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Small Business: How to address health, safety concerns of customers

"I was comfortable walking in before we even

"I was comfortable walking in before we even came," said Laura Pawlewicz, left, dining at Park Avenue Grill in Amityville with her son, Chase, and Whitney Luther and her daughter, Bryn. Credit: John Roca

Customers' top concern these days is their health and safety, experts say.

With that in mind, Yelp recently launched COVID-19 tools that, among other features, allow businesses to update on their Yelp page the health and safety measures they’re taking.

But even beyond Yelp, the ability for a business to communicate its safety protocols through emails, social media and other measures will be critical in luring back customers, experts say.

That was the case for at least one customer, Whitney Luther of Amityville, who was recently dining at Park Avenue Grill in Amityville with her daughter, Bryn. She said the safety precautions the local eatery was taking, including outdoor dining and staff wearing masks, made her comfortable to return.

"I like that they have so many things in place for everyone's comfort level," says Luther, noting the restaurant was active in communicating safety measures on social media.

That's a good idea, experts say.

“This is where business owners have to step up and talk to their customers directly,” says Bill Corbett Jr., president of Corbett Public Relations in Floral Park, a PR and personal branding firm, which has been working with businesses on communications strategies during the pandemic. “I believe customers are going to choose businesses that clearly communicate their health safety message.”

The new Yelp features certainly help facilitate that, he says.

Yelp recently launched a COVID-19 section on Yelp business pages, which highlights the health and safety measures a business is offering, such as outdoor seating  and curbside pickups.

“For a successful reopening, addressing health and safety needs is of paramount importance, which is why we launched the COVID-19 section on every Yelp business page,” says Akhil Kuduvalli Ramesh, Yelp’s Head of Consumer Product.

Getting the word out

There are various health and safety measures businesses can list including contactless payments, masks required and sanitizing between customers.

Yelp’s COVID-19 section is free for all businesses to update via their business account (biz.yelp.com). After logging into their account, they can click “Business Information” in the side menu bar and they’ll find a new “Update during Coronavirus” section, he says.  

Yelp also expanded its Waitlist feature so that now restaurants can print out a QR code customers can scan with their smartphone to join a waiting list.

The Waitlist is a subscription service ($249 a month) that helps restaurants with their front-of-house operations, Kuduvalli Ramesh says. The new COVID Waitlist features are included in the existing monthly subscription fee for Yelp Waitlist, he says.                                        

'Uncharted waters' 

Erin Bevilacqua Gonzalez, who co-owns Park Avenue Grill in Amityville with her husband, Alex Gonzalez, will be looking into the Waitlist feature, but has already updated safety measures on her Yelp page, nwsdy.li/grillyelp.           

She said it helps, noting, “It’s such uncharted waters that nobody knows the protocol of dining out right now.” Beyond Yelp, the restaurant’s been publicizing its safety protocols throughout social media.

Measures include having staff wear masks, socially distanced tables, a new outdoor patio, a touchless payment system that lets customers wave their phone over a QR code to retrieve and pay their bills and a QR code that allows diners to  view the menu on their phones, Gonzalez says.

Laura Pawlewicz of Amityville, who dined at Park Avenue Grill with Luther, agreed, noting such measures were welcome and communicated early. "I was comfortable walking in before we even came."

Old-school signs work, too 

Customers want to know what to expect, which is why in addition to updating her Yelp business page (nwsdy.li/knityelp), JoAnn Esposito, owner of The Knitting Garden in Huntington, has been alerting customers through various means including email and signage.

Among safety measures being imposed are enforcing the use of masks, social distancing, available hand sanitizer, sanitizing between customers and the option of curbside pickup.

“They need to know that we’re abiding by the regulations,” Esposito says.

That’s important, says Dylan Ander, CEO of NextCore Media, a Uniondale-based digital marketing agency.

“I recommend that everyone gets proactive, not reactive,” he says, noting one of the most important places to update is your website.

“If it’s front and center on your website you can answer people’s questions in advance,” says Ander, adding you can share the link via social media.

“All social media platforms will be important,” he says, noting Yelp is also a key place to keep customers updated.

Many people go to Yelp to see if establishments are even open so the more transparency, the better, Ander says. 

Beyond social media and Yelp, Corbett recommends using video, photos and graphics online to explain to customers what the business is doing and what they can expect. Owners should take videos and walk customers through the experience, show what will happen when they pull up, walk in, are greeted, seated, etc.                     

Post to social media, review sites and your business website.  

“The rules are changing, but keep it up and reinforce this message,” Corbett says. “Those who do this will be preferred venues over others who do not.”

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Fast Fact

More than 95,000 U.S. businesses have updated and communicated the health and safety precautions they’re taking on Yelp.

Source: Akhil Kuduvalli Ramesh, Yelp’s Head of Consumer Product

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