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.
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.
Does your digital marketing program offer the right combination of personalization and exclusivity? In the past year, that has been the winning recipe for Taco Bell, which has increased its customer base five-fold throughout the course of its new digital engagement campaign. In a recent podcast interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Zip Allen, Taco Bell’s vice president of global digital and omnichannel product experiences, said the brand has tried to maximize both of those elements in their campaign. Part of this involved the launch of a $5 build-your-own-cravings box, which they made available to loyalty program members first. They have followed this effort by releasing new menu items to loyalty program members first via their app. Not only do these members-first offers make the program feel more special to customers, but they also drive sales through the app (and elevate the buzz surrounding any new items released). As a result, Taco Bell can gather more/better data on their customers, which they can then use to craft new promotions to further boost their loyalty. If you’re trying to increase your digital sales and engagement right now – and you should be, since that is where the best insights about your customers live -- what can you do to ensure your digital channels feel like exciting, customized, special places to be?
Digital marketing has gotten increasingly important in the past year, with both off-premise and physical experiences at restaurants becoming more digitized. To make the most of your staff’s time and your face-to-face interactions with customers, have you thought about outsourcing the digital marketing element of your business? It may be a better long-term investment if you have the resources. If you’re considering delegating part or all of your digital marketing efforts to a third party, take into account the various tech tools and platforms you’re currently using to reach customers and how effective they are. For example, does your website make it easy for customers to quickly find what they need from you, with a minimum of scrolling and clicks? Does it translate well to a mobile device? Is it always up to date – or does it fall to the bottom of the to-do list when it needs a refresh? How well does it stand out on Google when customers are looking for restaurants like yours? Think about your outreach to customers, whether email communications, posts to social media accounts, or responses to customers who have left online reviews. Assess the items that take too much of your time, aren’t able to be completed promptly, or would generate the most profits for you if you weren’t having to manage them in-house.
How well does your website reflect the experience of dining with you? As you get business back on track after the past year, make sure your website is ready. First, focus on the mechanics: It should be easy to navigate on a mobile device, have an intuitive interface that doesn’t require a lot of scrolling and clicking to find items, and include updated hours and contact information. Then, make the most of your visuals. Place high-impact content toward the top – several eye-catching photos representing your menu items, or even a sweeping video shot of menu items being delivered to a table. Include brief but meaningful food descriptions with updated items and prices. Finally, ensure your site makes connections: Include your social media links, invite people to join your rewards program and optimize your site’s SEO so people can easily find you online.
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.
During the course of the pandemic, so many restaurants had to reinvent themselves in order to survive – perhaps opening in-store bodegas, offering takeout and delivery where none existed before, or otherwise operating in ways that might have been considered off-brand before the pandemic. Now that life is returning to normal, it’s time to refine your approach so you can glean the most success from your marketing efforts. In particular, it’s important to fine-tune your online marketing efforts, now that we have seen how important it is to have a strong web presence. The Rail suggests that once a restaurant has solidified its brand, it should approach online marketing from several directions. First, look to online media publications that cater to your audience and offer opportunities to collaborate with restaurant critics or pay for advertorial content. Your website should allow a user to easily and quickly place an order, find your hours and location, and leave a review (and also prompt you when that happens so you can respond right away). If your restaurant is looking to attract more traffic from people visiting the area who haven’t heard about you yet, consider crowd marketing, which allows you to promote your restaurant in themed forums on social networks. When it comes to advertising, think about whether it makes sense to pay for contextual advertising – perhaps if you’re a sports bar, you might want to have your ads appear online next to content about your city’s baseball team – or through influential bloggers in your area who have an engaged following of guests in your demographic and would take payment (or perhaps just a free meal) in exchange for an honest review.
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.
When a consumer starts a Google search for something nearby, chances are they are looking for food. Modern Restaurant Management reports that “restaurants near me” is by far the most popular “near me” search, generating more than 6 million searches monthly. In fact, food searches comprise four of the top five positions in “near me” queries – with such searches as “pizza near me” and “delivery near me” appearing in the group. In the past we have used this space to talk about the benefits of local search engine optimization for restaurants – ensuring that your restaurant appears in those important “near me” searches when consumers get a craving. But you can be more proactive about attracting the interest of consumers near you too. Are you capitalizing on your local advertising opportunities to your greatest advantage? As the Rail reports, location-based advertising via search engines and social networks has become an increasingly precise means for businesses to target hungry customers who happen to be nearby. This form of advertising combines mobile advertising with location-based services, which enables a business to pinpoint a customer’s specific location and then direct advertisements toward their mobile devices. So on the afternoon before a big football game, a promotion about your chicken wing sampler could appear on smartphones of consumers shopping for game-time snacks in a supermarket nearby. Location-based advertising may help you win new customers who didn’t even know they wanted your food.