embracing the rise in at-home activities, Google search opportunities, social media, and unique platforms, like TikTok.