MCA’s Operator Data Index includes over 350 eating & drinking out chains with five outlets or more. We estimate these businesses generated a combined turnover of almost £27bn in 2019 – quite what this comparative will equate to in 2020 when the coronavirus dust eventually settles is a scary prospect. Many of these businesses have temporarily closed all operations, while a number are gallantly soldiering on with delivery or takeaway from selected locations only. Of those businesses still trading in some form, it is useful to review their online messages on how they are dealing with the coronavirus. Certainly, there are differences in how they are looking to both inform and reassure consumers.

The largest operator (by UK outlets) currently trading is Domino’s. Interestingly, it does not directly reference the virus by name, but leads with the headline message: ‘For your assurance’. Thereafter substantiating activities include how all deliveries can be contact-free, that cash is no longer accepted and how the business is no longer offering collection, only delivery.

Papa John’s builds on this approach, by adding additional customer assurance via a ‘Quality Seal’. This is the use of a sticker placed on each pizza box as soon as the order leaves the oven and will be intact on delivery, thereby giving customers extra confidence that the pizza has not been touched from the moment it leaves the oven to the point they open the box. What is also different about the Papa John’s communications, is how they are incorporated within a letter to the customer from Liz Williams, the UK MD. This does serve to personalise the communication and helps create a rather warmer impression than the more sterile corporate style of Domino’s.

Bakery chain Cooplands, is another operator that leads with a message from management. CEO Belinda Youngs writes to update customers about the response from her business, but also to try to distance Cooplands from larger Food to Go rivals and to enhance underlying customer goodwill. Cooplands has closed all its town and city centre stores that are not deemed within a community, to enable it to focus all attention on its neighbourhood shops that do serve local communities.

Her message goes on to state how the business is planning and organizing local deliveries, partnering with milkmen and women, managing call and collect where customers can pay over the phone and have their order ready for them, as well as contacting local care homes, retirement homes, doctors surgeries to deliver bread for them. Cooplands is also sourcing other staples temporarily, items that would not normally be sold, so as to better help local residents. Importantly, Youngs message is also aimed at staff, reinforcing the safety steps being taken, but also highlighting the sense of business pride in the initiatives being taken to better serve local communities.

Talking of community support, it would be amiss not to draw attention to the Feed the NHS campaign. Leon has helped spearhead this, and it is prominently highlighted on its website. The aim is to raise £1m to help feed NHS workers one hot healthy meal each day, with further details available at: Encouragingly, this campaign is also being supported by several other operators, including Pizza Pilgrims, Rosa’s Thai, Tortilla and Wasabi. Many of these supporters, and several more besides, are also offering 50% discounts to NHS staff.

In the face of huge and unprecedented business challenges, it is great to see so many good deeds and growing corporate social responsibility. There will be many enduring legacies of the coronavirus, it is hoped this will be among them.