It takes a master multitasker to keep a restaurant afloat. Most restaurant owners are part-time chefs, servers, accountants, HR experts, and marketers, all wrapped into one (very exhausted) package. Needless to say, owning a restaurant is not for the faint of heart, and smaller restaurants often have it much harder because they don’t have a huge budget to dedicate to hiring marketing experts, accountants, HR pros, and the like. Often, because a restaurant owner simply doesn’t have the time, the responsibilities that these extra staff members could take on get left by the wayside. And when times get tough, the first thing to go is usually restaurant marketing.
While it may not seem like it, restaurant marketing is crucial. 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 have the budget to run a Super Bowl ad. Anytime 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.
There are countless options when it comes to different marketing channels for different budgets, so one of the most important steps in restaurant marketing is planning. Toast has created a resource that encompases everything that goes into planning your restuarant’s marketing strategy, including an interactive calendar that’s completely customizable. Download our 2020 Restaurant Marketing Plan to get your restaurant set up for a successful year.
It’s tough to compete with giant franchises and chain restaurants, but that’s what makes marketing for small restaurants so important. Your restaurant marketing budget doesn’t have to be the same as Chipotle’s to be successful.
There are plenty of opportunities to get your name out there. Here are some great ways to make your small marketing budget have a big impact.
Restaurant Marketing Ideas
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.
Use Your Restaurant’s Social Media to Engage with Your Guests
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 customer demographic spends their 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’d 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. Additionally, you can 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. You can even use a chat bot to scale your marketing strategy and respond to simple questions from customers without having a staff member constantly monitoring your messages. Arrowhead Ales Brewing Company in Illinois uses the Facebook messenger bot to respond to simple questions like “What time do you open today,” which allows Arrowhead Ales to scale their marketing strategy without having to devote extra staff resources to it.
Some restaurants use their Facebook account as their actual website, hosting their menu and crucial information, like their address and opening hours, right on their page.
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.
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.
Make Your Restaurant’s Website Search Engine Friendly
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.
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.
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