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.
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.
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.
In these takeout-heavy times, your menu is often viewed on a smartphone and needs to be readable and understandable on one – with minimal scrolling and waiting. To accomplish that, keep your menu in a format that is easy to navigate vertically and uses short lists or clickable boxes to differentiate categories. Use contrasting colors and standard fonts to enhance readability. Finally, help people see your food – but don’t let images of it drag down your site: Low-resolution images (around 96dpi) will have the same effect as higher-resolution images without slowing down your site.
It’s not the eye-catching ambience on display through your front windows that is drawing people to your restaurant right now – your website is more likely the place responsible for making a good first impression and enticing people to support your restaurant. Are you making it as easy as possible for people to find you, be assured of the hours you will be open, access your menu and place an order? First, review and update your information on GoogleMyBusiness to manage your presence across both search and map functions. Beyond that, make sure your hours, phone number, webpage link and physical location are up to date, and that your website (with minimal clicks) allows people to access your menu and new safety and hygiene practices. On your website, consider a pop-up invitation to join your email list – and preview the benefits of joining it. Your online information – including what is viewable on a search engine or your site itself – should be just as easy to read on a phone as on a computer or tablet screen.
Even as restaurants around the country reopen their dining rooms, the experience of sitting down and enjoying a meal with someone – nevermind as a group – likely won’t be quite the same for a while. But at a time when people are sorely missing the restaurant experience – and operators are straining to make the numbers work – can you assess the best parts of your pre-pandemic service and brand and virtualize them somehow? The chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch told Food & Wine that she has been developing virtual cooking classes and demonstrations, and is thinking about creating a virtual restaurant concept as a partner business. Virtual reality (VR) dining experiences are even happening – and while they’re currently offered at a high price point, costs are likely to fall as adoption of VR and 5G technology expands. Even if you’re not ready for that, it’s time to assess the elements that make your brand memorable – from your music selection to your servers’ quirky personalities to the art on your walls – and determine how to deliver those things to guests online and in their homes.
Retooling your marketing strategy for 2020? Try thinking less like your competition and more like your ideal guests. That’s a key piece of advice from Erik Shellenberger, hospitality marketing expert and author of the book Restaurant & Bar Marketing. Shellenberger, who was interviewed recently on the Restaurant Rockstars podcast, says in his consulting work with restaurants it’s common for even large, established businesses to conduct marketing efforts based on what competitors are doing, whether that’s posting a video series on Facebook, a contest on Instagram, or even just feeling the need to make some kind of social media post every day. But he said that’s akin to copying off of someone else’s test when you aren’t sure they have the right answer – or being a sheep following the herd. A successful strategy should be based on measurable conversions and social media often falls shorter than other marketing channels in this area, he said – particularly for restaurants that generate business from tourists. Before pouring time and money into your social media, make sure you’re getting some basics right: Imagine you’re a consumer in need of a good meal and you’re scrolling through Google, Yelp or Tripadvisor, looking for well-reviewed restaurants. If your restaurant makes that first cut, does it follow through with an up-to-date address and phone number? Are your operating hours listed correctly? If potential guests click on a link to your website, will it bring them to a page that includes information consistent with what they saw on Google? From there, tracking clicks on the “get directions” link can give you measurable data on the web visitors you are converting to customers. Once you have a strong foundation in that area, you can then fine tune your overall profile – by enhancing your images, creating memorable food and drink presentations and conceiving of clever promotions suited to your specific brand.
Word-of-mouth marketing is any restaurant operator’s goal: According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of marketing. If you can create the conditions at your restaurant that inspire user-generated social media content, you’re a big step closer to getting that user’s friends and family in the door too. NextRestaurants offers some tactics to help. First, boost your visual appeal. Fresh flowers, unusual interior/exterior design, stand-out artwork, special holiday décor and artful plating of menu items can all inspire the taking (and posting) of photos. You can also try the carrot approach: Offer a free coffee to anyone who posts a photo with your hashtag and geotag. Or, create a contest that challenges guests to submit photos and anecdotes of experiences with your brand, select your favorite entry and reward the winner with a gift certificate. Make it easy for guests to post content. Your brand name, logo and hashtag should be visible on such places as your menu, dishware, tables, decorations and the mirrors in your restroom (a favorite place for selfies, believe it or not). Once guests post content, mention and tag them when you repost it – not only does it help you avoid copyright infringement, but it will also help you forge a stronger connection with your guest.
When you log on to Facebook, it typically takes just a moment to see advertisements for items you are likely to buy. These ads aren’t merely tailored to people in your demographic or posted based on the weather or what other consumers happen to be buying that day. They are tailored to you, specifically. Yet somehow, in the current era of personalization, restaurant menus are lagging. At a time when an estimated 32 million American consumers have a food allergy, and many others have a food intolerance or follow some specific eating regimen, be it paleo or plant-based or Whole 30 diets, even the most forward-thinking of restaurants don’t yet provide menus that are designed for an individual consumer. Expect that to change, particularly in light of McDonald’s recent purchase of the menu personalization startup Dynamic Yield. At the moment, restaurant menu personalization is more about adjusting menus based upon broader environmental conditions as opposed to individual consumer tastes. And as The Spoon reports, a number of barriers still remain when it comes to gaining consumers’ trust with personal data. But it’s not difficult to see a time when a person with a nut allergy might be able to log in at a restaurant and bring up a variety of nut-free food choices based on items he or she has ordered at that restaurant and elsewhere, or reviewed on Yelp, posted on Instagram, or even “liked” on Facebook. How do you accommodate personalization at your restaurant? Does your tech currently help you in this effort?