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.
In the competitive environment restaurants are operating in right now, there is constant pressure to have a consistent presence on social media, provide enticing offers that encourage loyalty, convert business from third-party delivery apps – the list goes on. But in the rush to change consumer behaviors, there is also a lot of noise. Amid the constant promotion of restaurants, what’s often missing is a clear, compelling call to action. At each step of your outreach to the public, what are you hoping your guests and followers will do? As you gain followers on Instagram, for example, what is the next action you want people to take? Download your app? Then provide a visual guide in a form of a quick video or carousel of images that shows them exactly how to do it. Join your loyalty program? Tell them why it’s a good idea and how they can sign up. Place an order? Provide them with brief directions on the most friction-free way to do this. With everything, focus on compelling visuals and succinct text. Your restaurant should have its own internal calls to action. When you receive orders from third-party delivery companies, how are you taking steps to convert them to direct business? Consider placing a note in each bag that encourages them to order directly from you next time – and why that helps you and them. When they follow up by ordering from you directly, respond to that business with a prompt, personalized offer that immediately demonstrates a guest benefit (and minimize your involvement with automation tools – Bikky is one example – that can help you engage guests after an order).
Consumers are significantly more apt to read a text than an email. In fact, according to the Mobile Consumer Engagement Study 2020, 40 percent of consumers say they have at least 50 unread emails. Ten percent say they have more than 1,000 such emails. On the flip side, only 4 percent of consumers say they have 50 or more unread mobile text messages. Knowing this, how can you use texts to drive guest engagement? Could you use them to send a location-specific promotion of your popular mozzarella sticks before a big game? Ping a request for an online review immediately following a dine-in meal? What key guest actions could you best encourage with a brief message that gets immediate attention?
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.
We have reported before about how the social media platform TikTok has helped elevate restaurant brands – and restaurant bloggers – during the pandemic. Now the platform is proving its value as a recruitment tool for restaurants as well. Its new “Résumés” feature encourages applicants to record a brief video résumé showcasing their skills, then post it with the hashtag #TikTokResumes. The feature encourages more creative, authentic sharing of skills than a traditional résumé would – and it might help a restaurant get a little bit of extra attention in the labor market at a time when restaurants are vying for workers. Chipotle recently began accepting TikTok résumés.
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).