Restaurant owners are a special breed. You often work more hours in your business than on your business, and you wear more hats than a Dr. Seuss character. You do it all, from menu planning to accounting to customer service, you know what it takes to run a successful restaurant. But, in the midst of wearing all these hats, you may forget about your restaurant’s marketing and advertising.
Advertising is an essential part of keeping your business afloat because it’s what will bring customers through your doors. Whether you own a fast casual, quick serve, family dining or fine dining restaurant here is a guide that includes 10 things to consider as you work on your restaurant marketing and advertising plan.
1. Goals: Like a roadmap, you’ve gotta have them
What is the #1 measure of your restaurant’s success? If you didn’t say “profit” then we need to talk… Sure, you could compare the number of customers you had today versus the number of customers you had on the same day, one month ago. Or you could monitor the amount of inventory used each month to make sure you aren’t wasting food. But at the end of the day, anything that you use to measure success should answer the question “Did my business make a profit?”
The first goal your business should have is to find the break-even point, and after that, your goal is to make a profit. If you haven’t determined a profit goal, now’s a good time.
By setting clear goals, you’ll be able to see if you’re on track to reach them as the year goes by. What happens if you don’t meet a goal? Understanding that is also important. Before you jump into severe consequences like reducing staff or taking from your child’s college fund, keep in mind that not meeting a goal doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It simply means that you need to reassess your strategy, create a new roadmap, and try again tomorrow. If one tire on your car was flat, would you pop the other three?
2. Keep it Simple
Once you have a goal, you have to figure out how to get there. It can be done about a hundred different ways, but the most straightforward path would be the best for you, for your customers and for your staff. Advertising shouldn’t become your part-time job. Look for options that do the heavy lifting for you, so that you can continue to focus on your restaurant. Decide on a few different tactics that you can use to draw in new customers and keep existing customers coming back. What has worked well in the past?
3. Advertise Without Breaking the Bank
TV, radio, newspapers, billboards: Local restaurants have relied upon these “traditional” forms for decades for advertising and promotions. The other things these media have in common is high prices. They are expensive. And the larger your market area, the more expensive it gets.
Restaurant marketing requires careful use of your budget to get the most butts in seats at the least amount per person. Look for advertising options that reach a lot of people repeatedly. One example of this is grocery store register tape advertising. It’s very localized and reaches your target audience over and over again.
4. Make the Promo Worth Their Trip
You’ve decided to run some advertising, and in most cases, that includes a coupon offer. But it needs to be a worthwhile offer. Of course, you have to measure the impact of offering something for less than retail price (see our blog, “Does Coupon Advertising Work for Restaurants?”, but don’t go so small on the offer that it’s not worthwhile, or even insulting to the person who might use it. If your average ticket is $20, a 20% discount would be enough to get them to take action.
5. Have Fun With All the Holidays
So, there are holidays and then there are totally made up holidays on the calendar of days that you can play up. Seriously, no matter what you sell there is a day to celebrate it. From Shrimp Scampi to Waffles to Fajitas, there’s either a day or sometimes a whole month to honor foods that are on your menu. It’s a fun way to make up specials, one-day offers and use social media and in-store signage to get the word out.
6. Hop on the Social Media Train
Speaking of using social media to promote fun things, be sure you have the accounts set up that you’re really going to use. Read more about which ones you might choose in our Blog: Using Social Media to Promote Your Restaurant. One of the biggest keys to social media advertising is that you can’t create a Facebook account, post a few times a month and assume that everyone who likes your page will see it. Business pages don’t get a lot of visibility without paying for ads. They can be very affordable for the amount of exposure you get. But either way, it’s important that you set realistic expectations for how much business social media can actually produce until you put a budget behind it.
7. Google Yourself. What Do You See?
It’s so important to make sure you can be found online with accurate information including your address, phone number, website link and hours. There are a few different ways you might be found on a phone. Go about your search in two ways:
- On any smartphone, go to Google then search from there for your restaurant. You may have to include your city and/or state to be sure you get the right information. The image below on the left shows how this is displayed, including reviews.
- On an iPhone, go to Safari and do the search by name and city in the address bar. This will present information that is available on Bing before you even get to the Google results. It’s trying to present you with the most relevant information as quickly as possible. Siri, as well as Amazon Echo, also provide results from Bing.
If your restaurant isn’t listed then you will need to you create your listing. Good news… it’s free. We have included the links below to help you get started creating your account. Then be sure to keep them up to date.
8. Get More Gold Stars!
You can’t ignore the fact that reviews are so incredibly critical today. When you did your search for your listing, what kind of reviews did you find? Are they good? Bad? Nonexistent? If it comes down to looking at a few restaurant options, the reviews may sway someone to you versus another similar place with either no reviews or reviews that aren’t so hot. Some of the sites that are used frequently to find restaurants and see reviews include:
Be aware of what’s out there, and do what you can to encourage more reviews (but be careful, and don’t do anything slimy). Be sure to reply to reviews whenever possible — good or bad.
9. Keep an Eye on the Competition
Competing restaurants may use the same marketing approaches you do. Watch for them. Know what they’re doing. You don’t need to copy everything they do, but being aware of what offers are out there for competing restaurants can help you build your next offer.
If there is a Buy One Get One (BOGO) offer from a competitor you may want to choose something different. This allows your restaurant and its discount offer to be distinctive enough that customers will be able to keep you and your competitors separated in their minds. Offering the exact same offer can cause confusion when they go to look for your coupon again. Be your own unicorn.
And, if you see a coupon out there that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Since you can’t look in the competitor’s accounting program, that too-good-to-be-true coupon could be hurting their profits badly and you don’t want to do anything that could harm the future of the entire establishment.
10. Don’t Lose Track of Customers
A customer email database allows you to send customers future promotions, like the “holiday specials” or a special customer appreciation offer that isn’t available anywhere else.
When you collect the email addresses, hopefully, you can have it done electronically. That usually will allow you to ask some other questions that will be helpful. Something as simple as “How did you hear about our restaurant” can give you insight into what’s working with your marketing promotions.
That’s a lot to think about. And you may not be able to do all of these things at once. It could be something you spread out amongst a few people on your staff, or you have a marketer who works with you to get all of the details organized for each of these.
Finding the best ways to advertise in your local area is key to driving new customers through the door every single day. Learn more about some of the top restaurant marketing tactics and how to apply them to your restaurant.
We updated this post on April 30, 2019.