Restaurant Marketing Overview
A delicious, positive image is critical for the restaurant business. Having an image-first mindset in marketing will convey your restaurant’s quality cuisine and having a positive online reputation will typically help improve your reputation in your local community.
To entice your target audience, your online presence and food images should replicate your restaurant experience. One of the best ways to showcase your customer experience online is through online reputation management, which helps you showcase your restaurant through the eyes of your customers on review sites, like Yelp and Google My Business, and reservation apps, such as I Know the Chef and OpenTable. To expand your reach and connect with your audience in the apps they use often, leverage third-party delivery partners, such as Postmates, Grubhub, and Uber Eats.
To convey your unique dining experience, a modern approach should be used to communicate with customers that include a mobile-first website, a mobile-responsive menu, blog content, email marketing, and a consistent social media program. These pieces and your advertising efforts should focus on serving your local community’s needs.
Grab and Go
Continue reading to learn how modern marketing efforts can help you reach more of your target audience. A mobile-first website and menu, digital advertising, online reputation management, content marketing, and enticing calls to action will often encourage occasional customers to convert into regulars.
Restaurant Marketing Foundation
Marketing your restaurant is all about giving your prospects and customers a similar experience online as they experience at your restaurant. The main ingredient is a sleek, functional online menu. According to a survey by OpenTable, 93% of people view menus online before eating out, which is why having your menu online and accessible to your prospects is critical for business success.
To top it off, more and more Americans are seeking convenience first when it comes to many of their food decisions. In fact, 60 percent of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout once per week and 31 percent use third-party delivery services at least twice a week. This is why it’s vital to offer convenient solutions for your customers, including delivery, online ordering, and online reservations, if applicable. To offer these services, you can partner with third-party delivery service partners as well as third-party reservation and ordering partners. Then, incorporate these options into your marketing efforts.
Restaurants can also benefit by using scarcity marketing tactics in their sales and marketing efforts. Scarcity marketing efforts for your restaurant may mean limited-time or daily specials, seasonal or rare events that feature a special menu, limited-time menu items, or seasonal menu items. These efforts work best with an established customer base, so be sure to add to your offerings rather than detract from them. These efforts do not, however, usually work to improve slow seasons. For slow seasons, we recommend a special discount or offering a unique event by collaborating with another local business.
The first foundational marketing initiative you must complete is market research. By determining your target audience and positioning within the competitive landscape, you can better determine how you truly benefit the people you serve. Whether you are launching a new menu or starting a new marketing initiative, creating or revisiting your market research can help you better serve your customers.
Who is your target audience? And what do they need? To answer these questions, look beyond the option to serve everyone. Dive into demographics to better understand what makes your audience tick and what their food or beverage needs or wants are. Look beyond your menu to determine other ways you can help them with your services, customer service, and more. This is vital information you need to know before beginning to develop your positioning.
If you’re unsure where to begin, start asking your current and previous customers questions about why they sought out your restaurant, why they chose your restaurant, and what needs your menu items fulfilled. They may offer you insights into aspects of your services that mean a lot to your customers and maybe even aspects that can be improved.
If you do not have a lot of customers to ask or much feedback to review, start by asking different members of your team what they notice the most about how your services truly benefit your customers beyond the original scope of the services themselves. If you can, conduct a survey sent to your target audience.
Throughout this process, it’s imperative that you and your team identify customer objections and roadblocks. When you know what your customers struggle with, you can accommodate them to the best of your ability through your services and customer service. This involves resolving those challenges for your customers. The key is to focus on how your business solves your customers’ challenges, not on the services or menu items you provide. This is the foundation of your positioning.
When positioning your restaurant, it’s important to promote how your services are the most convenient option for your prospective customers. Part of positioning your restaurant as convenient is to provide simple options, pricing, and messaging. To be convenient is to simplify everything and to be able to describe your menu options, cuisine specialties, and unique atmosphere in such a way that anyone can understand it. This is where your messaging comes in.
If you position yourself as the best and most convenient restaurant that offers a specific cuisine, then your messaging needs to showcase that. This impacts your menu, website, social media pages, emails, business listings, receipts, and all other pieces (marketing or not) that have words on them. By simplifying your prospects’ choices with easy-to-understand messages, you are more likely to reach and convert your prospects into customers. This simplicity and convenience also affect other aspects of your business and marketing efforts.
To establish your positioning means you must first know exactly what you offer and then research what your competitors offer. These competitors will primarily be local restaurants (independent and chains) that offer menu items similar to yours, as well as comparable small businesses that may not offer the same type of food and drinks, but that you know your ideal customers also frequent.
When you have a few competitors listed, review their positioning by reviewing their website, business listings, social media pages, and possibly visiting their location or speaking to their customers. The purpose of this exercise is to establish where the competitors are positioning themselves in the local market.
From there, perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis about at least three competitors. Combine your restaurant’s opportunities and your competitors’ weaknesses to establish your positioning in the local market. What can you offer that your competitors can’t? What can you improve to compete with your competitors? Learn from these analyses to create a positioning statement and brand pillars, both of which will help you know what to focus on in your messaging and marketing efforts.
Utilizing your positioning, you can create your branding foundation, which includes messaging and a visual branding strategy. Developing brand assets, such as your logo and menu item photos, helps tie your restaurant experience together.
Once you know your positioning in the local market, it’s time to establish your messaging guidelines. Your messaging should focus on one thing: what makes your restaurant different from the others in the area. Not only does this make your messaging simple, but it focuses your messages on what your customers need to hear about your restaurant.
First, narrow your audience into segments, as narrow as possible. Then, determine what those audience segments need. Some needs may overlap based on your restaurant, but there will likely be differences.
Based on these needs, similar and different, determine the best practices for promoting your positioning to each audience segment and how you should communicate with your audience overall. This will depend on your audience, your positioning, and how your restaurant wants to sound. If you need ideas, look up “tone of voice adjectives.” From there, use those adjectives to develop your content tone and style. Provide your team with the do’s and don’ts for your messaging guidelines accordingly. These guidelines will help all content sound on-brand, no matter which team member is creating them.
Remember: Avoid using industry jargon in your messaging. Your audience likely doesn’t understand or want to learn your industry’s jargon, so use simple, easy to understand language for all content. However, your audience likely does want to learn about your dishes if you serve a cuisine that is unique to the area (e.g. authentic Thai restaurant in a town with very few residents from Taiwan or other Asian states and territories.)
Conveying brand personality is also important to position your restaurant appropriately in your local area. Competition is often ruthless when it comes to local businesses, including restaurants. To set your brand apart from your competitors, conveying your brand personality and values in your messaging is key. These pieces will help your prospects and customers remember you.
VISUAL BRANDING STRATEGY
Creating a cohesive visual brand for restaurants is all about creating a design that matches your positioning and audience. By developing a visual branding strategy, you can develop visual branding pieces that are cohesive and in-line with your vision. This strategy will affect your logo, website, menu, and interior design.
Your business’s visual branding assets include a logo, color palette, fonts, and brand imagery. All of these pieces say something specific about your restaurant, represent your menu, and showcase the visual tone of your restaurant. While they are not more important than providing quality food, beverages, and customer service, your customers will eventually see your logo as your brand, so it needs to accurately represent your business.
For the brand imagery, think about what kind of aesthetic or visual style you want your brand to portray online and through your interior design. What filter showcases your brand in the best light? For example, a fine dining restaurant in New York City will have a very different look and feel than a coffeehouse in a small town.
Food and beverage photos are the most important part of your visual branding strategy as a restaurant because your customers eat with their eyes before they choose to go to your restaurant, look at your menu, and order. This is especially important for restaurants serving food from a different culture or cuisine than the local area is accustomed to as your customers may not know what to expect. Within your visual branding strategy, it’s important to include guidelines on how to take food and beverage photos, which should be utilized by your team or a food photographer.
If your business can afford it, we recommend getting a professional food photographer and food stylist for your food and beverage photography. If hiring a food photographer and food stylist is out of your budget, learn all you can about food styling, use natural lighting, and take a bunch of photos at all different angles.
We recommend that restaurants spend the most time and money on your menu (development, design, website HTML format, etc.). Then, food and beverage photography is your second priority, so allocate the necessary time and assets to this process, too. These photos are utilized in all of your marketing efforts, including creating your menu, so the presentation of your menu items in these photos will determine whether they succeed at enticing prospects. These photos show your prospects and customers your style, plating, portions, and more. It’s critical to not only have beautiful plating when they dine in, but it’s just as critical to show them what to expect while they look at your menu online.
Tip: Make a note in your visual branding guidelines to get food and beverage shots from multiple angles, specifically aerial and close-ups. Having different angles to choose from when designing your website and menu, as well as having them to use for other content efforts, will be very beneficial.
VISUAL BRANDING DEVELOPMENT
Whether you use a food photographer and stylist or have members of your team perform those duties in-house, it’s best to streamline your photography processes to efficiently create and collect your photography assets. To do so, you should plan to shoot multiple (if not all) of your featured menu items in one day. First, you will need to prepare for the photoshoot, including gathering freshly prepared dishes, a camera, and any background pieces or models, as well as creating a list or spreadsheet of all of the dishes, angles, and background or model combinations. For more details on how to prepare for a food photoshoot, visit this link and this link.
Tip: Plan your photoshoot well in advance so you can ensure that you will get all of the photos you will need for your marketing and sales efforts for a while. Gathering these assets in a day or two (plus editing) is much easier than taking a new photo every time you need one. Then, be sure to share the edited assets with your team so they will use the right photos for all of their projects. This ensures a consistent look to your dishes in all marketing and sales pieces.
Other visual assets you will need include a logo, color palette, fonts, and types of images. Remember to consider how each piece will look online and in print, or what pieces are specifically designed for online or print.
Once you have your messaging guidelines set, and your photography and branding assets created, you may want to determine what pieces of collateral need to be updated, including website pages, menus, business listings, social media page details, and more. Then create a plan to update a page or a piece at least monthly, if not weekly, until all pieces are updated.
Tip: We recommend creating your printed, in-house menu with the considerations listed for your online menu.
Modern restaurants need an online foundation before beginning marketing initiatives. This involves having a website that is easy to navigate, a digital presence so your prospective clients can easily find you, business listings and review site listings to expand your digital presence, and a plan in place to manage your online reputation. All of these pieces focus on helping your customers refer others to your restaurant directly and indirectly.
The primary focus of your website is to showcase your food and beverages, which is apparent through your menu and food and beverage photography. The secondary focus is to showcase your basic business details so your customers can find you. Both of these focuses are equally critical to having a successful website.
The goal of your website is to be mobile-responsive and accessible to prospects and search engines, which means designing it with intuitive navigation and having your menu in HTML format.
Tip: If your restaurant accepts calls, add your phone number to the top of the homepage and ensure it’s clickable on mobile devices.
On your website’s homepage, you want to have your high-quality food and beverage photos front and center. Showcase dishes that your restaurant is known for or that you want to be known for. Within the first two seconds of seeing your homepage, a new visitor should be able to know what cuisine you offer, what your restaurant is called, and where it is located. This means including your logo and address (or at least city and state) on the homepage with the logo above the fold.
Your website menu should include links to your secondary pages, including your (food and beverage) menus in HTML format, online ordering, online reservations, a loyalty program, complete contact information, and a blog.
On each website page, you will want to include your primary contact information, hours, and social media links. This way, no matter what page a prospect is on, they can contact you quickly.
When developing content for your website beyond the menu, it’s important to include specific cuisine and location keywords. These keywords can also help your customers find your website.
You will also want to promote your team culture in some way on your website. Showcase your team to humanize the business in your local community.
Tip: Use a third-party delivery service combined with your online ordering to make offering this service easier on your growing team. You can also use a third-party online reservation platform, too, instead of creating one from scratch.
Tip: Encourage gift card purchases on your website to reach audience members who don’t have time to go to your physical location to purchase a gift card. Then, use that gift card website page in your communications and advertising efforts around holidays.
Tip: If you host events at your restaurant, have an events page that is easily accessible from the homepage. Then, make sure your email signup pop-up comes up on that page as it will help you grow your email list so you can target people who are interested in your events later on.
Directory Listings & Review Sites
There are so many websites, printed mailers, and apps that contain business listings for restaurants. The best online business listings for your restaurant include:
- Google My Business
- Reserve with Google
- Bing Places for Business
- White Pages
- Yahoo! Local Listing
You may also want to consider listing your business in your local newspaper after your online presence is managed.
Be sure to add as many details as you can to each business listing using your messaging guidelines. Don’t forget to include quality images that portray your business and align with your visual branding. The more specific, customer-focused details you add, the more likely a prospect will reach out to you over a competing restaurant that does not provide so many helpful details. This also helps you receive more qualified prospects from a variety of avenues because they not only can find you, but they can understand your business through your thorough business listings.
Tip: If you offer delivery, be sure to set your delivery radius for each business listing.
Building a Digital Presence
Having a digital presence is just as important as having a physical presence in your community; however, having a digital presence is more than creating a profile or listing on every possible site available. Instead, it’s important to use only the most relevant and essential social media and directory sites to showcase your business. These listings must be established and maintained over time, which will help you create and maintain a positive reputation online, which is extremely important for the well-being of your business.
Be careful not to spread too wide on this, since the role of the digital presence is primarily to convey a positive reputation, promote core messaging, and show that the restaurant is active. Having too many social media pages and business listings makes it hard to manage over time, which can negatively impact your reputation if prospects presume an inactive or outdated page means an inactive business.
Online Reputation Strategy
Customer stories, through online reviews, can help establish trust and an emotional connection with your prospective customers. This customer-generated content can change the opinions of prospective customers because customers trust other customers the most. This is why restaurants need to not only request reviews but also need to manage their online reputation.
While anyone can review your business on most business listings or social media pages, most people only do so if they were really wowed by your food and service or were really upset with your food and service. Negative reviews happen to everyone, which is why it’s so important to develop a strategy to monitor and improve your online reputation. This strategy will involve two things:
- A way to ask your customers to review your business
- A plan on how to respond to negative and positive reviews appropriately
When asking your customers to review your business, you have many options. In the restaurant, you can have your waiters and waitresses ask your customers at the end of their meal and have a link (to a specific business listing or a list of them where the customers can choose where to leave a review) on the customer copy of their receipt. You can also automate this process with technology, sending emails and texts to a customer who has provided that information (say, when making a reservation) a few days after their visit.
Online Reputation Management
ORM generally starts with your Business Listings. You will send customers to your Business Listings (Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and more) so they can leave you a review. Prospects will read these reviews, so you need to review them, too. When you do, respond to each one, whether it’s positive or negative. If it’s negative, try to take it off of that platform by encouraging them to email you (or you can email them first if you have their email). This way, even negative reviews can promote how customer-focused your business is by showing prospects how you resolve issues.
Tip: If you know where a customer found you, such as via a Google search or Yelp, then recommend that they use that platform to leave a review.
In addition to monitoring and responding to reviews on Business Listings, ORM involves managing your entire online reputation, which includes random posts and comments across the internet. There are many tools that can help you monitor your online reputation. One free tool that many small businesses use is Google Alerts; create an alert for your restaurant name, cuisine specialty, a combination of your restaurant name and location, and a combination of your cuisine specialty and location to monitor your brand mentions on any platform. Google Alerts makes it easy to keep tabs on who is talking about you and your accolades. It can also help you find social media posts you might be able to share (see Social Media in Lead Nurturing).
When reviewing your brand’s online reputation, it’s beneficial to view your brand sentiment. This narrows down to positive, negative, or neutral. The sentiment is the overall view of your brand from all online mentions. The goal is to have a positive sentiment, which doesn’t mean all reviews, posts, and comments are positive, but instead that most are. This positive view or sentiment shows that your customers and community have a positive view of your business, which is critical to success.
If your sentiment is negative, then you need to resolve that with ORM, so start monitoring and responding to negative reviews, posts, and comments. If your sentiment is neutral, then your audience doesn’t really have an opinion about your business, which may mean that not enough people know about it yet.
Your sentiment is heavily influenced by your social media program, so start there to improve it by sharing quality content that your audience cares about.
To begin your sentiment analysis for free, use Social Buzz (you need to pay to enable monitoring, but you can do searches for free) or Social Mention.
Connecting with your audience online and in person is vital to your business’s success. To reach your prospects online and in person, you can leverage your happy customers’ experiences through a loyalty program as well as reservation partners and delivery partners.
Many restaurants work with third-party delivery partners to expand their reach and increase their revenue. These delivery partners act like business partners in the sense that they allow you to reach customers outside of your restaurant, but they also act like business directories because customers can find your restaurant through them. If you choose to pursue a delivery partnership, consider one of the following:
- Uber Eats
- Skip The Dishes
Be sure to optimize and update your listing on your delivery partner’s website, too.
Many restaurants work with third-party reservation partners to streamline their reservation processes. The best reservation partners are:
- I Know the Chef
- Yelp Reservations
Loyalty programs encourage repeat sales. The best loyalty programs are easy to use and monitor rewards for customers. Printed punch cards are a thing of the past. Instead, it’s best to use a loyalty app, SMS texting system, or email system. The key is to go paperless and digital.
Creating an app from scratch is costly and inefficient for small restaurants, including those with one location or only a few franchise locations. For this reason, we recommend using a loyalty program that is already created for you, especially one that is integrated into another app your customers use or another system your business already uses.
Popular foodie apps that offer integrated loyalty programs include:
- Clover Rewards
Tip: Depending on your audience, it may not be ideal to create a loyalty program based on the need for your customers to download an app. Determine what will work best for them, whether it’s an app with notifications, emails, or texts. However, we highly recommend that you don’t use paper punch cards as those are easily lost and are challenging to manage.
Tip: If you can, integrate your loyalty program with your email marketing program so customers receive an email when they receive a reward.
Food and beverages are your greatest assets in the restaurant business, which is why having a solid menu is critical to your success. Customers want to know what you serve before they order or visit your restaurant, so a menu in HTML format on your website is essential for your marketing foundation.
Once your menu is finalized or updated (the items, not the design), it’s time to create your online and printed menus. While the following information primarily affects your online menu, you may want to consider some of the options listed for your print menus, too.
Always add your menu to your website in HTML format. This format is critical for mobile users because they do not want to download a PDF with small font, and forcing them to do so will only frustrate them. Plus, having your menu in HTML format will ensure it will be accessible to search engines, which means your customers will be able to find your restaurant by looking up the dishes you offer. Be sure to keep your menu up-to-date with seasonal and new dishes, as appropriate, to ensure it matches your printed menu within your restaurant. Any differences will confuse your customers.
Don’t be afraid to have multiple menus. Do you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus? It’s best to have these as separate menus on your website. Do you have seasonal, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, children’s, and senior’s options? Create spin-off menus for each of those categories so your customers can quickly scan your options based on their dietary or family needs. This also helps customers know you care about their unique needs and is seen as good customer service even before they go to your restaurant. (You may also want to consider using these in-house, too, though with a well-designed printed menu, it’s not as important because you can create sections for each within one large printed menu.)
Tip: Studies have shown that you should have your dessert menu separate from your regular menu because including it on the regular menu can actually lower how many appetizers customers order. Learn more menu tips here.
Tip: It’s important to include nutritional and ingredient information, too, as most customers want to know this information.
Tip: Never publish an unfinished menu.
Restaurant Audience Targeting
In This Section
When people choose to dine out, they often ask Google to help them decide. This includes organic efforts, such as directory listings and social media, as well as advertising. Advertising a restaurant combines brand awareness initiatives and brand promotion. Digital advertising leverages geo-specific targeting, which not only focuses on your target area but also helps you gather data on who your ideal customer is. Part of the strategy will be analyzing who is searching for your service and who might be interested in it as well. The majority of your advertising efforts will target people who are looking for a solution to meet an immediate need – where to eat or grab a drink.
Over time, you will fine-tune targeting on all paid advertising platforms and research your local competition to understand why they’re successful or what they might be lacking that you could take advantage of. You will learn how to lower ad spend and utilize the best keywords by looking at the search term query report to shape the correct traffic to the website, split testing ad copies to improve ad performance, and researching for long-tailed keywords to compete with competitors’ ad spend. All of this is an effort to reduce cost, capture your competitors’ customers, increase ROI by zooming in on high-converting customers, and to further expand your business.
There are many advertising channels for you to consider, but it’s important to narrow in on the platforms that perform the best for restaurants. Overall, social media platforms are going to be great for brand awareness, specifically Facebook and Instagram. Print advertising, such as in local newspapers, can also be effective for increasing your brand awareness. Google and Bing ads are going to be your best option for attracting people who are actively looking for a restaurant to eat at or order from.
GOOGLE & BING ADS
Google Ads allows you to show up at the top of the search results page when people are specifically searching for the types of food you serve or for your brand. You’ll be able to target keywords that have high intent. No other platform can do this effectively.
For Google Ads, you have the option to choose to use the Search Network or the Display Network.
Search Network ads can help you target high-intent keywords. They look like text ads on the search results page to help people go further in the buying cycle.
One opportunity for restaurants that is unique to the Search Network is to encourage your audience to reach out and contact your business directly through call-only ads, as well as call and message extensions.
Display Network ads typically show ads to people who are still in the “research” phase of the buying cycle. They can show ads on other websites with a topic related to your business, or to people who show an interest in your product or service. They can also show ads to people who have already visited your website in order to bring them back while they are researching. Using the Display Network, you also have the option to create new audiences to show ads to people who have similar traits.
Bing is a secondary search engine to utilize for your advertising efforts after setting up your Google Ads campaigns. With over 100 million unique searchers who still use the search engine, utilizing it can benefit your overall advertising strategy.
Facebook & Instagram
Both of these platforms offer robust demographic targeting for your advertising efforts. If you have a specific audience in mind for a campaign, you can target them and let them know about your restaurant. Instagram is ideal for showing locals professional photos of your mouth-watering food and special beverages in ad format.
Advertising your restaurant in local print publications, including newspapers and magazines, works best in rural communities. This is because members of rural communities often don’t have the same access to computers and consistent internet, even with cell phones. It’s best to see what your local community has access to. If most local residents have internet access, focus your efforts on digital advertising and communications. If you find that your local community has a large group of people without internet access at home, then see if you can implement a print advertising strategy.
Print ads can also work in big cities, too, though it still depends on where your audience reads their news and looks for local business information. If your audience is older and prefers to read the newspaper over checking their phones, then print advertising may benefit you.
Tip: A print advertising campaign, just like digital advertising, requires more than one print ad. If your budget only allows for one print ad or two, it’s not worth it. Using other marketing and advertising avenues, such as a loyalty program, will equal a higher ROI.
When it comes to targeting your ideal audience through advertising, you will want to use a mixture of demographic, keyword, geographic, interest, and device targeting.
If you don’t know the demographics of your audience, then you need to split-test different groups. Lower the bid significantly for the audience that is bringing only about 20% of the results. You want to focus on the demographics that are bringing in most of the traffic and are fulfilling the current marketing objective. Examples include age, income levels, gender, ad placement, devices, competitors they like or follow, and anything that they’re interested in that might be related to your business. Don’t forget the times of day they might be most active as well after you’ve looked at the data.
Spy on your competition by following them to see suggestions you get from Facebook and check out who your competition is following as well. If you provide catering, Facebook ads can benefit B2B marketing efforts by targeting decision-makers at local companies. No other social media platform has this much data and detailed targeting.
Make bid adjustments in increments of 5% when enough data has been collected. Justify bid adjustments only when there is conversion data available, and there are either 100 clicks or 1-1.5k impressions. This is not a strict rule, but it is a good practice to follow. Never exclude a demographic, if possible; instead, try to significantly lower the bid.
On Facebook, you can create and build custom audiences. This can include those who visited your website, liked your business page, etc. You can create a lookalike audience of the custom audience you’re building if you want to extend your reach for advertising, or you can utilize remarketing by leveraging these custom audiences. If you want to target people for your catering services, you can focus on decision-makers.
When using Google Ads and Bing, start with high-intent keywords like “Dominos near me,” for example, and then slowly start to explore other keywords for opportunities like “best pizza places nearby.” Utilize 20% of the budget on experimenting with keywords that might give interesting results in the search term query. Always use 80% of your budget on getting results for the business. Make sure you update the negative keyword list. Try to understand the psychology of your customers. Ask yourself what sort of problem your audience is trying to solve and what they would ask Google or Bing. Whatever keywords you might consider, that’s what you want to try to include in your keyword list.
You’ll typically be focused on keywords with a low cost per click (CPC), though some fine dining restaurants may have a higher CPC as they see more advertising competition.
When using keyword targeting, it’s vital to optimize the keywords used on an ongoing basis to get the most cost-effective ROI. Start by updating the negative keyword list by viewing the search term report, search for keywords that are bringing in bad traffic (these are peripheral, low-intent, and irrelevant keywords), and utilize the keyword planner to add more high-intent positive keywords (these are typically best added as an exact word or phrase match).
KEYWORD TARGETING STRATEGIES & CONSIDERATIONS
For keyword targeting, you want to maintain a quality score between 7 and 10, ideally. However, in some rare cases, this is not possible due to some industries being blacklisted under Google’s hidden, strict guidelines. A quality score of 1-3 is only okay if it’s not for a high-intent keyword or one that is bringing in most of the good traffic to the business. You can increase your ad rank for the most important keywords by increasing the quality score and max bid. You can increase the quality score by trying to increase the expected clickthrough rate (CTR), ad relevance, and landing page experience.
Pro tip: Google secretly keeps a blacklist of certain industries where the highest quality score you can get is 4-6. Sometimes you can get lucky to increase this number – say, for example, from a 4 to a 6 quality score – by talking directly with a Google representative to ensure that you’re running a legit business. An example would be the word “Botox.”
Search Impression Share: Throughout this process, you will want to keep in mind search impression share (IS) at the keyword and at the campaign level (budget search IS). Use data of “search-IS” with data of “lost-search IS.” For example, low-search IS, high-lost search IS, and low-search IS (at the campaign level) are clear indications that your bid for the keyword needs to be higher to stay competitive. If this is a high-intent keyword with a high conversion rate, then you need to allocate your budget appropriately to increase the search IS for this keyword.
Adjustments should be made on a case-by-case basis, but overall, you will want to pause lower-performing keywords and increase spend on high-performing keywords. Using this tactic, CPC will go up, but in the end, because you know that a high-intent keyword has a high conversion rate, the cost will be offset by the potential increase in profits.
Bad Actors: One last thing to consider are bad actors, which are people who purposely click on your ads to drive up the cost. This is typically coming from competitors, which happens most often for highly competitive local businesses. If this does occur, you need to speak with a Google representative to get these bad actors filtered out of your ad spend.
Set a small radius around the restaurant (about a 1- to 10-mile radius) and try to include locations individually at a granular level, such as cities, zip codes, county, etc. Be sure to choose one type, such as zip codes only. Exclude locations in rare scenarios where the general population of a geographic location is negative towards the business or laws do not favor the business.
Try to avoid visitors “interested” in the location to prevent any traffic outside the country or unnecessary traffic. If the business covers all 50 states, then input all 50 states individually.
Make bid adjustments at the granular level at 5% increments. All bid adjustments must be justified with some conversion data, at least 100 clicks, and at least 1-1.5k impressions. This is generally a good practice. Lower the bid for low-performing locations.
Start with the observational option to see the potential for an in-market audience. Don’t be afraid to split test targeting vs. observation.
If you are using the targeting option, split-test various in-market audience combinations. Make bid adjustments in 5% increments, but ensure there is some conversion data, at least 100 clicks, and 1-1.5k impressions.
INTEREST TARGETING STRATEGIES & CONSIDERATIONS
Hour-Day Strategy: Adjust bids by day first, then by hour. Increase bids where there is a higher probability of conversion to occur, and lower bids otherwise.
Ongoing Optimization: Make bid adjustments in increments of 5%. Justify bid adjustments with conversion data, at least 100 clicks, and at least 1-1.5k impressions. Depending on the business, you may want to exclude bids, if, for example, the business is getting phone calls at 3:00 AM, which is more than likely irrelevant to your restaurant.
Users among various devices behave very differently. Increase bids where there is a higher probability of conversion to occur, and lower bids otherwise. It’s best to significantly lower bids for lower-performing devices rather than completely excluding them. Make bid adjustments in increments of 5%. Justify bid adjustments with conversion data, at least 100 clicks, and at least 1-1.5k impressions.
Advanced Bid Adjustment Strategy: If your restaurant receives calls regularly, then it might make sense to make bid adjustments for call extensions. Observe the data collected first before making any bid adjustments. Make progressive bid adjustments in increments of 5%. These adjustments need to be justified with some conversion data, at least 100 clicks, and at least 1-1.5k impressions.
Once you know what advertising channels you’re using, who you’re targeting, and how, it’s important to optimize your ads and strategy. You will optimize your first campaigns and continue optimizing campaigns as you continue your advertising program.
Split-test different styles of ad copies until you can start to narrow in on what tone of messaging and content works best. Hook a customer in by starting with a small weakness—to show honesty and build trust—only to negate it with a stronger element. For example, “We’re a tiny restaurant, but that’s why reviewers love the intimate experience!” This wouldn’t work if you mentioned the small size and then came back with how clean the place is. The “but” should be directed towards the weakness. You want to leverage all the free real estate that comes with Google Ad copies, such as all the available ad extensions and maximum character limit. You’ll also want to split-test shorter ad copies for mobile users because longer text can get cut off due to variations in the phone screen size.
With a larger budget, split test 3-4 ad copies. With a smaller budget, split test 2-3 ad copies to collect enough data within 30 days or so. Headers are expected to have the most impact, but split test everything from the ad text, phrasing (e.g. fun, catchy, negative first, cute, emotional, etc.), benefits, offers, features, unique proposition, etc. It really depends on who your audience is, and that’s why you need to split test to understand who your high-converting customer is, and what they are likely to respond to.
Pause your lowest-performing ad copy (do not edit it!), and replace it with a fresh one that is modeled after the best-performing ad. I want to emphasize not editing the ad copy if it’s low-performing because you do not want to convolute the data when someone tries to analyze it.
SOCIAL MEDIA AD CONTENT
Ad copies vary because people are not buying directly on social platforms. You want to collect data as you spread brand awareness. To do so, you need to split-test various ad copies and pay very close attention to your demographic metrics to get a better sense of who your high-converting audience segment is.
Use ads featuring a lead magnet (see Email Marketing in Lead Nurturing) to start collecting email addresses from your promotions and then use them for remarketing. Facebook’s “Store Traffic” objective allows you to target potential customers within a certain radius and track them if they saw your ad and visited your restaurant.
Video advertising is where everything is moving in digital marketing. These videos are on mute and autoplay in Facebook’s news feed, so you should add captions to grab attention. Facebook has a feature built-in that allows you to seamlessly add captions to your video ads.
Remarketing is one of the most powerful tools that you can leverage in online advertising and it’s a feature built into all platforms. Building custom audiences and lookalike audiences is a must when extending your reach, and optimizing conversion rate and cost.
Social buttons on your website will allow your visitors to follow you and stay connected on other platforms. This will help build your organic ranking and grow your business in general. You need to have conversion tracking installed so you can analyze the data on behavior and website performance. Optimizing your website is just as important as your paid advertising strategy.
Consider seasons, holidays, and slow seasons and days that might offer great opportunities for promos, discounts, limited-time offers, etc. It also might make sense to focus most of your marketing efforts right before peak times throughout the year if the business you’re in is very competitive.
GOOGLE ADS AND BING OPTIMIZATION
Remarketing is an option here as well because it’s one of the most powerful tools in driving conversions. You’ll build custom audiences based on customer behavior on the website. After collecting data for a couple of weeks or at least until you have enough results, you’ll also optimize based on the hour and day of the week. Lastly, you’ll be updating that negative keyword list to refine the high-quality custom audience.
Social Media Advertising OPTIMIZATION
Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn offer the same features as Google and Bing. However, the demographic and interest-based targeting on social media is a lot better. You’ll be able to take full advantage of Facebook’s algorithm when you split-test different audience groups to figure out the best combination that leads to the highest quality of conversions. Split testing will be key on these social platforms.
For LinkedIn specifically, target audiences at a granular level, such as by industry, job title, company, and more. The type of conversions will depend on your business’s marketing objective. Split test different demographics, geolocations, etc., to zoom in on high-converting traffic.
Optimizing Facebook, specifically, includes swapping the ad copies, testing the ad copies, and testing the ad sets, as well as creating a custom audience or lookalike audience and continuing to track custom conversions.
Swap Ad Copies: You have already tested what ads perform well on Facebook, so freshen up your next campaign. Swapping out ad copies with fresh ones is favorable to Facebook’s algorithm, which will lower the overall cost of advertising. Use a similar theme because you want similar expected results.
Split Test Ad Copies: Like with Google Ads, the importance of split testing ads should be a natural optimization step.
Split Test Ad Sets: Use different segmented audiences to fine-tune and discover the best segmentation that is going to give the right balance between conversions and cost.
Custom Audience/Lookalike Audience: Keep analyzing and making adjustments as needed to increase the performance of lookalike audience targeting and custom audience retargeting.
Custom Conversions: Keep tracking custom conversions to understand important business KPIs. Eventually, after analyzing the data and making performance adjustments for a few months, switch the campaign objective to optimize for conversions. You need to justify this switch after analyzing and optimizing results (or conversions) and cost.
Allocate your budget so 80% of it is focused on high-conversion groups and 20% is focused on lower-performing or experimental groups. Make budget, bid, and segmentation adjustments as needed to follow the 80/20 rule (80% budget on results and 20% on experimentation).
Pay close attention to your website performance because it’s as important as your Google Ads performance; website performance can refer to load time speed, bounce rate, time per session, etc. One of the most common mistakes businesses make in digital marketing is wrongfully blaming poor performance on campaigns and advertising when the website is poorly optimized for conversions. You can bring the highest quality traffic at the lowest cost to the website, but all that doesn’t matter if they cannot convert due to the limitations of the website.
Restaurants need a strategy when they communicate with prospects, customers, and the community in order to have a positive reputation online and offline. This strategy should be centered around conveying reputability through various avenues, using brand messaging, positioning, and visuals. Conveying your reputation can help increase sales conversion rates, nurture leads, help streamline the sales process, and increase the lifetime value of the customer by encouraging repeat business and referrals.
Many restaurants are tempted to only showcase their menu items, or worse, only promote their promotions. While promoting your menu items and promotions is important for your communications efforts, you also need to tell stories. Your restaurant, team, dishes, and drinks all have stories – so tell them. People are wired for stories and they are emotionally driven, so tell your prospects and customers the emotional stories about your restaurant. “Emotional” doesn’t mean sad or extraneous, but instead, it means connecting with your audience through true stories. For example, if your main dish was inspired by your grandmother who ran her own restaurant many years ago, share that story. If your restaurant provides jobs to individuals who grew up with food insecurity, tell that story.
Tip: Only tell honest stories as this builds trust with your audience.
Tip: If you can, share local stories. People enjoy learning about their community from the lens of someone else’s experience.
The lead nurturing strategy for every restaurant should evolve with the business, the customers’ needs, and the industry. To do this, it’s important to monitor how prospects and customers interact with your content. This is where analytics comes in on all platforms – your website, social media pages, email marketing account, and text marketing account. Since marketing communications is all about content, it’s important to constantly monitor what content is read, viewed, and liked by your audience. When content is read and liked, take note for future social media posts, blog articles, emails, and more. When it doesn’t, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this content clear?
- Is this content focused on one topic and purpose?
- Is this content attractive? Consider the vocabulary, images, videos, etc.
- Is this quality content?
- Does this content benefit my audience in some way? Education, entertainment, etc.
- Is this content served in a format that my audience prefers?
Restaurants should utilize email marketing to streamline and automate processes. This can be done in three ways: newsletters, promotional emails, and automated email sequences. Restaurants should use all three types of email marketing when appropriate to best serve their customers. Knowing how to present different types of information about your business is half the battle.
SENDER ADDRESS & NAME
When you create your email address for your email marketing program, use your domain (this builds trust) and get creative, as long as it fits in your messaging guidelines. For example, try [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected] The key is to create an email address for each section of your sales and marketing efforts, so your customers can keep each aspect of your business separate in their email according to their personal preferences. e.g. [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected] Plus, if they unsubscribe to your marketing emails (or mark them as spam), for example, they’ll still receive transactional emails.
This setup is critical, so be mindful of this decision and get feedback from your team before setting up the email addresses and email marketing account. You want these email addresses to be used by your customers and prospects, so be sure to include that note in your emails, too. Then, be sure to assign team members to monitor each email account so you can provide customer service through these avenues.
Tip: Avoid using [email protected] or any free email address (e.g. @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @outlook.com) as they reduce your overall trustworthiness to customers. They also show customers that you don’t want to communicate with them via email, showing them that email is only a one-way ticket for your sales and marketing efforts. Don’t make these mistakes. Make your email addresses friendly so your customers feel comfortable communicating with you via email if they need your assistance. (Many customers prefer email communications, so let it be two-way.)
As a small business, you will likely want to say that your emails are from your Restaurant Name. Typically, only celebrity chefs can get away with being recognized by using their First and Last Name or Name from Restaurant Name.
Tip: If you’re unsure of what sender name to use, A/B test. Then, once you have your winner, be consistent. Lacking consistency will only confuse subscribers and may lower your open rates.
CHOOSING AN EMAIL MARKETING PLATFORM
Using an email marketing platform is important to organize subscribers, review analytics, and automate the business’s email marketing. Email marketing cannot be done effectively in Gmail or Outlook. It’s best to start by using a free email marketing platform, such as Zoho Campaigns, Mailchimp, MailerLite, SendPulse, or Sendinblue.
There are also industry-specific platforms available, such as Fishbowl and Bridg. Strategically, there are no big differences between each platform. The important thing to do is to choose a platform and start creating and sending emails and gathering subscriber emails. Once you do gather subscribers, it’s important to organize them in some way, either in different lists or by tags. This will not only help you send better campaigns to each audience, but it will also help you transfer lists to a different platform if you decide to use a different one later on.
COLLECTING AN AUDIENCE
Restaurants should never pay for an audience. Instead, they should create a simple system to request a prospect’s or new customer’s email address when they reserve a table online, over the phone, or in person. This can be as simple as pen and paper (before adding them to your email marketing platform), but the key is to separate prospects and customers so you can send them different email content that relates to their unique needs. This helps you better serve them wherever they are in the customer journey.
An easy way to collect email addresses is to create a sign-up form when they order online or make a reservation. You can also add a sign-up link on their receipt to encourage people to sign up themselves. Another option is to have a landing page with a lead magnet on your website (see Lead Magnets).
On the sign-up form, you will want to ask them for their name, email address, and birthday (month and day are necessary, though for most restaurants the year is unnecessary; if you serve alcohol, it’s best to require the year, too). This way, you send them a birthday email, with or without a discount. If you have multiple locations, ask them what locations they would like to receive updates about and discounts for. If you offer vegan, vegetarian, kid’s, or seniors menus, include these options on the sign-up form, too. These options help your audience choose what messages they want to receive. This is essentially segmenting your audience from the start, which will increase the ROI of your email marketing program.
Tip: If you already have an audience but don’t have these preferences, send an email to your subscribers to ask them. This can be in the format of a survey. It will take time to add the results of the survey to your customer list in your email marketing platform, but this segmentation effort will be worth it in the long run.
Lead magnets encourage people to subscribe to an email list. Subscribers give up their email addresses, and in return, businesses give them a lead magnet, such as an ebook. Nowadays, people guard their email addresses, so businesses use lead magnets to encourage people to sign up for their marketing emails. If a subscriber is willing to do that to receive the lead magnet, they are already interested in your restaurant.
The best lead magnets for restaurants are:
- Recipe for an item on your menu
- Discount or gift card
- Video or video course on cooking
- Free appetizer, dessert, or drink
- Challenge information and printable
The format of the lead magnet will depend on what your customers could benefit from having, but they are all typically saved as a PDF or as an image within the email itself. If you do offer a discount of some kind, be sure to accept the digital copy of the coupon (i.e. a customer showing their waiter or waitress the email on their phone) as most customers are unlikely to print it off.
EMAIL CREATION & DESIGN
Newsletters primarily educate and engage subscribers on a recurring basis, such as monthly, to help keep your brand top-of-mind with your subscribers. Newsletters are a great place to showcase reviews, introduce new staff members, promote menu item changes, and more. Newsletters should follow the same format each time so subscribers can recognize them.
Email campaigns can be one or multiple emails promoting one thing, such as a sale or event. Campaigns can either be automated to send at specific times or intervals, or based on specific subscriber actions, but they don’t have to be. Campaigns can be created in advance or just before they are sent, depending on the need for them.
For example, if a restaurant is having a special fish dinner every Friday for six weeks, then an email campaign would be a great way to inform prospects and customers about the special. You could send one email on the Monday before, another one on Friday, and five more on the remaining Fridays. Each email would focus on that one topic (the special) and the call to action would lead directly to the restaurant’s website where the customer could reserve a table.
Depending on the restaurant and services offered, you will want to showcase long- or short-form content within your emails. The length of the content depends on the intent of the email. If an email’s purpose is to provide a transactional purpose, such as confirming a reservation or offering a free appetizer for their birthday, the content should be very short. If an email’s purpose is to provide an informative purpose, the content can be longer.
For example, a coffee house sending a loyalty reward email will create a very short email, but if the same coffee house wants to promote its next event with a local guitar player, the email will include more content.
In general, restaurants will primarily use short-form content because your customers are busy and on the go.
Newsletters primarily educate and engage subscribers on a recurring basis, such as weekly or monthly, to help keep your brand top-of-mind with your subscribers. Newsletters are a great place to showcase customer reviews, blog articles, events, menu changes, restaurant hours, location openings, and more. Typically, newsletters are longer emails with multiple sections and calls to action.
Newsletters should follow the same format each time so subscribers can recognize them. Be sure to test frequency as well as send days and times to see what works best for your subscribers, and then be consistent for most of your newsletters.
To start, send a monthly newsletter after your audience has received a Welcome email (see Automated Email Sequences for more information on Welcome emails).
Tip: Make your newsletter about the inside scoop on your menu. Let your email subscribers be the first to know anything about your restaurant.
In addition to regular newsletters, we recommend sending promotional emails as needed. These are one-time emails that promote company news, sale, contest, survey, or something else. Typically, promotional emails promote one thing with one call to action.
When sending promotions, you can increase the frequency (e.g. daily for three days for a three-day flash sale on a new menu item) and change the send days and times of the emails to align with your promotion.
When you do send promotional emails, you may benefit by using scarcity marketing tactics. This means you showcase the limited time frame of the sale (e.g. today only…) or a limited amount of products that are available (e.g. until we run out of these chocolate-dipped waffle cones…). When using this tactic, only promote the limited time frame or amount of products if you are not going to extend it. Scarcity marketing can increase the urgency and effectiveness of a sale when you do it with honesty and integrity.
Tip: When determining whether to include a promotion in a Newsletter with other updates or in a separate Promotional Email, consider how big the news is that you’re sharing. If it’s time-sensitive or you want to maximize click-throughs, send one or a few Promotional Emails. You can also tease a promotion in the Newsletter you send before the promotional email, if time allows, and on social media to drum up excitement.
AUTOMATED EMAIL SEQUENCES
An automated email sequence is ideal for repetitive emails you want to send to your audience using triggers. They can be time-based or trigger-based. Time-based emails are scheduled in advance at a specific time. Each email in the sequence is sent at a specific time interval. (For example, email 1 is sent immediately after a subscriber is added to the list, email 2 is sent one week later, email 3 is sent one day after that, etc.) This type of sequence is ideal for sending onboarding sequences to inform your new customers how your loyalty program works, what they can expect at your next event, birthday emails, and more.
Trigger-based email sequences are based on triggers, meaning when a subscriber opens an email or clicks on a specific link within an email, they are “triggered” to receive a specific email based on their open or click (or lack thereof). These triggers show your subscriber’s behavior, so it helps them see more relevant content based on their actions and preferences.
Trigger-based sequences are often more complicated than time-based sequences because they offer more options within the sequence, but they deliver a more unique experience for each subscriber based on their behavior. By delivering a more relevant user experience to your subscribers, open and click rates, and purchases or reservations are likely to increase.
The length of an automated sequence depends on the content included in it. And the content in the sequence depends on the purpose of the sequence.
Tip: Each email should have one call to action, so let your calls to action determine how many emails you create. Or, if you have one call to action for most of your emails (perhaps after a lead magnet), then allow your content to determine the number of emails.
The key is to integrate your other content assets into your email marketing efforts. Use your ebook, for example, as a lead magnet on a landing page on your website. Then, in the first email in the sequence, give them the ebook as a download. From there, give them an experience that acts as an extension of your restaurant experience, such as event information, blog articles, and other content.
Tip: Creating fresh content is not necessary for your email marketing. Instead, what is fresh is bringing your customers what they need when they need it in their email inboxes.
Tip: Automated sequences can include birthday emails; sending one automated birthday email is good, but sending 2-3 automated birthday emails to remind them of their discount, for example, can increase the chance that they’ll take you up on it. Offer birthday gifts, like a discount or a free dessert, for an entire month rather than just on their birthdate. Your best customers are busy and may not be able to visit your restaurant on their birthday.
Email Marketing Best Practices
Resend to Non-openers: Email is effective, but subscribers are busy. To increase the performance of campaigns with minimal additional effort, you can resend campaigns to non-openers. This can be automated in most email marketing platforms by checking a box or copying an email and setting the trigger to “did not open” the initial campaign. However, this should only be used on the most important campaigns because some subscribers may see the duplicate content as spam. To mitigate this possibility, you can limit the use of resends and be clear in the subject line that it’s a resend. In fact, you can A/B test your resend subject lines to see what performs best.
Email Design: When a restaurant uses both marketing and transactional emails, it’s best to have the same basic look for all emails to offer a better customer experience to each subscriber. It can be jarring if the latest campaign emails are on brand and inviting, and then the “Your table is reserved” email is colorless and stale. When beginning an email marketing program, you should unify the look of all emails. Yes, the look can change over time and adapt for individual campaigns, but there still needs to be cohesiveness among all emails so subscribers know it’s your restaurant within the first one-second glance.
A/B Testing: Creating and sending content to subscribers isn’t enough for restaurants. Emails should be tested using the A/B method. Testing means taking a small portion of the restaurant’s list, say 10% each, to send two versions of the same email to see which one leads to more opens, clicks, and reservations. Each test should only test one thing, such as:
- Subject line
- Sender email/name
- Call-to-action button color
- Plain text vs. HTML
- Long- vs. short-form email content
After the test is done, the restaurant can wait about 24 hours for the results to see who won. Which email led to more reservations or online orders? Then the business should use the winning email to send to the other 80% of the audience. Testing should happen frequently and, if possible, for every email sent to increase conversions.
Note: Some email automation platforms, like Mailchimp, don’t offer A/B testing for lists that have less than 10,000 subscribers. This is because they recommend a test group of 5,000 subscribers each. (Mailchimp also does not offer A/B testing on their free plan.) However, if your list is small, you can still A/B test sequence to sequence or newsletter to newsletter. Just remember to only change one thing for each (except the content, of course), and test each change for a few campaigns rather than just one.
Personalization: Personalizing emails starts with using the subscriber’s name in the email and continues by using the user data to personalize each subscriber’s emails in an effort to improve their experience. For restaurants, this means sending customers on your email list a reminder that their favorite Vegetarian Night is coming up (if they checked the box on the sign-up form saying they are interested in vegetarian dishes). Note that sending an email about Vegetarian Night to all of your subscribers isn’t ideal because some of them will not be interested; this is why segmenting subscribers is so important.
Mobile First: Most emails are opened on a cell phone, which means campaigns developed solely for large computer screens are often useless on a small screen. Simple, mobile-friendly emails that are responsive are more effective than immaculately designed campaigns that aren’t responsive, so businesses should be sure to use a simple layout and test all emails on multiple devices (or using a service like Email on Acid) before sending them out. Within most email marketing platforms, businesses can see what devices their subscribers are using to view each email. Combined with testing, you can ensure that every email looks good on those devices.
Email Scrubbing: Even with restaurants, subscribers can become unengaged. When more subscribers than usual are unsubscribing or reporting the business’s emails as spam, it’s time to scrub the list because an email marketing program is only as effective as its lists. Before scrubbing a list, it’s important to attempt to re-engage the unengaged subscribers first. This can be done by sending a re-engagement campaign to try to get them interested in the business again. This campaign can include a lead magnet or special promotion from the restaurant. Those who open the re-engagement campaign stay. Those who don’t will be scrubbed from the list.
Scrubbing an email list means deleting inactive subscribers, looking for and removing spam and duplicate subscribers, and narrowing down the list to active subscribers who are likely to benefit the business. Spam email addresses can be easily spotted by searching for letters and numbers jumbled randomly in an email address. Duplicate subscribers can be found using a spreadsheet. There are email scrubbing services, but a restaurant can manage these processes in-house better because they know their customers.
Many consumers use social media to look up and research a restaurant before they choose where to eat or order from. Part of this process involves looking at the restaurant’s reviews and post comments or requesting recommendations from friends.
Being a restaurant means being focused on your image first. Being image-first means your restaurant needs to be on social. Your customers are likely already posting about your menu and staff, so you need to join the conversation.
The focus of your social media program should be on promoting your brand image through food photos, conveying reputability by encouraging customer reviews, which are connected to your online reputation, and showcasing your brand personality on a consistent basis. The overall followers and engagement numbers are not as important as providing your prospects with another way to learn about your business from your team and your previous customers in an online social environment. It’s important to only use essential social media channels to maintain consistency in posting and communications with your followers. Having outdated social media pages can negatively impact your reputation and turn prospects away.
SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
The best platforms for restaurants are:
This order is very important. We recommend starting with one, managing it well, and then adding the next platform on the list if you have the time and resources. For each platform, be sure to share the right image sizes, content length, and hashtags.
Instagram is the top image-focused platform right now, which means food is very popular. Share your professional food and beverage photos, how-to video clips, themed posts that relate to your restaurant, and more.
Facebook is best used as a business listing where customers can leave reviews (see Online Reputation Strategy in Foundation). Facebook is also ideal for event promotion, contests, and more.
Pinterest is ideal for sharing blog content, recipes, cuisine-related information, fun facts, and quotes. Each Pin should link back to your website or third-party ordering and delivery service.
Twitter users engage with food-related and restaurant content well, but it can be tricky to join the conversation as Twitter’s fast-paced communication takes more time to manage effectively. However, Twitter is the ideal social media platform for customer service.
Social media pages should be consistently active. Daily posts or multiple posts per day are ideal, but unrealistic for many small businesses. Instead, focus on publishing three quality posts per week and scale from there if it benefits your business and you are able to do so.
The day and time you post don’t matter as much as being consistent because the algorithm for most platforms, such as Instagram, means posts are not seen right when they are published, but instead in the order the viewer is likely to want to see the posts based on interest.
When you need to promote something timely, such as a sale or event promotion, create multiple posts on the same topic and schedule them in advance to give your audience multiple reminders.
To publish social media content, you can use social media scheduling tools, such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and Buffer, which include free plans, as well as Zoho Social, Oktopost, SocialOomph, Sprout Social, and more. We recommend choosing one social media scheduling tool based on your platforms, needs, and budget. This way, you can create posts in one sitting and schedule them to publish in a week, a month, or at a later time. This streamlines the time you spend on social media for your business, but don’t forget to check your pages, too.
Alternatively, you can publish directly to each native platform, but this often takes longer, especially if you want to share a similar post on multiple platforms, and most platforms don’t have scheduling options, limiting your publishing times to “now.”
SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT
There are a lot of restaurants, food bloggers, and other food-related businesses using social media to reach their audience, so it’s important to be unique. Express your brand’s personality to build trust with your audience. Showcase your menu items and restaurant ambiance in professional photos and videos to capture the interest of your followers.
Restaurants need to be authentic on their social media pages. Promotional posts have their place, but educational and entertaining posts should be the majority. Restaurants have a great opportunity to showcase their professional food and beverage photos with informative (and maybe even fun, according to your messaging guidelines) captions alongside how-to videos, stock photos, and user-generated photos.
User-generated content includes pieces like customer reviews and social media posts that your customers publish. It’s best to use both user-generated content and content you develop whenever possible to provide various content for your audience. Plus, user-generated content adds legitimacy to your content and business.
When a customer is very satisfied with their experience, they are often happy to “review” your restaurant in a post. Then the reviews benefit your online reputation (see Online Reputation Strategy in Foundation) and can be repurposed as user-generated content on your pages. On Instagram and Pinterest, there aren’t review-specific opportunities, but instead the opportunity for an organic post by a customer featuring your restaurant and menu items.
On Instagram, when you see followers tag your brand in a post and positively comment about your restaurant, send them a direct message and ask them if you can feature their post and comment on your Instagram page. If they say yes, you can repost the post on your business’s Instagram feed among your other regularly-scheduled posts.
Internet users in the U.S. spend nearly 7 hours per week watching online videos, including social media videos. Not only are videos the favorite content type of consumers, but over 50% of consumers want to see more video content from brands they support. This is why video content is a powerful content medium to use for your social media strategy. Consider creating Q&A content, live or recorded, to answer customer questions about your menu items, or take them on a journey to see your latest dish made in the kitchen. Videos can be recorded and edited on a smartphone. Remember to use your messaging and visual branding guidelines when developing video content.
Tip: Shorter video clips are ideal content pieces for Instagram posts and Stories as well as Pinterest. Play around with the length of the video. On Instagram, a video can be up to one minute long, so test what works best on each platform.
To develop your video content strategy, you need to determine whether it will replace or augment other content you are sharing. Depending on your restaurant and resources, your answer will vary; however, augmenting long-form content, such as blog articles, with videos can help showcase your expertise in a digestible format.
Social Media Contests
Contests that run in your restaurant and on social media can accelerate brand awareness, lead generation, and conversions, and generate buzz about your business. Often, you will start the contest in your restaurant, involve your social media followers to join the fun, and then showcase the winner on social media. When hosting a contest, be sure to have a relevant but not too expensive prize to offer the contest winner.
Many restaurants have eating contests, but you can create less-involved contests as well. Check out these effective ideas.
For people to enter the contest, they typically have to like your post, comment on it, follow your page, and share your post, in addition to something in-house, if applicable; all or some of these pieces may be required while others may be additional entries into the contest. You can also request that they opt-in to your email marketing, either as a way to pre-qualify them as a lead or as an additional entry into the contest itself. Adding the email marketing opt-in can lower the number of bad leads you receive during the contest, but it can also lower the reach your contest has. It’s best to test what works best for your audience.
Use the Data
Social media is always changing just as your customers’ needs are always changing, which is why it’s important to review social media analytics for all of your active pages at least monthly. This will help you review the latest comments, messages, and reviews, as well as see what content received the most engagement (e.g. likes and comments) and how many conversions your posts had.
For restaurants, the number of conversions will likely be your main focus for your social media program. However, it takes time to build a following that trusts you and engages with you, so pay attention to engagement and awareness as well.
Keep in mind that you don’t want every social media post to sell, so not every post will lead to conversions. But, if you develop a social media program that informs followers about your menu items and sometimes leads them to your website or email list sign-up form, then you are likely to have high conversions during promotional pushes and sales.
Social media is meant to be “social,” so restaurants need at least one dedicated team member to check each social media platform daily, minimum, in order to reply to follower comments and DMs.
If you choose to use Facebook in your social media marketing efforts, set up and use Facebook Messenger bots for your business, which allow you to utilize the benefits of chatbots without any legwork. Messenger can benefit your business because it is likely that a large segment of your audience would prefer to contact you via Messenger than through other avenues.
Once you set up your Facebook Messenger bot for your business page, be sure you have a team member who can check it and respond to it most of the time, especially during business hours. It’s also best to create automatic messages so your customers can see your business hours and receive answers to common questions, even if your business is closed.
Restaurants can take advantage of many communication and experiential efforts to better serve your customers, including outreach initiatives, blog articles, and text marketing. Each one serves a unique purpose, helping drive prospects to your restaurant.
Restaurants can work with micro-influencers, such as food bloggers and restaurant reviewers, to boost their reach on social media, but we don’t recommend this tactic for new restaurants or restaurants that are overhauling their digital advertising efforts. Working with influencers in the restaurant business can be messy and possibly harm your credibility if not done appropriately, so if you do want to begin an influencer program, we recommend partnering with a marketing agency or professional to help you manage the process.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use the influencer tactic for your new restaurant. Connect with a local band, DJ, or local club to offer music night, karaoke night, or BINGO night. Work out a mutually-beneficial agreement and focus on entertaining your customers. This provides your visitor with a venue and your customers with an incentive to visit you during a slow season.
To develop an effective content strategy, you first need to have refined messaging guidelines, as these are the base of your content strategy. This is because your content strategy should focus on meeting the needs of (and answering questions for) each audience segment. By creating content for customers and prospects at every stage in the buying cycle, you are helping attract leads, convert leads into paying customers, and retain those paying customers. When you know what questions you need to answer, it’s easier to develop a content strategy and calendar. The how is the strategy; the when is the calendar.
Before creating content, develop a list of questions you want to answer for each audience segment. Then create a plan to address each of these questions over the next few months. This is the beginning of your content calendar.
In your content calendar, be sure to include the types of content you’ll create and where you will distribute them. Your two top distribution platforms will be your email marketing program and Pinterest.
Tip: You can also use Instagram in your content distribution efforts by using the #linkinbio hashtag in post content since you cannot add a clickable link to each post. Then, add your latest blog article link as your link in your profile. Or use one of these tools to list multiple links.
Tip: Content should primarily be used to supplement lead nurturing efforts to create a better customer experience and aid in the buying decision. The content itself will also play a strong role in generating relevant traffic via on-page SEO efforts.
For restaurants, blog articles are the best format to share content for your business. They not only help improve your website SEO, but they also help inform your prospects before they choose to go to your restaurant. However, you don’t necessarily have to just write content. Video content and infographics can be used in place of or alongside written blog content on your website.
Through your blog content, answer common questions your customers have; share recipes, cooking tips, and stories about your restaurant’s history; and feature your employees and local events.
You can also come up with content ideas on social media and in your email inbox. Monitor your hashtags, comments, DMs, and customer service emails for common questions. Answer those questions personally and then create a blog or video on it, too, to answer future customer questions.
Tip: For every hour you spend writing, editing, and publishing content, spend an equal amount distributing that content via social media, email, and other outlets.
Tip: Create blog titles that answer questions about your audience’s problems.
For some restaurants, text marketing may be more efficient than email marketing. The content is much shorter than email marketing, but it performs very well and can either replace or augment an email marketing program.