I walk into a big box store and am immediately surrounded by employees in masks. Masking tape on the ground. A post-apocalyptic looking gate made of whatever the store could pull together, which directed people along a make-shift path. A masked and gloved employee counting people as they went in and another wiping down the carts.
Caution signs were everywhere. Going down an aisle was like a traffic jam if one person stopped. No one dared pass by the person that pulled over. People were behaving as if everyone had COVID-19.
I believe how that store showcased itself at its entrance created an environment of fear and one that screamed out, “Caution! Danger Zone!”
On the flip side, I’ve been working with Cook Out and its CEO on coming up with a safe environment and communications strategy that would make customers want to keep coming back. As North Carolina started to open up and their dine-in restaurants would once again allow people in, the CEO mentioned to me, “I want employees and customers to feel confident, that it’s safe to dine-in without it being weird.” He went on to explain that if everyone is overwhelmed with warning signs, masks, and gloves, dining-in may be uncomfortable.
You also have to consider that not thinking through the safety protocols on safety and not communicating effectively can make people feel uncomfortable as well. I spoke with another executive and he told me he went into one of his favorite restaurants and they handed him the regular menu. Not a menu that was disposable and the traditional menu showed no indication it had been sanitized. It made him feel uncomfortable and he remarked he would not go back.
I’m still not comfortable with masks. I know Asia has successfully used them for decades to combat influenza, but it’s weird to see it on so many people. I wear a shield (I’m biased as we make them, see below). I’m selling here some so pardon me, but the face shield is much more practical – it blocks, doesn’t just act as a muffler to slow the distance of droplets. It keeps your droplets on you and any incoming droplets from others away from your face. Plus a visor or baseball cap is much more comfortable and easy to clean. Plus there’s space to breathe.
When I wear the shield (that’s not me in the photo) I always get a friendly reception. People look at me in a weird way but then ask where did I get it. I believe it’s more disarming because people can see my facial expression; my smile, or my concern. I don’t wear gloves for the same reason. Our hands are one of the ways we tend to express ourselves and having them covered just speaks of “I’m ready for surgery.” I do use hand-sanitizer frequently. I don’t shake hands, fist bumps it is.
So what’s the balance?
Clearly, a business needs to give direction. Making sure the visuals and “cautions” blend in with your environment. Noticeable but not too overt. Hand sanitizer stations should be viewable and easy to see from various points in your environment. I know Walt Disney had trashcans within 30 feet of each other; why? He studied customer behavior and found they would only walk 30 feet before just dropping their trash on the ground. I see hand sanitizer stations having this type of behavior impact. A reminder of safety protocols are in place and a more consistent cleanliness regime is recommended.
Floor graphics are good, and some eye-level signage is important as well. Pull up banners and simple coroplast signs can do the trick. Customizing these items to your brand and environment colors help create a calmer feel and exemplify you have thought this through.
Maybe instead of piling up your unused tables and chairs in a corner of your restaurant,
cover them up with fake plants. Or as one restauranteur did, place mannequins at tables as if dining. How you manage your environment says a lot about your business and your brand.
I’ve seen hand-drawn signs, blue tape on the floor, and masking tape across seats. If that doesn’t scream emergency and unprepared, I don’t know what does. Professional graphics don’t have to be expensive and you can get materials that will last longer, will match your brand, and create an environment that levels up your business. Need to cover a bunch of items stacked in a corner? Create a fun billboard with coroplast (yard sign type boards) that fit into your environment. We created 8′ x 4′ billboards for one place to cover a stack of items and it looked like a picture window. Fast and easy to do.
Make your employees feel safe by providing the right equipment, shields, masks, and processes for sanitizing every night (we use an ozone generator). Make your customers confident by showing caution, direction, and a safe environment that still feels like your brand and your place of business before all of this.
Don’t go down the rabbit hole that is creating a hospital setting when you are not one.