Restaurant marketing: 10 ideas for how to promote your restaurant business
In the increasingly crowded restaurant industry you need to know how to stand out. Below, we break down the best marketing strategies for small restaurants
According to the British Retail Consortium, 2019 was the worst year on record for the high street, with sales falling for the first time since 1995.
However, where retailers have suffered, eateries have thrived. In fact, analysis from Direct Line for Business found that in 2018/19, more than a third of all change of use applications submitted to councils were to convert a shop into a restaurant, café, or takeaway.
Competition is hotting up, and in such a saturated market, you need to know how to promote your restaurant business in order to make it stand out. That means fine tuning your marketing strategy to appeal to the palates of your target market.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants have had to become even more savvy with their marketing. Limited to takeaways only, marketing – in particular social media marketing – has become integral to both customer communication and to keeping those orders coming in.
10 ways to market your restaurant
Why should someone choose to eat at your restaurant rather than the one next door? Or indeed, why should someone choose to order online from your restaurant, as opposed to the hundreds of other restaurants that have online ordering platforms?
Good word of mouth has a part to play. But it’s not enough to simply serve amazing food and have top notch customer service – you need to shout about it.
So, from restaurant marketing basics to more elaborate methods of promotion, we look at 10 of the best ways to advertise a restaurant.
1. Define the scope and targeting of your restaurant marketing
Taking the time to craft a strong brand identity, as well as identify your target market, is an essential first step when putting together a marketing plan. That way, you can create a highly-tailored strategy that has every chance of succeeding. You should define the following:
- Who are you targeting
- What’s your budget?
- Which tools and tactics will provide the best results?
- How much will they cost?
- How will you monitor and evaluate results?
2. Have a great website with a restaurant reservation tool
TripAdvisor research from 2018 discovered that 80% of UK respondents make restaurant reservations online – the highest percentage among the five markets analysed.
Whether you choose a website builder with table reservation functionality or integrate an order and pay platform into your website, a sleek, intuitive user-experience is essential.
You may also want to consider the tools on offer by your payments provider. For example, Square's all-in-one POS and payments system has a feature that enables businesses to get online for free. Your website would be fairly basic, but it would enable customers to browse your menu, order and pay, and even select delivery or click and collect.
Squarespace is one the restaurant industry's most popular website builders because of its stylish, restaurant-specific templates
A smooth user-journey should apply to the rest of your website as well. In this highly competitive space, you need to make the essential info (i.e. address, opening hours, menu) as accessible as possible.
3. Make the most of Yelp and restaurant review platforms
As long as you’re providing customers with the best possible experience, you have nothing to fear from restaurant review platforms.
TripAdvisor found that 87% of consumers in the UK choose a restaurant based on online reviews. Making these reviews available on your website is a good trust signal to both visitors and Google.
Don’t forget to play your own part in the conversation! According to TripAdvisor, 88% of UK respondents read management responses, with the majority feeling encouraged to try a restaurant regardless of whether the initial review was positive or negative
So, take the time to respond to both good and bad reviews by showing gratitude to those who take the time to share a good experience, and trying to placate those who’ve had a bad one.
Find out more with ‘The complete guide to Yelp reviews’.
4. Master social media marketing for restaurant businesses
As well as being a great platform for promotion, social media allows you to engage with your clientele, build loyalty, and attract new customers. Even better, because many online ordering platforms integrate with social media platforms or enable you to link from your social media accounts, it's an essential source of custom.
That’s why authenticity is paramount. Don’t try and copy the approach of a brand you admire – instead, use your market research to cultivate a voice and image that will resonate with your audience.
For example, ‘wackaging’ – that very self-consciously quirky and over-familiar packaging popularised by innocent drinks – may remain popular, but it can be very irritating. It’s not a style most brands should adopt, regardless of how en vogue it seems.
5. Restaurant email marketing campaign
One perk of online bookings is that you can start to build up an extremely valuable database of previous diners. Who better to turn into loyal regulars than people who’ve already given you a try? POS providers like Square make it easy for you to collect customer emails and create email marketing campaigns based on individual customer spend trends.
However, you must abide by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) if you’re going to store email addresses and use them for promotion. In order to be compliant, you need to tell all customers exactly why their data is being stored, and give them the option to opt out.
Remember, this isn’t an opportunity to pester them with emails begging for another visit. Craft an email campaign that builds familiarity and trust.
Here are our golden rules for an effective restaurant email marketing campaign:
- Invite everyone to leave a review of their dining experience as an inaugural email
- Offer decent promotions that customers will actually respond to
- Segment your database by engaged users – don't send to people who don't open because you'll just annoy them!
- Instead, send frequently to those who do open…
- …and personalise as much as possible
6. Loyalty programmes and promotions
It’s easier than ever to run a loyalty programme for your restaurant. Apps have made them more convenient for both businesses and consumers – they give you the tools to track, analyse, and tailor campaigns to increase their effectiveness, and remove the need for them to carry around stamp cards everywhere.
YouGov and rewards agency Mando-Connect’s 2018 What the British think of loyalty report found that 72% of us believe loyalty programmes are a good way to reward customers, with 47% of respondents spending more with brands whose scheme they are a member of.
There’s clearly an appetite for loyalty schemes, so why do only 25% of UK restaurants offer them? With the introduction of order and pay apps, it's so easy for restaurants to introduce loyalty schemes. You can even use the order and pay app to send customer reward promotions when they order.
7. Local SEO
Depending on how niche your restaurant is in your area, there’s going to be tough competition for those pole positions in the SERPS.
For example, searching ‘best chinese restaurant in Manchester’ brings up 24.3 million results (mostly top 10 lists), while ‘best chinese restaurant in Altrincham’ (a suburb of Manchester) brings up 412,000 results.
You can vastly increase your chances of ranking high in searches using local SEO – and, best of all, you can do most of it for free.
Many of the other marketing ideas we’ve highlighted actually feed into good SEO, as you’ll see below:
- A simple way to optimise your website is to keep all your essential info (contact details, address, opening hours etc.) up to date, and make it easily navigable and accessible
- Add your target location and keywords to the meta title (i.e. what users see in search results): e.g. vegetarian restaurant | Camden
- Include keywords and compelling info in the meta description (i.e the snippet under the meta title in the search results)
- Make it as easy as possible for customers to leave reviews – Google considers reviews (especially ones you respond to) to be a good indicator that your restaurant is legitimate and worth directing people to
- Local citations are another good trust signal for Google – make sure you feature in directories, local news sites and blogs, and local social media pages
8. Work with a PR
Hiring a PR firm can be very effective, but also very expensive. Whether or not it’s suitable for your business will depend on your resources and ambitions.
An experienced restaurant PR can implement the kind of powerful multi-channel strategy that it would be difficult to run on your own.
Restaurant PRs are most suitable for businesses operating in large, highly competitive markets. They can also be effective at organising headline-grabbing launch campaigns for new restaurants.
Benefits of PR for restaurants include:
- Can complement and expand the reach of your existing marketing efforts
- Good for building and managing long-term relationships with media, other restaurant and food & drink businesses, and influencers for mutual benefit (an established restaurant PR will already have a database of hugely valuable contacts that it might be difficult for a new restaurant to engage with independently)
- Allows you to harness the knowledge of experts to tell powerful and engaging stories about your brand
- Peace of mind around reputation and crisis management
9. Make the most of user-generated content (UGC)
Whether you’re engaged with your customers or not, they’re producing a wealth of UGC anyway – so why not make the most of it?
At a basic level, this can be retweeting photos that your customers share on Twitter, or commenting on their Insta photos – “Glad you enjoyed your meal, come back soon!” – to show you value them and to drive engagement.
But some brands have turned UGC into a competition. For example, you could challenge your users to post their best photo of a meal at your restaurant, or get them to recreate their favourite dish. The winner could receive a free meal, or some other discount or voucher.
10. Get on a delivery platform, or invest in order and pay technology
These delivery platforms might claim a significant portion of your takings, but they also allow you to reach a customer base who might otherwise never have found you. Delivery platforms including Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and Just Eat take the biggest chunks, but with 45,000 people a day using Deliveroo, you could be missing out on valuable custom.
Order and pay technology can be integrated into your website and social media accounts. It's become essential during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it allows customers to order their takeaway directly through you for a much smaller percentage of the sale.
Promote a new restaurant with a launch
Launch night. Exciting, isn’t it?
One of the most important marketing strategies for small restaurants, this is your chance to show off your new restaurant in all its glory.
But with the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns putting a stop to restaurants opening to the public, and restrictions in place when restaurants are allowed to accept customers inside, owners have had to get digitally savvy with their opening parties.
So how do you do that? Well, it's all in the build up. Make sure you're super-active on all of your social media channels. Get people discussing – stir up the hype by pushing an opening promotion – and make sure you've taken photos of all of your menu items to show them off in all their glory.
Make sure your customers are aware of how they can order. Are you going live on a delivery platform? Can they order on your social media account, on your website, or do you have a third party order and pay app that they can order from?
In ordinary times, opening a restaurant is an exercise in PR. On opening night guests will be expecting free food and drink, which – provided it achieves what it’s meant to – will more than pay for itself in the long run. Budget for this in the financials section of your business plan.
Invite influential locals, and encourage attendees to share as much as they can on their socials to really build a buzz around your restaurant.
Restaurant marketing: A summary
|Marketing idea||What is it?||Cost|
|Define scope and targeting||Identify target audience and decide on approach||Free|
|Get a website||Use a website builder to get a professional looking restaurant website live in minutes||£3/month +|
|Make the most of Yelp||List yourself in a business directory||Free|
|Social media marketing||Target your potential customers (and actual ones) on whatever platforms they’re most likely to use||Free|
|Email marketing||Use a targeted, personalised email campaign for previous diners, combining promotional content with brand-building updates||Free|
|Loyalty programmes and promotions||Encourage repeat custom with one-off offers and time-sensitive discounts||Membership cost if you outsource. Slight loss in revenue for discounts, 2-for-1 offers etc.|
|Local SEO||Improve your search engine ranking by localising your metadata, making it easier for customers to leave reviews, and making your website accessible and navigable||Free|
|Work with a PR||Can help to enhance existing marketing efforts, broaden your reach, and grant access to useful contacts and partners||£2,000/month +|
|Make the most of UGC||Your customers will produce a wealth of content that you can capitalise on and use to drive engagement||Free|
|Get on food delivery platforms||Reach people who may never have found you otherwise||Fee-based|
Marketing for restaurants: 5 top tips
You don’t have to use all of the marketing strategies discussed above – you’ll run the risk of spreading your resources too thin. Pick a few complementary ones, and invest in those to start with. To ensure you maximise return on investment (ROI), bear the following five tips in mind:
- Don’t forget to collect diners’ email details, so that you can keep in touch and send further promotions in the future
- Tailor marketing to your target audience – advertising is not a one size fits all solution
- Measure results and constantly refine your approach
- Don’t try and imitate the approach of a brand you admire – instead, establish a unique and authentic voice for your marketing
- Outsource your marketing to an agency – it will save you a lot of time and effort
Restaurant marketing: Further support
Marketing your restaurant is all about a tailored, targeted approach. Taking the time to identify your target market and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the competition will give you solid foundations for a successful marketing campaign.
If you’re still hungry for extra support and outsourcing opportunities for your restaurant, fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes from top digital marketing suppliers.
And if you’re looking for more advice, we have a whole suite of content on how to start a restaurant business! This article is just a side dish (but still a very important one).