Last week, I looked at some post-COVID* signage that has started to appear among retail businesses and identified some areas where sign and display graphics providers could help local businesses with their reopenings. As more businesses reopen (here in upstate New York, we are in Phase 2 and, happily, barbershops are among those that have reopened), their need for signage as well as other printed materials will increase if it hasn’t already. Sure, some of these materials are (I fervently hope) temporary, but others will likely be with us for quite some time—and may simply become normal and expected, even after the virus is gone.

A lot of the signage and other print requirements will also vary by specific type of business. Cenveo recently offered six tips for safely reopening a restaurant, which we included in our Newsfeed, and we got a comment from a reader who thought that the tips were meant for print businesses that also operated restaurants. While that would be a unique business proposition (one could have fun with the term “plates” à la The Plate Room at McCormick Place), the tips were more along the lines of how printers can partner with restaurants—which many already do, especially in the sign and display market—to aid in the post-COVID* reopening process, rather than for printers who themselves run restaurants out of their plants. (“Prepress” would obviously be appetizers, “finishing” is dessert, “embellishments” would be items like sauces or condiments, “fountain solutions” the bar menu...I’m getting more and more intrigued by this idea.)

Anyway, the Cenveo post had some good ideas, which I thought I would expand on. They linked to a survey conducted by FSR, the magazine for chefs, owners, operators, and other decision-makers in the full-service restaurant industry, which found that while 12% of consumers said they will never eat out at a restaurant ever again (famous last words...), two-thirds (67%) will but cautiously, and a scosh over one-fifth (21%) will pretend that everything is normal again. As with other retail businesses, it’s going to be all about customer comfort. Different states have different regulations regarding things like distancing, but even where no specific rules exist, restaurants and other eateries are implementing their own policies to, yes, ensure diner safety, but also, perhaps more importantly, allay customer fears. (As we occasionally highlight in our Friday Around the Web miscellany, some restaurants—especially in Europe—are turning to oversize headwear and other whimsical strategies to keep diners six feet apart.)

In terms of how graphics providers can help these businesses, I had mentioned last week that well-designed, brand-consistent, and professionally produced door/entry signage (“mask required”), floor graphics (“wait here—maintain six feet of separation”), and other display graphics (“take-out order pick up area,” “we use DoorDash,” “reservations/appointments only—call 555-1212,” sanitizing instructions, etc.) are useful and important extensions of a particular establishment’s brand and should be as seamlessly integrated into messaging, signage, and other environmental graphics as possible. Sure, it may only be temporary, but “temporary” may be months, if not longer, depending upon how things go epidemiologically. A hand-scrawled sign may be have been fine in the early stages of this crisis, but as we go forward, will no longer be acceptable, or at the very least will reflect poorly on an establishment, much like if a restaurant gave out hand-written xeroxed menus (although some do and always have).

One trend we have remarked upon often is the desire on the part of print businesses to be “one-stop shops” for a variety of print needs—offering small-format commercial print work in addition to signage and display graphics (or vice versa), and this is the case regardless of whether a shop outsources the print applications they can’t specifically provide or acquires the equipment to do so. As a result, there are many other print applications in addition to signs and display graphics that restaurants in particular will need in a post-COVID* dining environment. Things like:

  • Single-use print items. Yeah, this is a probably going to be a sustainability nightmare, but it’s a safe bet that 67% of those “dine-in cautiously” restaurant patrons are not going to be crazy about holding menus that other people have been pawing with their germy ol’ mitts. (According to a study from Inspire Group called Eating 2020: How COVID-19 Will Change Consumer Engagement With Food, 37% of patrons would be extremely or very worried about getting sick from other customers.) Disposable menus might be a welcome replacement for the reusable individual menus we have all become used to. This category can also include—depending on the establishment—placemats, wine lists, drinks menus, and so on.
  • Take out menus—even from dine-in only restaurants. Single-use doesn’t have to mean use only once. Restaurants can give out the equivalent of take-out menus to dine-in patrons who then take them home. Regular customers can thus bring their own menus back with them. That may be kind of tacky, depending on the restaurant, but that’s the way it goes.
  • This isn’t print per se, but for those who aren’t sanguine about throw-away menus, perhaps centrally or strategically located dynamic digital signage is a better option, which some establishments use already. And as I wrote about a few months ago, E Ink’s epaper technology, like that used in the early Amazon Kindle, has gone large and full-color, and has been used for digital signage.
  • PPE for restaurant staff. If you have been to a recently reopened barbershop or hair salon, it’s kind of reminiscent of the decontamination scene in the movie The Andromeda Strain, with haircutters sheathed in personal protection equipment—masks, plastic face shields, gloves, etc. Restaurant wait staff will likely need to be decked out in similar attire. Sure, nothing will probably spoil a romantic dinner at, say, Café des Artistes like a waitperson dressed in something akin to a hazmat suit, but c’est la vie. As has been reported on WhatTheyThink often, many print businesses used the lockdown period to produce PPE for their local community, health care workers, and others. (Yesterday, Cary Sherburne wrote about Spoonflower’s initiatives to produce face masks.) So this is another way that print providers can help restaurants as they start to reopen—especially if the PPE is consistent with the restaurant’s branding.
  • Promotional materials. This is the perfect time for restaurants to take advantage of direct mail not only to promote the fact that they are newly reopened, but what their hours are, what safety policies are in place, if reservations are required, and other information, as well as potential discounts, coupons, or specials. As I mentioned in passing last week, the challenge restaurants are going to have with distancing requirements is limited occupancy, and thus making enough off each diner for the reopening to be cost-effective, if not profitable. As a result, many are probably going to have to raise prices. So coupons or special deals—or even loyalty programs—sent via direct mail may well be highly welcomed by potential patrons. The USPS’s Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) is a woefully underutilized resource—although some printers like 4over specifically market their EDDM services—that would be ideal for this kind of marketing campaign. And as Heidi Tolliver-Walker would no doubt remind me, adding a QR code to the restaurant’s online ordering/reservation system would also be an added bonus for those who are inclined to use QR codes.

These are extraordinary times, and reopening retail businesses like restaurants responsibly will require some investment in these kinds of items to both ensure customer safety and reassure potential customers about that safety. A little creative thought can make these items more playful and less like grim and dire OSHA safety signage, but still serve their useful purposes.

Now, about that combination print shop/restaurant...


* I know that we are hardly “post”-COVID.