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From running the back and front of the house to handling the many (often unexpected) hiccups of running a restaurant, the last thing on an operator's mind is a restaurant marketing plan. And who can blame them? But creating a restaurant marketing plan is more important than ever. A good marketing plan is about more than just beautiful photos on Instagram, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to spend a ton of money on marketing to make a huge impact on your business.
While it may not always seem like it, restaurant marketing is critical to the success of your business. Word-of-mouth can go a long way, but there’s a massive group of people who will never know about your restaurant without marketing. That doesn’t mean you have to run a Super Bowl ad. Every time you post on your restaurant’s social media, send an email to a guest, or mail out your takeout menu, you’re marketing your restaurant and reaching new guests to turn into regulars.
There are countless options when it comes to different marketing channels for small budgets, but one of the most important steps in any restaurant marketing initiative is planning. Toast has created a resource that encompasses everything that goes into planning your restaurant’s marketing strategy, including an interactive calendar that’s completely customizable. Download our 2021 Restaurant Marketing Plan Template to get your restaurant set up for a successful year.
How to Create a Restaurant Marketing Plan
While creating a restaurant marketing plan may seem daunting, it’s completely doable for any restaurant owner, especially if you have the help of a template — click here to get a copy of ours.
So here’s the thing: restaurant marketing is all about going where your customers are. Where do they spend their time online? What’s the typical age range of your customers? This is where you’ll have to do some legwork on researching which marketing methods work for you (is it better to go with Instagram or Tiktok?), identifying your target customer, choosing how much money you're willing to spend on marketing as you test new avenues (this is a must!), and how you'll measure success and adjust if something isn't working.
Yes, there will be some trial and error, as with anything new—but the payoff can be immense.
Restaurant Marketing Ideas and Examples
The purpose of marketing your restaurant is to reach a large audience of people who’d be interested in dining at your establishment. It’s not just about casting a wide net — it's important to be specific about the type of people you’re targeting in your marketing campaigns, otherwise you'll waste time and money.
How to Use Social Media to Reach Restaurant Customers
Using social media is a great way to attract guests to your restaurant. There are several social media channels to choose from — the most popular being Instagram and Facebook — so it’s best to understand which sites your customers spend the most time on so you can reach them where they already are. It’s great to experiment with multiple platforms because each channel offers a different way to communicate with guests.
Instagram is photo-focused, so it’s where you would post a mouthwatering photo of one of your dinner options with a caption like “this steak is calling your name.” It’s an easy and effective way to get guests in your dining room.
You can also use Instagram Stories, which disappear after 24 hours, as a quick way to reach out to your audience in a less formal way. Nick Kiouftis, the owner of California Grill, uses Instagram Stories to highlight their entrees, upcoming events, and employees. This gives their Instagram page a very personal feel, which increases their customer engagement as well.
Facebook has different post formats, such as long form text-based posts, link sharing, photos, videos, and reviews. For example, Tiger Lily Kitchen uses Facebook to keep customers up to date with opening and closing times, new menu options, and more. They use Facebook to show pictures of their mouthwatering, colorful dishes (and to make a ton of cute food puns).
On Facebook, you can also implement a chat bot to scale your marketing strategy and respond to simple questions from customers without having a staff member constantly monitoring your messages.
By the end of this restaurant marketing guide, you’ll be equipped with the tools and tactics needed to create a following of loyal and loving guests.
TikTok and Youtube
TikTok is the latest social media craze, and it’s easy to see why — the videos are short, entertaining, and easily accessible — which makes it a great medium for restaurant marketing. Take the trend of birria tacos: the saucy, cheesy, fried tacos have taken over social media, in no small part thanks to TikTok. Don Birra Tacos y Mas Restaurant wasted no time in hopping on the birria trend on TikTok (and have the views to prove it!)
You can also download the videos that you make and post on TikTok and repurpose them on your other social media pages, like Don Birria did below.
While YouTube promotes more long-form video content, it’s a great way to connect with customers. When Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix had to temporarily shutter his doors due to the pandemic, he turned to YouTube as a way to connect with customers by sharing recipes, highlighting local farmers, and musing about life—which led to a pretty cool story in the AZ Central.
Paid Social Media Advertising
Paying to promote your Instagram or Facebook ads is a great way to take your content and broadcast it to a larger audience. Paid ads are customizable, meaning you can choose how much you want to spend, how long you want the ad to run, and what type of audience you want to target. Learn more about paid social media ads here.
Engage Your Customers with Email Marketing
Using email to market your restaurant allows you to reach customers that have either signed up to receive email updates about your restaurant or have physically been in to your establishment — either way, they most likely have interest in dining with you. This makes marketing to them relatively easy, but it still requires thoughtful planning. Filling your customers’ inboxes with spam emails will not get them in the door.
Our 2019 Restaurant Success Report showed that 87% of guests want to receive emails about specials or discounts, so this is a great place to start as you test out email marketing. Think about the frequency, the type of email — such as a newsletter, coupon promotion, reengagement message, or loyalty update — and whether your message is actually impactful to customers. Considering these factors will help you remain in your customers’ good graces, and out of their junk mail.
Learn how guest marketing tools can help you get your customers coming back.
Optimize Your Website for Google Searches
Optimizing your website for Google or other search engines makes sure you’re visible to all your potential guests when they search for somewhere to eat. To increase your chances of being seen by the largest audience possible, keep your Google My Business page as up-to-date as possible, bid on keyword terms that match your restaurant, and include specific and descriptive keywords on your website.
Sweetgreen, a healthy food chain, does a great job of optimizing their website for keywords. They prominently display the keywords that someone would typically search for on their website, so they appear at the top of the list for searches like “takeout salads in Boston” “best salads in Boston” or “Boston salads”.
Create Video Ads That Market Your Restaurant’s Team Culture
Video ads give you a lot of room for creativity, and can reach a large audience very quickly. Whether you choose to create ads for YouTube or TV should depend on what audience you are attempting to reach. Generally, YouTube reaches more 18-49 year olds, while TV is more popular for those aged 50 and above.
Try to create something with meaning that translates your company culture to your guests. This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars on top-of-the-line equipment — you can even use your smartphone. Consider interviewing your team members asking what makes their job enjoyable, interview customers about their experience at your restaurant, or have your management team talk about your restaurant’s values. This will set you apart from the generic ads that flood your TV and internet, and allow you to connect with your guests on an emotional level.
Ledger, a fine dining restaurant in Massachusetts, used video marketing to showcase an annual event they host where seven of Boston’s best chefs prepare a seven course dinner and all proceeds go to Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign. The simple, minute-long video shows chefs preparing the food. There’s no catchphrases or one-liners, just beautiful imagery that portrays the passion behind the event.
Mail Out Your Menu
An effective way to get your restaurant’s name out there is to send physical coupons or promotions to local customers. This advertising strategy typically targets guests within a few miles of your restaurant, so sending a coupon or a detailed takeout menu featuring all your dishes will have your community flocking to your restaurant.
You also have the option to send an employee or two out to drop off your coupons at a specific neighborhood or apartment complex. This is an easy way to pass time on a particularly slow day, and you can save money on postage.
Restaurant Marketing for Any Size and Budget
Small businesses have it tough, but it’s possible to compete with the top dogs in the industry as long as you’re using strategic marketing. If you thoroughly plan, budget, and execute marketing tactics that reach your target audience, your marketing will have a big impact, no matter your budget and size.