As you learn about digital marketing for your restaurant, you might find it easy to get lost in the details. Your delivery apps and point of sale system are gathering ludicrous amounts of data about your customers. You can reach a billion (or is it three billion?) people by wading into placing ads on Instagram and Facebook. You’re fully aware of Google, you think, and know you need a website, but aren’t sure what any of it should cost. And restaurant TikTok — that’s a thing, right? Like really a thing?
Look, straight talk, it's a lot to parse. Then there’s the biggest question of all: When, exactly, are you supposed to figure all of this out while you have a restaurant to run?
You don’t need to become an expert in digital marketing to take meaningful steps toward getting your restaurant in front of more potential customers. To get a few tips on how best to think about the space, we approached two executives who take different approaches to digital marketing.
An advocate for taking a very targeted approach is Eric Brandt, the CEO of 5th Gear Marketing, which uses geo-demographic targeted digital marketing — in the same vein as postcard campaigns — for clients such as Subway, Dairy Queen, Starbucks, and Domino’s. On the other hand there’s the test-and-refine approach of Kyle Golding, CEO of The Golding Group, whose company strategizes with a broad portfolio of clients, gets feedback from the intended audience, and tweaks strategy accordingly.
There are points on which they agree, and points on which they diverge. But for the fledgling digital marketer, their approaches may help to cut through the din. Here are six recommendations they offer restaurant operators.
Buy Yelp ads before Google ads
The two execs agree that placing ads on Yelp before Google will save you money and time. Eventually you might opt for Google ads, but if you are just starting out, Yelp ads can go a long way, and allow you to track the traffic they generate for you. Yelp also offers an increasing array of other services for restaurants, so it’s an ecosystem worth mastering (including how best to respond to negative Yelp reviews). Golding has had some success with Nextdoor ads as well — they’re harder to track, but are cost-effective.
Think twice before trying a text campaign
You know your customers’ phone numbers, and have the ability to send them promo texts directly. What’s not to like? Well, the tech behind running a text campaign is still complex enough that you’d want to hire a professional to navigate it, both executives say. Plus it’s taxing to your staffers, who have to track the promotions and process discount codes from customers — a heavy lift, especially during peak hours. Brandt says if you’re going to give a text campaign a shot, make sure to track your engagement and adjust from there.
Create a Google business profile
The ads certainly can cost you, but you start to build an online presence (that is, see more search engine traffic) for free by setting up your business profile. It allows you to create ads and request reviews for your business. This video explains how having a Google business profile can also help you geo-target people who are physically near your restaurant.
Claim and verify your business profiles
This is an important step across several platforms, but particularly on Yelp and Google. Claiming and verifying those profiles lets you control the information about your business that the sites show. It also allows you to see and respond to reviews and increases your visibility on both of their sites.
Make your POS work for you
So much of digital marketing begins with gathering, sorting, and using data. Who are your customers? How do you reach them? And what do they tend to order? The good news is you probably already have a very powerful way of tracking this information: Square is the simplest way to collect and track phone numbers, email addresses, and customer preferences. From there, if you choose to do targeted email campaigns, Mailchimp is user-friendly and a free platform to use.
Have an official web presence
You know this already, but it’s worth underscoring. If people try to look you up and fail, they’re simply going to turn to other options for dinner. Whether you decide to use a Google business profile or go with your bespoke domain, make sure your restaurant has an official page with great photographs, Brandt and Golding say. Your website will generally show up before your social media page in search engines, so make it great if you want, but definitely make it functional, with an up-to-date address, hours of operation, and menu. Once you’ve got a website answering people’s easy questions, you can spend less time on the phone and more time in the kitchen.