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How to Increase Visits to Your Restaurant


Amanda McNamaraAuthor

Now that you've identified your restaurant's target customer(s), developed your customer persona(s), and begun marketing your restaurant to these guests where they are, let's shift our focus from how to entice customers to how to get customers to actually enter your restaurant.

Here are three restaurant marketing techniques that will put butts into seats and bucks into your bottom line.


Guide to the Restaurant Guest

Learn how to navigate changing guest expectations during and after the COVID-19 health crisis.


1. Incentivization is Motivation

As we covered in our post aimed at helping you entice your target customer, promotions are incredibly effective at generating customers for your restaurant, even more-so when they're customized to meet your guest's preferences.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a promotional email or piece of snail mail that made you scratch your head, wondering "Why did I get this?" You may actively support the brand in question, but if their incentive doesn't satisfy your needs or wants, you're not going to use it.

Sure, there are exceptions. Some promotions and discounts do make sense for this mass marketing technique – like "buy one get one free" deals or free X with a purchase of Y promotions – because they appeal to a universal preference; in the two examples highlighted, that universal preference is getting stuff fo' free.

With your customer personas in mind, work with your restaurant's management team to brainstorm promotions that appeal to each persona's preferences. Marketing to your target customers where they are is step one in winning their business; giving them an incentive that aligns with who they are is step two. According to RetailMeNot, 80% of consumers feel encouraged to make a first-time purchase with a brand that is new to them if they found an offer or discount.

guest check

Here's an example: If you manage a sustainably sourced cafe, your customers likely also value eating food and drinking beverages derived from sustainably sourced ingredients.

It just so happens that The Nielsen Company found that 75% of the global millennial population is willing to pay more for sustainable products, and 66% of the global millennial population are willing to pay more to support brands “committed to a positive social and environmental impact." Lean on your cafe's brand, mission, and core values to attract like-minded millennial customers to your business.

Consider running an ad on Facebook or Instagram where you guarantee a portion of the next week's profits to a non-profit focused on sustainable farming or ethical practices in the coffee industry. Not only will this promotion spur visits from customers who like to make a positive impact with their purchases, but it will also help your business raise money for a cause near and dear to your heart.


2. Curb Appeal Counts

You can't judge a book by its cover... but that won't stop people from doing it anyways.

Put yourself in your prospective customers' shoes: they've done their research, they've read your reviews, and they're ready to see what your restaurant is all about, but when they arrive at your restaurant's front door, what they're met with is dimly lit and could use a power washing. That view alone could kill their appetite.

You've made a substantial investment – time, energy, and money – into marketing your restaurant and attracting customers to your front door; don't put all that effort to waste by neglecting your restaurant's physical appearance.

In real estate, curb appeal can make or break a sale. Celebrity home improvement personality Bob Villa estimates that a good first impression could add 20% to a home's value; for restaurants, a stellar first impression could spell the difference between surviving the year or shutting your doors. Chances are, if a prospective guest likes what they see on the outside, they'll be curious to see what's going on inside (where it counts).

The physical appearance of your space is as much a part of your guest experience as the food: According to Toast's 2018 Restaurant Technology Report, diners rank ambiance as the third most important factor in their dining experience.

Toast's 2018 Restaurant Technology Report

When you're a business owner who chose to follow their passion, it's hard to look around your space with anything other than rose-colored glasses. Enlist the help of your staff and existing customer base: send out a survey where you ask participants to tell you one cosmetic fix your restaurant could benefit from. Remember, this exercise isn't a critique of your business, it's a way to make something great even greater.

Say your restaurant is located on an intersection, with your store front facing one street and a blank brick wall facing the other. You may not have considered it before, but your Gen Z and Millennial customers who have an eye for social media content would consider this a prime spot for an eye-catching, social media-friendly mural. Add your restaurant's social media handle in the bottom corner of the finished product and you'll have an endless stream of free advertising broadcast across Facebook, Instagram, and more.

If you're looking for quick ways to spruce up your space, we recommend tapping into the hidden power of proper restaurant lighting or testing out your witty banter on a cleverly worded chalkboard sign; if you think your space may need a bigger face lift, a restaurant architect can help turn your back-of-the-napkin vision into reality.


3. Life's A Party - Host One

Undeniably, one of the best parts about working in the restaurant industry is that we're in the business of helping people have a great time every day.

Event marketing is a fun and easy way to drive business to your restaurant, but its benefits don't stop there. Hosting events helps you:

  • Grow your restaurant's brand awareness.
  • Showcase your team's hospitality skills.
  • Attract customers outside your typical base.
  • Get to know others in your local restaurant community.
  • Align your restaurant's name with a delightful, memorable, guest experience.

Every reason is a good reason to have a party, but as with all other operational aspects of running a business, you'll need a strategy (including attendance goals). If this is the first event you've ever hosted, don't set your sights too high: the first go-around is all about learning what works, what doesn't, and what to do next time.

There are a variety of free design tools available to create posters and promotional materials for your event, including Canva and Vectr. It's also a good idea to create a special discount or promotion for attendees, because, you know, incentivization is motivation.

Reach out to your distributors and other restaurants in your local community to see if they'd be interested in co-sponsoring the event. With multiple brands at the helm, you now have 2x the audience, 2x the budget, and 2x the exposure.

Next step is getting the word out there on every channel possible. Create a posting about your event on popular event discovery sites like:

Marketo advises you to begin promoting your event one month before the big day. Below is an example of an event promotion strategy from the Marketo team.

Marketo Promotional Plan Template

Once it's time for your event, make sure you've scheduled an adequate number of servers, bartenders, and bussers to handle the crowd; if you're planning on hosting your event in conjunction with your regularly scheduled meal service, it's a smart idea to assign a handful of servers the party and no other tables. In order to add these event guests into your restaurant CRM system, have a staff competition where you incentivize staff members with a prize for the number of guests they get to sign up for your email newsletter.

After your event is over, follow up with attendees through a dedicated email campaign. Thank them for their patronage, ask for feedback, and reward with a promotion to be used on a future visit to your restaurant. By doing so, you've shown your customers that you appreciate their business, their opinion, and that you want to see them again.


Entice, Enter,...?

Marketing your restaurant is all for naught if it doesn't translate to new customers and more dollars and cents.

The ROI – return on investment – of your restaurant marketing plan depends on how your efforts translate into customers. Try including a survey on your restaurant's digital receipt that asks "how did you hear about us?" to get it straight from the horse's mouth.


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