You’ve likely heard some Cinderella stories when it comes to restaurants and TikTok. A happy guest posts a creative video and the next day, the surprised restaurant operator opens to a line of 100 people waiting to eat. (That’s roughly what happened last December for Skirt Steak, the New York restaurant serving steak and unlimited fries.) To be sure, TikTok packs some power when it comes to restaurant marketing. But hitting on that lightning-in-a-bottle moment where you send a post viral can be pretty elusive. On top of that, tastes for different platforms shift so quickly that if you’re not among the early adopters of a platform that then becomes popular, you may not get much traction. While there is no formula for capturing a moment that ends up going viral, it’s important to focus on the constant: video remains an important tool to be used for restaurant marketing. The restaurant industry is ready-made for video promotion – there is a steady supply of behind-the-scenes action to feature, an ever-changing range of challenges and surprises, and sights and sounds that appeal to people’s senses. Make it a habit to capture this content – or give the task to a staff member to manage. Share a recipe or promote a new special via video. Launch a contest or spread the word about an event. Across social media platforms, from Facebook to Instagram to TikTok, video content is getting the most attention from users (and therefore the most focus from the people running those platforms). But focus less on the platform and more on finding creative ways to use video to get your restaurant’s name out there so you’re ready to share it in a range of ways. It may even be more about inspiring your guests to do it for you. Encourage guests who have positive experiences to share them as video posts on their favorite platform in exchange for a free drink or appetizer during their next visit. Who knows? One video post may end up sending hundreds of guests to your door.
If you have a loyal base of customers, they are likely expecting you to have a digital rewards program that makes their patronage all the more worthwhile. But as these programs have become so widespread, it’s also become more difficult for operators to make them stand out. Research from Pymnts.com predicts that this year, restaurant brands will find more sophisticated methods of driving personalized messages and offers to guests in ways that don’t sacrifice profitability. That could mean offering menu items that are exclusive to loyalty program members, or simply gamifying your program with contests and virtual rewards. Late last year, Chipotle, for one, started offering achievement badges in its rewards program. They have no monetary value but have still resulted in a spike to loyalty program membership, according to a company spokesperson.
The end of the year is a time restaurant operators can count on for strong performance – with December typically the most profitable month of the year. But Black Box data from December points to sales growth of just 4.1 percent, compared to 8.4 percent in November. It marked the weakest month for the industry since the 2.7 percent growth reported in March 2021. In light of those results, a recent Restaurant Business report suggested guests may be questioning restaurants’ value amid steeply climbing costs. It’s no wonder – amid ingredient and labor shortages, along with escalating costs, something has to give. But all the same, operators can only turn those figures around if they can demonstrate the value of choosing a restaurant meal over one prepared at home. Staffing shortages can cause service to take a hit, but you may be able to help compensate for this with improved speed of preparation: Simplify your menu with speed-scratch ingredients or other elements ready to be added to a number of dishes. Remove friction from the process guests must go through when searching for you online and placing an order. That means monitoring your restaurant online to ensure information about your menu, hours and contact information is up to date on review sites, search engines and social media, as well as testing your online ordering functionality to remove glitches and ensure repeat guests are recognized in your system. Speaking of loyal guests, double down on your loyalty program and guest personalization, which will make it feel more worthwhile for guests to support your business (either in your dining room or through order collection), as opposed to having a third-party vendor drop off their delivery order. Finally, aim to appeal to guests’ own values by supporting local suppliers and sharing their business names with guests – an expensive meal feels more worthwhile to a guest when they know it supports their broader community.
At a time when every extra bit of profit is critical, it’s important for your customers to be ordering food from your restaurant app and, ideally, collecting their order from you – as opposed to calling a third-party delivery provider to bring it to them. If you’re trying to convert guests from third-party channels right now, focus on offering a good introductory deal that will entice people to order via your restaurant directly, then making it as easy as possible for them to stay with you as opposed to reverting back to the third-party app. That could mean placing a flyer in every third-party order bag that leaves your restaurant and including a coupon for a substantial discount off of a future restaurant-app order, as well as a QR code that the recipient can scan to get your app. From that point, you will have an entry point you can use to send subsequent offers they can redeem when they use your app and/or collect an order curbside. And while those offers may not be as substantial as the initial one, they can still provide a discount from what the customer would have to pay a third-party provider. You can also continue to use the data you collect from your app to make your offers increasingly customized. When you test the experience of ordering through your app and compare it to the ease of ordering via a third-party provider, where are the snags? Ironing them out should mean the difference between retaining the customer ordering via your app and having them return to the third-party app on subsequent orders.
It used to be a whole lot simpler: Restaurants were valued as places where consumers could share a meal and connect with people. While that is still the case, the pandemic has turned the idea on its head. Whereas the early months of the pandemic made it necessary for this “coming together” to happen at home or virtually in an effort to keep business flowing, many foodservice operators – along with complementary brands – are now redefining what it means to gather, even as dining rooms fill back up again. A new food-and-drink-trends report from Mintel mentions the increase of online hubs that offer ecommerce, brand-specific communities and opportunities to socialize virtually. Some restaurants are already well on their way: As reported by The Spoon, Chipotle recently created a Halloween promotion in partnership with the online game platform Roblox. Roblox gamers could enter a virtual Chipotle restaurant (specially decorated for Halloween) and collect a promo code good for a free burrito back in the real world. Granted, such partnerships may well be more feasible for major brands than small independents, but the example shows how the idea of coming together over restaurant food is being reimagined for the current times. How might you reimagine what it means to create memorable experiences for your guests?