Let’s talk about the most effective ingredients to help maintain a successful restaurant. Of course, you might need a beautiful storefront, stellar staff, and enticing menu items. But to keep any restaurant afloat, attracting customers is vital. Of course, creating a keen sense of loyalty through a highly optimized marketing mix can help.
So whether you’re a first-time restaurant owner or looking to bolster your current restaurant marketing strategy, keep scrolling to unpack our essential Restaurant Marketing 101 guide.
Shape Your Brand Identity
The first step in your marketing plan starts with shaping your brand identity to make your foodservice operation memorable and buzz-worthy. Many restaurants might hire a branding professional to create one concise “brand guide” that might cover elements like brand voice, color palette, logo, website, menu, email design, restaurant theme, etc.
Ultimately, creating a meaningful brand identity that accounts for these pillars might help you stand out from your competitors, which could lead to more loyal customers.
“Escoffier’s program has helped me put together how to create a business that’s sustainable. The school is really good at giving you the points to follow, almost like an outline. Now I actually have a format and a disciplined way to look at a restaurant design or come up with a menu.”*
Chef Freida Nicole Davenport, Escoffier Graduate, Owner of Freida’s Sweets and Meats food truck
Establish Your Online Web Presence
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most effective restaurant marketing tactics to help customers organically find your business. It starts with establishing your online presence and optimizing your site with high-traffic keywords that search engines favor. Although discovering the “art of SEO” could be an entire course, here are a few critical strategies to help you get started.
Claim Your Google Business Profile
Based on a recent study, 46% of all Google searches are scouting for local business information. One of the most effective ways to connect with prospective restaurant customers is to sign up for “Google Business Profile,”—a pivotal way to take charge of your first impressions. When people find your restaurant on Google Search and Maps, they’ll see a full snapshot of your restaurant along with photos, offers, updates, and more.
This is also prime real estate to respond to reviews, provide thorough answers to frequently asked questions, and add a reservation link. Also, if you keep your profile updated and remain active, you can show up in search results. In this case, it’s 70% more likely to attract more location visits.
Get Listed on Dining Review Apps
Customer reviews might be considered the “bread and butter” for all restaurants. According to WordStream, 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
This is why it’s absolutely essential to get listed on dining apps such as Yelp, Open Table, and Trip Advisor—a few of the top review sites that consumers turn to for local restaurant searches. If you’re first starting out on these sites, don’t be afraid to ask for an online review too—around 76% of customers who are directly asked to write a review end up doing so.
Once you start accumulating more feedback on these sites, this usually indicates to Google that there’s buzz around your business and this will likely bolster your Google ranking.
“The first thing I focused on was how to build a business model that caters to the customer, providing a 5-star experience, and that being shared via word of mouth was part of my marketing plan. With serving such a unique cuisine here in Austin, I heavily relied on community efforts for continuous customer acquisition.”*
Nahika Hillery, Escoffier Austin Grad & Food Truck Owner
Research the Best Keywords
To start popping up in search engines, begin with a clean and easy-to-navigate website. If your niche is “Farm-to-Table fare in West Hollywood,” utilize relevant “high-volume, low competition” keywords suggested by Google Keyword Planner. Add these keywords to meta-titles, meta-descriptions, and any social or web content to potentially elevate your Google ranking.
Leverage Social Media
According to FSR Magazine, 45% of American foodies say that they’ve tried a restaurant for the first time because of a social media post. Even though social media platforms are constantly changing, it’s a critical marketing and revenue tool for restauranteurs. It’s also one of the easiest ways to share and repurpose user-generated content (UGC). For example, if a diner snaps a candid photo of your welcoming restaurant entrance and tags your brand, you can reshare this to your social media followers, or even repurpose it for newsletters or web content (with the user’s permission).
Students who attend Escoffier’s new Food Entrepreneurship program discover key social media principles pertinent to restaurants. This includes creating content goals, understanding relevant social media platforms, and reaching target audiences. Now, let’s get a bird’s eye view of the two most popular platforms restaurants can leverage today.
Think of Instagram as a curated platform to strengthen your brand’s identity. This millennial-driven social engine was originally used to post aesthetically pleasing photos, but now, it’s a haven for “short-form” video content (i.e. Instagram reels).
According to Otter, reels yield 22% higher engagement than normal video content and social video creates 1,200% more shares than text and image content combined.
It’s important to not completely abandon photos, but restaurants should consider spending more time developing snappy video content with behind-the-scenes glimpses of new menu items, seasonal dishes, and staff personalities. Posting at least once a day on Instagram, along with frequent stories could potentially increase engagement and following.
- If you do post photos, don’t forget to enable “geotagging” so photos show up when your location is searched.
Based on Backlinko findings, around 2.85 billion users are active on Facebook today, which is why restaurants should consider creating a Facebook business page. This is a prime opportunity to invite customers to “like” your page, encourage content sharing, interact with customers, post original content, and even host restaurant giveaways to increase engagement.
Ideally, it’s optimal to post two to three times a week on Facebook, in combination with paid Facebook ads, as part of your outbound marketing strategy.
- Consider utilizing Facebook’s internal scheduling system to plan your posts or leveraging tools like Hootsuite for planning/scheduling automation.
- Remember, your Facebook page should act as a direct reflection of your brand and voice.
- Make sure to use the same website logo and colors.
One of the most impactful forms of paid media for restaurants is influencer marketing—strategic partnerships with social media influencers who have cultivated a substantial following and engagement.
Although you could offer a complimentary dining experience in exchange for an Instagram story, it’s best to offer local influencers a payment based on their story engagement so you can potentially control the content and scope of work.
Effective Influencer Marketing Campaign Tips
- Ask for the influencer’s average story views. To see a significant lift in new customers, it’s best to see at least 10,000 average views.
- Draft a “scope of work” brief for your influencer campaign. It could look like this:
- 5-frame IG story
- Talk about two restaurant dishes
- Add link to restaurant sticker on all frames
- Deliver two verbal call-to-actions in the beginning and end
- Influencer grants restaurant the right to approve content before posting
You can even consider hosting an “Influencer Media Night” and invite your top 15-20 local influencers to snap photos and video content of your restaurant. You’ll want to ask these creators to tag your brand and use specific hashtags to create publicity.
Lastly, depending on your contract terms with an influencer, you might be able to use their content for in-house ads on your Facebook and Instagram platforms.
Enhance Physical Visibility
Although digital marketing is critical for restaurants today, optimizing your physical marketing is just as important. Ideally, your restaurant will be situated in a high foot traffic area with a constant flow of people, potentially near other popular businesses, malls, local attractions, etc.
When a restaurant naturally garners exceptional visibility, you likely won’t have to work as hard to jumpstart other components of your marketing plan.
Well-designed signage that reflects your restaurant’s brand and is placed in a visible area usually reels in hungry customers. Whether you decide to order a wall or monument sign with your logo, these should be artfully created to hint at the customer experience and speak to your target audience.
Signage Depending on Restaurant Type
- Fast-casual restaurants should consider bolder, larger text that might attract families with brighter colors.
- Food truck signage might also be similarly vibrant and bold, but fashioned the “DIY way” with hand-printed lettering.
- Fine dining or Michelin restaurants might opt to choose a more elegant sign with cursive lettering and more neutral colors.
Restaurant Flyers and Print Marketing
There’s something to be said about “grassroots” marketing and the power behind circulating restaurant flyers and printed materials. Whether you print out a flyer about your restaurant launch, advertise seasonal offerings, or even disseminate business cards, ensure these materials align with your brand voice and colors.
Consider handing these out to friends and family, posting them on community bulletin boards or at cafes, and even attaching them to restaurant orders. The concept here is to reach as many potential customers as possible.
Restaurant Menu Design
Creating a solid menu usually serves as an effective marketing tool for restaurants. Again, think about incorporating elements from your brand guide and ask yourself the following questions when formulating:
- Is your restaurant menu visually appealing?
- Does it speak to your target audience?
- Is it clear and concise?
If menus are too confusing to read, with too many options, or even dirty, this could deter a customer from sitting down at your restaurant.
In-Person Advertising Items Checklist
- Window Stickers
- Restaurant T-Shirts
- Drink Coasters
- Pick-Up-Here Signs
Devise an Email Marketing Strategy
When it comes to a powerful marketing mix, devising a consistent email marketing strategy might prove to be one of the most valuable inbound marketing tactics. Why? Well the return on investment (ROI) could be massive.
According to Oberlo, for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42. If you don’t have any email campaign strategies in your arsenal yet, here are a few tips to consider.
Bolster Your Email List
One of the most effective ways to increase your list is by leveraging your point of sale (POS) system. For example, if a customer requests to have a receipt emailed to them, your internal customer relationship management (CRM) platform could store these details for future use.
Another way to collect email addresses is by simply asking at the checkout counter or upon returning the check. You could incentivize the customer by telling them this is the best way to receive restaurant promotions and updates.
Start Drafting Emails
Consider investing in a user-friendly email automation platform like MailChimp, and start designing your emails that reflect your brand identity. One of the best ways to increase your click-through rate is to craft irresistible subject lines that reel customers in (i.e.: Did You Hear the Big News?)
Although you might feel inspired to send lengthy emails, short and snappy ones tend to resonate best with customers. You also don’t want to forget two call-to-actions (CTA) at the top and bottom of the email (i.e.: Make a Reservation Today).
As far as frequency, you certainly don’t want to irritate customers every day, but sending emails twice a month is reasonable.
10 Email Marketing Content Ideas
- Loyalty Programs
- Updated Menus
- Sales & Promotions
- Special Events
- Food Trends
- Customer Reviews/Testimonials
- Spotlight Kitchen Staff
Build Relationships with Food Critics
Even though we’re living in a buzzing social media world where influencers are the modern-day press, there’s still power in “earned” media and public relations efforts. By getting a pulse on the top local magazines that target your audience and building relationships with food critics, press coverage could create more credibility.
As part of your outbound marketing strategy, consider hiring a public relations professional who can frequently pitch concise and timely stories about your restaurant to food journalists. An irresistible story coupled with high readership could drive more customers to your restaurant.
You could also add these feature stories to your website, social media platforms, and even newsletters.
Execute Your Restaurant Marketing Plan
Whether you aspire to start your own restaurant or simply desire to optimize your restaurant’s marketing mix to acquire more customers, starting with a food entrepreneurship curriculum could be the best jumping off point.
Escoffier’s Food Entrepreneurship program offers a comprehensive curriculum that covers culinary foundations, core business essentials, and marketing and promotion practices specific to restaurants, food trucks, home-based catering businesses, food blogging, private chefs, and similar topics. To get started, contact our admissions department for more information!
Ready to read more food entrepreneurship articles? Check out these ones next:
- The Complete Guide to Starting a Home-Based Catering Business
- How to Start a Restaurant With Little to No Money
- How Gleam & Escoffier’s Mentorship Program Can Help Aspiring Entrepreneurs
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.