Have you ever brought up “content marketing” only to receive a blank stare in return? You can’t really blame people for spacing out. “Content” is galactically broad because, well, these days everything — like, seriously, everything — is content. And standing out in a sea of it has become such a challenge.
Content marketing for restaurants is its own beast. Smart, appealing, strategic content helps restaurants drive sales, attract customers, and stay in touch with people. Don’t let it overwhelm you: It’s gratifying to see results in real time. That’s what the following guide will help your restaurant achieve. So let’s get to it.
Basically, content marketing is a blog. Kidding! No, “content” has evolved to include every word or image created for your restaurant. So, yes it’s commercials and mailers and other old-school standbys. But for our purposes, think social media, email marketing, videos, recipes — pretty much anything on the web. It’s what you create and distribute to reach and grow an audience.
Content marketing is how you connect with consumers when they’re not in your restaurant. The stronger this connection, the more likely you will attract new customers, keep touch with existing customers, and drive sales. The secret to good content is keeping it relevant, valuable, and engaging. Ask yourself: “Is this something I would share?” If the answer is yes, you’re doing it right.
Now, let’s dive into the key content marketing methods.
The pandemic brought even more bored, isolated people onto social media to kill time — and to order food. Something like 75% of people say they have bought something after seeing it on social media, so you can see why social media is the backbone of many restaurants’ content marketing strategy. For restaurants, Instagram marketing is where to find billions of users scrolling for an hour a day. But don’t sleep on Facebook advertising. Facebook still boasts more than twice as many users as Instagram.
Once you’re on one of these platforms, you’ll find strength in their versatility. Videos, polls, photos, live events, questions-and-responses — the options are essentially endless.
This is how restaurants traditionally have sent customers exclusive offers and kept loyalty programs popping. But the old standby of email marketing is in a renaissance. With it, your restaurant can tell a story and connect with customers through more curated content. Maybe that’s a new recipe available solely to subscribers, an interview with a staffer, or a spotlight on the best user-generated social media post (more on that later).
Yep, blogs. They let you reach your customers, but just as importantly, they help your restaurant’s site appear on Google searches. You can write about news at your restaurant, new hires, new menus, or just about the people in your neighborhood. Then, repurpose what you’ve written. You’ll get more bang for your buck if you also use your blog to feed your social media to email marketing.
Video is where your customers live. In 2020 alone, more than 95% of consumers watched video content, and 9 out of 10 of them said they wanted more videos from brands and businesses. Videos are entertaining, fun, and information-dense. They'll how to capture even the shortest of attention spans.
There are plenty of ways to make videos that work for you across different platforms. If you post videos to YouTube, they help your Google visibility. Videos on social media platforms automatically play as people scroll, making them a quick way to catch attention. When a brand goes “Live” on Facebook or Instagram, followers get an alert. If you make a Reel on Instagram, the platform adds you to “Discovery,” making your content viewable to people who don’t even follow you.
This is your master blueprint. A content calendar is essentially a map for what content you want to put out and when, committed to a spreadsheet or a scheduler such as Sprout Social or Hootsuite. It can be broken down by platform (social media, web, email, blog), by assets, copy, and by which other accounts you want to tag. Use it to stay organized, stay consistent, and avoid lulls in posting. (You'd hate to overlook a major holiday such as Easter, Halloween, or National French Fry Day.)
To create your calendar, do five things:
For examples to get you started, check out Hootsuite’s content calendar templates.
Know your audience
Who are you talking to? Knowing your target audience will guide your voice. A younger audience might appreciate quippier posts than your fine dining crowd. Your brand’s voice is, in many ways, the message.
Don’t skimp on photos
Under no circumstances should you post poor photos of food or spaces. If you have the budget, pay a professional to do it right. The look of your dishes is your bread and butter, all too literally.
Not all content ought to be perfectly manicured. It’s a way into your world, and if someone can see inside your operation, flaws and all, you’ll appear more accessible. Show some behind-the-scenes action with the kitchen staff or perhaps a live video of the chef shopping for produce at the farmer’s market. Bring viewers along for the journey and they’ll think of your restaurant and your staffers as friends.
Make your customers part of the story
Learn these three magic letters in restaurant marketing: UGC, or user-generated content. It’s the organic content your appreciative customers create on their own. Pump these folks up! Repost their stuff! Turning customers into advocates for your restaurant acts as strong word-of-mouth. Reposting makes them feel special, which tends to entice them (and others!) to share more. Everyone likes feeling a tingle of fame, even if it’s just on another Instagram page.
You can go even further by having influencers take over social accounts and post on the restaurant’s behalf. This can engage your audience and reach that influencer’s audience — a tidy win-win.
Stay on top of trends
Hit your audience right in the zeitgeist. During the pandemic, for instance, restaurant content became more informational, a way to update customers on safety guidelines. Is that particularly sexy? Not really, but for people trying to stay careful, that could be a difference-maker. Other restaurants leaned into “ordering from the couch” content to make gentle light of the fact that everyone was stuck in lockdown. Savvy restaurants also find ways to jump into more uplifting trends (looking at you, #ChickenSandwichWars) to stay on everyone’s lips, so to speak.
Make it easy to share
People gotta send your stuff to other people. Strong content is easy to digest, quick to understand, and shareable as a handful of M&Ms.
Keep it quick and entertaining
The average reader will spend no more than 30 seconds with an article before abandoning it. Copy needs to grab your audience fast. Keep headlines tight, and consider a list format (e.g. “5 Cocktails Perfect For Your Next Date Night”) that invites readers to make it through to the end. When writing email, video scripts, social media captions, the game remains the same: Less is more.
Have a clear purpose
Nothing is worse than a restaurant creating content just for the sake of filling space. So stay frequent and consistent, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Your content needs a theme. Don’t blindly “put up a Reel” without a plan. The work will show your lack of planning and your customers will be just as confused as you.
Include a call to action
Did your restaurant launch a new menu? Include a direct link to it at the end of your content. Trying to drive reservations? Make sure to include the booking link. For content to drive your purpose, you need it to be useful and extremely clear on how to take action. Do your part to help your customers be participants in this conversation, not simply passive viewers.
Try and try again
You’ll need to experiment with platforms, images, videos, and tone to figure out where your strengths are. The more you do, and the more different ways you attempt, the more you’ll see what works. You can even ask customers what they want to see. (Guess what? This is content, too.)
Test, analyze, and then play to your strengths. Your tool box should include Google Analytics, which will show you what’s driving traffic to your website. Social media insights will also detail how each post performs: how many people saw it, engaged with it, or spent time with it. Several social media analytics software and platforms take a closer look at audience behavior. These platforms often double as schedulers, offering tips on the most effective times to post. Some of the key players for social media analytics and scheduling include Sprout Social, Buffer, ContentCal, Loomly, Hootsuite, and HubSpot.
Of the zillion-odd restaurants out there slinging content, a few stand out for their originality. You might want to crib some inspiration from these standouts.
Taco De La California’s viral Instagram meme
This small-scale Tampa food truck piggybacked off a national celebrity craze to nail a funny, relatable meme for Instagram. The shareable, likable result speaks for itself.
Olive Garden’s National Meatball Day email
The hardest thing to do is split the atom. The second-hardest is getting people to scroll to the bottom of an email newsletter. So Olive Garden went vertical with an image of a Lady and the Tramp-length spaghetti trail down the page from a fork to a clear and distinct call to action. That’s a lot of time to get hungry for meatballs.
South City Kitchen’s video testimonial
In a five-minute video of customer testimonials, a chef explaining fried chicken, and up-close kitchen footage, this Atlanta restaurant does a brilliant job of ginning up word-of-mouth. The result is something between a short documentary and a commercial.
Howl at the Moon’s blog
This national chain of piano bars offers a perfect example of restaurant content that a general consumer would actually want to read. And by beefing it up with key words like “summer” and “cocktails” this was sure to help the restaurant's visibility on Google.
The Wendy’s Twitter account
Snarky retorts never looked so good on a national chain. Wit and sarcasm have driven the brand’s content across all of its platforms to the point that Wendy’s followers seek the food chain’s channels out just to look for clapbacks. Not a bad space to be in when you’re trying to reach young, hungry folks.