22 Restaurant Marketing Tips from the Experts

restaurant marketing tipsWe talk a lot here about marketing ideas for all kinds of businesses. Since many of our customers are restaurateurs, we’ll often focus on that industry specifically. We don’t claim to be experts on hospitality, but we know digital marketing. Still, when we’re researching pieces to post here, we like to check in with people who know restaurants and marketing inside and out—the experts. It’s good to demonstrate that someone in the know is backing up what we’re saying.

So with this post, we’re going to return the favor. We’re going right to the experts for restaurant marketing advice, and then we’ll use our marketing expertise to back up what they’re saying. You’re welcome, experts.

Let’s get to it, then.

1. Email Marketing

“If you’re not already using email marketing, well: it’s your new best friend. Email marketing can have an incredible ROI for restaurants…Send out a weekly or bi-weekly news blast with a favourite recipe, an employee success story, a customer of the “month”, and social media post of the week.”

-Hannah Ash
Marketing Communication Specialist
Graphical Networks

Email marketing will never go out of style. Its main draw is that it requires users to sign up for newsletters, making it one of the few marketing channels directed at an audience that wants to receive the message. This gives you some latitude in how to approach it.

Because you’re among friends you can be a little casual, even personal, giving your readers behind the scenes glimpses and creating an air of an exclusive community. In addition to recipes and shout-outs to customers and employees alike, you can include special discounts and offers to subscribers that other customers can’t get. The goal of every email is to keep your customers engaged, excited about your restaurant, and give them an incentive to return.

As for results, email marketing is unmatched for ROI. The Direct Marketing Association’s latest data shows a return of nearly $41 for every dollar spent on email marketing. So start collecting email addresses and get to writing.

2. Social Wi-Fi

“I’d recommend…introducing wi-fi solutions within the restaurant. Adding this option allows the business to offer wi-fi to customers in exchange for an email address or by signing into to their Facebook/Twitter social profiles, which also allows clients to capture customer’s email address.”

-Deepa Khatri
Marketing Coordinator and PPC Specialist
FM Outsource

Did you read the last idea and think, “Yeah, but how do I get all those email addresses?” If so, don’t worry. We’ve got you.

Offering wi-fi is a no-brainer for many types of restaurants. Cafes, quick-serves, coffee shops, sandwich shops—all of these kinds of casual eateries can increase traffic into their dining rooms with the promise of free wi-fi. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get something more out of the deal, though.

Social routers like Wavespot automate the collection of contact info, by requiring a Facebook, Twitter, or email account to use the wi-fi. This has a number of benefits, chief among which is that all methods get you customers’ email address, and mechanism for getting them to opt-in to email newsletters.

It also connects you on social media, where the marketing opportunities are endless while giving you a potential new audience with friends of your customers. Social routers can be used to create custom offers to customers, giving incentives to customers to return, wherever they may be.

3. Location, Location, Location.

Utilize Snapchat Geofilters. Restaurants need to be taking advantage of this Millennial-driven app! Snapchat geofilters are overlays on Snapchat photos/videos that are branded to share where you are or what you’re up to, available within a geofenced area (around your restaurant, for instance).

-Landon Ledford
Founder & Fractional CMO
Double L Brands

A smartphone equipped with location-based services is a real game-changer for marketers. With Geofilters, Snapchat gives a businesses a way to inject themselves into users’ stories, broadcasting to various segments of the service’s 10 billion views a day.

Location works both ways, though. It’s great to tell people where you are, but it’s even better to tell them when they’re close by. With apps like Foursquare or Boppl, their users don’t even need to have heard of you to be notified that you’re nearby and offering discounts. It’s a great way to get newcomers through your doors.

To keep them coming back, though, it’s best to go with your own branded mobile app. You don’t need to drop thousands on a coder to develop your app. DIY app creation tools, requiring zero coding, are very much a thing. Along with online ordering and payment, reservations, and loyalty programs built-in, your app can be the driving force behind repeat visits. Using GEO fence messaging, you can send nice little messages to your customers reminding them you’re in the area and create more personalised offers.

4. Push Notifications

“If your restaurant offers a mobile app that has the capability to push offers and promotions, we have to be careful to determine the right frequency of messages so as not to irritate our customers. Leveraging email marketing with push notification marketing helps find the right balance and increases the efficiency of marketing campaigns.”

-Mano Behera
Founder
The Digital Restaurant

There’s so much more to push notifications than simply location-based alerts. When you offer a mobile app to your customers, you’re not just giving them an easy way to check your menu and order food. You’re also giving yourself an easy way to get their attention. If you’re not convinced, consider these two statistics:

  • Push notifications have a 97% read rate
  • 90% of them are read within three minutes of receipt

It’s pretty hard to argue with those numbers. But before you start blasting push notifications all day to your customers, understand that people have their limits: too many and they’ll shut you off. You’re running a restaurant, which people probably won’t be heading to multiple times a week. A personalised special offered once a week, along with a few time-sensitive discounts scattered throughout the month is plenty.  

Push Notification Pro Tip: Your app users will have to opt-in to push notifications to receive them, but don’t let the generic system message deliver that news. Design your app so that on first run they’re given a reason to opt-in. Explain what enabling notifications gets them—access to exclusive deals—and tell them their first one will welcome them with a 10% discount. Once they confirm they’ve read that, then the system dialog asking to allow push notifications should be triggered.

5. Stay on top of your reviews

“When it comes to the food industry, the number one thing that you can do to get people in the door is encouraging and managing reviews online…Not only is it important to have positive reviews overall, but it is critical that someone from the business reach out to those who leave negative reviews and try to smooth over their experience.”

-Alexander Shockley
Vice President of Accounts
Shockley Marketing LLC

Unfortunately, it’s too easy for people to jump on Yelp and whine when things don’t go their way. And that means when you get one star from a guy who didn’t even eat at your restaurant because he had to wait three whole minutes before somebody would acknowledge him (true story), his review counts against your average. In cases where someone has a legitimate gripe, you can at least use the forum to apologize or make amends. But when the crazy people of the world go after you, there’s not much you can do.

The best defense against them is a good offense. Meaning, make sure to let people know you’re on Yelp and that you’d like them to review you. You can do this with signs in your restaurant, links within your app, open pleas on social media. Don’t offer any incentive for it—that’s shady and will never work. But letting people know that you’d appreciate any public feedback or review (hopefully positive!) is helpful to your business. You can monitor for any new reviews using the social listening tool Sprinklr or creating a Google Alert, ensuring you never miss what’s said about you.

Remember, too, that people might not just be talking about you strictly on review sites. There a lot of people in the world with something to say, and a lot of them say it on social media platforms. Again, a social listening tool is ideal for monitoring what people are saying about you. Check something like Hootsuite or Agora Pulse monitoring any and all mentions on forums like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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6. Speaking of Instagram

“Instagram is not only one of the fastest growing social networks, but it also has super high engagement rates compared to other social networks.Get your restaurant on Instagram and start snapping photos of your food like crazy…Place signs in your store(s) that tell users to post a photo using a unique hashtag and to tag your restaurant. Once a month, go through and pick your favorite photo and give that fan a gift card for some free food.”

-Brandon Hassler
Founder and CEO
Market Campus

If you’re not talented with a camera, find someone who is. And while you should “start snapping pictures of your food like crazy,” don’t forget to include shots of your happy customers and staff. One of the things Instagram does well, with its three-across scrolling grid of photos, is to communicate a lot of ideas into the small space of your phone screen. An array of pictures, showcasing food, people, and your style, can create an instant affinity in the user.

Better still if you’re not just posting pictures but staying engaged. Witty captions, playful banter in the comments, tagging people, hashtag contests: they all combine to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. If you’ve got a WordPress-based website, you can install the Instagram Feed plugin to have your posts automatically show up there, too.

7. Think socially, advertise locally.

“One of the most powerful features in Facebook/Instagram advertising is the ability to target users intelligently. Local restaurants should use this to their advantage by planning hyper-targeted campaigns (you can go as close as a 1 mile radius around your restaurant!).”

-Bob Clary
Director, Online Engagement
Intellibright

Though the ability to reach billions of people worldwide has always been its big draw, the way it can reach very small and targeted groups of people is just as impressive. And you don’t have to spend a lot: Clary suggests “a few hundred dollars over a few weeks,” using social content you’ve already created, to get your ad in front of people to whom it’s relevant.

The targeting doesn’t stop at location, either. If you’re a bar or restaurant hosting televised sporting events like the World Cup, you can target locals whose interests align with the event itself like football fans in general or supporters of specific teams. You can even target fans of your competitors. There’s no shame in putting ads for your coffee shop in front of people who are fans of Starbucks. It makes sense to think they’d be interested in hearing about you.

8. Publicise your menu.

“I noticed many restaurants don’t really market their menu often. Don’t get me wrong, it sits on some of the companies websites. But I thought, why not promote it VIA a social outlet.”

-Chris Pontine
Owner
Creating a Website Today

Restaurants have become some of the most heavily researched businesses by consumers. In a survey conducted by OpenTable, with over 6,000 participants, they found that:

  • 87% of respondents said they found restaurants via online searches
  • 86% read the menu
  • 60% consult with online reviews

You can see from these numbers that maintaining a solid online presence is essential, and that pretty much everyone wants to look at the menu first. Make sure an accurate version of your menu is posted at any of the big food review sites, like Google, Yelp, or Foursquare. You can also just post it to your social media, and use that forum to announce menu changes and updates.

Pontine suggests going even further, making a contest out of it. He’ll post a menu, then ask followers to choose one thing on it to write in the comments and then sharing the content. By doing so, they get entered into a drawing for a free dinner for two.

9.”Limited Edition” menu items

“One of the best ways to create a buzz around your restaurant is to create limited edition dishes for special occasions or events. Not only can these help to drive even more people to your restaurant, but they can also create a bit of viral buzz about your business if they are really creative.”

-Sam Williamson
Digital Marketing Executive
Tony Macaroni

This year on Burns’ Night, during which Scotland celebrates poet Robert Burns, Tony Macaroni featured three dishes during the week leading into the official night. Two types of haggis pizza and a haggis lasagna may sound a little off the wall. But that’s just the point. There were surely brave Scots who took part in feasting on these culinary oddities. But there were also people who wouldn’t touch haggis with a gloved finger if you paid them, but still heard about the promotion simply because of the buzz that was created.

10. Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.

“Signage for restaurants should be a top priority when it comes to their marketing plan if they are in a city or high traffic area (cars and walking). The number of impressions you can get on daily basis can compare with ad buys and it’s a no-brainer to capitalize on potential customers literally right outside your door.”

-Liz Mazzei
Freelance Marketing Director and Producer
LizMazzei.com

For the kind of restaurant that relies even in part on foot traffic, signs are still a great, low-tech way to reach people. Put your menu in the window, advertise lunch and dinner specials, use a sidewalk chalkboard to convey off beat sentiments. Hang up good reviews, or a great health code score. Anything you can do to communicate to passersby that yours is a place worth stopping is appropriate. Pedestrians might not stop right in—they could be on their way somewhere else—but you’ll have reached them and planted a seed.

11. Get bloggy with it.

“Sell less and focus more on storytelling. It’s easy to talk about your products, where they come from, and how recipes are created. This is what people crave. They want to see inside the business, the people that make the restaurant what it is and the customers that support the establishment. All the content you need is what makes your restaurant unique.”

-Kim Randall
Social Brand Strategist
KiMedia Strategies

It’s a fundamental truth of blogging for business: no one wants to read a sales pitch. If you’re using your blog just to share why you’re great, you definitely will not find an audience. People who’ve arrived at your blog want to be entertained and informed. If they’re looking for confirmation of your greatness, they’ll look at reviews by other people.

You can use the space to share recipes, teach cooking techniques, or even go into the history of any timeless dishes that might be on your menu. Just make sure it properly showcases the personality of the restaurant itself. Higher end restaurants might write about and share photos of the farms where their ingredients came from. A busy neighborhood lunch spot could do profiles on their regular customers. Whereas you might use Facebook or Instagram ads to drive foot traffic and get small boosts of revenue, a blog is about cultivating a long term relationship, advancing the brand without promoting the product.

Look into guest post opportunities, as well, with local lifestyle magazines or news outlets. Those kinds of outlets are usually hungry for content, so to speak, and would welcome the submission.

12. Get involved.

“”Chances are your restaurant gets hit up by many local charities, event organizers, and others who want you to donate food, space, and/or time from your chefs…These could all be wonderful opportunities, but instead of saying “yes” to them all (or “no” to them all), pick a few every year that will fit your budget, and then create strategic alliances with those groups. Co-promote your work together on your blogs, social media, newsletters, and through the local media, including bloggers.”

-Sara Lancaster
Founder and Creative Director
The Condiment Marketing Co.

The Condiment Marketing Company is right: you should relish the opportunity to align yourself with a charity or local event. They’re equally right in saying you need to set limits for your involvement. It’s too easy to get caught up in different opportunities and risk spreading yourself too thin—and it’s just downright hard saying no to a charity. But ultimately you have to do what’s right for your business.

That said, spending money and resources—within your budget—to engage with the greater community is always a good idea. When working with charities, there’s the obvious direct benefit of helping an organisation that’s seeking positive change. But even just participating in a local event, whether as an underwriter or a vendor, can do great things for your relationship with the community.

13. Just do as this man says.

“Take customers’ feedback with details of email id (like any other regular restaurant does). Now digitize the data and send across a email id verification message with a discount coupon. Once the email is verified, a profile page is created for the customer wherein he or she can update various important dates – birthdays, anniversaries, etc. The customer can also look at upcoming festive dishes, claim discounts, and you can provide tips and information, on what was last consumed and what can next be consumed, given the customer’s past choices from the menu.All this while regularly engaging the customer on email, making sure the important dates are not lost, new menu introductions are promoted, feedback taken. And when a customer lands up for his first repeat, or on an important date, yes, the restaurant is ready to receive and delight the customer – in a way that a bond is created.”

-Pratik Shah
Director of Marketing
Grin

suki

Pratik Shah’s highly specific advice leaves no room for us to elaborate or offer further suggestions. Really, it’s pretty well fleshed out by Shah. Instead, please enjoy this picture of a cat with epic stare-down game.

14. Front of house staff are part of your marketing.

“You should clearly understand that server knowledge is important in our business, yet we see young talent butcher the guest experience from approach to departure.  Find a winning recipe for training, follow up with that execution and set the standard high.”

-George Barton
Founder
gBarton Innovations

Even though your front of house staff aren’t being paid out of your marketing budget, it’s a good idea to consider them part of that effort. What is marketing, after all, but an attempt to put your best face forward and appeal to potential customers? And what is the job of the host, server, or manager, but to manage the customer experience such that your appeal is then solidified?

This is why training your staff is key. It isn’t just showing them how to do their jobs correctly. Training shows them how to best represent you and your restaurant. Customers shouldn’t just be shown to their seats, they should be welcomed to them. They don’t look to their server just to bring their food; they also want to feel she is in control and they’ll be taken care of. With any service oriented business, you never stop marketing.

15. Have a plan with social media.

“More often than not, businesses approach social media as a one way communication tool which lacks intentionality and strategy.

The social media strategy I present to my clients includes three primary themes.

1) Community
2) Brand awareness
3) Customer acquisition/retention.

These themes obviously overlap, but they do make for a fun Venn Diagram. ”

-Eric Clark
Lead Social Media Strategist
Serpcom

Choosing whether to market on social media should be an automatic yes. But you can’t approach it entirely like you would a personal account, haphazardly posting anything that seems amusing to you at the time. Content should be planned out in advance, and posts should be scheduled with intention.

Don’t overextend yourself, though. The goal is to create a cohesive brand image to promote your business. It can become more difficult to maintain that when you’re posting across multiple social channels. Each interface is a little different, aesthetically, there are different rules on how much you can type, or whether and where you can embed links in your text. Don’t be afraid to scale back and limit your focus to one channel. It’s a lot easier to control your aesthetic when you’re working with the bounds of a single platform.

Also, managing multiple accounts takes a lot of time, something many restaurant owners have in short supply. Hiring a social media manager takes a full time salary, also something restaurant owners have in short supply. You don’t have to post everyday and everywhere. The important thing is you’re focused on building your community, creating brand awareness, and encouraging people to join you in real life, at your restaurant.

16. Create Loyalty.

“Our data shows that the speed with which points and awards can be gained has the greatest impact on millennials’ likelihood to participate in a restaurant’s loyalty program (51 percent). Thus, a best practice might be to offer an initial reward for enrolling in the program and/or for the first visit as a loyalty member.

-Justin Guinn
Market Researcher
Software Advice

There are so many ways to integrate loyalty apps into your business that there’s no reason not to find one that works for you. A modern, digital loyalty program is a highly effective way to encourage repeat business. When it comes to the types of programs that reward points, or adhere to a Buy X, Get 1 Free system, don’t make it too hard for people to actually earn rewards. You can turn a customer off just easily with a loyalty program if that’s the case. If you’re going to reward your coffee drinkers, for example, they’re not going to be thrilled if it takes 6 months to earn enough points for a free cup of tea.

17. Tap into local influencers.

“Philly PR Girl has found great success in hosting special media nights for our restaurant clients. There are plenty of excuses to invite local press, bloggers, and other media influencers out to your space – for example, perhaps your restaurant’s birthday is coming up, a seasonal menu change is taking place, or you recently acquired a new head chef.”

-Jess Herbine
Editor
Philly PR Girl

Hosting an event or celebration can make a big splash and get your restaurant some great exposure. But if that kind of thing is out of your budget, consider working individually with food bloggers and photographers to create an influencer marketing campaign.

Influencer marketing is recognised as digital marketing’s “next big thing” for the way brands can tap into the audiences of social media superstars. Especially in bigger cities, there are likely quite a few popular food bloggers that write about their local culinary scenes. You can invite them in individually, give them a tour of the place, and talk about the menu. Oh, and feed them well.

18. Ensure your SEO is A-OK.

“Since 72% of all searches are related to a search for local content, you should be 100% sure that your website will show up for those searches relevant to your restaurant.”

-Laura DiBenedetto
Founder
Vision Advertising

That’s a compelling statistic, but it’s worth noting we already cited a more powerful one earlier in this post. Remember, 87% of respondents to a survey (of over 6,000 people) said they find restaurants online using search tools. Knowing this, it becomes critical to ensure that your website appears at the top of the search listings. A good SEO strategy isn’t simply ensuring that your Italian restaurant in London shows up when someone types “Italian restaurant London” into Google. Well, it should, but that’s not enough.

The more time you can spend toward researching locally relevant keywords to get on your site, the better. If you’re a food truck setting up at a local festival, for example, you could write up a blog post announcing your participation. You’d then make sure the post contained the keywords of popular searches around the festival, drawing interested people to your site. Your main website copy should make mention of the town you’re in, and maybe some specialty dishes that people search for (like “best chicken parmigiana at a restaurant”).

Here’s an excellent guide to finding good focus keywords to strategise around.

19. Speaking of your website: social media.

“Yes, your website is your ‘home base’ and social media does not replace that. Social media augments your site and by enabling fans to easily share information from your website, you empower fans to increase their social sharing and chatter about you!”

-Mike Gingerich
President
Digital Hill

If you’re using WordPress, or an online WYSIWYG service like Squarespace, it’s easy to add social sharing buttons to your website. Setting up that kind of connection adds to your credibility, but it also creates opportunity. If you’ve written a blog post that you want people to read, sharing it to your Facebook or Twitter feed is essential for getting the word out. Without those share buttons, you’d have to copy and paste the URL into a post—which is no big deal for you, but do you think your readers are going to do that? Having a “Share this on Facebook” button at the top and bottom of the post gives readers the ability to share in a couple of clicks.

Don’t just quietly install the feature and keep it to yourself. Instead, turn it into something fun. Announce to your followers you’ve got this feature on your website, and to celebrate you’re giving away a free meal. To enter into the drawing, they need to like one blog post from your website, then share it with the one person they want to have the free meal with. It’s a great way to drive engagement at your website and your social presence at the same time.

20. Be Our Guest

“My tip for a unique restaurant marketing campaign is bringing in guest chefs. This is a great way to create buzz, get press to cover you and to bring new people into the restaurant who perhaps would never have come. It also makes for a great opportunity to create a fun social media campaign.”

-Tammy Fellus
Director of PR & Digital Marketing
HeraldPR

On the face of it, this sounds like the kind of promotion that would only work for a higher-end, chef-centric establishment. You know, the kind of place where foodies go to see what new and exciting creations they’ll taste. And it’s a good idea for those kinds of restaurants.

Thing is, anyone can have fun with this, and it doesn’t have to cost a dime. Local restaurant owners can institute a tongue-in-cheek chef-swap program. The guy owns and operates a gourmet sandwich shop can switch places with the woman who owns the fish and chips place across the street. They can cross promote on social media, invite people down to see what happens when someone new puts their own spin on the food. After it’s all done, they can share out a short video documenting the day, and use it to try and get other local restaurants involved, as part of a shop and dine local campaign.

21. Did someone say video?

“Consumers engage far more with visual information than textual information, and let’s face it, food is made to be seen. You can have weekly sessions where you show consumers how a popular item at your restaurant is prepared, and you can also go behind the scenes and show how your chefs get ready for a typical day.”

-Tabitha Jean Naylor
Owner
TabithaNaylor.com

The preparation of food can be pretty sexy, so why deny your followers and blog readers the experience of that sex appeal? Watching food get made is one sure way to get people thinking about eating food.

But videos can be used to also show off your personality. Participate in whatever the latest video challenge is. If it fits in your personality, have fun with the rules of the challenge. Anyone can stand still for a 10-second mannequin challenge. But what if you titled your video “Mannequin Challenge” and then it’s just footage of your staff hustling and doing their jobs? Add a little caption that says “Failing at challenges, winning at lunch.”

If you’ve got friendly regulars, recruit them to be in your videos for “man in the street” style interviews, and keep it light. Then give them a free side of fries if they promise to share it with friends. These kinds of videos would be perfect on Instagram, with its 60 second time limit. You just want something that’s quick and spontaneous.

22. Google Places

“Google’s free marketing tool, Google Places, lends your business visibility to the growing trend of guests researching restaurants before their visits while simultaneously providing you important analytics, such as what sort of food your guests were searching for prior to choosing your restaurant or where your guests are coming from if you are considering opening another location.”

-Aaron Allen
Founder
Aaron Allen & Associates

Remember that statistic we keep coming back to? The one about how 87% of people find restaurants through an online search? And you know how the name “Google” is now an actual word that means “search?” You see where we’re headed with this?

***

Because this list focused on the restaurant industry specifically, we used a mix of old and new techniques and strategies suitable for that purpose. If you’re looking strictly for digital marketing ideas, we’ve got plenty more to say about that. Hop on over to our guide of 31 essential digital marketing tactics for small businesses, and learn more ways to market your business.

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  • Erik Shellenberger

    Great stuff guys! I’m a bar/ restaurant marketing expert in Scottsdale AZ and would love to contribute to anything I could help with in the future! This list is pretty spot on in my opinion plus or minus a few features and statistics. I would reorder the list in order of effectiveness from 1 to 22, this gives the impression email marketing is the #1 most effective technique but in my experience it’s a dying advertising method thanks to Gmails “promotions” tab and strong spam filters in place these days. Anyway, great content! Check out my marketing tips at http://barmarketingbasics.com -Erik