The 12 Worst Mistakes When Marketing for Restaurants

Marketing for restaurants is essential - but you can easily mess up along the way. Avoid these 12 restaurant marketing pitfalls at any cost.

All too often, restaurants miss opportunities to get their business in front of hungry diners.

With growing competition and increasingly demanding consumers, an effective marketing strategy can mean the difference between success and failure.

You put a lot of work into making your restaurant successful. Don’t waste those efforts by making these all-too-common restaurant marketing mistakes.

Once you make your way through the list, Download Toast's Restaurant Marketing Guide 101 for more restaurant marketing advice.

Restaurant Marketing Plan

Restaurant Marketing Plan

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1. Inconsistent branding

Define your restaurant’s brand and stick with it. Use it to be the driver behind marketing messaging and strategy. The restaurant website, social media channels, and any in-store materials should support your unique brand. 

If you’re a sustainably-focused fine dining restaurant, build marketing messaging that speaks to where your food comes from and how that creates an excellent experience. Avoid anything that does not appear to support that mission.

2. Ignoring social media

All restaurants should have a social media presence. Just because you are not an avid Facebook user, doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for your business. Social channels provide an inside look into your restaurant, helping build relationships and stay top-of-mind with guests. Whether your business is on social media or not, you can guarantee your diners are. Take this opportunity to be part of the conversation. 

marketing for restaurants

Determine which social media channels are most used by your typical diner and make your business accessible there. Read more restaurant social media best practices.

3. Not claiming your business on Google

Google My Business puts your restaurant information on the map, literally. By claiming your business, you can update hours, website, menu, and other crucial data your guests need to know. Google prioritizes these listings and shows them first in search results. 

A GMB listing ensures that the most important information (location, phone number, hours, etc) appears immediately when your business is searched online.

You can read more about Google My Business for restaurants here.

This also paves the way to launching targeted local online ads like Google Adwords. Which brings us to the fourth common marketing mistake…

4. Refusing to pay for marketing

For marketing to make an impact on the success of your business, you’re going to have to allocate funds to support it.

The National Restaurant Association has reported that restaurants typically spend about 3% of monthly revenue on marketing programs. General recommendations typically range from 2 - 10%. Where you spend marketing budget will vary by business type, but many experts are encouraging restaurateurs to focus on digital and mobile marketing - specifically search engine optimization (SEO), Google My Business, and social media.

5. Not measuring your marketing

For restaurants, marketing is now measurable. 

Whether it’s tracking visits to the website, clicks on online ads, growth in social media followers, or attendees at a special event, your investment in marketing and branding should be tied to specific metrics. You’ll have a much easier time justifying marketing costs by defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) beforehand to measure the effectiveness of your programs.

6. Missing the true benefits of a restaurant loyalty program

Data is power. An integrated restaurant loyalty program is a great way to collect data on guests. It gives loyal guests an incentive to stay in touch while enabling your restaurant to run targeted marketing campaigns and drive repeat business.

Loyalty programs should be customized to fit your restaurant’s brand (see #1) and offer immediate and frequent value to all who sign up. 

7. Sitting on valuable customer information

A database of guest information through a loyalty program or mailing list is useless without a communication strategy. Have a plan to utilize that valuable contact information. Email, SMS texts, social media, and targeted advertising are at your disposal with a robust customer database.

Depending on your restaurant brand, guests might appreciate coupons and promo codes or notifications about upcoming wine tastings and events. Promotional marketing, in moderation (see below), is a valuable tactic for the restaurant and your loyal customer base.

8. Sending too many promotional emails

The #1 reason that people unsubscribe from emails is that they receive them too frequently. The huge potential value of a customer database is lost if guest are unsubscribing from your messages.

Optimal email timing and frequency will vary by industry. Data suggests that most people are open to receiving promotional emails at least once per month. Try providing different subscription options (i.e.: monthly newsletter, weekly discount code) to see which cadence is most popular with your guests. 

Also, instead of an "unsubscribe" button on emails, send them to a "manage email preferences" page where they can either unsubscribe or switch to a different cadence. 

9. Being clueless about SEO

Effective search engine optimization (SEO) does require some technical knowledge, but it will make or break the “discoverability” of your restaurant. With so much search traffic going to Food & Beverage (see #11), it’s clear that restaurant websites with optimized keywords will win.

If someone searches “chicken wings beer denver,” the restaurant’s SEO strategy will determine which restaurant shows up in the search results. If you’re a Colorado-based sports bar, it’s extremely important that you show up. At the very least, have a conversation with your web designer about it. For a complete guide, check out these tips for restaurant SEO.

10. Skimping on photography

Imagery is a powerful storytelling tool, particularly online and on social media. One study predicted that 84% of online communication will be visual by 2018.

Photos can evoke powerful feelings in the viewer. Our mouths water at the mere sight of a juicy fire-grilled hamburger; just the image of a lively dance floor can be energizing; we react to photos of food with “Ooh, that looks delicious,” without ever having tasted it.

Invest in high-quality photos of your food and interior to build brand and evoke an immediate positive reaction.

11. Missing on mobile

Failing to prioritize the mobile experience is an extremely costly mistake. Not only do searches from mobile devices make up over 60% of total search volume, but “Food and Beverage” is the most searched category on mobile devices. 72% of searches in this category are initiated from a mobile device, according to one report

marketing for restaurants

Bottom line - your restaurant should be easy to find from a phone. That means a mobile-friendly website, a Google My Business account, and information-rich social media profiles. More tips for mobile-friendly marketing can be found here.

12. Refusing to evolve

Adapt or die. 

Keep your eyes open to the way the industry, your competitors, and your neighborhood are evolving. Your marketing strategy should be modified and tweaked to accommodate the inevitable changes in the environment.

Maybe the neighborhood has become more upscale over time; perhaps a large chain has popped up next door and people will be looking for the “local” option; maybe a widespread food safety issue has resulted in an aversion to seafood. Be aware of these shifts in the market and adapt your restaurant marketing accordingly. 

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