Customer engagement doesn’t always require a suite of smart software, even when most of a restaurant’s business is digital. For Halal Guys franchisee and restaurant consultant, Paul Tran, it’s all about personal touches.

As we covered recently, there are a ton of software tools that can help push customer engagement to the next level. Tran said that for his 10 restaurants, personal connections come from managers, providing extra things like napkins and sauce and outreach from across the planet.

Tran is a big fan of virtual assistants, or VSAs. Those remote workers have been talking to all of his social media followers.

“We’ve had them reach out to all our followers to thank them, as well, and remind them we’re open,” said Tran. “We’re being super aggressive with that because of so much competition.”

The model blurs the line between digital and traditional elbow grease. Tran said his key human assistant has been going through all their social channels to reach out to every single one of the more than 60,000 followers across his various restaurant profiles. He said it’s the same at the restaurant level. While he doesn’t want his managers spending all their time on Facebook, he said they are doing a few things to keep the hospitality message personal.

“Because of the downtime, our store managers have slowed down and started writing hand-written notes, I think that resonates well. Customers are reminded one more time how valued they are,” said Tran.

Preempting complaints and issues demonstrates that connection, too, saying loudly, we get you, and we’re here for you. That translates to a bunch of Halal Guys’ famous white sauce and extra napkins.

“So many customers complain they don’t have utensils and sauces, we now give extra napkins and sauces,” said Tran. “It should be obvious, but we’ve overdone it. That helps a lot, too.”

That’s even spawned some organic social media activity, maybe the gold standard of successful customer engagement. It’s the typical bowls of chicken and rice, but Tran said the extra sauce shows up all over on social media and customers dunk and douse all manner of foods and shout out Halal Guys’ sauce.

On his consulting side, he said he’s advising other restaurant clients to push their personalities and the human stories behind their brands.

“For the smaller guys, to be honest, they do pretty well with a smaller following. I just remind them that they need to take advantage of every person they can touch. Social media has really evened the playing field to reach as many people as the big guys,” said Tran. “I also advise them to do the handwritten notes, and some are doing a QR code that leads to a thank-you video to the founders and a discount to bring them back.”

Again, sending a web video via QR code is right on the edge of digital, but it’s a simple and cost-effective way to make a very personal connection without a software-as-a-service fee. His final lower-tech trick has been packaging.

“Everyone gets the standard brown paper bag; we’ve encouraged some of our clients to build some really beautiful boxes so the food still looks Instagram-able. One did a Happy Meal-like box to bring back this nostalgic present kind of presentation,” said Tran. “One of the biggest things on YouTube is those unboxing videos, they film that, as well, and it’s been pretty cool.”

Above all, he said any customer engagement strategy should differentiate yourself from the dozens or hundreds of outlets on the delivery apps and show any potential customers that you truly care.