Long gone are the days of relying on a few Yellow Pages ads and word-of-mouth referrals, friends. Your restaurant’s success needs a strong digital marketing plan. Longstanding operators might live by the “if it ain’t broke” mentality, but the truth is, even if your restaurant has been a success for years, remaining so when the entire planet is online means adapting. The future isn’t getting any further away, in other words.
There's no better better time than now to implement new strategies, trends and ideas of how to market your restaurant. The first step is identifying the areas for said promotion. In this article, we will discuss the following heavy hitters—that is, the top restaurant marketing channels:
Social media marketing
Hosting and participating in events
Restaurant social media marketing
Restaurant marketing doesn’t get much more fundamental than social media, the modern must-have. Why, you ask? Well, for one—actually make that one billion—users have something to with it, and that’s just Instagram. Billions (plural!) more are on Facebook, and every single one of them has nephews.
Most of those users prefer establishments they follow on social media—some not even setting foot in a restaurant without first seeing its profile (yikes).
Where do you begin? In a sea of platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok, let's focus on the big two—as well as the must-have when it comes to driving conversions. (Two words: Incredible. Photos.)
It’s still the world’s largest social media platform and a most effective tool for restaurants to reach and engage customers new and old. Create a Facebook business page to post your hours of operation, briefly describe your restaurant, and offer a menu. You can also let people know how make reservations, if there’s outdoor seating, and whether you’re pet-friendly.
Then focus on driving traffic. You can use Facebook for free, but the social media Goliath knows its value and will charge for putting your posts in front of wider audiences. That said, there are tons of ways to increase engagement without blowing your marketing budget. Here are some ways to keep your page reaching people organically.
Post consistently. If you don’t do this, there’s not much point to having the page. You can post behind-the-scenes videos, cooking demos, or your take on culinary trends. Be friendly. Be approachable! But go ahead and flex. If you’re a leader in the industry or in your community, people will see you as trustworthy.
Promote events and happenings. Maybe it’s a new menu tasting or an ongoing weekly happy hour. If you create a Facebook event, people can engage with you and others who may be attending. This is as close as you get to free advertising, because once someone clicks “Interested” or “Attending” on an event, it appears as a post in their feed. And when you post inside the event, Facebook sends a push notification to everyone who has expressed interest. After the event, publish photos (both in the event page and as a separate post) to spur folks to tag friends in the photos. That generates buzz for future, perhaps larger events (more on that later).
Roll those [smartphone] cameras. On Facebook video content reigns supreme. More than 70% of marketers say it converts viewers into customers better than other content. Video tells Facebook’s algorithm that you want eyes on you. Facebook Live is a smart way to engage with fans: You can answer their questions in real time, and Facebook alerts your followers any time you go live.
Instagram’s success is rooted in stunning “can this be my life” photos, and lucky for you, restaurants are integral to that culture. Yours can be among them, if you use it right.
Take amazing photos. Seems obvious, right? Captions are important, sure, but a mouth-watering photo of an oozey, gooey cheeseburger that makes you want to lick your phone screen will garner the “double tap” first. Even if you’re a wiz with portrait mode, you may want to consider hiring a professional photographer to snap stellar shots of your menu lineup. Make people hungry!
Embrace user-generated content. It’s a clunky phrase for an elegant way to reach a lot of people in a hurry. Instagram is all about showing others that you’re “living your best life”—which is why people snap 30 shots of avocado toast before they touch a fork. When a customer tags your restaurant in a flattering shot, show your appreciation by re-posting it on your own feed. In turn they’ll often tag friends to show off. You can get a ton of eyes on you, all for a photo you didn’t even have to take.
Make friends with the hashtag. On Instagram (not on Facebook) these make you discoverable and grow your audience, at least when used correctly. Don’t be one of those accounts that “talk in hashtags”—most people left that in 2011 for a reason. Do create a branded hashtag unique to your restaurant to enhance your branding and to encourage others to tag your restaurant.
Managing online reviews for your restaurant
Lots of customers consult online restaurant reviews when choosing where to eat, so it can be crippling not to be listed on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the like. Just as tough, though, will be the not-so-favorable review—something that ultimately comes with the territory of owning a restaurant. Here’s how to handle it.
Have a dedicated responder. Anecdotally, it’s not ideal for the restaurant owner to be the one who responds to poor reviews. For one, owners are so personally involved they may commit cardinal sin of review responding: overreacting. Plus, there’s simply the issue of time—answering reviews takes up more than you’d expect. It’s better to have a dedicated person who can respond on your behalf, professionally and gracefully.
Try to take it offline. You’ll have a hard time removing a disparaging Yelp or Facebook review—unless it’s inappropriate—but at least you can steer negative commenters away from the public view. Try to scoot those conversations to your private messages, to work out whatever needs to be said and done. Maybe offer a gift card or a comped meal if the person’s complaint warrants it.
Be timely. Make sure sour comments don’t fester. The quicker you respond, the more it shows the customer that you want to address the issue. And say thanks for positive reviews as well! A prompt thanks to the customer who took time to share a positive experience helps grow the mutual appreciation and loyalty. Think of it this way: If you don’t care, why should they?
Restaurant email marketing
It may seem old-school, but email marketing is still one of the most targeted ways to reach a customer base, with some 90% of customers checking emails daily. It’s also a great way to generate loyalty with your existing customer base with exclusive discounts and offers, as well as a featured newsletter in which you repurpose other forms of content.
Some things to consider when launching your email marketing campaign:
Use strong subject lines. Your campaign goes nowhere if people don’t open your email, so make that subject line pop. Pro tip: use A/B testing to see what stirs your audience, whether that’s being coy and vague, offering calls to action, or using more emojis. Check out these email subject examples to get in the flow.
Make sure they’re mobile-friendly. More than 70% of people read emails on their mobile device. As you create your restaurant’s email template, check how it formats across various smartphones. Odds are, this is where your audience will see it.
Get personal. Like your social media, emails become stagnant if you’re always pushing your own agenda. Instead, try to make each one feel as if you are talking directly to them. Oh, and make it personal by including your customer’s name—there are plenty of email CMS systems that make it easy to put “Dear Customer” on the permanent back burner.
Call. To. Action. CTAs put the “marketing” in “email marketing”—because otherwise, honestly, it's just a note. Drive your customers to a specific purpose, such as a menu link, an order button, an event RSVP, a reservation link or even just your website. As long as there’s a clear direction, you have done your job.
Include all social media handles. Was your newsletter flat-out hilarious this week? Maybe someone agreed and wants to share it! Your email should include all your social media icons (that link out to their respective pages)—and ideally a way to easily share the content from your email to their pages. Help them help you!
Throwing events at your restaurant
The hospitality industry is one of the most competitive in the game, and there’s only so much a loyalty program can do. Hosting events can separate your business by entertaining current customers and getting new eyes on your restaurant.
The type of event a restaurant chooses to host depends on the space and nature of the restaurant. So get creative, like the Cuban restaurant that hosted a salsa dancing class complete with sangria and tapas. The main idea is, keep your customers hungry for more than just the food on the menu.
Some themes to consider:
Special theme dinners. Host an exclusive wine pairing dinner or casual taco Tuesday night. Or, heck, taco Tuesday with wine pairings.
Menu tastings. Considering new additions to the dinner menu? Host an intimate “chef's table” for guests to experience and vote on their favorites.
Happy hours and ladies nights. Customers love when they’re ongoing, discounted -- and can be accompanied with a ton of selfies (don’t forget to make Facebook events for them!).
Date night dinner. Curate a menu for two to encourage couples or besties to dine together.
Live music. Spice up a slow Wednesday night by hiring a local band to play al fresco.
Participating in wider events
Restaurants can also receive a huge boost just by participating in community events such as food festivals and charity benefits.
Does your restaurant happen to boast a gorgeous courtyard complete with ample outside seating? Offer it to local organizers to host an event!
Simply by creating a strong local presence, your restaurant opens itself up to excellent opportunities to interact with new and existing customers who can see your space, try your menu, and associate you with a special memory.
Restaurant public relations
In a way, all of the above is public relations, as it promotes your restaurant in various ways to various audiences. But securing media placements, something that money isn't (ethically) supposed to be able to buy is a different story.
The winning element of media placement—whether it’s an article in the daily paper or a post by an influencer—is rooted in authenticity. You want an unbiased, credible source to tell the world your restaurant is worth knowing about. When that happens, sharp restaurants capitalize on these milestones and mentions by blasting them to their own audiences. Here’s how to get the ball rolling.
Traditional press outreach. If a restaurant is promoting a specific happening—i.e. a grand opening, the hire of a new chef, or the launch of a second location—issue a press release to distribute to news outlets. Since public relations is, almost by definition, all about contacts, you might even hire a publicist. Just note, this can be costly.
Influencers and food bloggers. With traditional journalism in retreat and social media skyrocketing, food bloggers and “influencers” with strong followings can have more impact than a feature story in a glossy magazine. One of the best ways to “PR” your restaurant these days is influencer marketing. Your formula for success: Whip up dishes you want to be featured, invite a group of influencers with a proven record to feast on said dishes—and watch as their smartphones (and your new batch of followers) take off.