Running a restaurant is hard – plain and simple.
Just under 10% of restaurants make it past their first year. It’s an alarming statistic.
There are many factors at play, but don’t let marketing be one of them. We’ve spoken to 21 experts in the restaurant and restaurant marketing space to learn their secrets to success.
There’s lots of GREAT restaurant marketing ideas below, be sure to read them all and take action on the ones that are most applicable to your situation.
Let’s dive in!
Chris Barr – Taradel
Mail Your Takeout Menus (With Coupons) to Every Local Home
For about 33¢ per home, you can print and mail beautiful takeout menus (with coupons) to every household in your local community using direct mail.
Even in the digital age, there is no substitute for getting a printed menu directly into the hands of prospective customers. That’s why nearly every successful restaurant, and national chain, uses print marketing.
The best part? It really works for small business owners — even if they don’t have marketing experience or a big budget.
Landon Ledford – Double L Brands
Utilize Snapchat Geofilters
These are overlays on Snapchat photos/videos that can be branded to share where you are or what you’re up to, available within a geofenced area of your restaurant. When people snap their #foodie photos or selfies, they can swipe to apply your branded filter — subsequently introducing your brand to the 10 billion views per day on Snapchat stories. They are VERY affordable, so hop on this train fast.
Tap into Influencer Marketing:
By tapping into local celebrities with large blogs and/or social media followings (“influencers”), restaurants can promote their business via this modern word of mouth marketing. Reach out to the top food bloggers in your city via email or social media and invite them in for a special menu item (on the house). Let them know you’re interested in being featured on their blog or social sites if they enjoy everything. Have the owner or chef take care of them and explain the meal thoroughly, then send them on their way — hopefully your food is up-to-par and you get a positive review to their thousands of local fans!
Adam O’Leary – Encite Marketing
Use Social Media In Unique Ways
Using social media in unique ways can start from a content marketing model where a restaurant not only photograph and post pictures of their meals, but could pair wines with their meals and post them on their pages. This content marketing strategy is working on the premise that restaurant could be the provide some beneficial knowledge for their visitors and customers. Additionally, putting into place other marketing promotions such as coupons to local stores to get discounts on these wines would also be beneficial for the customer.
Seek Out Partnerships
Another great tip would be to seek out partnerships with kitchen accessory businesses to recommend new gadgets, products etc. Again, this brings some credibility and trust to the business by providing some beneficial knowledge to their customer base.
Alexander Reichmann – iTestCash
Get Your Restaurant In Publications
A good way to get your restaurant in the public eye is by getting it featured in magazines and blogs online. To do this you can reach out to writers and offer them some content whether it is an original dish you will have at your restaurant or if you want to share some food advice. One idea as an example of how to get your brand featured in publications is -if your restaurant was gluten free, you can offer an editorial piece about, ‘why you choose to offer gluten free food in your restaurant. Most food places wont get gluten free, but you want to think of a unique angle that would make a publication want to write about you. By doing this your establishment can be seen by many people and it can also help build up your reputation in the restaurant community.
Peter Verlezza – SMB Networks
Get Found Online
How come your future customers are going to the restaurant down the street instead of coming into your restaurant?
The main reason is they can’t find you online when searching for something other than your name like the cuisine type and city or “near me”. Try doing a search on a mobile device from your restaurant with the generic cuisine and city, see where you come up. The main problem is your inconsistent data in local directories.
Why better isn’t good enough, you need to be different! What makes you unique, your good food, your excellent service, those are yawners, everyone claims that. You need to engage your clients, communicate to them, make it easy to engage you, build your community and keep them close.
Paige Weiners – Blue Fountain Media
Effective Ways to Capture Emails
For email marketing to work effectively, you have to put in some effort–especially when it comes to capturing the right emails that will lead to sales. You can’t expect to gain a large amount of qualified emails from your customers simply by putting a newsletter sign up form on your website, without encouraging users to take action. For restaurants, the best way to increase your email list with customers who are likely to return, is to request their email address at the end of the meal. Giving out a small flyer that explains by signing up to receive emails you can become eligible for special privileges such as birthday deals or exclusive discounts and deals, is a good way to drum up additional business and enhance your lists with people who are very likely to return. You have to give customers a significant reason to sign up for emails, with a strong call-to-action.
When customers finish their meal at your restaurant and sign up to receive your newsletters or emails, having staff write down what type of food they ate can be extremely valuable. When inputting into your email system their contact information, you can categorize users based on the type of food they ate, so that you can really personalize future emails with deals and specials that are relevant to their taste. You can even leverage customer feedback in a similar way.. If a customer notes on a survey that they liked the quality of food, but not the wait time, you can use email personalization to send specific emails to those users expressing your improved wait time. This sort of tactic typically resonates well with users and can serve as the overriding reason they will return to your restaurant. Tailoring your emails to meet the specific interests of your customers will result in more sales and a better bottom line.
While it may seem simple to consider the appropriate time to send your emails prompting your customers to make a reservation, this shouldn’t be overlooked. For most restaurants, sending out mail during the afternoon, while your customers are at work and often thinking about their plans for the next few evenings will be the best time to disseminate your messages. If you’re sending an email on a Friday at 5PM, it’s already too late. You want to make sure your customers have enough time to make their reservations for their weekend plans.
Arya Bina – Kobe Digital
Pick a Vision
So many times we see restaurants that are struggling with an identity issue, they have table cloths and lunch specials at $8.99. This sends some very mixed signals to your clientele. The table cloths may signal that they must dress in proper attire, and at the same time the low prices will drag in the wrong type of crowd. As a restaurant owner, you must understand how important image is; pick a vision and stick to it. Either be fine dining, casual, don’t try to be everything to everybody you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.
Skip The Discounts
For some reason many restaurant owners seem to think that a great way to get traffic in the door is by offering coupons. What we’ve realized is that discounts cheapen the restaurant and bring in bargain hunters who will not turn into repeat customers unless you issue another coupon. Instead we recommend to put those dollars into a comprehensive marketing campaign that spreads your restaurants image to a target audience. It’s about the quality of customer not the quantity, a customer who will come to your restaurant every week for years is worth tens of thousands of dollars.
One widely overlooked, yet very effective method of promotion is community events. Restaurants should take advantage of any community events to which they can cater to. Church gatherings, graduations, fairs, etc. and then promote those efforts aggressively through social media; this activity will create a growing sense of community, especially if you cater a few good causes for free; corporate social responsibility is growing in popularity at every level/size of business.
Oleg Korneitchouk – SmartSites
Reach Out Locally
When you are opening up a new restaurant or having a big event, be sure to reach out to your areas influencer. The fire chief, police chief, religious leader as well as other store owners in your area. These people are close by, involved with many others in the community and would likely attend special events. Only do this for big events for maximum effect.
Christina Trecate – Taylor Strategy
Give Your Content LIFE
Lifestyle content is 100% the way to go. Anyone can post photos of plates on social channels, but the real way to drive engagement is to allow consumers to help them picture their own personal dining experience. Utilizing platforms that are popular for quality photo content such as Instagram is the best way to market this content (plus, their new small business metrics update will help track the success of your best content). Also, inviting local foodies in the area to have a VIP meal and meet the owner/chef is a great way to help boost social presence through their channels and make restaurants seem more like an experience than just a quick bite.
Tasha Mayberry – Social Media 22
Encourage Word Of Mouth Marketing On Social Media
Social media is the best form of word-of-mouth marketing when customers share and post about your restaurant. When others are talking positively about your establishment, this is instant credibility and appealing to restaurant goers who are always looking for a new place to try. In the menu have an insert that promotes a contest which can change. Example: “LIKE us on Facebook / Instagram and post a photo of your meal or selfie at our restaurant using #HASHTAG. Winner chosen each week and receives $20 gift card, FREE appetizer, 2 FREE drinks (or whatever you want to offer). TAG A FRIEND to SHARE!” With the check have the insert as well. You can surprise tables here and there and say, “You are at the right table today…show us that you like us on Facebook right now and get 10% off your bill…and if you happen to already be a fan…show us and get 15% off!” Word will travel for people to like your page. Make sure to engage with fans who post by searching for the promo hashtag. Lastly, make sure to post often on social media. Photos of food, deals, photos of events, photos of your patrons, photos of a cool drink and share the recipe, and more.
Abbie B. Elliot – Abbie B. Elliot Communications
Improve Food Quality and Presentation
One aspect of marketing is having a product that is tasty and eye-catching. People want to know that they are getting value for their money. Take the time to sit down with your team and review your food and how you are presenting it to the customer–this could mean plates, layout, etc.
Focus on Service
Your front-of-house staff are the first things that provide an impression of your restaurant. Make sure that they are customer-oriented, welcoming and well-trained. Most bad restaurant reviews include a review of a bad host, server or manager. Make sure customers enjoy the full restaurant marketing experience.
Joseph Szala – Vigor
Hashtag Like A Boss
Use 10-12 hashtags on every post on Instagram to get maximum engagement. Use real words that people use instead of made up phrases to realize maximum discovery. #BestIdeaEver
Create Offers that Add Value Instead Of Taking It Away
Although discounting isn’t the best practice for restaurants wanting to build a quality brand, incentives are a great way to spark interest and traffic. Rather than simply going to the BOGO or “free” offers, think of new ways that accentuate the unique personality of your brand. Maybe Rock, Paper, Scissors with the host or cashier for a freebie, or answer a trivia question.
Flynn Zaiger – Online Optimism Advertising
Whether You Like it or Not, You Need to Address Angry Customers Online
The biggest pain for many small businesses – particularly restaurants – is the cruelty of some online reviewers. Even the smallest slight can lead to a diatribe of vitriol. And while it’s tempting to avoid it and ignore it, these angry customers can be turned into ambassadors, with the rest touch (and a bit of urgency). The potential to fix issues is an extremely short window, but it does exist. So when someone complains, take a deep breath, and address their customers ASAP. Acknowledge the issue, offer a solution, and amend with care. If you’re thoughtful and patient, you’ll be able to spin even the toughest customer into someone talking about your business – but for all the right reasons!
Use Social Media’s Time & Location Targeting for Super-Specific Ads
Facebook’s ad network (which includes Instagram and their audience platform) allows for the kinda of incredible targeting that marketers have dreamed of for decades. Run a vegetarian restaurant? You can push out ads towards non-meat eaters from 11AM – noon, Monday through Friday. Just launching brunch? Run ads 7AM – 11AM on Sunday morning. The plethora of information the social networks have on consumers is immense – make sure you’re using it to your advantage.
Laura Sawyer Messing – Design Invasion
If you use only one social media outlet, make it Instagram!
Restaurant owners are always pressed for time. When it comes to restaurant marketing, a picture is worth 1000 words and the king of all social media for photos is undoubtedly Instagram. Instagram is the best way we’ve found to initiate a two way conversation with your guests and fans. Because of Instagram’s photo-centric format, it’s easy to use Instagram as a tool – not just a platform – to craft promotions, promote team building and to blast out information on LTO’s etc..
Here are a couple of ways to boost engagement using Instagram:
1. Do you have a couple of ideas for LTO’s? Let your guests decide which one makes the menu.
Not only does this start a conversation, you can get great feedback on the tastes of your customers as a whole. Have a contest for a gift card by having guests post selfies of themselves with the new LTO. Be sure to come up with a creative hashtag for the LTO/contest so your results are all in one place.
2. Use Instagram for Team Building.
While this may not sound like a marketing idea it definitely becomes one. We recently held a contest for our team using Instagram. They had to photograph a fellow team member doing something RIGHT. They then had to post the photo, compliment and a specific hashtag to our Insta page. Your followers will see it, their followers will see it and it speaks volumes to your culture and the type of team you have. The team member who received the most compliments received a VISA gift card. Everyone who participated in the contest was put into a drawing for additional gift cards.
Vincent Di Nino – Elevated GRP
Build Your Email Database
Although email marketing is no longer “new” or “sexy”, building an email database of your existing customers is still the single most important marketing tool at your disposable. However, capturing emails and growing an email list for a restaurant can prove to be very challenging. An emerging trend is to offer Wi-Fi to customers through a customized Wi-Fi splash screen that asks them to submit their email address. This is the ultimate example of business and customers filling each other’s needs. Then we can reward them for sharing this information by offering exclusive content and promotional offers. Our clients using this technology are averaging over 600+ new emails per month. This equates to over 7200 emails over the course of the year. These emails are also more valuable than any other email collected due to the fact that you KNOW that each and every one of them is for a customer who has previously spent money inside your venue. They are so valuable because it is much easier to get an existing customer to return to your venue as opposed to earning a new one
Due to its focus on imagery, Instagram is the #1 most effective social media tool for a restaurant because photos of food are among the most popular images on the platform. Just posting good photos isn’t enough though. Actively reaching out to users on instagram is the key to growth. Spend time liking and following local people that have interests similar to your restaurant’s offering. For example, if you are a pizza restaurant, make sure you like and follow all users who are currently following your closest competitor.
Jenny Dorsey – I forgot It’s Wednesday
We’ve been wildly successful at attracting new customers despite spending no ad dollars and being very small in size, infrequent in nature, and odd in cuisine/drinks. We serve a 7 course tasting menu with a 4 course cocktail flight. My tips are:
Start A Mailing List Early
Those who are that interested to sign up are your sticky clients. Do not send a lot of emails, only when you want them to take a specific action (we ONLY send out emails when we are releasing tickets for an upcoming dinner and they sell out within 2-3 hours).
Choose Your Social Media Channels Wisely
We only maintain our Instagram account (@iforgotitswednesday) as it makes the most sense to promote our brand. You need to present a cohesive image so people who’ve never had your food / interacted with you know exactly “what” you stand for, what to expect, if you fit their vibe, etc.
Murray Suid – MobileMovieMaking Magazine
The easy access to high quality video cameras–aka smartphones–makes it possible for restaurateurs to create shot, engaging marketing videos. These can be excited on Facebook or other online platforms or even shown on a monitor in the restaurant.
Restauranteurs are busy and don’t have a lot of time to produce videos. So the key is to choose a form that is simple and quickly done yet memorable. So here are two possibilities:
Behind The Scenes
Make a video that shows the expertise and enthusiasm of the cooks working in the kitchen. You don’t need words. Just a series of short clips–moving pictures–that capture the excitement. To make the video seem professional, all you need is a text title up front (“Take a tour of our kitchen and our brilliant cooks”) and some upbeat music.
Do a 30-second interview with a happy customer explaining what was good about the meal they ate. The key is to get good sound. This can be done using an inexpensive lavalier microphone (about $25). To persuade diners to participate, offer a free dessert to any who will go on camera. This could be done as a series on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Jason Parks – The Media Captain
Submit Your Restaurant To Local Directories
For under $100, you can get listed across hundreds of directories. This will be crucial when people are trying to find you on Apple Maps, Maquest or Google Maps. Additionally, when someone tries to tag your location on Instagram or Facebook, having this proper directory submission is crucial to ensure the right information populates.
Partner with Complementary Businesses
If you run a high-end restaurant or steak house, connect with the owner of a local high-end dry cleaning company and offer special deals or discounts to their customers who are getting suits cleaned. It is a win for you, because your offer gets in front of qualified buyers, and it is a win for the dry cleaner because they get to give additional value to their customers. Small partnerships like this can really add up to bring you targeted exposure for a very low cost.
Elena Lockett – FM Outsource
Show Off The Human Side Of Your Business
Many of our services have become automated over the years so showing some humanization is a great way to connect with customers. Show off your staff doing whatever it is they do best (cooking, hosting, waiting on, bar tending) as showing off happy, smiling employees does wonders for your reputation as consumers much prefer to be served by happy workers then unhappy ones!
Rafi Cohen – Orders2me
Automated Marketing is Necessary
Running a restaurant is incredibly time-consuming, so getting your marketing automated is going to save you time, money and stress. Get your patrons on your email list either through your website, having an in-house sign up sheet, or sending them to a survey on their receipt. Emails are easy to automate, and there are plenty of free services out there to use. Send welcome emails, notify customers of changes or specials, offer coupons, and more. Automate your social media by scheduling out posts or having things post automatically across all of your platforms used.
Get to Know Your Online Fan Base
Blindly sending out marketing messages is a waste of time and energy. You need to get to know your online fan base so you can send targeted messages that will appeal to them. Facebook makes it easy to learn more about your fans. They have a great demographics report you can view by going to your page and clicking on the Insights tab at the top of the page. When you deliver a target message, keep track of how it performs. You can make adjustments from there, and continue to track what works and what doesn’t so you know you’re utilizing your marketing efforts in the best way possible.
Feel like our experts missed something? Post your best restaurant marketing ideas, tips or strategies below!