Given that Summer has arrived and new restaurant openings are happening left and right, I thought it would be appropriate to share some insights for restaurant owners. With a roster of over 20 different chain and independent restaurants, my team and I have gained a strong grasp on the common components that make an effective restaurant marketing campaign.
If you’re a restaurant owner or marketing manager I’d obviously like for you to consider us when you’re thinking about hiring a marketing agency, but I also think it’s important for you to know what’s working should you decide to manage your digital projects in-house.
Customer Experience Comes First
Before we get into it, It’s important to note that no amount of marketing and advertising can compensate for poor product and customer service. It’s like that classic saying ‘it takes months to find a customer but seconds to lose one’. You can spend millions on advertising but what’s the point if customers aren’t returning?
Customer experience is especially important considering that your patrons have the ability to instantly publish an opinion that’s publicly visible to anyone that searches your business. Yelp, Facebook and Google reviews are powerful social apps that can help or hurt a business.
While I writing this, I actually found a very informative research study on consumer habits regarding local SMBs (small to medium businesses) in Canada and the United States. According to a survey, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation and 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
If you’re confident about the quality of your food and service, start focusing on growing your business’s online reviews. You can print tent cards/stickers, make mention in your menu or simply ask customers leave reviews. Online reviews are basically the new format of word-of-mouth marketing.
Ideally you should also offer a small incentive, for instance a free desert to customers that publish positive reviews. If you incentivize reviews make sure to incorporate limits such as a 1 review per month policy for each customer. Aim for a high volume of new reviews but don’t let customers take extra-advantage of your offers. If you haven’t opened your restaurant’s doors yet, at least start by inviting your close friends and family to write reviews.
Directory Listings (Google, Yelp, Facebook)
As soon as you have an official business location you should create an online listing across all of the main directories. For restaurants the main three are Google, Yelp and Facebook.
To create your restaurant listing simply sign-up for a business account on each of these websites with your business info and address. Make sure to save your account credentials, as you’ll require it in the future to edit your business page, reply to reviews and view information on the volume of visits.
It shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to create each listing, however some directories such as Google will require you to confirm your listing with a physical access code that’s mailed to your address.
In addition to collecting online reviews and displaying your business information, each of these directories offer a pool of local users that are actively searching for restaurants like yours. After your listings are published, add new photos and reply to reviews frequently to keep your content updated for users that are browsing restaurants in your area.
Directories are great for displaying a summary of your business, but they don’t offer the same experience as a dedicated website. Unlike your pages on Yelp, Facebook or Google, a website lets you express a catered experience that can compliment your restaurant’s aesthetic.
Building a website can be challenging if you don’t have any web-design experience. Luckily there are user-friendly website building tools on the market. The most popular drag-and-drop website builders that require no form of coding are Squarespace and Wix. Both of these have a small monthly fee. Though I personally prefer to use WordPress because it’s open-source (free), packed with fantastic themes, and it let’s me customize every element to create a website that’s unique and tailored to my client.
In terms of templates/themes for restaurants I recommend a simple and modern design with plenty of areas for photos. Mobile-friendly is a must, and it’s also great to have your menu or star-items on your homepage. Avoid music, video is great if it’s short and compelling, and only use high quality photos!
There are several ways for you to obtain photos of your menu. The most obvious is to take them yourself with a newer model smartphone. iPhone 7, Google Pixel and Samsung S8 are my preference for photography. If you decide to handle photography on your own, do yourself a favor and read some articles on food staging and lighting. I don’t recommend compromising on food photography. If you don’t have the means to take high quality photos, I suggest you avoid taking photos until a later time.
You can also curate photos by asking customers to share photos of their meals. One of the ways that we actually obtain photos for our clients is by arranging contests and giveaways that reward customers for posting original content to social media. Another cost-effective method to source photography is by contacting local foodies on Instagram. If you do some searching, you can easily find photographers on Instagram that will take your photos in exchange to dine (for free).
Content is king, and for a prospective customer that searched you online, the two factors that’ll persuade them to visit your restaurant are reviews and photos of the food.
It’s simple when it comes to social media, stick to anything visual that let’s you showcase your menu. Social media is meant for short attention spans, and visual content is the best way to get the point across in under 3 seconds. Instagram and Facebook are the essentials right now. Snapchat is lot’s of fun, but for actual business it’s difficult to target new customers organically.
When you initially create your Instagram account, visit the settings page and press ‘switch to business account’. This will offer you call-to-action buttons for your phone number, website and address.
If you’re only starting to become active on Instagram, I recommend you begin by posting at least 1 photo every 2 days, and a maximum of 2 photos per day. The goal is to promote your restaurant without constantly berating your followers with photos. Always go for quality over quantity when you’re posting content online.
Since your target demographic will be relatively local, use mostly local hashtags that include something about your city or region. Don’t make your captions sound like a sales pitch! It doesn’t have to be overly long either, just say something that’s positive and relevant to the photo you’re sharing. The photo should do most of the talking!
In addition to posting, it’s important that you allocate time to interacting with local foodies and people in your network on Instagram. Following, liking and commenting on other people’s posts is the most effective way to build organic engagement for your business on Instagram.
Unlike Instagram, Facebook won’t display your posts in public feeds unless you’re paying for a ‘boost’. Whenever you post a photo, article or statement on Facebook from a business page, it only becomes visible to roughly 5-10% of your followers. This is Facebook’s way of teasing business owners into paying for boosted posts and ads.
In any case, boosting posts is an effective way to spread the word in a short period of time. Facebook advertising can start as low as $1/day. However there are a plethora of options to target specific audiences, and it often takes a period of testing and observation before you find an ad strategy that works well for your specific business. With Facebook ads you’re essentially paying for each view or click, thus the advertised content should be persuasive and targeted if it’s going to drive any real traffic.
A simply but effective strategy is to create an ad or (boosted) post that reaches a 1-2 mile radius of your business. For starters, this will create awareness in your local community with people who’ve already encountered your restaurant.
At Growth Group, our ad strategy for restaurant often involves a set of rotating ads across Facebook and Instagram that promote certain menu items and upcoming events. We also a/b test all our campaigns with several sets of demographics and visuals to find the best performing ad.
Facebook/Instagram ads can become as intricate as your time and budget allows. You should be spending a minimum of $200/month if you’re looking to gauge any real results. At the same time, some of our clients have budgets that are in the thousands as they rely primarily on Instagram and Facebook to drive new visitors. Your budget should be larger if you’re targeting a wider radius or have multiple business locations.
How to Track Social Media Performance for Restaurants
To evaluate your social media performance on ads or specific posts make use of special offers or coupons. For restaurants, Facebook and Instagram don’t offer any method to automatically measure your sales conversions from an ad. However if you make mention of a special offer or deal, you can track the redemption at your location. Although it requires manual work to track, online offers are an excellent method to test whether social media is driving actual sales to your business.
Invite Influencers to Visit Your Restaurant
Once you’ve established a basic online presence that reflects the fantastic food and service you’re offering, you can start inviting media guests to check the place out and spread the word! The idea is to connect with well-known foodies and bloggers that would be interested in promoting your venue to their audience in exchange for a free meal (or two).
Instagram is the best tool to find local influencers, and a simple direct message is usually enough to start the conversation. You can even reach out to well known publications in your city. But bare in mind, if you’re asking established media leaders to attend your venue, they will make their decision based off hear-say/reviews, or from viewing your website and Instagram page.
One way to expedite the process is by arranging a private media event and individually inviting local influencers to attend. Alternatively you can hire an agency with media relations (like us!) to plan and execute a media event at your restaurant.