Four ways one Florida restaurant kept customers engaged and business running during COVID-19

Published June 9, 2020

Sitting beachside, Flagler Tavern established itself as a popular destination for both locals as well as tourists, with a tight-knit staff that has become family, with many working there for many years. When the pandemic became a reality in Florida, the restaurant was looking for ways to engage the community, take care of restaurant staff, and of course provide excellent food for customers. Here are four steps that Flagler Tavern took to stay engaged and running during this tough time.


#1. Using digital to drive awareness

When social distancing started in Florida, one of the first challenges was to get the word out that Flagler Tavern was still open. They focused on social media and video. “We’ve been mostly using Facebook, but we also have a big following on Instagram,” said Elaine Stathakis, Director of Marketing. “We’ve been really focused on producing as much video as possible as we’ve been seeing 300% more reach from video over anything else.” Sharing high-quality photos of food and drinks went a long way. They found that things were changing so much—so the message had to change. So keeping in regular contact with customers was critical.


#2. Continuing to support their local community

Flagler Tavern’s regular philosophy is that if people aren’t coming to your doors, then you need to go to them. Already active in helping out in the community, they looked for ways to engage the community further, including fundraising for local hospitals. “We bought masks for hospital workers and launched where people can contribute,” said Deborah Morton, General Manager.“We just donated 7,500 masks last week to front line responders, including healthcare workers at the local hospital, firefighters, EMT, local police and the Coast Guard.” They also started a promotion to give 50% off food orders to first responders from within their area.


#3. Finding creative ways to package their offerings

To differentiate while driving off-premise business, Flagler Tavern started selling creatively packaged items from the bar, which customers could add-on to food orders. “We started selling mimosa kits, margarita kits and bottles of wine or whiskey,” Deborah said. “We’re making these specials to intrigue people and get them to come in.”

They added other items to their menu, too, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other essentials, plus family style meals.“It’s a challenge, with everything changing so quickly and often, to be able to forecast the volume of food you’ll use or what’s your hot seller,” Deborah said. “Working off of NCR Pulse, we’re seeing how every day has been different.”

They made it easy for customers to order everything—food, add-on kits and essentials—through their online ordering website, powered by NCR Aloha Online Ordering. And they ramped up their email marketing program to include a weekly email blast to keep customers informed on their new offers.


#4. Empowering their staff

Their original staff numbered more than 100 employees, so retention was important. They’ve found ways to keep their employees working, including participating with remodeling efforts and going above and beyond with deep cleaning, sanding the bars and scrubbing grout. “We’re able to put some of our people back to work either as painters or cleaners,” Deborah said. “When you walk in, it even smells clean. We’re moving pictures around and re-painting. We want our customers to have the confidence that we care enough to clean the building.”

Servers who have worked at Flagler Tavern for 15+ years really have a sense of pride and ownership in what’s being accomplished. “I think I see a trend where customers feel like they want to be normal already,” Deborah said. And there’s no place like Flagler Tavern to provide that familiar feeling.

Now that Florida restaurants are opening back up for dine-in service, Flagler Tavern has opened its dining room doors to the public as well. But it is also keeping the lessons learned throughout this time by maintaining increased focus on togo, curbside pick up and online ordering.


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