12 creative restaurant marketing strategies for increasing revenue

Restaurant marketing strategies are complex and ever-changing, but using creative strategies, informed by data about your restaurant customers and operations, can help your restaurant marketing drive new revenue.

By Tiffany Wakimoto, senior marketing manager, Restaurant365

Marketing your restaurant in a constantly changing digital world can be challenging, especially on top of keeping up with day-to-day restaurant management, but restaurant marketing is essential both for retaining current customers and maintaining healthy long-term growth.

When considering starting a marketing campaign, it's first essential to understand your target audience. Are you marketing to young millennials or families with kids? Keep in mind how different groups respond to different advertising. By understanding your audience, you can ensure your brand message is heard clearly by your target customers, and you are spending your marketing resources wisely.

With your audience in mind, here are 12 creative restaurant marketing strategies that can help you increase revenue in 2020.

1. Enable mobile ordering and delivery
With customers demanding more personalization and flexibility in their ordering, restaurants are experimenting with everything from self-service kiosks to ordering from the table with a mobile device.

The largest shift in ordering is restaurants developing relationships with delivery services to increase revenue. Customers who have ordered online have been shown to visit a restaurant more frequently than customers who haven't, and restaurants are benefiting from the visibility of being promoted on delivery apps and websites. 

However, many restaurants are adding delivery without actually tracking how delivery is impacting their bottom line. If you’re currently offering delivery or considering adding delivery you should make sure that your restaurant’s operational software can automatically track the financial impact of delivery expenses to make informed decisions about your marketing priorities.

2. Optimize your menu engineering
Because your menu is one of the most visible pieces of restaurant marketing, maintaining a relevant, profitable menu is essential for your bottom line. Creating menus requires a balance of profitability and popularity, driven by real-time, accurate data. Using menu engineering data in your marketing efforts — for instance, ensuring that your promotional offer is featuring a high-margin, high-popularity item—can ensure you are making food cost decisions that add to your customers' positive dining experience and to your restaurant's bottom line.

Menu engineering decisions that increase restaurant profit are made based on two main data points: demand and contribution margin. Menu engineering not only traces how items on your menu contribute to your bottom line individually, but it also analyzes the product mix to determine what adjustments can improve overall profitability. Menu engineering is most effective when you have an accurate, up-to-date picture of each menu item’s contribution margins and sales record.

3. Prioritize local SEO
Local search engine optimization is optimizing your local restaurant website to rank highly on Google pages for the keywords that local area users will search about your city or state (like "best pizza Chicago"). To optimize your website for local SEO, work off of the keywords your audience is searching, using free tools like Google Keywords Planner or Keywordtool.io. Then, focus your website development on ranking for these terms.

Local SEO is not simple to do, but it can have big rewards. With 75% of users never moving past the first page of search results, being listed first on local search result pages can have a huge impact on your visits and revenue.

4. Maintain accurate Google My Business profile
Having a complete Google My Business profile, Yelp profile, and local listings can increase your chances of grabbing the customer's attention, especially if they are in a hurry. Because it is so easy for potential customers to just do another search if they are missing information, it is imperative to make your restaurant listing complete and accurate.

By claiming your Google local business listing, you can control at least part of what your audience sees when they search for your business. Profiles also have the potential to help your SEO ranking, as well as providing additional links to online reservations or ordering. 

5. Promote user-generated content
You probably already have loyal customers snapping beautiful pictures of your food. This "user-generated content,” shared freely on social media, is a valuable kind of free advertising. By leveraging loyal customers as "influencers,” you retain existing customers as well as advertise to potential customers who tend to view word-of-mouth recommendations as trustworthy.

To drum up user-generated content, consider running a social media contest. A photo contest of customers eating their favorite meal at your restaurant will generate submissions that you can share across your social networks, and you can incentivize photos with random prizes, like appetizers or drinks at your restaurant. 

6. Remarket (or retarget) ads
Your online advertisement strategy can be strengthened by adding on remarketing ads, which are part of Google Ads (pay-per-clock ad buying). Remarketing ads aren't placed in Google search results, but rather, on a website where Google advertising space has been purchased.

For example, if someone visits a restaurant's "make a reservation" page but doesn't submit the form, and then sees an ad showing beautiful pictures of your food on Facebook, that's a retargeted ad. Remarketing is a long-term strategy, investing in multiple touchpoints to convert an online potential customer to a loyal in-person diner.

7. Encourage Yelp reviews
Even if you never set up a Yelp account, people can review you — so you might as well be proactive about your Yelp reputation. With a business account, you are able to fill out your profile by adding accurate photos, store hours, location, and menus.

A proactive marketing strategy for reviews is two-fold. When you need good Yelp reviews, it's usually too late to get them quickly—but making an effort to consistently solicit positive reviews, by reminding customers or by offering a free drink for a review, can have long-term benefits. When you receive negative reviews, respond to comments in a polite, professional manner. By addressing complaints, you not only increase your chances of retaining a customer by resolving their issue, but you can also show other potential and existing customers that you are a proactive, involved manager or operator.

8. Ensure mobile-friendly website + menu
With over half of site visits now taking place on mobile devices, a mobile-friendly online presence is essential.

In addition to your online search presence on review sites and search engines, your own website and menus should be optimized for mobile. With an easy-to-read, accurate menu, and easily accessible information about your hours, location, and contact information on your website, you are removing potential barriers to drawing in mobile customers.

9. Create focused social media marketing
Social media platforms (like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat to start) are everywhere. But before you stretch yourself too thin, here's the secret: you aren't required to use all of them.

Instead, the key is to understand where your audience is, and to focus on the social media platforms they are using. By focusing your marketing energy on sharing content where your customers already are, you can get the largest social media ROI.

It can be challenging to create interesting and relevant content while monitoring interactions and activity. For today's restaurant marketers, there are both paid social media management tools and some common free options like HootSuite and Buffer. If you need to outsource, consider posting jobs at a local university to offer paid internships in social media to marketing students. 

10. Leverage visuals
Beautiful photos of your food are one of your best marketing tools. But while social platforms like Instagram have made snapping a plate photo the new norm, more and more restaurant owners, especially those targeting the millennial audience, are experimenting with shooting short videos for Instagram and YouTube. 

With YouTube as the second-largest search engine in the world, creating a video channel about what happens at your restaurant can have a wide reach. Multiply your efforts by posting part of the video on Instagram and sending your audience to watch the full video on your website to generate more traffic for your site. With interesting, short content like behind the scenes at an event, interviews with the staff, and a chef's preview of an upcoming menu, you can grow interest in your business while growing traffic to your online presence.

11. Find nearby customers with location-specific ads
Most people want to eat close to their location while they're on the move, so getting ads in front of people in your geographic area can give the biggest ROI for ad dollars. Geo-targeting ads are offered by all major digital advertising services, including Google Ads, Facebook, and Twitter. Location-specific ads help control your costs by narrowing your advertising focus to the people most likely to visit your restaurant and avoiding the people outside of your delivery range or those who won't make the hike to your restaurant.

12. Be involved in your community
While there is a focus on digital marketing nowadays, don't forget to look in your own backyard. More than most business, restaurants rely on local customers. and the people in your community are most likely to make up your "regulars.” 

Consider creating some promotions specifically for your community—a Wednesday discount for the neighborhood association, or a happy hour for a local business group. Tying your restaurant to a big local event or another local business who attracts a similar clientele can bring you more customers without requiring additional marketing dollars. By working with the right partner, you can leverage their existing network to promote your own business.

Restaurant marketing strategies are complex and ever-changing, but using creative strategies, informed by data about your restaurant customers and operations, can help your restaurant marketing drive new revenue.