There are over 100,000 restaurants in the U.S., from dive bars to Michelin five stars, fast food to fusion, sandwich to steakhouse, I could go on for days.
In other words, competition among restaurants is fierce, so you need a bullet-proof restaurant marketing plan. Well, my friend, you’re in the right place because this all-in-one restaurant marketing guide is going to provide all of the creative, strategic, and competitive inspiration you need to attract, gratify, and keep customers coming back.
It also means keeping this information accurate and up-to-date. Eaters love to do research online – in fact, 89% of consumers research a restaurant online prior to dining. This is why it’s of vital importance that all your restaurant details are online and up to date, including address, phone number, hours, your current menu, etc. The stronger and more accurate your online details are, the better.
7. Have a sleek, functional online menu
Don’t make users scramble to find your menu or squint to see it. Provide a high-quality, easy-to-read menu that is up to date and accurate. Not sure how? Some delivery sites like those mentioned below offer to publish your menu online for free. Open Menu is another great site that can help you get your menu looking sleek and stylish (it even offers some handy social integration, for both paid and free users).
Still, you’ll want to make sure to have your menu published on your website, since that’s often the #1 piece of information users are looking for when visiting your site (along with hours, location, and contact info).
If you don’t have a good menu online and available for customers, most of your other restaurant marketing strategies are basically useless! In this day and age customers need to have access to an online menu, otherwise they’ll simply look elsewhere. And speaking of restaurant marketing strategies…
Restaurant marketing strategies
Now that you have your basic foundation established, it’s time to get into the specific strategies that will help you to attract customers to your restaurant and keep them coming back.
1. Ask for reviews
The power of online reviews is undeniable, and customers are almost always happy to leave them. But the thing is, they still need a little prompting. This means that asking for reviews should be a part of your restaurant marketing strategy.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Have an artistic and framed sign near the mints with an easy-to-remember link or QR code.
- Include a request and link on your website, menus, coupons, punch cards, and receipts.
- Ask for them in person
- Occasionally ask in social posts
2. Respond to reviews
Whether and how you respond to your customers’ reviews shapes the public’s perception of your restaurant. Here are some tips:
- Respond to positive reviews to show that you value your customers’ input and to encourage more of them.
- Thank customers for their reviews, positive and negative.
- Respond to negative reviews promptly, publicly, politely, and professionally, then offer to take the resolution offline.
I’ve seen this work in favor of many businesses, as reviewers are often flattered at the consideration shown and are more generous in their critique knowing the restaurant owner values their opinion and is working hard to improve.
3. Send out an email newsletter
Your restaurant’s newsletter can include new menu items, upcoming events, coupons, customer stories, and more. And it doesn’t have to be weekly. In fact, users will probably appreciate a less flooded inbox if you simply send them a newsletter every month or so. Some quick tips:
- Here are our tips to get more newsletter signups
- Get inspiration from these creative email signup call to action examples
- Choose from these email newsletter ideas
4. Turn your Facebook business page into a community
Businesses with a strong social media presence are the ones that fare the best, and in the competitive food industry, ignoring social media is a death sentence. We already mentioned creating a Facebook page above, but not about leveraging its power to market your restaurant. Here’s how to do it:
- Treat your page like a listing: Facebook is a business directory! Fill out all fields, encourage reviews, and keep it updated.
- Post regularly: customer photos, upcoming events, special offers, hours updates, etc.
- Engage with your followers: Inspire discussions, respond to comments, follow them back.
- Change out your cover photos seasonally.
Also check out this list of easy Facebook marketing ideas for any type of business.
5. Loyalty programs
Partnering with online apps encourages visitors to check out your restaurant through gamification and customer loyalty programs, which offer visitors a free purchase or discount for visiting a certain number of times.
Popular foodie apps that offer integrated loyalty programs include:
You could also kick it old school and hand out punch cards. They aren’t quite as cool as apps, but they still show that you value customers and appreciate their loyalty.
6. Local SEO
While Google can infer your location based on your online information, and a searcher’s location based on their IP address, that doesn’t mean you’ll rank in local results for every relevant search. In other words, you need to do your local SEO:
- Get listed on the top local listing sites (we’ve touched on this already).
- Embed a Google Map of your location in your Contact Us page.
- Publish content specific to your location regularly.
- Get online reviews (the number one ranking factor in local SEO)
- Make sure your information is as identical as possible across all your online assets. Google doesn’t like inconsistencies!
7. Invest in paid ads
Running paid ads on platforms like Google and Facebook will get your restaurant in front of large volumes of qualified eyes. For help incorporating paid media into your restaurant marketing plan:
- Use location targeting to ensure only users in certain cities or within a specific radius see your ads (eliminating non-relevant clicks, which can cost you big ad bucks).
- Follow these Facebook ad tips for restaurants to get the most out of the platform.
- Check out our guide to Google local advertising to make sure you’re optimizing your account for the highest ROI.
- Have a mobile PPC strategy.
Mobile ads tend to be cheaper than desktop ads, and mobile boasts impressive conversion rates. What’s really cool is that Google Ads allows for all kinds of mobile customization and targeting options that let you get the most out of your bids. For example, you can increase your bids around dinnertime, when users are often looking for fast food on their mobile phones. Boosting your bids during the dinnertime period increases your chances for showing up for a specific query. This means you could be the first ad to show up for a “pizza” search when pie-hungry users are on the search for a slice. If you’re a restaurant marketer, don’t miss out on digging into a slice of the mobile ad pie (we’re talking deep dish).
8. Start a blog
Starting your own blog is a great way to build community and engage with your customers. Blogs offer the chance to experiment with your restaurant’s voice and personality. Share your successes and struggles, funny stories, recipes, and anything else you think might interest your customers.
A blog can be a huge project, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep your blog as simple or complex as you’d like. You don’t have to be constantly posting (quality over quantity), but it’s good to have your restaurant blog set up for when you have an announcement or news you want to get out to the world. If you’re serious about taking over the world, check out more blogging tips here.
9. Offline marketing strategies
Don’t forget about the physical world in your restaurant marketing plan! These tactics are still effective, especially if you’re a local restaurant.
- Care packages
- Free samples
- Local newspaper, radio, and TV
Restaurant marketing ideas
Let’s take these strategies one step further with some easy and creative restaurant marketing ideas.
10. Foodie photos
If you’ve ever logged onto Instagram, you’ll understand that food porn is alive and well.
Arguably the very best way to promote your restaurant online is with high-quality, drool-inducing photos. Visual content is in high demand online these days, and having delicious-looking photos on your website and across various social media outlets is essential for drawing hungry eyes.
Be warned though – taking really great food photos can be tougher than it looks, as lighting is often a key factor. Consider hiring a pro to take some top-notch photographs, or try it DIY style with your smartphone (you can use our product photography tips!).
11. Offer coupons & discounts
Providing coupons and discounts for your restaurant is always a surefire way to bring customers running. Offer a free dish to your new email newsletter subscribers (we can show you how to get more of those too).
Alternatively, you can try advertising a discount through Groupon or Living Social – if you go that route, you’ll get a TONS of exposure, but you’ll end up paying a hefty portion of sales to the deal website, so keep that in mind.
12. Share your reviews
Not only does the quantity and quality of reviews impact how high you rank in results and whether customers click on your result, but also, the content of those reviews makes for excellent marketing material. Sync them to appear on your website, share them on social, and even incorporate reviews on specific dishes into your menu.
Free Guide >> The 30 Best Ways to Promote Your Business
13. Be an Insta-ham
Instagram marketing for restaurants is a no-brainer.
Show off your storefront, get up close with your top dishes, and use this social media main stage as a place to play around with your brand identity. For example, an all-natural health food store might try snapping pics of people kayaking, cooking, farming, or other activities you think your fan base will enjoy.
Also be sure to have some fun with hashtags – whether jumping on the hype of existing popular Twitter hashtags like #ThrowbackThursday or inventing your own, hashtags are a great way to have some fun with fans.
Instagram is a no-brainer for those in the food business – learn even more about Instagram marketing here.
14. Food blogger outreach
When you’re a new restaurant, you may find it difficult to generate reviews and hype about your business. One great way to get reviews and press on the web is to invite food bloggers to your restaurant to give you a try, and consider offering a free meal or appetizer to get them in the door. Politely ask if they’d be willing to review your restaurant and share their experience online.
You can’t outright ask for a positive review, as that would be dishonest, but it’s fine to simply ask them for an objective restaurant review. Some bloggers might decline your offer, but the more you ask, the better your chances are of getting some positive feedback and generating more interest online.
Some food bloggers have big followings, and getting their attention can have a huge influence on your restaurant. Even just one write up or mention from a major foodie can be a huge for restaurant promotion efforts.
15. Show off your staff
In an age of robotic customer service reps and soon to be self-driving cars, the human element is severely lacking. Show off your 5-star staff doing what they do best! Seeing happy, smiling employees does wonders for your reputation, as customers long to be served by joyful workers.
Showing off your pleasant employees also provides major reputation points – happy workers say a lot about a business, and fans are sure to take notice.
16. Share positive press
Another major restaurant marketing tip – when you’re mentioned in a news outlet or magazine, be sure to show off your good publicity on your website and via social media. Fans will spread the word, and newcomers will be encouraged to visit in person when they see trusted sources celebrating your restaurant.
17. Social media contests
The key to Facebook and Instagram giveaways is to have an appealing prize. Don’t do a boring gift card, offer something specific like, free sides, an extra pizza, dinner for two, swag, free delivery for a month. and more. Have people enter by posting about and tagging your business and/or using your hashtag on Instagram. This is a great way to increase your followers and bring in your local audience. More local social media marketing tips here.
18. Source local ingredients
Customers love to hear that they’re eating local, and sourcing local ingredients from nearby can do a lot to boost your fan base and give you a positive reputation in the community. If it’s not out of your budget, definitely consider this option!
19. Partner up with delivery services
In today’s online-driven environment, ease of use is the name of the game. Many online delivery services streamline the ordering process, and internet-savvy patrons often love taking advantage of such delivery services.
Consider partnering with services like:
Some customers may even discover you for the first time through services such as these!
20. Trivia nights
Weekly or monthly trivia nights are always a hit with restaurants. Offer great prizes to the winners, good in-between music, and promote it on social media and your newsletters to spread the word.
21. Fishbowl business card giveaways
Let customers drop their business cards into a bowl for a raffle. The reward can vary – a lunch for the winner and 10 friends, a 2-hour happy hour with discounted drinks, whatever you feel like!
Not only are these raffles fun, but you can also make use of those business cards by emailing customers. Let them know that while they didn’t win this time, they can sign up for your newsletter to be notified of their next chance to enter, plus the opportunity to hear about discounts and other offers they’d enjoy. Then tadaa – you’ve got yourself a bunch of super valuable new newsletter subscribers!
22. Start a food truck
Starting a food truck isn’t for the faint of heart – it’s a tremendous endeavor and, depending on the kind of truck you want to buy, it can be very pricey. However, starting a food truck enables you to dish out your food to folks you might never normally come in contact with. You can greatly extend your reach, build more press, and acquire new fans who might love you so much that they become patrons of your brick-and-mortar location as well!
23. Get creative with national days
There are dozens of awareness causes and observance days throughout each month of the year that are restaurant-friendly. Here are some, just to name a few:
- National Food Safety Month in September
- National Pizza Day in February
- International Beer Day in August
- National Baked Scallops Day in March
- National Picnic Day in April
And the list goes on. And on. And on. We’re talking, National Corn Chip Day, National Glazed Spiral Ham Day, Chicken Tetrazzini Day. You can have a field day with these. Here are some local marketing ideas based on months of the year (with plenty more to come):
Final restaurant marketing tips
We’ll leave you with some final tips to help you save time, maintain a positive reputation, and make the most of every penny and minute you spend marketing your restaurant.
24. Promote user-generated content
User-generated content (lovingly dubbed UGC) is a great way to develop personal and intimate engagement with users. Host a photo contest by asking customers to share their favorite meal at your establishment, and share the entries on a dedicated content page (and/or share submissions across your various social networks). Consider awarding some random lucky contestants with a free appetizer or other prize!
Hosting and promoting user-generated content shows customers that you appreciate them, turning occasional visitors into die-hard devotees.
25. Use online reservation tools
One fine dining restaurant marketing idea is to consider signing up for Open Table. Open Table is an online reservation tool that lets customers book reservations for your establishment online! Patrons love it when you make life a bit easier for them, and Open Table already has a base of loyal customers you can tap into.
26. Time those Tweets
Twitter can be a true treasure for restaurants, and timing your tweets can have a big influence on hungry stomachs. Try crafting and scheduling tweets at different times of the day to specifically target the breakfast, lunch, or dinner crowds (depending on your offerings).
27. Monitor your online reputation
One of the most important things to know in restaurant marketing is that there are countless places online where customers can review and talk about you—even if you didn’t set up a listing on that platform! As a part of your reputation management, you can:
- Google yourself regularly to identify any auto-created listings that need to be claimed so you can control their information.
- Set up Google Alerts to notify you when your business name (or other designated keyword term) appears in a new piece of content on the web.
- Invest in paid social media management tools like Hootsuite or Buffer to stay on top of posts, mentions, and direct messages.
How to market a restaurant [summary]:
Here are the steps on how to market a restaurant:
Develop your restaurant’s brand identity
Get a website
Establish your mission statement
Set up your socials
Get listed on restaurant apps
Set up your Google Business Profile
Have a sleek, functional online menu
Here are the best restaurant marketing ideas and strategies:
Ask for reviews
Respond to reviews
Send out an email newsletter
Turn your Facebook business page into a community
Invest in paid ads
Start a blog
Offline marketing strategies
Offer coupons & discounts
Share your reviews
Be an Insta-ham
Food blogger outreach
Show off your staff
Share positive press
Social media giveaways
Partner up with delivery services
Fishbowl business card giveaways
Start a food truck
Get creative with national days
Final restaurant marketing tips
- Promote user-generated content
- Online reservation tools
- Time those Tweets
- Online reputation monitoring
That sums up our restaurant marketing guide. Hopefully you can put these restaurant marketing tips to good use!