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.
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.
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.
If you typically do a bustling business around the holidays with corporate events and private parties, many of the organizations and people you serve may have leftover budget dollars – and more certainly, some pent-up demand – for fun and festivity. Even if you can’t host parties in the same way you could last year, can you find ways to help people connect with each other? Consider creating a series of virtual events that companies can offer their employees to keep them engaged with their work and colleagues. Double down on your social media presence with behind-the-scenes videos of your chef giving winter menu planning tips, contests to generate more engagement with your brand, or winter-themed promotions designed to increase your pick-up business. (The Rail offers some tips on driving engagement through Instagram Stories at https://bit.ly/3o5FCx1 ) Create a pop-up wintertime-only concept to bring people out and test new menu ideas. Offer limited-time-only offers of meal or appetizer bundles for families watching movies or games at home on the weekend. Or, help pave the way back to some kind of normalcy in 2021: Restaurant Business reports that the Brazilian steakhouse brand Fogo de Chao launched a “Journey Back to Joy” winter wonderland event to help engage and energize employees. Rethinking this concept as a weekend celebration for guests could work too, if outdoor events are happening where you are.
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?