Running a successful restaurant can be a challenge. There are plenty of statistics online suggesting most restaurants fail within the first five years. However, there are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic about running a restaurant.
For the majority of the past decade and a half, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index, which measures the overall health of the U.S. industry, has been above 100, suggesting fairly consistent growth in the market.
Of course, making sure your restaurant is one of the success stories means executing well and marketing effectively.
Even if you nail it from an operations and food quality perspective, restaurant marketing can be difficult. Many general digital marketing tips need to be modified to fit the restaurant business model.
Here, we’ll explore the unique challenges related to restaurant marketing, suggest some restaurant marketing ideas, and dive into the marketing tactics that will help you implement them.
Here are our top 6 restaurant marketing strategies:
- Create an impactful website
- Use social media
- Maintain a positive profile on restaurant review platforms
- Build an email list
- Use direct mail
- Give content marketing a try
What to consider when marketing your restaurant
A restaurant has geographical and time-based constraints that many other businesses don’t have to worry about. This makes restaurant promotion a mix of local marketing, small business marketing, and digital marketing you won’t find in many other business models.
While an e-commerce site can sell effectively 24/7 to anyone across the globe, restaurants simply don’t have that luxury. Let’s take a look at some of the key considerations to keep in mind when developing your restaurant marketing plan.
The local nature of your business
When you run a restaurant, your serviceable market is limited to people who walk through your doors or live within your delivery radius. This is why everything from coupons to social media marketing for restaurants is a little different.
Unless you live in a tourist hub, the vast majority of your business will be local.
Your target audience
In addition to being geographically constrained, your customer base will be further determined by the type of restaurant you run. The target customer for a quick service restaurant (QSR) is significantly different than a fine dining establishment.
If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant business, you know there is an ebb and flow with the days of the week, time of year, and holidays.
You know some periods will be slower than others, and some days are almost guaranteed to be packed. This should help you build strategic campaigns that either help you compete in busy times, such as with Valentine’s Day specials, or drive foot traffic on slow days with a Tuesday night discount.
Restaurant marketing strategies you can use
Having looked at the specific challenges you’ll face when learning how to market your restaurant, we can explore specific marketing strategies and tactics you can use. With each of the steps, we provide actionable tips to help you get started.
1. Create an impactful website
Website marketing can be easy for restaurants to overlook. With the daily grind of running a restaurant and most clientele being local, a website can become an afterthought. The perceived technical complexity of launching a website creates additional barriers for teams with no dedicated IT staff.
However, an effective website can serve as a 24/7 marketing tool for your business, and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
Just how important can a website be? An OpenTable study found 86% of diners check menus online before eating out.
Making sure your website is the one they land on when they search helps you ensure the information is up to date and provides an opportunity for you to use promotions to nudge them to make the trip.
Tips for creating an impactful website:
What do you need to do to help create an impactful website for your business? Let’s take a look:
- Treat your website as a central hub: What do your customers need to know about your business? At the least, menus, location, contact information, hours of operation, and current promotions should make the list. Make sure your website covers all the high points customers would want to know about your business. Additionally, it makes sense to link to your social media accounts from your website, and vice versa.
- Create a brand-consistent look and feel: The design of your website should be consistent with the rest of your brand. Additionally, performance needs to be up to par on desktop and mobile to avoid customers giving up on your site before they find what they need. You can achieve these goals by outsourcing your website design or taking the DIY (do-it-yourself) approach with a content management system (CMS). While the DIY approach can be intimidating, modern CMS software like Wix is designed for non-professional users.
2. Use social media
Social media marketing for restaurants can have a huge impact. In fact, a frequently cited Empathica research indicated 72% of consumers used Facebook to make a restaurant or retail decision.
In 2021, Facebook certainly isn’t the only game in town, but the general point still holds. Social media can have a major influence on dining decisions.
By building a strong social media following, you can stay in touch with your customers and benefit from network effects as content about your restaurant is shared.
Tips for using social media :
How you use social media will depend on your target audience and goals. In general, find the platforms your customers use the most and build connections with your target audience.
- Leverage user generated content: Social proof is an excellent marketing tool. Be sure to promote content your customers share about you. Doing so helps you benefit from network effects, increase brand awareness, and provide potential customers with an authentic view of your business.
- Focus your efforts: This goes for the followers and connections you target as well as the platforms you use. It’s better to have 100 local connections on a platform your customers frequent, than 10,000 connections that will never walk through your doors or order a delivery. Pick a few social media platforms, make local connections, and grow from there.
- Stay active: Don’t just post promotions on your accounts and abandon them. Reply to comments, respond to posts you’re tagged in, and stay engaged with your followers. Doing so can help build brand loyalty and increase customer satisfaction.
3. Maintain a positive profile on restaurant review platforms
Love them or hate them, online reviews are a big part of running a restaurant business.
In fact, according to a TripAdvisor study, 94% of US diners indicated online reviews influence their dining decisions. This means your reviews on platforms like Yelp and Google My Business can have a major impact on your restaurant's growth trajectory.
Tips for building a positive profile on restaurant review platforms:
Hopefully your restaurant is already taking care of the two biggest aspects of getting positive reviews: good food and good service. If not, other steps won’t matter much.
However, assuming you’re nailing the foodservice side of things, here are a few tips for the marketing side:
- Claim your business on the major platforms: Both Yelp and Google My Business allow you to claim your business free of charge. To help gain control of, and enhance, your profile, be sure to do that. Doing so will enable you to carry out our next tip as well.
- Respond to negative reviews: A negative review here and there is almost inevitable. Respond to them professionally and politely. In some cases, you may win a customer back by righting a wrong. Even when you don’t, demonstrating that you’re willing to tackle complaints head-on can reassure other potential customers.
4. Build an email list
In general, an email list is one of the most cost-effective tools you can add to your marketing toolbox.
However, like with other marketing channels in the space, restaurant email marketing requires focusing on the unique challenges restaurant marketers face.
In a nutshell, restaurants need to put a more local and targeted spin on many email marketing best practices.
Tips for building an email list:
When building your email list, you need to get people to sign up, provide them with relevant content, then rinse and repeat.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Much like with social media marketing, quality trumps quantity when it comes to the size of your email list.
Focus on getting your target customer to subscribe, then keep them engaged. Here are four tips to help you get started:
- Provide incentives to join your email list: People aren’t interested in providing contact information for no reason. Provide some sort of incentive, such as a discount or giveaway, to prompt them to subscribe.
- Create a newsletter: We’ve taken a deep dive on how to create an email newsletter before, and you can simply customize those tips for a restaurant business. How? By making your content relevant to a local audience, such as upcoming events, and including targeted promotions such as discounts for families or seniors.
- Start off with a free trial or free tier software: For all but the smallest email lists, email marketing software is effectively a must for managing email lists, targeting campaigns, and tracking performance. However, restaurants don’t always have the budget for enterprise-grade software. Fortunately, many email marketing software products offer free trials or free tiers that can help small businesses ease into adoption. For example, since the local nature of restaurants means many will have smaller lists, Zoho Campaigns’ free tier which allows you to send up to 12,000 emails to up to 2,000 subscribers may be more than enough.
- Measure your success: Once you get started with email marketing, tracking your success is a must. Fortunately, the email marketing metrics for restaurants that matter most — such as ROI, click through rate, and bounce rate — are effectively the same as most other businesses. This means standard email marketing software like AWeber Email Marketing can work for a restaurant business.
5. Use direct mail
In the digital age, it can be easy to look down on “snail mail”, but don’t be too quick to do so. Statistics suggest direct mail can be more effective than digital marketing in some cases. Case in point: The Data & Marketing Association found that direct mail had a 29% median ROI.
Of course, context matters. Different marketing channels will have greater or lesser effect depending on your business model.
In the case of direct mail and restaurants, there are clear geographical benefits that can make a direct marketing campaign worthwhile.
Tips for using direct mail:
Getting started with direct mail generally starts with a partnership with a direct mail company. Do your research and select one with a good reputation.
Doing so will help ensure your mailing list is up to date and can make these three tips easier to implement:
- Use segmentation: When you think customer segmentation, you may think digital marketing only. However, it is possible to segment your direct mail campaigns as well. Create and send targeted campaigns, such as senior discounts for seniors, to increase the chances customers read your mail.
- Track ROI: Just like with digital campaigns, tracking ROI is important. If you’re not sure how well your campaigns have done, you may throw good money after bad. Track ROI and iterate based on what you learn.
- Try magnets: This is a straightforward tactic that can have long term benefits. Most of us use refrigerator magnets. If you happen to have your restaurant's branding and contact information on a good chunk of fridges in the neighborhood, the probability you get that spur-of-the-moment food order increases.
6. Give content marketing a try
A lot of food decisions start with a search engine. As a result, SEO (search engine optimization) and content marketing can be effective restaurant marketing tactics. SEO is highly competitive, so small businesses need to be strategic in their efforts.
Tips for using content marketing:
So, how can you get started with content marketing and SEO? Here are three tips:
- Start a blog & post consistently: If you already use a CMS like Wix or WordPress to build your website, this should be straightforward from a technical perspective. The hard part will be creating the content and posting consistently. There’s no hard and fast rule for post frequency. Daily is great but is unrealistic for most small restaurants. If relevant and engaging posts make it to your blog biweekly, you’re ahead of the curve.
- Focus on specific keywords: You probably won’t be able to rank high for “New York Pizza” without a significant investment of time and resources. However, ranking for a specific intersection, brand name, or zip code and “pizza” may be within reach. Doing a bit of keyword research can help you understand where you can and should compete for traffic.
- Create relevant content: There’s a lot that goes into nailing SEO, but it starts with content. Create content that is relevant to your brand and valuable to your site’s visitors. Examples include: employee bios, recent events, upcoming promotions, recipes, and customer stories.
- Track performance: I may sound like a broken record at this point, but assessing how well you’re doing is important. There are plenty of ways to track success, and the right CMS can make it easier. For example, the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress is widely used by marketers and content creators. Alternatively, HubSpot CMS enables advanced analytics and traffic analysis.
Start small and measure success
The day-to-day grind of running a restaurant is a lot to handle. That’s why using software, like email marketing software or a CMS, to help streamline marketing operations is important. It’s also a big part of why you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything at once.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but it doesn’t mean you need to start with each tip. Pick a few tactics that make sense, see how they perform, and iterate based on what you learn.
By measuring your success, you can build on what works and get rid of what doesn’t.