Marketing your restaurant is key to your success. Most small businesses, according to marketing professionals, do not spend enough time marketing their brands. You will succeed by implementing a manageable marketing plan tailored to the unique needs of your restaurant.
The first step for new restaurants is to create an online presence. After that, you'll actively promote your restaurant. Once you start to build up your customer base, you'll need to manage your restaurant's reputation and ongoing promotions.
Established restaurants, on the other hand, need to ensure the basics are covered in addition to finding creative ways to increase patronage. If your restaurant is currently struggling, you'll benefit from brand management, reputation management and fresh promotional ideas.
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Whatever restaurant marketing strategies you decide are best for your establishment, budget the time to manage your endeavors. Plan to spend 20 percent of your day on marketing and 30 minutes per day managing social media. If you don't have this kind of time, you need to problem-solve so you can budget the time to give your business the best chance of success.
Restaurant Marketing Basics: Low-Cost, Minimal Strategies for Everyone
At the minimum, potential customers need to find you and easily learn what your restaurant offers. Additionally, many consumers want to post reviews and tag your restaurant to their social media accounts. All restaurants need to have an online presence. Achieving the basic level of online and mobile presence is affordable, but it does require maintenance, which is why devoting 30 minutes per day to just managing your online presence is so critical.
The first basic step to restaurant advertising is identifying your customer base. Once you identify your target customer, you can market to them in a way they'll respond to. You can always tweak your target market after you get started, but you need a starting point.
You'll also want to think about where your customers are coming from. Are they mostly locals? Tourists? Business district crowd? This information will help you with your marketing, menus and serving hours.
Regardless of where or how you advertise your restaurant, keep your branding and information consistent across platforms. Also, budget the time to keep all sources up to date. Here are six steps for marketing your restaurant:
- You need a website. There are services that provide website-creation tools for restaurants specifically. A few to consider include Squarespace, Flavor Plate and Wix. You'll want to use a service that supports things such as online ordering, menus, mobile versions and table reservations. Your website should come with a few branded email addresses as well. When evaluating each service, ask to see its customers' websites and mobile versions of their websites. This will give you an idea of the possibilities for your site and help you gauge how simple the service is to use.
- Create social media accounts. At the minimum, you'll need to establish Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. You may want to consider other sites if your customers use them regularly. Post quality images and keep each post's tone appropriate to your market. You can have fun with social media, but be mindful of protecting your image and brand. Learn about hashtags and how best to use them.
- Create a Google My Business restaurant profile. This is a free service, and it will help Google help your customers find you. Using this tool, you can get your business hours, phone number and directions entered into Google Search and Maps. It also provides ways for customers to post reviews and comments on your business.
- Manage your information on review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. Consumers use these sites to find a new restaurant to try or when they're traveling. Visit the sites frequently to ensure that your restaurant information is up to date and respond to reviews. Thank customers who've offered positive reviews and professionally respond to negative comments.
- Create a few limited print items. Marketing experts suggest spending 80 percent of your advertising efforts and budget on online marketing efforts and 20 percent on traditional methods (radio, print, etc.). You may benefit from creating printed items such as shareable menus, business cards, quarter-page fliers, coupons or front-window advertisements. Try to create useful and creative items that aren't likely to be thrown away.
- Make an effort to get listed in local directories and travel guides. This may not be free, and you'll have to decide whether it is worth the expense for your company. If your town has a lot of hotels and tourists, the added exposure will likely benefit your restaurant. You may even benefit from placing some of your printed materials in hotel lobbies and rooms. If you deliver, you might be able to advertise your establishment through a listing of nearby eating establishments placed in each room. Ensure that hotel concierges and lobby personnel know about your restaurant so they can pass your information along to their guests.
Marketing Ideas: Simple Ways to Actively Promote Your Restaurant
Your potential customers are bombarded with advertisements all day long, which makes it challenging for your restaurant marketing strategies to stand out. You'll benefit from being creative and finding ways to provide real value to your patrons. You want to balance your efforts between ongoing specials, one-of-a-kind or seasonal specials, and the story of your restaurant.
Here are 12 restaurant promotional ideas to inspire you:
- Tell your story through high-quality video. This humanizes your business and your staff. Maybe the restaurant has an interesting history, or you provide a unique benefit to your staff, or maybe your restaurant supports an environmental or health cause. Telling your story can attract customers and let them see how your business is a valuable contributor to the community.
- Invest in a good camera. Images, especially food images, are extremely popular. You should regularly post to Instagram and use Instagram to post to other social media sites to save time. You'll best succeed by avoiding monotony and providing interesting, timely information. An example of a compelling post could feature an image of a beautiful, seasonal white asparagus dish with this comment: "#ChefMichael created this white #asparagus dish using fresh Amish butter & #olsensorganicfarm herbs. This weekend only at #myrestaurant.” Hashtags are here to stay, so it's best to learn how to use them. Notice how this comment also features your chef and quality vendors.
- Hire marketing assistance. Find a reputable marketing company and, at minimum, pay for a consultation and a restaurant marketing plan. While you may not be able to afford a full-time marketing team, you can benefit from working with experts to craft a plan that you or your staff can implement.
- Create a mobile app. If it makes sense for your business and customers, companies such as MojoBistro, ChowNow and Shoutem can help you create an app for your restaurant. Mobile apps let customers track loyalty points and coupons. You can also use apps to inform patrons of events, coupons and specials. You can even allow customers to submit and pay for orders through your app.
- Get out on the town. Attend and participate in local foodie events. You may even benefit from becoming a vendor at a local event like an arts festival, outdoor concert, rodeo or sports event. Even upscale restaurants often have scaled-down menus for special events. This exposes your restaurant and food to new customers, plus you can test an additional revenue stream.
- Host an event. Partner with local businesses and organizations to help them celebrate a milestone such as an anniversary or brand launch. You can offer them a limited, discounted menu and give your restaurant the opportunity to showcase your food and staff to potential new customers. Or you could host events such as a wine tasting, cooking classes or even an eating contest, depending on what fits your business the best.
- Embrace technology. Consider adding table ordering and tableside payment processing. Many modern point-of-sale (POS) companies provide these tools. Many restaurants sell more when they offer technologies for customers to self-order drinks, appetizers and dessert from their tables. You may also benefit from large digital displays that display current specials.
- Consider advertising menu items designed for special diets. Those on restricted diets, either for health reasons or by choice, actively look for restaurants that offer tasty food items they can eat. Consider adding vegan, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free, organic and dairy-free items to your menu. Your staff should know exactly how your menu items support special diets, such as where your organic food sources from.
- Become an active community member. You can gain exposure and local support by being active in the community. You may benefit from sponsoring a local sports team or donating to a local charity. This will cost a bit, but it can garner you free press and social media buzz in the long run. It may also benefit your business to try to get featured in one of your community's “best of” contests.
- Start a loyalty program. Loyalty programs are easier than ever to manage. POS systems and mobile apps can track customer accounts. Loyalty programs are especially helpful to restaurants that have the potential for regular, long-term customers: coffee shops, lunch destinations, pizzerias and dessert shops. Fine dining establishments may benefit from a different kind of loyalty award, such as a holiday party for your best customers (VIPs) featuring a unique one-time menu.
- Create a positive delivery image. Consider your packaging. Packaging and delivery practices are a big part of your image. Be sure to include a small delivery menu for future orders. Require that delivery persons dress properly and conduct themselves professionally. Brand your delivery vehicles and require that drivers drive courteously. Consider “green” moped or bicycle delivery if it makes sense in your area.
- Hit the streets. In music, it's called street teams; in advertising, it may be called guerrilla marketing, but both require people to actually get out and work for you. You can hire professional street team agencies, or you can engage free street teams by offering free merchandise or events. This action is not the easiest to pull off, but it can work well for you if you manage it right. Generally, it involves promoting your brand with T-shirts, stickers, street performances, stunts or other activity to raise awareness of your brand.
Restaurant Reputation Management: Fostering Positive Customer Reviews & Controlling Social Media
Your restaurant is online – now what? Once you are visible online, you are also subject to both negative and positive reviews. Surly employees or inconsistent food preparation can add up to negative reviews quickly, since more people are likely to post reviews of a bad experience than a good one. Many professional marketers say the best way to combat negative reviews is to provide excellent customer service and consistent quality.
While you are likely already feeling overwhelmed with the day-to-day duties of running a restaurant, it's critical that you set aside time for managing your online marketing and restaurant reputation. Here are a few suggestions to renew patrons' confidence in your business if you do receive a negative review:
- Respond to negative reviews and comments. Be careful with your tone and how you respond. Be professional and, at the same time, acknowledge their concerns. Thank them for visiting your establishment, address their concerns, tell them how you will fix the issue and follow through.
- Provide consistent training and hire well. Foster a competitive work environment. Restaurants experience high turnover, so you have to try extra hard to keep a good staff. Your customers will have a better experience if your staff is happy.
- Encourage customers to provide positive reviews. This can increase the number of reviews, pushing negative reviews further down. Some restaurants offer incentives, such as the chance to win a gift card. Larger businesses may offer cash prizes.
- Help your customers market your business better. List your main hashtag both online and in printed materials, along with the names or logos of the social media sites your restaurant uses. If you don't provide hashtags, customers will just make them up and they will not be consistent.
- Demonstrate through social media that you respond to customers' input with real action. For example, say you received numerous complaints about your bathrooms. Post a picture of your pristine, newly updated bathrooms. Show that you listen to your customers and that they matter to you.
These marketing practices are just a taste of what you can do to promote your restaurant. You'll benefit from spending time researching new marketing strategies and testing those you choose to implement.
Find a way to quantifiably track your marketing efforts. Use your accounting software, POS tracking reports and social analytic tools to gauge what actually works best, because you'll want to know the actual cost of obtaining new customers per campaign. In time, you'll learn which marketing strategies work best for your restaurant.
Written by Pamela Stevens
Image from StockPhotosLV/Shutterstock