Does your restaurant need better marketing?
I can help.
In this article, I’ll take you through all the major areas your restaurant marketing plan should be addressing.
Restaurant Marketing: The Challenges
Restaurants can be a hard business to get right.
In theory, it might not seem so. Everyone needs to eat, right?
But the reality is that competition is fiercer than ever, especially if you’re operating independently rather than as part of a larger franchise.
Here’s a sobering fact for you: around 60 percent of new restaurants fail within the first year. And nearly 80 percent shutter before their fifth anniversary.
Which means the restaurant landscape is changing. Shows like Top Chef have given rise to the “rockstar chef, Mom and pop eateries are closing up shop quickly, and in New York alone the decline has been 8% over the past for years.
It’s no secret that many restaurants struggle to make it through the first year. There are many reasons for this, including:
- The money – restaurants require money, and lots of it. And with increasing labor costs and skyhigh rental fees, it’s one of the biggest causes of closure for restaurants
- Lack of market research – this is huge. Don’t waste rent on the trendy block if your clientele spends most of their time in the arts district. Not only will you waste money, but you won’t reach your core audience
- Poor management – managing a restaurant is like managing any other business, which means you need a lot more than just cooking skills to make it work.
A lot of these can be overcome through good planning and solid research, so do yourself a favor and address those key issues before going any further.
Now, let’s get to the best ways to market your growing restaurant.
Build a Great Website for Better Restaurant Marketing
Websites are the new face of business.
So remember all that time and attention you put into creating the perfect ambiance and decor for your restaurant? Yeah, you need to do the same thing for your website.
It’s the first impression most guests will have of your restaurant. Make it killer.
First, make sure it fits with the overall branding and tone of your restaurant. Going for a hip, modern bar vibe? That should be reflected in your design. Or maybe you’re more of the casual, mom and pop kind. Again, design it with that in mind.
Take a look at this example from Protein Barn & Kitchen.
You immediately think healthy, organic food, thanks to the color scheme and images.
Or this one from New York’s Bobo.
You immediately sense and cozy and family-style feel – extremely appropriate given it’s inspired by the French countryside.
Beyond the look, make sure you have your basics covered:
- General information – address, phone number, email. Include this in a separate contact page (with a Google map embed) as well as in the footer of all pages
- Menu – this is the reason people are coming here, so make it obvious. Don’t make it a PDF – the extra seconds it takes to download will be enough to lose more than attention spans
- Images of food and location – pictures of you food will do it a lot more justice than a description, so include high-quality images of actual menu items throughout. Also include images of the location itself so guests can a feel for the ambiance. Is it casual? Dressy? Are they sitting with strangers? Etc.
And last but certainly not least, make sure you’re using a tool like OpenTable to allow customers to make reservations on your site. Convenience is everything, so don’t make them pick up the phone to call. Odds are, they won’t.
Restaurant Marketing: Get Up to Speed on Local SEO
Most restaurants are highly tied to location. So it makes sense that to find more business online, you need to focus your efforts on local SEO.
That means doing the following:
- Claiming your listing on Google My Business
- Maintaining a consistent NAP (name, address, phone number) across your entire online presence – one misspelling here can set you back here.
- Registering for as many restaurant review sites as possible, such as:
- Bing Places for Business
It also means paying attention to keywords. Make sure you’ve done your homework (in this case, that’s code for keyword research). You want to separate your keywords by:
- Broad terms – these will be your more generic terms like “restaurant” and “San Francisco restaurant.”
- Niche terms – these refer to the type of cuisine you’re offering, like “mexican food restaurant” or “oyster bar,” as well as any descriptive themes like “farm-to-table,” “family-style,”, etc. When in doubt, check out the categories on Google Maps or Yelp to narrow yours down.
- Brand keywords – these, of course, refer to your name. But, if you’re just starting out or don’t have a huge following yet, you may want to put most of the focus on your niche keywords until you’ve gained a big enough reputation to be consistently searched for by name.
Once you’ve decided on a list of target keywords, make sure you’re using them in your website URLs, titles, alt tags, and meta descriptions, as well as throughout your content.
Encourage Reviews For Better Restaurant Marketing
We’re in an age where reviews can make or break a business.
The scary part? Having no reviews can be just as bad as having bad ones.
Think about it. Say you’re scrolling through Amazon or Yelp – are you going to click on the item with no customer reviews, or the one that’s collected a few hundred?
The latter, of course.
As customers, we’re accustomed to having reviews readily available to us, and we rely on them. In fact, 68% trust consumer opinions posted online.
On top of that, a survey conducted by BrightLocal found that two-thirds of customers form their opinion of a business after reading just four reviews.
Naturally, the best way to get good reviews is to just be the best. Not at everything, mind you, but at something.
I recently ate at a restaurant holds special Feasts on the weekends. The weird thing? The Feasts weren’t even about the food.
They were about the entertainment. Between courses, the staff would all gather to sing and dance, and lead customers through choreographed routines.
The experience is so memorable that it’s frequently highlighted in reviews (in fact, nearly all of its reviews reference the Feast, and they’re nearly all positive.)
The takeaway? Find your wow factor. It could be a signature dish, cocktail, or even crazy unique decor.
Give people something to talk about, and they will.
Once you start collecting those reviews, you also want to display them as prominently as possible (ie in the search results).
By adding structured data to your site, you can enable review ratings to appear in the Google results.
Restaurant Marketing: Have a Strategy In Place For Bad Ones
The technology revolution has affected restaurants marketing in a unique – and some would argue negative – way.
Once, a new restaurant could open quietly and work out any tweaks over the course of a few months.
Now, they’re simply a bad Yelp review away from bad buzz. Collect just one or two complaints regarding poor service or soggy spaghetti, and suddenly you’re just the soggy spaghetti restaurant that no one wants to go to.
Unfortunately, a few bad reviews are inevitable. And when they do come in, it’s best to be prepared with a full damage control plan.
Start by replying, fast. Over 40 percent of customers who complain want an answer within an hour.
And, though you want to do it ASAP, make sure you’re doing it with a cool head. Don’t blame the accuser or make excuses. Address their issues and offer your sincere apologies.
If it’s something like bad customer service or a poor dish, try to explain that that’s not your usual standard and offer some sort of deal if appropriate.
Even if you feel the review was unjust, you still have to handle it professionally. You can tell your side of the story, but do it respectfully and in a way that fully addresses their concerns.
Or, get creative.
Botto Italian Bistro actually encourages its customers to leave bad reviews by offering 50% off pizza to anyone who leaves a one-star review.
The goal? Owner David Cerretini told SF Gate back in 2014, “I want to be the worst restaurant there is in the Bay Area. I think this is the best business move I have made in years.”
Six years later, the restaurant (and their quirky review promo) is still going strong.
Restaurant Marketing: Sponsor Local or Charitable Events
Even in the age of digital marketing, this one’s managed to stand the test of time.
Restaurants are highly tied to their local roots, and involving your business in local events is a great way to improve name recognition.
That’s why 68% of restaurants engaged in some sort of charitable giving or event sponsorship in 2017.
Another thing? Customers like it.
Charitable companies are more likely than ever to score points with customers, especially if you’re catering to millenials. In fact, 33% of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.
It’s safe to assume that they’d feel similarly positive about eating experiences (think cage-free, farm-to-table).
So, show you’re committed to your community by sponsoring a little league team or partnering with a local charity.
Restaurants like Chili’s have seen success with this. Here, they partnered with a local high school sports team.
Members of the team distributed flyers encouraging their community to eat at Chili’s. In return, Chili’s donated 10% of sales attributed to the flyers back to the team.
Personalize the Restaurant Marketing Experience
One of the biggest parts of the customer experience? Making them feel special.
It’s common psychology – we all want to feel like we’re memorable and being catered to. It makes us feel good, and in turn, we’ll feel good about the person (or place) that made us feel that way.
Personalization in marketing has a similar effect. But rather than personalizing your emails or messaging (which you should absolutely still do), you’re personalizing the experience.
Apps like Hostme can help you do it. The app will store data about your customers, including the tables they like, the wine they drink, any special dates like anniversaries, etc.
That way, when they return you can be sure to sit them at their favorite table and offer their favorite win, and otherwise tailor the experience to their preferences.
Remember, these small things go a long way in customer’s eyes, so make sure you’re using all tools available to you to improve their experience.
Use Social Media for Better Restaurant Marketing
If you own a restaurant, you’re sitting on a social media goldmine.
Consider this: more than 200 million posts tagged #food and 23 million with #drinks.
The best part about is that you already have the content you need – you just need a social media strategy to showcase it.
And while going over the best practices for social media would be an entire article in itself, here are a few key factors to keep in mind:
- Establish a consistent brand voice – this extends to your imagery as well
- Share user-generated content – establish a branded hashtag and encourage customers to share pictures of they’ve taken at your restaurant.
- Offer exclusive coupons or discounts to fans – this is a great way to encourage user-generated content as well; ask fans to share a photo under your branded hashtag in exchange for entry into a giveaway or a free menu item
- Use video – take fans behind the scenes, introduce them to your star chefs, or give them a sneak peak of a signature recipe being made
Restaurant Marketing: Run Ads
A with any business, paid ads will come into play.
For restaurants especially, you’ll want a focus on AdWords (where people are actively searching for places to eat), as well as across social media.
Geotargeted ads will be especially beneficial. These will save you money by ensuring that only users within a certain radius will see your ad.
Most major ad platforms offer these, from Google to Facebook and even hyper-local apps like Waze and Google Maps.
Those apps, in particular, offer a unique opportunity for local restaurants to advertise. They can help you serve ads to people as they’re on the go – and close to your business.
Just imagine: it’s lunchtime, they’re hungry, and they’re exactly 12 feet from your restaurant. They fire up Waze to find the nearest restaurants and lo and behold, because they happen to be so close, it triggers an ad from to pop right up.
One hungry customer coming up.
Of course, as mentioned above you still want to incorporate your other ad options as well. Google Adwords can be especially advantageous for “near me” searches.
That way, when people type in “italian food near me,” you’ll have the best opportunity of landing at the top of the search results.
Wrapping Up Restaurant Marketing
Like any marketing, restaurant marketing requires research and a solid strategy.
The steps above will benefit any restaurant, and if you want to make it in an increasingly competitive market, I suggest you start implementing them today.