Restaurants – and in particular, dining chains – are slowly but surely dying off. According to restaurant industry tracker TDn2K, 2016 was “the worst year for the restaurant industry since the recession.” Big names like TGI Friday and Chili’s, for example, faced significant sales slumps.
And, as usual, the millennials took the blame. In a letter to shareholders, Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith attributes this problem to their younger customers’ changing tastes and habits, stating that chain restaurants are facing “a uniquely challenging market today.”
She’s not wrong. Chain restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings “just aren’t cool anymore,” and it doesn’t seem like they’re trying to be, either. It’s high time that restaurants start to face the fact that they need to up their marketing game, or continue to be another negative statistic in the F&B industry.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a big list of essential restaurant marketing tips and tricks that will surely appeal to the next generation’s hearts and minds.
Let’s dive into it.
13 Restaurant Marketing Ideas That Will Set You Apart From The Pack
1. Build buzz with local and regional media and bloggers
If a tree falls in the forest and no one was around to hear it, did it actually make a sound? These days, the media landscape is the same – if your restaurant is not being featured anywhere, does it really exist?
To a small number of passersby and holiday-goers, perhaps. But of course, you want to be known to as many people as possible, and there’s no faster way to get the word out there than through the local and regional media, and bloggers.
The best way to get them to show up and write about your restaurant would be to invite them for a complimentary tasting session. Have them come over and taste the wares, and if your food is good, you have nothing to worry about, and a whole lot to gain.
Note: do your research, and be selective with who you invite. You don’t want to inundate tech bloggers, for example, with food tasting session invites – that’s just going to look bad on you.
2. Get (positive) reviews on local dining apps
These days, it’s hard to tell if reviews of restaurants that appear in the news or on blogs are genuine, or if they were paid for. With native advertising and sponsored content on the rise, consumers are understandably more skeptical of beautifully crafted, overwhelmingly positive write-ups.
Thus, it is increasingly important for restaurants to earn good reviews from actual customers, especially on restaurant review sites and apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor. This group of people have no monetary incentive to sing your praises, and are therefore a relatively more trustworthy source.
Then again, don’t be too zealous in soliciting feedback from customers – especially if they’re halfway through their meal! The best way to get good reviews is to simply provide them with a top-notch dining experience, and after that’s done, suggest that they leave a review if they enjoyed their time.
3. Reward your loyal customers
According to a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC), consumers “are most loyal to food and beverage retailers,” regardless of the generation that they belong to. What this means is that there is a huge opportunity for restaurants that do it right to retain a loyal base of customers.
Apart from giving them an excellent dining experience, you can also encourage customers to keep returning by offering them discounts or freebies for repeat visits. Just don’t make the mistake of handing out physical loyalty cards – those tend to end up in the trash!
4. Show up frequently at local events
With so many new cafes and restaurants popping up every other day, you need to ensure that your brand presence is felt, especially in the local area. And what better way is there to establish that then by appearing regularly at local events?
Having a booth at food fairs and festivals is the most obvious way to go about this, but do consider sponsoring other events where they might require food and beverages as well. Startup events, for example, are known for their free beer and pizza – you might be able to suggest your better alternatives to that.
Related: Learn how Hyde & Co. executes this tactic successfully.
5. Ensure the highest standards on social media
Of course, your restaurant needs to be found online as well. While it was once considered as a “nice-to-have,” social media marketing today is serious business. Chances are that your restaurant’s first touchpoint with prospective customers will be through your social media channels, and what they see there will color their perspective of your restaurant.
As such, it is essential to have high quality content on your social media channels. A critical component of any restaurant marketing strategy, for example, are stunning, delicious-looking photos of your food and beverages. A quick browse through Instagram will confirm this – no doubt, most of your friends are already sharing great food photos on their own!
The good news: you needn’t look further than your smartphone camera or an entry-level DSLR to capture these shots. In his breakdown on how to photograph food, BBC Good Food recipe photographer Stuart Ovenden confirms that “it’s how you apply the technology you have that really matters.”
Beyond visual content, it is also important to keep your copy grammar-free and polite at all times – even when faced with detractors. More on that next.
6. Talk to your fans (and detractors) constantly
Regardless of the social media channels you decide to be present on, you are going to face both fans and detractors there. While it is a joy to engage with the former, you will need to tread very carefully when dealing with unhappy diners. As the saying goes, one bad apple spoils the entire barrel – this could well make or break your restaurant marketing strategy.
If you ever receive a negative review or comment (and you will), be sure to respond in an apologetic and friendly tone, regardless of whether he or she is right or wrong. If done right, your fiercest critics can be converted into your biggest and most vocal fans. This also demonstrates to other customers that you care about what they think, giving them assurance that they will be well taken care of at your establishment.
7. Put a face (ideally, many faces) to your brand name
Another way to allow customers to be acquainted with your brand is by featuring your restaurant staff constantly. Consumers want to know that the businesses they patronize are not yet another stoic and corporate presence, but are in line with their values. A prime example of this would be the #DeleteUber boycott campaign that happened last year.
Penning the stories of why your staff are doing what they are, what they want to achieve in life, and other things that go on behind the scenes will certainly add a personal touch to your restaurant marketing efforts.
8. Treat your staff exceptionally well
On that note, the previous tactic can very easily backfire if your restaurant staff aren’t actually happy at all. Worse still, unhappy staff will most likely result in bad customer service, and a chain of unhappy customers. Since they interact the most with your customers, they are quite literally the most prominent face of your restaurant marketing efforts.
The solution is simple: treat your staff exceptionally well, and give them the appropriate training so that they can treat your customers well, too.
9. Be found on Google for relevant keywords
When was the last time you Googled something along the lines of, best restaurants in [area]? In a survey conducted by OpenTable, 87% of respondents said they discovered restaurants via online searches. In other words, besides social media channels, chances are that people will be searching for restaurants like yours on Google, and you want to be found for the most relevant keywords.
For example, if your restaurant sells Japanese food, it would make sense to optimize your website copy for keywords like best japanese restaurants in [area] or best sushi in [country]. Another great way to do this is to write lots of great blog posts that target these keywords, both on your blog and on other authoritative websites in your niche, which would slowly but surely send targeted traffic your way.
10. Have a well-designed and informative website
That said, don’t get too caught up in stuffing keywords all over your website. Once upon a time, this might have worked out, but Google has gotten wiser over the years, and has put certain measures in place which would instead penalize your website for over-optimization!
Instead, focus on making your website as user-friendly and informative as possible, with a sprinkling of keywords where most relevant. Important information, such as your restaurant’s opening hours and address, should be as easy to find as possible.
Most importantly, be sure to make your menu accessible as well. After all, customers are visiting your restaurant primarily for the food, and will no doubt be looking through your website to get a foretaste of what they be eventually dining on. Don’t disappoint them!
11. Refresh your menu regularly (and make a big deal about it)
Once you’ve gotten people in to try out your food, don’t stop there and rest on your laurels. Customers are always looking for new and trendy items to taste, and you don’t want them to go to your competitors in search of those.
Rather, keep innovating and experimenting with new food items on your own menu, so that its constantly fresh and exciting to returning customers.
Not only that – be sure to get the word out whenever you launch brand-new menu items, so that you’re constantly creating buzz around your restaurant. Invite your journalist and blogger now-friends, and offer your most loyal customers exclusive discounts, or even free tasting opportunities, so that they feel like a part of your team.
12. Work with delivery services
Convenience is the name of the game for many customers today. Whether it’s books, computers, groceries, or food, everything can (and will be) delivered to their homes, where they can enjoy it in their own time and space.
And with the many food delivery services in the market, you needn’t bother yourself with creating your own. Simply partner with companies like Foodpanda, Deliveroo, and UberEats, and you can reach a whole new segment of customers in an instant. Who knows – some people might even discover your restaurant for the first time on these apps, too!
13. Make your customers as comfortable as possible
I’ve saved the most important point for last. All the restaurant marketing ideas I’ve listed above are for naught if, at the end of the day, your customers do not enjoy their dining experience.
Therefore, it is critical to make them as comfortable as possible in your establishment. Some of the nice value-added items might include free wifi, drinking water, and hooks or baskets for diners to place their bags in.
Treat your customers well, and they’ll become your best restaurant marketing tool yet.