Most restaurants are poor marketers. They rely on a scattergun approach to attracting new customers and often aren’t focused on the best channels.
The restaurants that succeed are often great marketers. They ruthlessly focus on the key channels that work and are always improving.
Of course, some restaurants rely on incredible food and fill up every night on reputation alone. While that’s a romantic idea, for most restaurants it’s unrealistic.
This guide is a framework that any restaurant can use to build a restaurant marketing plan. It is NOT a list of plausible-sounding ideas – there are dozens of those already. This guide will give you the confidence to start developing a professional plan to build a healthy and sustainable pipeline of customers.
We want you to be one of those restaurants where people look in the window and say:
“Wow, that place is popular.”
The good news is you’ve already set yourself apart by asking this question. Too much marketing is a vague term that involves a lot of TV commercials and billboards. These can help, but there are plenty of other ways to form a solid restaurant marketing plan without the major investment a television spot or highway sign requires. Let’s keep going and take a look at our menu of marketing activities.
Goals – Have a Purpose
This is the #1 area where most businesses fail in their marketing efforts. It’s like driving your car with no destination in mind. It sounds silly, but a majority of businesses are not planning properly and setting goals, then tracking their progress towards the goals.
I’m not just talking about top line revenue goals like, “We need to gross $3 million this year.” Yes, that’s a goal and it’s a great start, but how are you going to get there? Especially if you only did $2 million in 2019?
So where can you improve? Can we set specific goals to grow the business? Examples are:
- Increase our private event or catering lead generation by 20%
- Increase our email list subscribers by 500 per month
- Grow Facebook followers to 10,000
- Grow Instagram followers by 1,000 per month
- Increase online reservations by 20%
10 Principles Before We Start
You need to get into a marketers mindset – there are a million things you can be doing when you’re running a restaurant and working on marketing seems like a luxury, but if you put in the time you’ll reap the rewards. Here are ten principles to help you get into the right frame of mind.
- Marketing is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration: most people think that marketing is sitting around and coming up with grand ideas. Whilst that is certainly important, most marketing campaigns fail because of bad execution, not bad ideas.
- Lots of thinking has already been done: don’t feel like you need to be continually coming up with great ideas. There is no shortage of ideas out there for restaurants: we’ve already written about 22 Restaurant Marketing Tips, which leads to my next point…
- Choosing marketing ideas is a distillation exercise: a quick scoot around Google will give you more ideas than you’ll ever need. The best marketers take this and make value judgments on which tactics will work for their restaurant.
- Embrace Trial and Error: many restaurants’ approach to marketing is to spend ages working on one idea, have it fail and then write off marketing for 12 months. Most ideas fail – the key is to keep learning, and the good news is that there are thousands of ideas to try.
- Marketing is About Tracking: the famous marketing quote rings true for many businesses: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Don’t fall into the trap – instead, relentlessly focus on tracking what works.
- One Size Doesn’t Fit All: a tactic that works for one restaurant will probably not work in the same way for another. Even within one tactic, say Instagram, there is a ton of ways to implement it, so you need to think about what works for your business.
- Great Marketing is Specific: following on from point six, the best restaurant marketing plans speak to the target market of your restaurant; while the overall plan may be fairly mainstream, great plans have elements that are unique.
- Play to Your Strengths: if you’re a great writer, photographer or social media marketer then take advantage of those skills to build a restaurant marketing plan. Even if you outsource the work, you will be able to quality check it more effectively and will naturally have better ideas.
- Narrow Your Focus: there are many good ideas, and it’s tempting to pursue them all. Avoid this temptation – instead, implement a small number of ideas well before trying other things. This will improve results and eliminate stress.
- Don’t Give Up: finally, accept that delivering a restaurant marketing plan is a long-term process and rewards are unlikely to pay off in the short term. If you turn up every day and implement your plan with care, the rewards will follow.
There was a time not too long ago when restaurant marketing meant placing an ad in a local publication, handing out some flyers, or maybe mailing out a postcard. While all of these techniques are still valid and should be used when appropriate as part of an overall marketing strategy, the landscape has shifted dramatically for effective restaurant marketing, and digital is now the go-to medium. In this article we will discuss the key components of successful restaurant digital marketing and offer some proven dos and don’ts. You customers are online…you should be too!
1 – WEBSITES
All restaurants (and all businesses for that matter) should have a website—and not the kind that you make in an hour and never update. Your website should have a fast load time and be easy to navigate. It should let potential customers know quickly and clearly what you offer. Some good examples of effective restaurant websites are McCray’s Tavern and Tiki Tango.
Here are more tips for creating a website that converts browsers to customers:
- Invest in great pictures! Use a professional photographer if necessary. You are in the food business—use photos that make the viewer salivate! Twisted Taco and Foxtrot Liquor Bar are two establishments successfully using this strategy.
- On your homepage, tell the viewer what your restaurant has to offer, but keep it brief! No one wants to read an essay when they first enter your site. Save the fun yet lengthy details for your about page.
- Make sure that your menu, hours of operation, and address are easy to find.
- Consider putting a blog or even a video on your site. Use keywords in the blog to help get found by search engines and drive visitors to your site.
- MAKE SURE YOUR SITE IS MOBILE FRIENDLY! Over 70% of your potential customers are using their mobile devices to search for dining options. Your website should be built in a “responsive” mode so that it will convert to a mobile or tablet screen for easy viewing.
2 – SEO / LOCAL SEARCH / PPC
What good is a beautiful website if no one can find it? How do you become visible? The answer is search engine optimization, or SEO. This process consists of several techniques and ongoing procedures such as link-building and back-end website construction to ensure your website ranks for keywords related to your business. In addition to “organic” SEO, the following are key components of getting found online:
- Local search. Think “Google” and the little “mini page” that pops up with the business name, some pictures, hours of operation etc. This is critical for local restaurants. For example, McCray’s Tavern in Smyrna will want to rank highly if someone searches for “taverns in Smyrna.” As another example, if you are a taco restaurant in Johns Creek like Twisted Taco, you will want to be shown first in the search results list from “tacos Johns Creek.”
- Be displayed in directory listings like Yelp and TripAdvisor. You want to make sure all of your restaurant information is correct and up to date in all of these. There are services like Yext and Moz Local that can assist you with this.
- Pay per Click (PPC). This is exactly what the name implies. You determine keywords you want to rank for and then allot a budget to pay for them when someone clicks on them. PPC should be done in conjunction with an SEO search campaign. ClickReady is considered a top 10 PPC Management company.
3 – SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media continues to grow and evolve as a key ingredient to successful restaurant digital marketing, but to effectively utilize it you need to understand what it is and what it is not. Social media is not a pure advertising platform. Think of it more as a daily conversation you have with your neighbor– you discuss topics of interest to you both, you share information, and there is give and take. It is not all one sided.
The two most important social media platforms for restaurants are Facebook and Instagram. For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus more on Facebook, but many of the same techniques can be applied to Instagram. When planning your social media posts, here are 3 guidelines to keep in mind:
- Inform, don’t “sell”.
- Engage. Be creative, make your posts interesting.
- Get involved! Keep up with the events, concerts, etc. in your community.
A common question asked by many restaurants is “how do I get more followers on my social media pages?” This is an ongoing process that includes a call to action to “like” your Facebook page through: your website, in-house marketing, and asking your staff, employees, and vendors. Facebook advertising is also a good way to bring in your target audience. Facebook ads will either add “boosts” to existing posts or create specific ads to run on Facebook. These custom advertisements will either describe your restaurant and ask people to “like” your page, or direct people to your website with a specific call to action, e.g. click here to see our specials!
Here some ideas for successful social media strategies that have been used by many restaurants:
- Use brand posts that tell a little about your restaurant. Include pictures with patrons enjoying a meal or drinks. Don’t forget to get permission to use their names!
- If you have specials , inform your followers of them by posting an inviting picture of the special and a brief description. Include a link to either your menu or to reserve a table online.
- Inform your followers of events in the community and get involved with those events. Posts like these are likely to be shared and increase your followers.
- Create a meet the staff campaign and introduce a new employee every week or so with a picture of them at work and some fun (but not too personal) information about them.
- Create a secret password special and promote the date that your followers have to visit a specific page on your site in order to get the password to use for the special.
- Use hashtags
The final word on social media is RESPECT! Much as you respect your neighbors in your daily conversations, respect your social media followers. Do not over post. Do not overwhelm them with useless information. Don’t be pushy! 4 or 5 good posts a week are plenty—use less in weeks when you do not have any important information to address. Facebook has algorithms that determine the quality and hence the visibility of your posts on your followers’ news feeds. Make the posts count. Quality, not quantity is the rule here.
4 – EMAIL
E-mail is still very important in digital marketing. In fact, some studies have shown that it is still the most effective form of digital marketing for conversions. Unlike social media, email allows you a much greater opportunity to gather personal data about your customers so you can market directly to them. Recommendations for a successful email program include:
- Using a good email service that can manage your data base for you.
- Creating and utilizing a sign up card to get first name, email address, birthday and anniversary (if applicable) of all email members.
- Having a visible email sign-up form on your website.
- Offering your customers an incentive for signing up, e.g. a free appetizer will be sent to them upon verification of their email.
- Sending your email members a certificate for a free meal on their birthday—no strings attached. Encourage them to take a picture while enjoying their birthday meal and use it on social media to promote signing up for your email list.
- Making the content interesting. Offer a special. Make these folks feel like “insiders.”
- Including a link to your menu and website on every email you send out.
- Inviting your email members to follow you on Facebook and Instagram.
- Not abusing their trust in you. Do not overwhelm them with e-mails—two a month is just right.
Texting programs can also be quite effective, but they’re a bit tricky. If you decide to use one, determine a specific strategy, and send meaningful and useful information and specials. Do not flood your customer’s phones with constant texts.
5 – Reputation Management
Every diner is a restaurant critic today. It is imperative to constantly review sites like Google and Yelp, as well as social media to identify any potentially damaging comments or reviews and to deal with them quickly and effectively. Likewise, it is important to thank a patron who has taken the time to write a good review or comment. Peer recommendations are more valuable than nearly any advertising today. Negative comments can be very detrimental. Keeping a watch on your online reputation is critical.
6 – Loyalty Apps/ Online Ordering
A growing number of restaurants are using online apps for customer loyalty programs and online ordering. There are plenty of companies that offer these. For the restaurants who choose to use these (and there are many good programs available), you need to make sure you are able to effectively manage the program. Many restaurants are quite successful with these, while others will get better results from more traditional loyalty programs like punch cards or key chain tags.
7. Measure Results
There’s no real way to know if a marketing strategy works unless you have a way to measure its success. Everything you spend time or money on should be measurable, which is why you should always track how much you’re spending on promotions. Once the promotion is complete, you will be able to measure the return on investment (ROI) and figure out how much money you actually made versus how much you spent.
The best way to make goals is to make sure they’re SMART:
- Specific: Lack of clarity around a goal can be a contributing factor to its success. Making a concrete goal is imperative, rather than vaguely saying, “I want to post more on Facebook.” You want to have a clear goal, such as “increasing Facebook engagement by 50% by the end of the year.”
- Measurable: It’s important to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Assessing progress will help you to stay focused, meet deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving your goal.
- Achievable: Being realistic is crucial to the success of a goal. If you establish a goal to increase your rating on Google from three stars to five stars but don’t take the necessary steps to ask for more reviews, then you’ll have trouble getting there. Setting a goal that’s attainable is imperative to giving yourself a chance at achieving it.
- Relevant: If you find yourself trying to keep up with your competitors when making goals, stop right there. Your goals should be right for you, your employees, and your business. If you’re setting a goal for the wrong reasons, you’ll face an unmet goal before you know it.
- Time-bound: Like “achievable,” the timeline of your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it. If your goal seems like too big of a leap to take, try breaking it out into smaller, more realistic steps that will help you get there. Focusing on small wins can help you make consistent, gradual progress.
Every restaurant owner knows that consistency is key. From the meals you prepare in the kitchen to the drinks that are mixed behind the bar, the most memorable restaurants are those that deliver reliable hospitality every time a customer walks through the door. This is also true with digital marketing: Maintaining a digital presence that aligns with the overall look, feel, and values of your business is key to creating a cohesive experience that wows customers every time. From your customer emails to your social media posts, digital marketing gives your business another opportunity to set your business apart from the competition.
Congratulations! You’re A Restaurant Digital Marketing Master!
Some restaurants are implementing all of these with great success, while others are doing little to none. The majority of restaurants are somewhere in between. Just remember that when you are developing and implementing your own restaurant digital marketing strategies, that all of it should be integrated— all elements should work together to deliver a consistent message and to achieve a specific goal. Some restaurants take on this challenge alone, but many determine that they need an experienced digital marketing firm to maximize their results. Whichever path you choose, remember why you opened your restaurant in the first place— to serve great food, to give great service, and to create good times and happy diners. If you are successful with this, digital marketing is the icing on the cake!
Written by: Abdulrahman Tawal, Digital Marketing Analyst at International Institute of Digital Marketing™.