9 Essential and Proven Restaurant Marketing Strategies

When I was a kid, Friday was B & C Pizza night at our house.

The local Chicago-style pizza is a Michigan favorite.¬† And, while their delicious fare is something I still crave as an adult, it’s their marketing strategy that remains at the forefront of my memory.

B & C has hosted an eating challenge since they opened over 33 years ago.

The challenge is simple: consume their 18-inch party pizza in less than an hour and win $200, a victory t-shirt, and a permanent place on their wall of fame. In 33 years, only 9 people have completed this beast of a challenge.

As a kid, I stared wide-eyed imagining anyone being able to complete such a feat. As an adult, I chuckle at the excellent marketing technique that still has people talking some 30 years later.

The truth is, any restaurant that can boast 33 years and going strong – is doing many things right. Much like a recipe for the perfect slice, there are ingredients that restaurants need to have in place to achieve longevity.

One of the most important – and often-overlooked – ingredients is good marketing.

Successful restaurants cannot solely rely on having the best food and impeccable customer service. It’s essential to have strong marketing strategies in place, too.

Whether your restaurant or cafe has been in business for years, or you’re just starting out, competition in the food industry is fierce.

Here are 9 essential and proven marketing strategies to drive more customers to your restaurant.

1. Build a compelling website. 

Today’s consumers expect businesses to have a website.¬† Restaurants are no exception.

As we recently wrote, people:

…consider a website to be a sign of a reputable business. They want the convenience of learning more about a business whenever they want‚Ķ and without having to talk to anyone.

You simply can’t afford not to have a business website.

Your restaurant’s website should include your business name, your custom logo, and beautiful, responsive website design. These are all important elements of your restaurant’s brand identity.

In fact, as we emphasized in our guide on how to start a business,

A strong brand identity is the most effective way your new business can gain a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

A study on the Effects of Aesthetics on Web Credibility revealed that aesthetics determine 75% of judgments regarding a website’s credibility. This means that people base three-fourths of their opinion of your website on how it looks – not what it says.

You cannot afford to underestimate the importance of a well-designed website. So, it’s in your best interest to enlist professionals to design and build your website.

Not sure where to get started? Here’s a great primer on how to set up a business website in 6 easy steps.

And, while looks are important, they aren’t everything. So, consider adding these elements to your restaurant’s website:

  • Your Story- Create a human connection with your customers by sharing your personal story. People prefer to support other people over businesses.
  • Responsive Menus-¬†Hard-to-read menus are frustrating – and this describes many online menus.¬† Invest in professional menu design that can be implemented on your website.
  • Links to Social Media/Mobile Apps-¬†Increase traffic to your social media and downloads of your business’s app by highlighting them on your website.
  • Online Ordering and Reservations- ¬†People love the convenience of online ordering. And, customers are more likely to frequent a restaurant if they can reserve a table and avoid waiting in line.
  • Beautiful food photography- “A picture is worth a thousand words” may never be truer than when you are hungry. Entice your customers with high quality, craving-inducing images of the food you offer.

Remember that your restaurant’s visual brand is important. For more insights and actionable advice, read the definitive guide to creating a compelling visual brand of your restaurant in 2020.

2. Geo-target your online ads.

Geo-targeting advertisements are online ads designed to appear only to users in a certain geographic region based on the criteria you set (such as age, gender, interests, and location).

For restaurants, keeping online advertisements local makes sense.  Your advertising dollars are better spent targeting local patrons who could actually come to your restaurant.

Many paid promotions through Facebook, Google Ads, Instagram, and Twitter offer geo-targeting options at no additional cost. So, be sure to use this handy feature for your online ads.

3. Consider daily deal advertising.

Daily deal advertising can be a great way to attract new business, but it’s not for everyone.

Websites like Groupon and Livingsocial partner with businesses of all sizes by sending out marketing e-mails (as well as ads on their websites and applications) to prospective customers.

The emails offer up coupons for participating businesses at 50-75% discounts. Proceeds are then split between the daily deal site and the partnering business.

Benefits of this type of marketing include:

  • Increased Exposure-¬†Groupon had a total of 46.2 million active users in 2019. While they certainly aren’t all local to you, that’s arguably a larger audience than any e-mail list you will ever gather.
  • Increased traffic to website/social media-¬†Daily deal ads provide prospects with the participating business’s website and/or social media contact. This is controlled by you when you purchase this type of advertising.
  • Obtain new clientele-¬†For restaurateurs, this type of marketing allows you to share your business with new prospects looking for somewhere new and fresh to try out.
  • Encourages social proof psychology-¬†As we previously wrote, one benefit to sites like Groupon is that they provide social proof to others. Groupon allows prospects to see how many other consumers have also purchased the deal, what the rating for the deal is, and a count-down clock showing when the deal expires.

If you decide to invest in this type of advertising for your business, be sure to prepare for the influx of new customers heading your way.

A rapid increase in customers might not seem like a big problem, but it certainly can be if you aren’t prepared and it compromises the level of service you strive for.

Groupon shares:

Successful daily deals restaurateurs prepare staff appropriately ahead of time by briefing them on the upcoming deal. Just some of the strategies individual restaurants may employ can include:

  • Assuring staff are focused on customer service and treat daily deal customers the same as full paying customers
  • Looking for upsell opportunities
  • Training on the redemption process and tracking redemptions appropriately
  • Arranging staff schedules around the deal,
  • Hiring temp workers if needed,
  • And encouraging servers to either bill for the full amount and treat the daily deal value as a cash-credit or explain the full bill amount to customers in order to encourage proper gratuities.

4. Develop a mobile app.

Few innovations have dramatically changed restaurant ordering like the introduction of apps on smartphones. In fact, a recent survey showed that 1 in 4 people have at least one restaurant app on their phone.

Designing and implementing a mobile app for your restaurant can help you grab a bigger slice of the estimated $38 billion industry by 2020.

A mobile app can be a convenient resource for your customers and a marketing powerhouse for your business. Consider including these features in your application:

  • Online menu and ordering- Include a responsive, beautiful menu on your application.¬† Allow customers to order to-go items for delivery or pickup using their mobile app.
  • Table reservations- There are various applications that allow consumers to reserve a table at their favorite restaurants. Build this feature into your app for ease of use.
  • Loyalty programs- Paper punch cards where you earn a free burger with every 8th purchase are rapidly being replaced by loyalty programs managed in mobile apps. Customers prefer this because a card may get lost, but they’re likely to always have their phone on hand.
  • Online ‘check-in’ promotions- Offer specials and/or promotions to customers who “check-in” on various platforms.
  • Online reviews-¬†Allow customers to write and read reviews on your restaurant. When you get a new review (especially a negative one) be sure to always thank the customer and address the issue.

5. Partner with delivery services.

Food delivery is no longer limited to pizza and the occasional Chinese restaurant.

With the introduction of services such as Doordash, UberEats, and Grubhub, ordering any dish you crave is just an app download and a few clicks away.

Appearing as an available restaurant on a delivery app will expose your business to a wide audience of diners exactly when they’re most hungry to buy.

You want a piece of this million-dollar pie. 

In 2017, Grubhub made $4 billion in gross food sales, while UberEats grew by 230%.¬† These numbers show us clearly that consumers want to eat out, they just don’t want to eat out.

Consider partnering with delivery services to increase exposure and earn new customers.

And remember that delivery is only part of the equation. You must also ensure that your food packaging contributes to an overall great experience for your customers. For more on this, take a look at these food packaging design tips and why product packaging is important.

6. Start a food blog.

Does your restaurant really need a blog? In short, yes.

Blogging gives you the opportunity to reach out to your customers in a more personal way.

As we recently wrote,

Blogging consistently gives your prospects a reason to return to your website.  Blogs are an ideal delivery system for new and existing content and can create opportunities for organic search engine traffic to your blog and site.

Not sure what to write about? Consider using your restaurant’s blog to share the following:

  • Events calendar- Have a Tuesday special? Kids eat free on a particular night? This is a great place to share that information.
  • Update customers- Keep customer appraised of new or seasonal items you have added on the menu. This would also be a great place to leak secret menu items.
  • Highlight the chef and service staff- Put names to the faces in your restaurant. Customers are more likely to return when they “know” the staff.
  • Nutrition and specialty food details- Does your restaurant source food ingredients locally?¬† Do you use organic, gluten-free, or plant-based ingredients exclusively? Consumers are very attracted to specialty ingredients. Including the stories behind these choices would make an excellent series of blog posts.

Every new blog post will increase your online visibility and drive traffic to links you share within your post. Blogging will facilitate growing powerful relationships with readers and influence them to give your restaurant a try.

7. Engage on social media.

No restaurant marketing guide would be complete without mentioning social media.

70% of Americans are on social media, and every business today must be represented.  The reality is, consumers are on social media all day, and business owners must go where the people can be found.

While most social media platforms could be utilized for restaurants, some stand taller than others.

Consider these five social media platforms for your restaurant:

  • Facebook: Still ranking as the most popular network, with 1.59 billion daily users,¬† every business should have a Facebook business page. Use Facebook to share photos, blog content, company updates and more. Patrons can “check-in” when visiting your restaurant and share it with others.¬† Business accounts come with helpful advertising tools and in-depth analytics.
  • Instagram: Instagram has the third-largest userbase – 100 billion people! People love taking photos of their meals; which makes this visual platform a perfect fit for promoting your restaurant.¬† Customers can geo-tag your business Instagram account making it easier for other locals to find you. And, paid advertisements from your business Instagram account are now connected to your Facebook business page as well.
  • Twitter: Twitter is great for updating and sharing links to content. ¬†On this platform, you can share short tweets (240 characters or fewer), videos, images, links, polls and more. Some businesses choose to use this platform to receive and respond to customer service praise, complaints, and inquiries.
  • Pinterest: While not a perfect fit for every business, Pinterest is the leading social media channel for sharing ideas and finding inspiration.¬† There are over 200 million people that utilize Pinterest to discover new products, recipes, blog posts, and so much more.¬† Pinned food items are among the most popular. Sharing content on Pinterest includes the option to backlink to your website which increases traffic and visibility.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn has over 250 million monthly active users, and it‚Äôs the most-used channel for business-to-business marketers to share content. This is the best platform for business networking. Use LinkedIn to showcase yourself as an industry leader and promote your restaurant.

Use social media to share blog posts, custom hashtags, user-generated content marketing, and customer challenges and contests.

8. Ask for positive Yelp reviews.

If you haven’t used Yelp to promote your business, you may be hiding under a rock.

The National Restaurant Association reports that 88% of adults use tech (online resources, mobile phones, etc.) to look up restaurant locations, directions, reviews, and hours of operation.

And, the online business directory and review platform Yelp, has become the go-to site for businesses looking to improve their reputation, increase visibility, and engage with potential and existing customers.

With over 140 million monthly users, Yelp consumers utilize the website and app to find nearby establishments, reviews, photos, and coupons.

Consumer reviews on Yelp are a big deal. According to Foodbeast, a half-star difference on a Yelp review rating can swing a restaurant’s business by 27%!

So, encourage your diners to leave positive reviews on Yelp. Be proactive:

  • Train your servers to ask for reviews when they deliver the check
  • Put a Yelp sticker on your door to remind diners to post reviews as they leave
  • Ask for Yelp reviews on the last page of your menu

9. Enlist influencer advocates.

The most powerful marketing in the Food & Dining industry is word-of-mouth.¬† In today’s digital age, word-of-mouth looks a lot different than it used to.

We no longer just tell a co-worker about the dinner we ate out last night.  Today, we grab our phones and show them.

And, influencers – bloggers, Youtubers, podcasters and social media users with strong followings – use this technology to influence public opinion.

Influencer marketing is very successful in foodservice. After all, who doesn’t love beautiful photos and videos of delicious food?

So, take the time to learn the local food and restaurant influencers in your community. Many influencers will create promotional content and share it with their followers in exchange for compensation.

Conclusion

Running a successful restaurant isn’t just about a delicious menu, a skilled kitchen staff, and customer-pleasing service. You’ve got to market your restaurant to keep customers coming in the door.

But, with so much else to do, it’s important that you implement the right marketing strategies.