Running a restaurant is no easy feat. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging businesses to operate. You can be an A+ restaurant operator, but without strong marketing tactics, it can be challenging to gain customers.
The term “marketing” can often be thrown around as a buzzword and sound intimidating to those with limited experience in it, but it can be a simple and effective way to increase awareness, grow and retain your customer base and boost sales.
Restaurant websites are essential to conducting a successful restaurant business today. Just think about how often you, as a customer, reach for Google as your first source of research when trying to decide where to eat dinner. In fact, over 77% of customers visit a restaurant’s website before visiting, and we’re seeing increasingly more engagement with online platforms like social media.
A strong website can be a tremendous asset to restaurant management. But on the flip side, if your restaurant’s website is not up to snuff, it can harm your potential for new business. There are many web development software programs that make it easy and inexpensive to design and manage an interactive website, but what are the key essential elements to include?
■ When it comes to designing your website, determine how you intend for customers to engage with it. From there, evaluate if you can build it in-house or if you should outsource it to a web developer.
If you opt to build your site in-house, there are many easy-to-use website builders at various price points including Wix, Squarespace and WordPress. All of these online tools come with templates that you can leverage to help design what works best for your restaurant’s needs. And if you offer online ordering, you can integrate it with your restaurant’s POS system to include the link on your website, like linking it in your navigation bar or on your home page.
■ Make sure the copy on your website is clear when developing the site and that it focuses on a few key words you think best describe your restaurant. For example, if you’re a pizza place that makes Detroit style pizza in Tampa, your copy should include “Detroit style pizza” and
“Tampa” so that when users are searching for those terms on Google, your website can show up on page 1.
■ Another way to make sure you show up on search results is via the Google My Business service offered by Alphabet. As a restaurant owner, you can claim and create your Google Business Page for free to set yourself up for even more search engine optimization (SEO) success. You can add basic information, upload images and showcase your menu with your Google Business Page. Customers can then, in turn, leave star ratings and comments in the review section.
■ While Google Business pages allow for reviews, the idea has been popularized over the decades thanks to Yelp. The online digital directory and review site has been a trusted resource for diners and restaurant owners alike. Like Google My Business, it’s free to claim your page, add details and upload images. However, you can also increase your rank and gain more exposure to diners searching for restaurants in your area for a fee.
Of course, with third-party sites comes the possibility of unfavorable reviews about your restaurant, so monitor review sites regularly and be prepared to respond to both positive and negative ones. Regardless of what’s being said, you can leverage the good, the bad and the ugly to improve your business.
■ Another website a customer may first hear about your restaurant is through reservation sites like OpenTable and Resy. In fact, a number of restaurants work with these third-party partners to set up their reservation system through them, with the advantage that these sites already have traffic and a customer base. Consider using them or another local reservation provider who can help you attract new customers.
■ Don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to these large, international websites. It’s just as important to think local for digital. If you’re in a major American city, there is a good chance that the local newspaper, television station and/or magazine has a food beat and perhaps even, a directory on their website focusing on local restaurants. Pound the pavement and reach out to these partners, who can give you access to their audiences and increase awareness about your restaurant.
■ When it comes to website video and photography, ask yourself, “why is someone visiting my website?” It’s likely to go through your menu, find where you’re located and see what your food looks like. Think about how often your menu changes and how many photo shoots per year you’d need to have to cover any adjustments. Changes to your website should adjust based on changes to your menu. Additionally, video production costs have dropped considerably over the past decade, allowing more people to create compelling video at an affordable price. Consider hiring a videographer that can show the activity of your food as opposed to static pictures: the cheese pulls, egg yolks breaking, noodles stirring and all the other clips that make our mouths water.
■ When it comes to formats, website video and photo should be landscape oriented, or 16x9. These photo and video formats resize easily no matter how the
viewer is looking at the website (via a desktop or mobile device). Overhead photos and video can be a particularly useful angle as they can be reoriented for both portrait and landscape style.
■ When it comes to video, you can do as much or as little as you want, but the more video you do, the more opportunity you have to reach audiences. There’s everything from a YouTube talk show run out of a pizza place to behind-the-scenes kitchen recipes to a history of the restaurant. Whatever story you want to tell about the restaurant can be told with video. It just depends on how much you want to invest in this form of storytelling.
When marketing your restaurant in the past, you might have bought a billboard or ad time on local TV. You would be guaranteed a certain number of impressions that was a loose calculation based on a small sample, like how many people were watching the TV show at a given time slot or how many people would drive by the billboard over the course of a day.
That type of traditional advertising is not only less effective now but also pricier than a social media focused marketing strategy. By prioritizing the growth of your social media account, you’ll get more ROI for every marketing dollar you spend in social whether it’s on hiring a social media manager, outsourcing an agency to help you, paid advertising within the social apps or partnering with local influencers.
■ Working with influencers can be a challenging and confusing endeavor. After all, these are individuals, not companies. They typically have large audiences on social media that are interested in the subject matter the influencer covers, so in your case, you’d partner with an influencer who focuses on food, beverage and hospitality. Their followers will respond at a much higher rate than a general audience because they’re following the influencer for that subject matter in the first place.
The other challenge is finding the right person since there are plenty of accounts with thousands of followers. How do you pick one who will give you actual results and ROI? There are a few ways to approach this.
For one, you can start by looking on Instagram or Tik Tok for hashtags corresponding to your geographical area. Then, you can review the most popular posts until you find someone covering food and beverage. DM them and ask them what their rates are for doing sponsored content. You can also work with an ad agency or an influencer directory like Tagger or Sideqik. But keep in mind they will want a commission from whatever you pay the influencer and will, therefore, have higher rates.
■ With the rise of Instagram as the most popular social platform, photography on social media became an essential need and priority for restaurants. But now as Tik Tok is on the rise to becoming the most popular platform, video has become even more of a priority for marketers. In fact, Instagram updated their algorithm
to prioritize accounts posting videos. They are showing accounts that post video and Reels frequently to potential new followers more than accounts simply posting photos, making videos a must for marketers in 2022.
■ So you’ve paid a photographer to make your website. It only makes sense to use the same photos for your social feed, right? Wrong. Website photos and video are typically landscape oriented (typically in a 16x9 or 3x2 format), so you can see more of the photo from left to right. Social photos and video are portrait oriented (typically in a 9x16 or 4x5 ratio). They’re showing more of a dish from top to bottom than left to right. If you’re cropping your website photos and re-posting them on social media, your followers will notice. Instead, hire your photographer to shoot dishes in both orientations so you have multiple uses for each shot. And plan to shoot some video of each dish on your phone at the photoshoot so you can use the video for content on Instagram Reels or Tik Tok.
■ When it comes to video, timing is key. For Instagram Reels, your video cannot be more than one minute long. Since most restaurateurs will be re-using their Tik Tok content for Reels and vice versa, it’s best to follow the stricter guidelines: the one minute limit from Instagram Reels so you can use it across platforms. Most users spend less than two seconds before deciding to move on from one video to another, so make sure that the best footage in your reel is at the top to keep the viewer engaged.
■ Every platform on social media has a personality. Not only are the algorithms different for each platform, but the user bases as well. You can see the subtleties in the differences between the feeds, comments and audience of each platform. If you already have a social media account, you can check the insights of each platform to see varying degrees of audience demographic information and from there, you can begin to build a profile of what a typical follower is like for every platform.
■ When it comes to Facebook, the key to performance is consistency, engagement and getting your content “shared”. In terms of consistency, the Facebook algorithm wants to see you posting multiple times a week, and it prioritizes media rich content with photos and video. They also want to see a growing audience that consistently likes and comments on your posts. The key to exponential growth on Facebook, however, is having content that other people want to share on their feeds with their followers. If the content is great, followers on their feed may want to share it—that’s how something ultimately becomes “viral” on Facebook. Finally, of all the social platforms, Facebook does the best job of guaranteeing audience growth through paid advertising. Because they know so much about their users, they are more likely to find exactly who you need to reach than any other platform.
■ Instagram is owned by Facebook, but the algorithms are different. Instagram is in the battle for younger hearts and minds against Tik Tok; Facebook’s audience is considerably older than Instagram and Tik Tok. That’s why over the past 24-36 months, video has become increasingly important for audience growth on the platform, particularly via their Instagram Reels function.
Restaurant owners should invest in a content calendar for Instagram that mixes photography (for consistent posting) with Instagram Reels sprinkled throughout. Although, as is the case with Tik Tok, creating the Reels content takes considerably more time and effort than photography. Additionally, Reels are unable to be scheduled in advance, requiring someone on your staff to post those directly from their phone, as opposed to photo and video posts on the feed which can be scheduled using Facebook Creator Studio or another third-party platform.
■ There is no social video app on the planet with more cache than Tik Tok with the audience advertisers love: the coveted 18-30 demographic. In fact, nearly 50% of Tik Tok’s audience is under 30.
Content goes viral on Tik Tok faster than any other platform. The algorithm doesn’t just take likes and comments into account, although those are still valuable. Their algorithm also takes into account how quickly users are moving past a video or staying with it. That means any content you create for Tik Tok should be compelling from the beginning: if it doesn’t get them in the first three seconds, it won’t get them at all!
Learn more about Tik Tok in our guide for restaurant owners.
■ Every restaurant owner should do a cost versus benefit analysis when it comes to Twitter. Twitter is a great place to reach influential people: publications, talent, and potential customers. But to truly excel at Twitter, it requires multiple posts every day of the week. Not all tweets need multimedia content, but those do see higher engagement than text-only tweets.
The best way to use Twitter is as a function of your publicity team. Interact with local publications, food media companies, influencers and other “foodies” to bring attention to your restaurant if you want to use the app in the best way for your business.
■ While everyone uses social media in some form or another, the platforms aren’t non-profits operating for the benefit of everyone’s enjoyment. Social media companies are businesses looking to bring value back to their investors, and the biggest way they do that is through paid advertising.
As a restaurant owner, you can use this paid advertising in multiple ways. Use it to advertise specific promotions like “limited time offers,” bring awareness to job openings to people in a certain geographic area or promote your page to get more followers in general. Always have some paid advertising in the background promoting your Facebook and Instagram accounts to see consistent growth across those two platforms.
■ Facebook and Twitter allow you to specifically target their user base with different ad creatives perfectly tailored to them. Instagram only allows promoted posts, meaning they take existing pieces of your organic content and allow you to put a paid budget behind it to reach new users. Depending on your goals, you may want to pick one platform to prioritize your spending on than others.
■ There are all kinds of elements of your restaurant to highlight in your content, such as decor, drinks, programming or announcements. But the number one thing you can post that will lead to actual customer conversions more than anything else? Your food. For most restaurants, your social media content calendar should be based off of your dishes with any other elements that you’d like to highlight as your secondary or tertiary types of content.
That said, if you are a cocktail or programming focused location, find ways to make those the highlights with compelling photography or videos about your event programming and your bar program.
■ If you are repurposing your website photos for social, focus on overhead shots that you can reorient for a profile orientation. It’s okay to cross-post between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok—doing so won’t affect the algorithms within the platform. But, try to avoid re-using the same photos or videos within the same platform; users will see the repetition after time and begin to unfollow.
We live in an increasingly customer-focused world. Businesses everywhere, including restaurants, are investing in ways to get closer to their customers. There’s a proven ROI from understanding your restaurant customer’s needs and wants: you can increase your revenue and customer lifetime value. Further, you can optimize your workforce to employ a staffing mix that best suits the needs of your restaurant patrons, consolidate your vendors to only first-choice suppliers and protect your margins against future economic declines.
Ultimately, however, focusing on customer engagement builds loyalty for your restaurant’s brand and longevity for your business. There are numerous methods to identifying, understanding and motivating your customers as well as methods for keeping your customers engaged in the long-term.
Learn more - Here are a few ways to build customer loyalty with your restaurant’s most valuable customers.
■ As consumer preferences continue to grow and change, restaurants can benefit from maximizing touchpoints with their customers outside of the restaurant. In addition to webpage visits and social media engagement, email marketing is a great way to leverage photo assets and engage with email addresses you’ve collected. A simple email marketing campaign goes a long way to keeping customers informed. They can help bolster customer loyalty through more regular, targeted touchpoints with your customers, let your diners know that you’re infusing innovation into your business and build a trust factor because they feel connected to your brand. Find out and begin collecting email addresses from existing customers, developing a marketing calendar and reviewing email marketing best practices.
■ At the end of the day, the value your customers place on your restaurant’s brand is the most valuable asset for your business. Customer and brand loyalty can withstand economic downturns, changing political climates and drastic spending trends.
So, how can you build brand loyalty at your restaurant? First, think about what experience elements are unique to your restaurant: great food, optimal price points, excellent service or trendy aesthetic. From here, think about how to increase brand loyalty by improving awareness, opportunities for exploration, explanation of benefits, increasing familiarity and driving commitment to your restaurant. Finally, there are tools your restaurant can leverage to build customer loyalty such as social media or a restaurant app. Learn how. Here are some things you can do to grow customer loyalty at your restaurant.
■ The restaurant industry is often the first to experience the negative impact of a recession or unexpected global hardships such as COVID-19. Consumers are inclined to cut discretionary spending, which includes dining out, first. To prevent this risk, designing a robust incentive or rewards program.
A customer loyalty program incentivizes your customers through monetary or other rewards which encourages them to keep coming back. Determine what reward will incentivize your customers most, like free menu items after a certain threshold. You can also design a rewards program that tracks their progress, celebrates special days of the year and gives them an experience they want to have again. It’s not enough to simply have a customer loyalty program, however, you also have to promote it! Learn more about increasing customer loyalty with a robust incentive program.
■ ESG (enterprise, social and governance) is the hottest buzzword in the business world. Corporate social responsibility is no longer optional. This new customer preference is a great opportunity for your restaurant to get more involved in the local community and bank good PR with your customers. Identify an opportunity to partner with a local non-profit for a fundraiser by donating the food, host a percentage night where a portion of proceeds are donated to a charity or run a food/supplies drive for a local shelter. This social enterprise strategy will not only increase traffic to your restaurant because customers will want to be involved, but it also demonstrates your commitment to the community, strengthening your brand equity.
■ Holidays pose a fantastic opportunity for restaurants to maximize service and attract new customers. Particularly for universally celebrated holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it’s a great opportunity for your restaurant to appeal to a wide range of people. Plus everyone wants to find something unique and special to do for these special occasions. So, don’t miss this valuable opportunity to market your restaurant for the holidays. Consider utilizing your customer loyalty program to offer discounts. Diversifying your menu options and freshening up the décor are also great ways to draw in the holiday crowd. Be inclusive with your service offerings by offering at-home meal kits and gift card options for those that may choose to dine at home. Don’t forget to broadcast your special offerings in your email newsletter, on your social media and via your website. It’s important that restaurant owners not miss on these hallmark opportunities for increased sales and customer loyalty.
■ One-to-one marketing is the newest trend in customer-focused marketing as it seeks to provide consumers with a personalized experience based on their unique interests. For example, you might have experienced one-to-one marketing in a direct interaction with a restaurant employee via links you’ve clicked or products you’ve ordered. Restaurants can utilize it to better target and attract new and existing customers.
To build a successful one-to-one marketing strategy, you must know your customer and know your capabilities. Tools such as an email newsletter, your restaurant’s website, or your point-of-sale system can give you the detailed consumer insights you need to curate individualized marketing campaigns or offers for your customers. One-to-one marketing is about playing the long game: the initial insights and conversations might not lead to an immediate sales increase, but they’re going a long way to building customer loyalty. Find out more about one-to-one marketing.
■ Marketing is an important tool for your restaurant’s continued growth, but it can come with a big price tag. There are, however, numerous tactics for employing cost effective marketing strategies at your restaurant. There are various digital tools at your disposal either for free or at a low-cost such as Canva, Mailchimp and Google Analytics. These software programs can help build your restaurant’s digital marketing toolkit. You can also build awareness online for free via social media platforms. A picture is worth a thousand words, so commit to high-quality photography to improve your social media presence. Leveraging SMS text message marketing and optimizing your restaurant’s SEO on Google can also help increase brand awareness for relatively little investment. Cost effective marketing simply involves a creative use of existing resources and your restaurant can make significant strides in increasing its brand awareness.
Marketing your restaurant is an essential ingredient to running a successful restaurant business. Without it, you can’t build brand awareness or long-term customer loyalty. Increasing your online presence with a website that reflects your restaurant’s brand and curating regular content on social media are great ways to establish a consistent brand image with your customers. These tactics can be complemented by intentional customer engagement through rewards programs, email newsletters and community-focused events. These engagement activities show your customers that you care about their values and that your restaurant is committed to giving them an experience that reflects their desires. Don’t miss out on the potential for significant growth. The key to successful restaurant marketing is simply getting started.