Best Marketing Practices for Restaurants

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  • When it comes to your marketing strategy, there's really no difference which field you operate in. Whether you own a restaurant or a consulting business, you absolutely need marketing.
  • In restaurant businesses your main goal as the owner or director should be to connect with your restaurant visitors, build a certain reputation, maintain it, get great reviews online and grow your small restaurant into a famous chain due to those connections.
  • Why is your restaurant the one people should come to? What value do you offer them other than simply good food? Find your why and show it to your audience.

Like with all marketing strategies, the very first thing to consider is what image and message you want your brand to convey. If you are a fine dining - white tablecloth and fancy menu type, your approach and online presence will differ significantly than if you are a cafe or bar and grill type filled with foodie fans and slinging burgers and chicken wings.

Assuming you understand your own branding, let’s start with the basics. 

A great and effective online presence is and will forever be rooted in your website.

This is your 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year constant and continual representation and point of contact with past, present and yet to have come.

What should your website look like?

It should look like your restaurant. The same look and feel that people will experience in your place they should also experience online. It would be strange to see a website for a place that had cartoon characters and bright colours that looks very child-friendly only to turn up to a fancy low key wine bar with a lonely jazz musician playing a sad bass.

Your online presence is your opportunity to make a first impression. The look, feel, and information shared on your website should introduce potential customers to your brand and should entice them to want more.

What content needs to be on your website

Again, this will vary depending on the brand strategy, but let’s consider a few approaches:

  1. If you are a family bar and grill type, then you may want to show special offers or special menu nights. You may want to ask people to join your mailing list by offering a free entree. This type of restaurant should show food items and families eating and enjoying their time.
     
  2. However, if you are a traditional Italian Ristorante that serves well-cooked meals and an imported wines list, then you don’t want to be as upfront with these things. You want to set a tone and an ambiance, you want to tell the story of what makes your food so traditional, where your chef hails from, which region the menu is set from?
    Tell me why I need to try what you’re offering. Why should I pay a premium? Why go for the imported wine? You can still offer me to join your mailing list but make it sound exclusive like I am being invited to know about your seasonal menu items or new wines as they come in.

You should always feature your set menu. Nothing should be more attractive than the food you serve. So let me know what you offer, if something sounds appetizing, I will come for it.

Social media

Social media is such a powerful tool when it comes to restaurant marketing in today’s world. We all know by now that social media is considered to be the new form of word of mouth advertising, and boy are they talking! With more than 200 million posts with the hashtag 'food' and 23 million with hashtag 'drink' just on Instagram alone.

Social media has created many new platforms for anyone and everyone to live out their fantasies of becoming a food critic. If done well, this can be harnessed and directed in a way that will not only build your brand but will establish you a cult following.

Encouraging people to check in, post photos, like and share your page, and leave you reviews. Post special menu items and deals to get people in the doors and host themed nights where, if people dress up, they get drink specials or a secret menu. Have a special mascot or character that people can take photos with or a red carpet setup with special lighting for people to take selfies and check-in.

There are many fun and interactive things that you can do, honestly, chapters can be written on just social media alone. The main lessons here are - YES, you need to be on social media, so make sure it’s done in a way that fits your brand, have fun with it, give back to those who are following you and remember that reviews matter.

We must remember that nearly 90% of people online will make a purchasing decision based on online reviews and comments. Considering this, we understand that people are talking about you, so how can we control what they are saying?

Reputation management:

Having an effective, well thought out reputation management strategy in place is critical. People are notorious for being negative and sharing when they have a bad experience. In fact, people are more likely to leave a  review if they have had a negative experience than they are if they have a positive one.

But, out of all those who do leave a negative review only about 23% say that they are doing it because they want to be spiteful. Nearly half of them are genuinely trying to share their experience, and roughly 35% are looking to get a response from management or the owner.

Responding to reviews

Responding to reviews is a best practice. It shows that you are engaged, informed and willing to deal with issues that spring up.

Most people understand that you are not going to knock it out of the park every single time. Some reviews could actually serve as critical real-time feedback that can help you understand your restaurant from a customer perspective. Very often a simple acknowledgment of the issue and a follow up on how you can improve the experience next time will satisfy all of those who have left and will reduce negative reviews.

Remember that you don’t only want to be reactive to negative reviews. More importantly, you want to actively attract and outright ask for positive reviews. Studies show that 70% of patrons who are asked to leave a review will gladly do so.

By asking customers that are happy and come on a regular basis it won't be long until you have a high rating and plenty of good and honest reviews. By purposefully asking for these reviews you can make sure that you decide which platforms the reviews are being left on. This ensures that you can send good reviews to where they are most needed at the time. It is important to have strong reviews across multiple areas to give yourself a well rounded and consistent reputation.  

This is the very reason that having a proactive social media plan in place is so vital for growing your business and brand.

Public Relations: (What is the story?)

The restaurant business is really more of a calling than a job or career choice. You have to love everything about what you are sharing with the world or else, why would you do it? Your “why” is an important element of your brand and can be a driving force for who you attract. Maybe it is family recipes that have been passed down for generations or a deep passion for fine dining. It could be a sustainable and whole foods approach to cooking or your love for ambiance and exotic cuisine.

Whatever those factors are that ignited the creative flames inside you. Whatever your story is, let it be heard and use it to your advantage. Media coverage of these stories is not only free advertising but it also makes you stand out. It gives people something to identify with and calls them to your tables.


Michael McCabe

Michael McCabe

Director at In House Marketing Strategies

I am very passionate about seeing progress, in my life as well as in those around me both personally, and professionally. I am the type of person who likes to leave people, places, and things, better than they were before I've encountered them.

In House Marketing Strategies

In House Marketing Strategies

Marketing and communications


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