Whacky to Practical Ways to Encourage Social Distancing

With health and safety on everyone’s mind, businesses are finding whacky to practical ways to encourage social distancing.

Restaurants are using pool noodle hats and bumper boat-like tables to keep customers a safe distance apart, while simultaneously lightening the mood and lifting spirits. It’s all in the name of adaptation and finding fun, creative (and hopefully consumer-enticing) ways to embrace this new normal.

In this trend analysis, we’ll share consumer and market intelligence around:

  • The do’s and do not’s of social distancing for brands
  • How a balance between whacky and practical can be effective marketing
  • Ways Europe and the U.S. are facing similar worries

We uncovered key insight to inform your brand’s journey in the coming months, including how/why:

  • Indecisiveness around how/when to reopen can impact a brand
  • 81% of consumers want to see 6ft markers when shopping and more
  • Consumers want retailers/restaurants to enforce safety and health precautions
  • Having humor can appeal widely to your consumer base and help to ease their worries

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Social Distancing 101 for Brands

Consumers are approaching shopping and dining out with caution. And this is something they desire to see echoed in the stores and restaurants they frequent. Brands should reopen thoughtfully, keeping consumer’s long list of demands in mind as 72% say they don’t trust others to act safely.

So, what do consumers want? Fifth-generation restaurateur Philipp Sitter set out to answer this question and conducted a mass poll through clients’ email, text, and social sites. He ran independent social media ads and engaged with active Facebook groups:


In 24 hours, the survey received 8,511 responses, from which he extracted:

  • 9% of customers expect businesses to use both masks and gloves
  • For restaurants, 58.7 percent said they expect disposable menus
  • 7% would like to see temperatures taken at the door
  • 42% said they would like to see entree prices no more than 10-15 dollars
  • 4% may use curbside pickup

And this research is supported by a wider more detailed poll that revealed a bit more around consumer expectations:

  • 6 ft social distancing markers (81%),
  • Disinfectants available for shoppers (73%)
  • Employees wearing protective face coverings (71%)
  • Plexiglass barriers at checkout counters (65%)
  • Requirements for shoppers to wear protective face coverings (62%)

But whatever standards they set, brands must commit to them.

Brands Must Move Forward Decisively

Executing new standards confidently is imperative, as there is no room for wishy-washiness. UK’s fast food chain, Gregg’s, felt the negative impact of indecision by announcing they would re-open, and then going back on it, as they weren’t quite ready. It damaged the chain’s reputation.

Southwest Airlines also flubbed. When Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly announced that it was safe to fly and began re-opening bookings, he was viewed as “out of step with the public mood and the pronouncements of health experts and putting his firm’s financial interests ahead of public and employee safety.”  A survey conducted by Alva said 37% now view the brand negatively.

This is where market intelligence is crucial. We can see where the conversation on reopening is clustering, offering brands clear indicators around timing:


And then looking at top terms by sentiment, people have been posting feverishly and positively over the past three months about “safety” and “readiness,” along with words like ‘too soon’ and ‘maddening’ that pop out on the negative side. That’s something to pay attention to!


Brands closely following the conversation are getting reopening right and have consumers smiling as an important by-product . . .

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Where the Whacky/Practical Line Blurs

Even though the new safety measures feel like something out of a Ridley Scott movie, savvy brands are reading the room. They’re applying safety measures not just in accordance with their state, but in accordance to their customers’ needs.

Big retailers like The Gap, Nordstrom and Ulta have a checklist of safety measures they plan to include:

  • Face masks for employees and customers
  • Fewer fixtures to help provide social distancing
  • Elimination of test samples
  • Plexiglass dividers
  • Increased sanitation with available sanitizer stations
  • Closures or limitation of fitting rooms
  • Option of curbside delivery and online purchases

And some engage their consumers with laughter to ease their worries. Burger King, for example, has a crown big enough for everyone. This champion of charbroiled meat and the Impossible Whopper advertised their reopening with humor and wit, creating sombrero sized crowns to bring awareness to social distancing.

“The do-it-yourself social-distance crown was a fun and playful way to remind our guests to practice social distancing while they are enjoying their food in the restaurants.”

Do they expect people to wear sombrero size hats? No, but fans love it and just might!

And BK is not alone. Restaurants around the world are rolling out dinner pals that help keep customers company, for example, and make the restaurant look fuller.

From traveling back to the 1940’s, with mannequins as your dining partners in Virginia to the stuffed panda bears at this restaurant in Thailand:


To the whimsical and very practical Danish who made private greenhouses for their customers eating out..


Restaurants are showing they know how to walk that fine line of enforcing social distancing while being able to show good humor. And that humor is important as reopening is serious business.

Consumer Sentiment in Constant State of Flux

Recently Neilson conducted research to see how consumers felt about returning to normal shopping behavior (seen below). It’s not cut and dried.

Poland’s consumers plan to shop a good bit less than before, and they’re joined by many other countiries. But surprisingly, Russians share they will likely shop about the same as before the pandemic. And Greece, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK are fairly optimistic about it all as well.


Will consumers continue the learned isolating and social distancing behavior during quarantine, or will they return to their normal pre-COVID-19 ways? Europe is reporting that though it’s open for business, it’s hardly a return to normal and social distancing could be here to stay.

But, overall, re-opening is being met with positive sentiment and that should be encouraging (as noted by the green shading below):


Maybe the more time that passes between the pandemic and consumers the more likely they will be to return to shopping.

In the U.S. currently we have about 1/3 of consumers saying they feel safe going to a store, so there’s certainly work to be done. One thing is sure: creativity, the ability to adapt and having consumer and market insight will be the guiding light for winning brands.

Don’t be left in the dark, reach out and keep up to date with changing trends and shifts affecting market and consumer sentiment.

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