Should masks be used as an extension of your restaurant’s brand?

By Marc Gordon, customer experience consultant

Are you pro-mask or anti-mask? For many people, this has become a polarizing question. While we can agree on the importance of safety, the actions we take – and see others take – can impact both our feelings of security and annoyance.

However, when it comes to the foodservice industry, we must often put aside our own personal views for the sake of our customers. After all, we are in business to serve them, not ourselves. And when it comes to masks, this is no different. But what does your staff wearing masks really say about your business? And can they be a draw or a deterrent?

Masks and restaurant staff

First, let me say I’m not a fan of masks for my own personal use. They are uncomfortable, hot, and nobody looks good in one. However, when it comes to business, social standards dictate the rules. As such, I commonly wear a mask when visiting clients, and I’m surprised how many of them are also wearing masks. Regardless of whether you see masks as an essential safety item or a tool of conformity, I would say it’s not about you. It’s about making your customers feel comfortable and at ease. And in the food service industry, masks, along with rubber gloves, can have a positive impact.

A new uniform element?

Since many quick-serve and some casual dining restaurants have remained open, albeit for takeout or curbside pickup, I have seen how they have adapted to meet both government regulations and social expectations. Obviously PPE has played a large role in that.

However, it strikes me as interesting that while there have always been standards for uniforms and dress codes, when it came to masks, there seems to be no standard set within individual businesses. In one instance, I witnessed some staff wearing paper masks and others wearing N95s, and I saw one young woman wearing a black bandana with skulls on it. Why are there standards for dress but not for masks? For better or for worse, masks are now part of the uniform and should be treated as such.

It only makes sense that they be branded in some form, or even used as a way to share a positive message. The fact is masks can be viewed as socially aware billboards. Humour, images, and logos can all be used to create a message, which in many way is what the food industry is all about – using messaging to convey a sense of belonging and to shape experiences.

In Europe, many soccer teams have released branded masks, often selling out in days. A number of fashion labels have also introduced masks of their own. Masks are becoming both a fad and a trend.

What’s really unique to the restaurant and bar industry is its ability to make light of a not-so-great situation. The masks don’t need to be somber. I am currently working with some casual dining restaurants to create masks with fun sayings such as “still the best smile ever,” “just saved a trip to the dentist”, and “last week this was underwear.”

A worthwhile investment

When it comes to disposable versus reusable masks, you would be surprised at how much paper masks cost over just a few days. The manager at a local grocery store shared some numbers with me: twenty staff per day going through two masks per shift, with each mask costing 75 cents. That’s 210 dollars per week, every week. So far he had spent over 2,000 dollars just on masks.

His break-even point for reusable, branded masks would be less than four weeks, with each staff getting two masks. Not only do paper mask not make sense financially for restaurants, they increase waste and reduce the number available to frontline healthcare workers.

Keeping ahead of change

It’s hard to predict how governments will enforce the use of PPE, if at all, and they don’t tend to give much notice; I have already heard stories of businesses in other provinces being caught off guard. At this point, restaurant owners should already know what the retail environment is going to look like, and if they plan ahead, they will save both money and aggravation.

About the author:

Marc Gordon is customer experience expert. He regularly appears in the media and speaks at conferences and events.

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