A number of recent reports are calling 2021 the year of local digital marketing for restaurants. It makes sense: Travel could still take some time to return to pre-pandemic levels and consumers will continue to rely on local businesses – and their smartphone searches – to connect with businesses they like in their neighborhood. Making sure you’re as visible as possible online to people in your area can have significant benefits: According to data from Hubspot, 97 percent of consumers searched online to find a local business and 64 percent of those searching for restaurants online followed through with a purchase within an hour. If you’re just ramping up your local digital marketing efforts, claim and optimize all local pages (via Google My Business local packs), respond to online reviews in a timely and professional way, and then optimize your ranking factors (these tips (http://bit.ly/3rosIMV) may help you improve your local search engine optimization if you need help). If you’re curious to know what restaurant brands are generating the best sales growth as a result of their local digital marketing efforts (and what they’re doing to stand out), check out this recent report from the marketing technology firm SOCi (http://bit.ly/3aGuW4w ).
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.
This year is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone, right? If you haven’t harnessed TikTok to promote your brand yet, it may be worth your while. Restaurant Business says TikTok is among the most downloaded mobile apps in the world, with about 800 million active users around the world. It can be especially effective at targeting Gen Z consumers and the simple, quirky videos it allows users to make can help a brand create the kind of content that goes viral. Case in point: Chipotle’s recent TikTok video showing a montage of people mispronouncing the brand’s name has generated millions of views.
“More reviews equal more success.” That’s what restaurant consultant and coach Ryan Gromfin told FSR Magazine recently, adding that operators need some kind of well thought-out system for generating reviews – whether it’s a simple reminder on a guest check, or better yet, a text or email reminder that is automatically sent after a visit. What kind of structure do you have in place? At a time when consumers are heavily researching their dining options online, ironing out any weak spots in your feedback loop can give your business a much-needed boost. First, make sure your business has an updated profile on the main review sites including Yelp, Google and OpenTable. Next, ask and you shall receive: Post a request for reviews on your website, social media channels and on table cards if you have a dining room. If you can, use an automated system for requesting reviews electronically – if a guest receives a prompt on their phone that includes a link to where they can post a review, you make it easy and quick for them to help. (If you offer them loyalty points or another incentive for taking the time to share their thoughts about you, all the better.) If you get a less-than-positive review, make sure you respond professionally and helpfully – a quality response to a negative review can neutralize it. Promote your positive reviews as testimonials on your website and social media.
A recent Kantar survey of 25,000 consumers in 30 markets found that as the pandemic has persisted, web browsing has increased 70 percent and social media engagement has increased 61 percent over normal rates of usage. As a result, you should consider your primary storefront to be your website and the other channels that comprise your online presence – including social media networks, online business directories and review sites. If you have longtime, loyal customers, how seamless is it for them to place a takeout order with you online? Do you have readily accessible information about their past orders – and are they earning rewards for their repeat business? If they recommend you to a friend and that friend searches for you online, will the person find accurate information about your hours and menu? Are there quality images of your food on your website and social media accounts? Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never visited your restaurant and discovers you online – or better yet, ask a new acquaintance to research your restaurant online and provide feedback. What impression do you give them?
In the COVID-10 era, restaurant reviews are changing – and for better or worse, so are operators’ responses. At a time when consumers are placing elevated importance on restaurant cleanliness and may be more selective about the occasions when they eat out, a negative review can have extra power – and many professional restaurant critics are suspending their critiques right now to avoid adding to operators’ challenges. A recent Eater report detailed how Yelp is imploring reviewers to consider the challenges of the current environment before leaving a review – and some operators are shelving their “customer is always right” approach to review responses by actively challenging negative feedback. But focusing on generating positive reviews is generally the best approach – if restaurants routinely make the request. BrightLocal research found that more than 85 percent of customers are willing to leave a review. Can you ensure your staff knows to ask customers to provide feedback – and also make it easy and fast for them to respond? The Rail suggests including review link on your newsletter and email marketing campaigns, as well as using online reputation management tools to solicit views via email or text. Further, urge guests to come to you first when they have a complaint or concern. Make sure they know you want the opportunity to address a problem when it happens. It can also give you a chance to explain how the current climate has changed the experience customers are used to having with you – before they unload about it over Yelp.
Late last year, Forbes conducted a survey of 500 consumers in Generation Z – those aged 15 to 24 – to get a sense of how they interact with restaurants – and what promotional strategies work best with them. Not surprisingly, the approaches that resonate with them are far different from those that, on average, appeal to the generation before them. All of this is to say that your marketing strategy should evolve in step with your customer base to ensure it continues to provide a return on your investment – especially at a time when every dollar in your budget needs to count. Many operators are using everything from their website to social media platforms to email lists to market their restaurant to guests. But these channels may not be rewarding your business equally. Managing your restaurant’s marketing data streams via a one-stop social wifi platform that integrates with your existing wifi network can help you determine which channels serve you best. For example, how are people finding your website? What pages do they visit and how long do they stay? Is your email newsletter opened at a higher rate than the blog entry you post on social media? Do people engage more with your Instagram stories than with your Facebook posts? Having a solution that combines your data, helps you deliver content across multiple channels, and then allows you to analyze it in one place can help you adjust where needed and expand on what is already working.
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.