The restaurant industry is a notoriously risky one. Roughly 60% of eateries fail in their first year; 80% close within five years. Poor food or service will certainly doom restaurants, but not all failures are a result of what’s on the inside. Often, what customers see on the outside — or don’t see — is what determines success. For many establishments, restaurant marketing is make or break.
People don’t eat at places they can’t find. They won’t return to a restaurant if they’re not reminded of why it’s worth coming back to. Restaurant marketing is essential for building first-time visits and repeat patronage.
But before you post a bunch of Facebook promos or distribute a stack of flyers, you have to do some legwork. A bit of planning will make your marketing tactics more efficient and effective.
This chapter of The Beginner’s Guide to Restaurant Marketing focuses on the steps and critical points involved in restaurant marketing:
- Restaurant Marketing Strategies
- Research Your Audience and Competitors
- Why You Need a Restaurant Marketing Plan
- The Importance of Branding for Restaurants
- Should You Use a Restaurant Marketing Agency?
- Restaurant Industry Trends in Marketing
Each of these topics reiterates the importance of planning ahead. That’s especially the case for step one: creating a restaurant marketing strategy.
Restaurant Marketing Strategies
Take some time to define your restaurant’s marketing strategy. This is the big-picture, bird’s-eye view of your restaurant marketing. A marketing strategy provides a focus to your branding, messaging, and marketing goals. Consider the following questions.
What is your restaurant’s value proposition?
When crafting a marketing strategy, first consider what sets your restaurant apart. Your value proposition communicates why your target audience would want to order from your restaurant instead of your competitors. It explains how you solve a problem in a way that no other restaurant can and describes exactly what your customers are going to get when they choose to dine with you.
Value propositions can be written in five steps:
- List all the benefits your restaurant offers.
- Describe what makes those benefits valuable to your target audience.
- Identify your ideal customer’s biggest pain point.
- Determine how your offerings remedy that pain point.
- Set your restaurant apart as the one that will offer those benefits and remedy that pain point better than your competitors will.
Who is your ideal customer?
And why should they dine at your establishment? Consider your ideal customer’s persona, including age, gender, income, and spending/eating habits. We go more in-depth on customer personas in the next section of this chapter.
What is your target customer base?
Your target customer base is similar to a customer persona, but it is much more generalized. Whereas a persona describes a single individual, your target customer base will depict an entire group of people. You can define your target customer base using age ranges, income ranges, a variety of habits, and more.
What do you want customers to think of your restaurant?
When thinking about personas and your target customer base, consider the impression you want to leave on them. What is it about your restaurant that’s going to keep customers coming back for more? What do you want them to tell their friends after they leave?
Who are your key competitors?
Your key competitors are going to be other restaurants in your area that have similar offerings to yours. Identifying them will help you determine how you can outshine them and make your target audience choose you over them.
What are your goals for your business?
Goals are important for success in any industry, including food and beverage. They give us direction, something to strive for, and a target to track our progress against. Don’t be afraid to set big goals for your restaurant, but make sure to keep them realistic. For example, setting a goal to become a nationally recognized restaurant or one that gets featured on the Food Network is absolutely doable — if you relentlessly use the right marketing tactics.
The primary goal of most restaurant marketing strategies is to get new customers and keep current ones, for higher order counts and greater revenue and profits. Having a solid strategy in place will keep marketing costs reasonable by maximizing efficiency on your marketing efforts.
Research Your Audience and Competitors
Central to building a strong restaurant marketing strategy is researching your patrons and competitors. The more you know about your potential customers, the more your marketing will connect with them. And the more you know about your competitors, the more you’ll be able to distinguish your own establishment and clarify why it’s worth visiting.
Audience Buyer Personas
When defining your restaurant’s target audience, consider their age range, buying habits, and income. You may even want to create buyer personas for your target audience. These are fictional representations of a person that are rooted in fact, as they are created using qualitative data. When creating your buyer persona, use some or all of the following methods:
- Create surveys using a service like Google Forms or a restaurant survey template to gather demographic data. If you have a mailing list, send the survey out to everyone who subscribes. You could also post the survey on your website and social media accounts. You may want to offer an incentive for filling it out, such as a coupon or gift card (both are discussed in Chapter 2 of this guide).
- Use Google Analytics, data from your online ordering platform, stats from your website hosting platform, and information gathered from your restaurant’s social media accounts. To track data from social media, you’ll have to create a business profile for each platform.
- Ask the service team at your restaurant what generalizations they can make to inform your customer’s buyer persona. Your staff is interacting with customers every day, and they will have valuable insight that you can’t find anywhere else.
- Above all, spend time getting to know the people who frequent your restaurant. Introduce yourself as the owner, and ask them how they felt about their experience, what brought them in, what they liked, what they didn’t like, etc. Not only will this garner valuable information, but it will show that you have a genuine interest in your customers and a commitment to giving them the best dining experience.
To research your competitors, compare your restaurant to others that offer similar dishes and types of food, and that have the same target market and service model. Obviously, a fine-dining Italian eatery won’t compare itself to a quick-serve sandwich shop. Once you have your list of competitors, complete a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis for each. Look at:
- Strengths: What the competitor does well. Consider the value that drives their business, keeps their doors open, and keeps people coming back for more.
- Weaknesses: Where the competitor could improve. People are 21% more likely to leave a review after they’ve a bad experience. Head to where people leave reviews for your competition, and see what they complained about the most.
- Opportunities: Where your restaurant can do better than the competitor. Maybe your competition has recently stopped carrying a certain product or offering a particular service. Can you swoop in and give the community what they’ve been missing?
- Threats: Is there something the competitor provides that could be seen as “better” (e.g., convenience of location, price, specials, or customer service)?
The Four P’s of Marketing
Think about product, price, place, and promotion — the “four P’s” of marketing — and decide where you fit in among the competition. Consistent marketing that delivers the right messaging to your target market is key to attracting sales.
- Product: Your product is your starting point. It’s what you’re offering to your customer base.
- Price: This refers to the price your target audience will pay for your product; the cost you incur to supply it; and the price at which your competition is selling the same/similar products.
- Place: Where will your product be sold and marketed? Do you offer online ordering? Will you rent billboards to advertise? What online avenues will you pursue? “Place” refers to everywhere you will display your offerings.
- Promotion: This is how you will promote your product.
Why You Need a Restaurant Marketing Plan
Whereas a restaurant marketing strategy is an overview of your restaurant’s identity and goals, a restaurant marketing plan gets into the specifics. It considers the marketing channels you’ll use and the approach you’ll take for each one.
A restaurant marketing plan helps you determine how you’ll promote your business to drive more traffic and orders. With hundreds of options for marketing your restaurant, choosing the methods you will use ahead of time gives you advanced opportunities to budget and track your efforts.
Restaurant marketing plans offer more possibilities than ever before. Between fliers, newspaper ads, email marketing, search engine optimization, social media, pay-per-click advertising, and much more, it can be hard to know where to start. This Beginner’s Guide to Restaurant Marketing will go through each of these and more to help you assess what will work best for your unique restaurant.
Marketing Plan Metrics
Once you have a plan in place, be sure to test it out and make changes based on success metrics. When it comes to restaurant marketing, the best thing you can do is experiment, analyze, and adapt.
Note the second component: analysis. Success in restaurant marketing means having a way to gather data from your efforts. That could entail anything from setting up Google Analytics for your website to tracking individual discount codes to see how often they’re redeemed. Below are some examples of metrics to bear in mind.
- Leads: Your leads are your restaurant’s prospective customers. You might generate new leads by hosting special events or offering coupons, gift cards, giveaways, and special promotions.
- Conversions: Conversions are the leads who become customers. It goes without saying that this is a very important metric!
- Engagement: Engagement is an essential success metric for restaurants using online marketing. It includes the number of clicks, likes, shares, and comments your online content receives. High engagement shows that your messaging is resonating with your audience. In many cases, especially with local businesses, high engagement is more important than a high follower count. It’s better to know that your small audience is really connecting with you, than to try reaching thousands of people who aren’t listening.
- Reach: Although we just mentioned that reach is not as important as engagement, it still holds value for measuring success. Reach tells you how far your message is spreading, so you can understand exactly what kind of impact your marketing efforts are having on your audience. You can measure reach by your follower count, the number of impressions on your posts, and traffic data.
- Customer sentiment: Keeping track of the way your customers feel about your restaurant is one of the most effective ways to tell if you’re giving them what they want. Keep an eye on — and respond to — your restaurant reviews. Make an effort to remedy any pain points. If there are multiple customers complaining about the same thing, you’ll know what you need to work on.
The Importance of Branding for Restaurants
Before marketing your restaurant, you’ll need to establish its brand identity. Your brand is more than a logo or a name at the bottom of an ad. From colors, fonts, and logo design to the merchandise you add branding to, your restaurant’s identity should be consistent and specific.
Your brand is often a prospect’s first impression of your restaurant. For this reason, it’s important to really sell it before you try to sell specific menu items. Once someone recognizes your brand, you can show them everything you have to offer. If they aren’t interested in your brand, they aren’t likely to ever get to your menu, let alone inside your restaurant.
Within five seconds of encountering it, a potential diner will form an opinion of your brand. Those first few seconds can make a lasting impression. Knowing that potential customers may judge your restaurant before they even try the food can be frustrating. But consider this an opportunity to define your business, its values, and what you want that first impression to be.
Creating a Restaurant Brand Identity
The first step in developing a brand identity is determining your target audience and ideal customer, as discussed above. Establishing your audience and ideal customer will help you figure out the parameters of your brand and give your audience exactly what they’re looking for.
Next, write out your mission statement. How would you describe your restaurant and its offerings in just a sentence or two? This will help you determine what your brand represents.
Once you have your mission statement, it’s time to give your brand a voice and personality. Your brand’s voice will reflect the feeling your customer gets when they think of your establishment. For example, Applebee’s upbeat voice brings to mind a casual, family-friendly atmosphere and meals for most budgets. A fine-dining restaurant’s voice would likely convey elegance and exceptional service.
A distinct personality will help your restaurant stand out. If you have something to offer besides delicious food, people will remember it and tell their family and friends about it. Some brands are memorable for their over-the-top service; others bring to mind unique menu creations or their strong commitment to community involvement. What sets your restaurant apart?
After you’ve decided on your brand voice, start creating your brand identity. Your brand identity will develop and strengthen over time; it might even change once or twice. The best way to communicate your brand identity is to be consistent with your content production on social media and make sure that every outlet you use has the same messaging.
The most successful brands are immediately recognizable. They create a personality and culture that resonate with their target audience. They provide clear connotations, establishing associations between visual branding and the dining experience.
The branding or rebranding process often begins with a custom logo. A logo is a foundational way to pique a diner’s interest. It distinguishes your restaurant from the competition. Many brands have run marketing strategies based on their logos over the course of years — think golden arches or a mermaid on a coffee cup.
A professionally designed logo will reflect the quality of your restaurant. It will also establish your restaurant’s identity and personality. Looking at it should tell potential customers whether your eatery is a fun family dining spot or the perfect place for an elegant date night.
Should You Use a Restaurant Marketing Agency?
Unless you, a staff member, or a friend is a digital artist, you may want to use a marketing expert for your restaurant’s logo. As mentioned, your logo is a big part of your brand. Its designer should understand how to use color and style to reinforce your restaurant’s core values. Too dull, and your logo will hurt your brand; too complex, and it will have limited use.
Your logo will appear on signage, menus, your online ordering site, and other materials. Be sure to have it in multiple file formats (.jpg, .png, .eps, .tiff, etc.), which will enable you to use it in different types of media and marketing materials.
You may also consider hiring a restaurant marketing agency on retainer, for ongoing marketing and communications. This may be worth pursuing if you want a comprehensive marketing plan but don’t have the bandwidth to launch and maintain one yourself. Regular social media posts, monthly email newsletters, etc., can end up being time-intensive.
If you do choose to pursue the marketing agency route, be sure to get quotes from several agencies. You may even consider putting out an RFP (“request for proposal”) to get a few bids.
On the other hand, some restaurant marketing tools use automation to streamline and simplify your marketing endeavors. Instead of hiring an agency, you might find that using restaurant software with marketing automation will work best for your restaurant. Automation tools can help with these processes, such as:
- Email: Use email automation to welcome new customers, send birthday greetings, or check in with customers you haven’t heard from in a while. Send out coupons or gift cards to see a quick spike in sales.
- Social media: There are many tools like Hootsuite and Loomly that help you plan and schedule social media content. You can set content to post automatically on a given date and time.
- Loyalty programs: Build loyalty by offering rewards for dollars spent or meals purchased. Connect your loyalty program to your coupons so customers can automatically receive discounts when they hit milestones.
Restaurant Industry Trends in Marketing
As you build out your restaurant’s marketing plan, be sure to stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends. For example, marketing trends for the restaurant industry in 2020 moved toward online advertising through social media. From Google and Facebook ads to a new surge in Instagram activity by restaurants, social media is undeniably a dominant force in restaurant marketing.
The rise in social media marketing could in part be attributable to the rise of social media usage in general during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it’s a trend that is expected to continue. With more and more customers turning to restaurant online ordering rather than on-site dining, where they’re finding restaurants is now the same place as where they’re ordering from restaurants: the internet.