Texting, as a means of connecting with guests, has a number of critical benefits: It’s an intuitive technology that everyone – regardless of demographics – knows how to use. It doesn’t require a download, so there is little commitment involved. Finally, it’s that rare technology that has the power to immediately get the attention of the recipient: It’s common to ignore an email, call or social media alert – but not a text. In fact, the click-through rate for text offers is more than 9 percent higher than any other digital channel, according to TechJury. So are you using text messaging to its fullest potential? Once your guests opt into it, ensure you’re using text to send important, just-in-time offers – don’t bombard them with untargeted promotions that will quickly become noise. Offer discount codes good for a future order, an invitation to a special event, contest or tasting, a birthday treat, or a prompt to reengage a customer who hasn’t ordered in recent weeks.
Customizing guest promotions – and ensuring your outreach is frequent enough to help you track (and even help form) their habits – provides important leverage when so many other facets of running a restaurant can feel difficult to control. If you can automate your outreach, that’s all the better for ensuring consistency and minimizing the amount of labor needed to manage it. Customer engagement platforms now bring together email, retention marketing, and SMS and push notification capabilities under one umbrella. Next-generation loyalty marketing is taking automation a step further: Nation’s Restaurant News reported that tech innovations are making it possible for operators to conduct A/B tests of messaging, offers and distribution channels – then automate the winning variant. It removes the guesswork (and a lot of the manual work) from the process, making it possible for restaurants to quickly pivot to marketing approaches and offers that have the best chance of success.
As Covid-19 variants continue to add uncertainty to the in-restaurant dining experience, your online presence – and specifically your efforts to present your restaurant on social media – will be important to keeping your brand front-of-mind for existing and new customers. According to a new study from GlobalWebIndex, nearly half of all internet users discover new brands via social media, whether through ads, recommendations and comments from contacts, or through updates on brands’ social media pages. Your consistency in posting engaging and valuable content will help boost your restaurant’s visibility, so it’s a good time to fine-tune your social media content schedule for the year ahead. Aim to post a range of types of content so you’re providing a full picture of your brand and values – not simply a string of photos or ads. Here are some ideas to consider as you plan content: Go behind the scenes and feature a video of your chef preparing a signature dish or talking about the history of the restaurant. Release a poll to find out which dishes your guests enjoy the most (or would like to see on future menus). Advertise a limited-time offer. Ask for guests’ help in sending you job applicants (and reward them for any hires you make as a result). Profile a favorite supplier or complementary business – they may return the favor and introduce you to new potential customers. Share a positive online review. Promote a discount to entice people to order directly from your app or website. Post a fun fact about your city or neighborhood. Share what you’re doing to protect people’s safety, minimize waste and run a more sustainable business.
You’ve probably had the experience of using your phone to access a website, only to get frustrated at the amount of scrolling and clicking required. According to new research from Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS, 67 percent of average restaurant sales are generated by orders placed digitally or by phone for off-premises dining. With more restaurants relying on QR codes for the placement of orders, there has even been an increase in on-site orders being placed on restaurant websites via mobile phones. Unless your website is already easier to navigate on a mobile phone than a third-party delivery app might be, that’s a lot of scrolling your guests would like to avoid. That’s all the more reason to streamline your site. A landing page with a few simple links to key information may be all you need. When you update your website, make it a priority to check how it works on a mobile phone. Your guests should be able to find what they need with a minimum of scrolling and clicking.
As we have all learned in the past year, your online presence is just as critical as your physical presence. Getting information out about your restaurant in a timely manner – and making sure the right people see it – is more important than ever. As you plan your online outreach, make sure you have a structure in place for staying on top of how various channels are evolving. For example, during the course of the pandemic, platforms including Yelp and Google My Business made a number of updates to enable restaurants to post new operating procedures, health and safety modifications, service offerings and links to third-party delivery sites, according to the digital marketer SOCi. Restaurants that noticed these changes could take advantage of the sites’ promotion of them. By having a system in place to track how these platforms and others are operating and evolving, you can ensure that the efforts you are putting into promoting your restaurant are paying off in the form of more favorable placement on websites, social media networks and search engines. Follow related accounts on social media and monitor news alerts from key companies to track changes in course. At the same time, ensure that any information you make available online is updated with your current hours, menu and any other information you post that may be in flux (and could disappoint guests if incorrect).
What tools and networks are helping you carry out your digital marketing strategy? If your plan needs a refresh, focusing on creating engaging video content could help. Throughout the pandemic, many restaurant operators have found TikTok to be a surprising outlet for attracting and maintaining business. As of April, 21 percent of U.S. adults say they use TikTok, along with 50 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, according to a Pew Research Center study. The Washington Post reports that TikTok has had the advantage of being a place where restaurants and the bloggers who cover them are both seeking opportunities – and can benefit from finding ways to work together. Restaurants that have invited bloggers for a free or discounted meal in exchange for a review – or even those that have shared recipes, kitchen tools or food prep tricks that end up going viral – have managed to attract business. While partnering with food bloggers and sharing tips and tools are nothing new for restaurants, TikTok’s brief video format seems to be the format of choice right now – and other channels are following suit. Recently the head of Instagram spoke on social media about how Instagram would no longer be favoring the square, static images that helped it rise to prominence, but would be boosting engaging video content on its site – and it now provides users with several options for posting videos of varying lengths. As you think about how to present your restaurant online, consider how to present your food, people and background story in a dynamic way. Look beyond the still image and aim to tell short, engaging stories instead.
We spend so much of our lives online (and specifically on social media platforms) that it’s increasingly important to be visible there as a business. The restaurant marketing agency MGH found that more than 46 percent of diners choose their next dining spot based on what they see on social media. Further, 21 percent of consumers try restaurants because of the social media posts of friends and 22 percent said social media posts encourage them to return to restaurants time and again. That’s a lot of potential traffic that you – and your competitors – could be attracting. Your digital marketing plan should include an assessment of your social media reach and engagement so you’re in a strong position to be a consumer’s impulse purchase – before they even have a chance to think about what they might like for dinner.
It’s Friday afternoon and just as you’re starting to get hungry and think about what’s for dinner, your phone pings you with a text offer from your favorite pizza place. Even though you hadn’t been thinking about pizza, suddenly this restaurant has jumped to the front of the line of potential restaurants where you consider ordering take-out. This year, more restaurants are putting themselves in a position to win business like this as the competitive landscape for restaurants has matured and broadened. Restaurants now need to stand out from not only other brick-and-mortar restaurants but also from ghost kitchens and even competition in the form of grocery stores, meal kit companies and even gas stations vying for foodservice business. A well-timed text can help. But in order for restaurants to craft SMS marketing campaigns that target the right customers at the right times, they first need a strong SMS database of contacts. Make sure that at your restaurant, you’re not leaving any gaps where contact information can be collected. In-store, ask customers during a purchase if they want to receive promotional offers from you via text. If you send an email newsletter, use those communications to prompt recipients to opt into texts and access special deals. If you take orders on your website, ask customers to tick a box as part of the checkout process to receive the promotions. Finally, use your social media platforms to promote your text promotions – try posting a dedicated number or key word that viewers can text to easily opt into your offers.
As people return to restaurants in greater numbers, we’ll continue to need the digital tools we have been using to maintain safety and distance. Since it may take some time to rebuild the sense of hospitality and community restaurants had before the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for operators to use their social media channels to keep communication flowing to and from guests – and to use that to generate more traffic. Create a content calendar that allows you to plan social media posts in advance and on a regular (if not daily) basis. Think about sharing behind-the-scenes videos and blog posts, asking open-ended questions to start online conversations, hosting virtual trivia contests and scheduling a lineup of other promotions that encourage guests to share photos of their food online and talk up their experience with you.