Getting Discovered Online: Digital Marketing for Restaurants

Restaurant websites, SEO, email marketing, and more

In this chapter of The Beginner’s Guide to Restaurant Marketing, we dive into arguably the most important aspect of marketing these days: digital marketing.

If You Sell Online, You Need to Market Online

Your online presence is critical to your restaurant’s success. If customers write negative reviews about your customer service, or if your website comes across as sloppy or unprofessional, it won’t matter how great your food is. On the other hand, glowing reviews and a clean, professional site will showcase your restaurant as the one to order from. 

That’s especially important given how quickly online ordering has become a predominant revenue stream for many restaurants. Customers who love your website are more likely to click through to your online menu from it to place their next food order.

For many restaurants, online sales and digital marketing can feel tricky or intimidating. The digital landscape changes so fast that it can be hard to know what channels to use. What will drive the most traffic? Where should you place ads for the greatest ROI? (Because they’re such huge topics, this guide has separate chapters on social media marketing and restaurant digital advertising.) We’ll be constantly updating this chapter to address the latest trends and algorithms. 

As with all your marketing initiatives, when it comes to digital marketing, be sure to experiment and analyze. There may be some marketing techniques that seem perfect but fall flat, while others grow your business more than expected. 

The digital marketing options explored here are:

Build a Restaurant Website Designed to Draw In Customers

Restaurant website design doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs the basics. Those basics are:

  • Your online menu
  • A button that links to your online ordering site
  • High-quality food photos
  • Contact information: phone number, email address, location

Some additional nice-to-have’s are your restaurant’s story, an introduction to your team, and more information about your food. If your cuisine type or menu dishes are unique, you could also explain them to customers. 

There are plenty of easy-to-use website platforms out there, such as WordPress or Squarespace. Your website branding should match the branding on your online ordering site, including colors and your logo. For more details on how restaurant websites affect brand visibility, check out the article “Does Your Restaurant Need a Website?”

Restaurant SEO Tips

What is SEO (search engine optimization)? Here’s how the experts at Moz put it: SEO is “the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” 

Basically, SEO comprises techniques to improve how your website ranks on search engines like Google. If someone searches for “pizza near me” on Google, they’re more likely to click on one of the first few results, rather than something on page 5 of the search results. SEO helps you get a better ranking, for more visibility and higher site traffic.

Whether you’re new to SEO or have years of experience, there are several key restaurant SEO tips and strategies to consider. These include local SEO, backlinks, schema markup, and online directory listings. Success with SEO also entails featuring proper keywords and location information on your website.

Rank higher in local search results and drive website traffic with the Restaurant’s Guide to Local SEO.

How to Use Your Restaurant Online Ordering System to Market Your Business

Online ordering doesn’t end when your customer hits the “add to cart” button. A huge part of online ordering is letting people know you offer it!

Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Coupons – share digital discount codes that customers can use when placing online orders
  • Email marketing – drive people to your online ordering site with personalized email marketing
  • Loyalty – encourage repeat visits to your online ordering site with a loyalty program
  • Social media – use targeted ads to reach the audience that will want to order from you
  • QR codes – share your QR code to drive traffic directly to your online ordering site

We cover each of these topics in different sections of this guide. Ideally, your online ordering system will have all these tools and services for you. That way, you don’t have to sign up for (and pay for) a bunch of different platforms. 

Another way that your online ordering system can help your marketing efforts is through its customer relationship management (CRM) tools. These should provide you with important customer data like contact information and order histories. They should also give you key customer feedback, so you can continually make improvements to your food and service.

The Online Ordering Sales Funnel

Think of the online ordering process as a funnel. First, a potential customer needs to find out about your restaurant. Maybe they see it in a social media ad they scroll past. The second time they see the ad in their feed, they might be intrigued enough to click on it. 

Next, the customer visits your online menu. They aren’t hungry at the time, but they’ve seen what you offer.

A few days later, they decide to give your food a try. They pick menu items, add them to their cart, and complete their order. 

The easiest way to start improving your online sales is by looking at how to improve the segue between each of these steps. How can your marketing convert prospects into “add to cart” customers? 

Maybe that means adding a popup announcement to your online ordering site with a limited-time special. Maybe it means doubling down on Facebook targeted advertising. Throughout the funnel, heed any data points you collect.

Track Your Online Ordering Data

When it comes to strengthening online sales, one of your first steps should be to have a complete and accurate tracking system set up. This is most commonly achieved through your online ordering system and free applications like Google Analytics. Be sure to track:

  • How many people place orders through your online ordering system 
  • Order histories
  • Guest customers
  • Registered customers
  • Sales volume
  • Items volume
  • Coupon redemptions (plus total and average discount amounts)
  • Loyalty (points earned, points used, points available)

This information gives you the ability to understand which meal special resonated the most or what menu item was most successfully marketed. It allows you to analyze and experiment, which is what digital marketing is all about.

How to Use Google My Business and Other Online Directories to Grow Your Restaurant Business

Online directories are popular among both local customers and tourists. It’s important to spend some time claiming your business pages on the major directories. (It won’t take long.) These include Google My Business, Bing Places for Business, TripAdvisor, and Yelp.

Customers often add and update listings for places they’ve eaten at if a page isn’t claimed. While their intentions might be good, unclaimed listings often contain errors.

Once you’ve claimed your business:

  • You control what information and images the listing displays.
  • No unauthorized people can update your listing.
  • You can ensure that all content is accurate and reflects your brand.
  • Most directories allow you to verify the listing to protect it from being hijacked.

Personalize your listings. Include menu items and photos to increase click counts.

How to Get Your Restaurant Reviewed Online

When you receive unsolicited reviews, always respond within a day. That applies to both positive and negative reviews. Being responsive to all reviews will help you establish a reputation of being available for your customers.

How do you decide whether a restaurant is worth checking out? A common answer to that question is: Look at the reviews. Sixty percent of consumers read online reviews before picking a restaurant.

Getting online restaurant reviews isn’t difficult. If your restaurant is new, you can find local foodies through Facebook, Yelp, YouTube, and other platforms. Invite them for a free meal in return for an honest review

For both new and established restaurants, an easy way to get reviews is by featuring a link on your website to get Google reviews. Once you have some nice reviews, you can feature them as testimonials on your website and social media feeds.

When you receive unsolicited reviews, always respond within a day. That applies to both positive and negative reviews. Being responsive to all reviews will help you establish a reputation of being available for your customers.

Restaurant Newsletter and Email Marketing

A popular way to create lasting customer relationships is with restaurant email marketing

Restaurant Newsletter

A monthly email newsletter is much more cost-effective than a mailed newsletter, and of course, there’s no delay. 

The trickiest part of a restaurant e-newsletter is crafting a subject line that will get patrons to click and read. Which subject line do you think will be more successful for a coffee shop called Espresso? 

Subject line A: Espresso has a special running for Memorial Day weekend

Subject line B: Free coffee! You read that right.

Our vote is for B. Keep your subject line short and compelling. You probably don’t need to include your restaurant’s name in the subject line, since customers will see that the email is coming from you. 

Be mindful of being too salesy, which will get your email stuck in spam filters. But a little promotion and incentivizing will inspire some quick orders. 

Ongoing Restaurant Email Marketing

In addition to a newsletter, it’s a good idea to set up email marketing automation for key stages in the customer journey. These include:

  • Customer account created
  • First order placed
  • Order not placed in a while

Imagine how delighted a customer will be to get an email with a special discount after they’ve placed their first order!

Text Message Marketing for Restaurants

SMS and WhatsApp are rising in popularity as ways to inform loyalty members about limited-time offers (LTOs) and specials. Keep messages short, simple, and spread out. No one wants to get bombarded by a bunch of texts in a row. 

Avoid sending SMS messages during your restaurant’s busy times, when you might not have the bandwidth to engage. Instead, you could reach out to customers on slower days or during off-peak times, offering specials to drive more orders. 

Market Your QR Code Menu

When QR codes first emerged in the ’90s, they didn’t really take off. But over the past few years, QR codes have reappeared and are becoming much more common. The reason: they’re easy and quick to use.

Restaurants are now using QR codes to connect customers directly with their menu. Customers just aim their smartphone camera at the QR code and click to bring up a restaurant menu. From there, they can select menu items and place their order in a few clicks. Because the entire process is contactless, it’s as safe as it is speedy.

For more on QR codes, check out our article on using QR codes to market your restaurant.

You can feature your QR code on both print and digital marketing materials. These include:

  • Facebook posts and cover images
  • Videos shared over social media
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Postcards
  • Email newsletters

The more visibility your QR code has, the more ordering options your customers have. They’ll love having plenty of options to choose from!

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