13 Ways to Market Your Restaurant Online

13 Ways to Market Your Restaurant On-line in 2015

In Marketing, Restaurants by Freddie Frampton3 Comments

To my utter shock I just read the headline of an article titled ‘Social Media Should Be a Hotel’s Main Customer Service Platform’, look it up if you have 5 minutes of your life to waste, I certainly don’t – Customer Service is what happens on the floor, not in Social Bloody Media!! The point is, it made me realize just how much bad advice is out there, and subsequently inspired me to share what has worked from my own experience. The topic I have chosen to write about is marketing for restaurants, not hotels, but a lot of the principles are still the same, and can be applied to many forms of digital marketing.

In this digital age restaurant marketing methods are not the same and will never stay the same. It is crucial for you as a restaurant owner, manager or marketing manager to keep hold of the traditional methods such as P.R but also crucially adapt to an ever evolving digital world where your brand presence is cultivated on-line. I will be the first to admit that on-line marketing isn’t the be all and end all, you still need to have a great product, providing service with an enjoyable atmosphere. All combined it is something I refer to as Harmony (will discuss more about this another time, in an article on Consumer Values in Restaurants). Without Harmony it doesn’t matter how good your marketing efforts are because the reality is that you have nothing worth taking to market. I agree that there are some establishments that have a great identity, with a loyal customer base, and maybe don’t feel the need to be quite as aggressive in their marketing efforts as I’ve suggest here, or perhaps the positioning of their brand could quite possibly be devalued if approached with these strategies as aggressive as this. If that is the case then stop reading now, this article is not meant for you, it is for those of you that have your house in order, and need to increase revenue for your business in an ever competitive environment. You will have to think way beyond just posting on Facebook and Instagram; that’s what children do.

Aggressive Digital Marketing for Restaurants in 2015

13 ways to Market Your Restaurant Online in 2015

Social Media is essential for restaurants

Have a clear strategy in place and plan well in advance with your posts, don’t be a cheap skate and get your receptionist to do this, it will backfire, as the old saying goes, pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Think of it as a story, know where you are going, educate and entertain, keep a fine balance, nobody likes to be lectured, and equally you are promoting a business, not a cartoon. Know who your audience is; look at analytics to gain insights on your target audience demographics and psychographics, the more you know about your ideal customer the better you can influence. Every month take some time out to reflect on which posts have worked and which ones haven’t, critically analyse the results and focus on what was most successful, but also learn about what wasn’t successful, it may have been a good idea that just wasn’t executed correctly.

Use the right social media channels; it’s not rocket science. Facebook, Pinterest, Google + Instagram and Twitter are the key social drivers for restaurant marketing. I’m not going to go in depth about how to use these, if you don’t know, then pass the job on to someone else who does. Use a social media management system, it might cost you a little, but having everything managed in the same place is a great investment which will help you to manage your time more effectively. You can also add users and allocate permission settings, is a great way to get your staff to help with generating content, only publishing once you or an allocated member of staff have first proofed the content. Visit a comparison website such as Trust Radius, it will help you find the software most suited to your needs and within your budget. Remember to check out of hours, due to the nature of the industry 9-5 is not applicable, leave something unattended for too long and you may wake up to a crisis. Be prepared for a crisis and have a strategy in place, the best way to do this is to look it up, research and learn from others mistakes. Follow the link for a good example of how to handle a Social Media Crisis

Great content rules!! Don’t just use images; think rich media, infographics and video. If you are lucky enough to have a talented team that can produce good graphics, knows how to take great photos, and can produce quality videos then great, if not then get professional to help. If you don’t have the team and refuse to pay for this service then you are obviously not taking this seriously and should stop reading now. There are many talented people out there who are looking to showcase their work, hunt them down and approach offering exposure in the process, it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune but will cost your business if you don’t take this seriously. Mix up what you post and when, social algorithms are highly advanced these days and will show prospects the content they are most likely to engage in, if you as the user look mostly at videos then you will notice many videos displayed in your timeline. Showing content in different formats over varying subjects will highly increase your chances of exposure. Keep your content branded, you put a lot of time and effort in to this, if people share your content then you want others to know your source, also make it difficult for others to steal your content and benefit directly from your hard work.

A recent survey asked more than one thousand two hundred customers about what motivated them to make a choice before deciding to dine at a particular restaurant or place an on-line order. 83% of the subjects mentioned rated restaurants that treated their employees well, making them feel comfortable throughout the experience, with good quality service as the most important factor. Note, an online order was included in this question, that’s how important that statistic is. Empower employees, nobody likes a surly waiter or a miserable manager, get them socially involved, make them feel valued, they play an important part in the restaurant and should be encouraged to do so online. Highlight your `employee of the month’ and mention their accomplishments on social media channels for events such as marriages, anniversaries and graduation functions, this makes for an effective word-of-mouth advertising mode. I previously done some work for a well-known proprietor,  who still to this day refuses to name his chef on his website or marketing materials, when I questioned the logic, he said ‘the chef could end up leaving like others before him, and cause great embarrassment’, no wonder they end up leaving when he has that attitude. 73% of the subjects surveyed mentioned that local community support highly influenced their choice of restaurants. Support local community events which are a good fit for your brand with events, post photos of these events online and encourage them to post also.

There are plenty of listening tools online, invest in them, you will learn instantly when someone has spoken about you, can pick up key words and phrases in conversations and engage in real-time conversation which can only ever be of great benefit. While social media may not obviously correlate to reservations, it is second to none for the power of influence and makes a huge difference when it comes to the positive marketing of your restaurant. Don’t pay so much attention to likes, likes don’t make you money, do you want to collect customer data to communicate using other methods or do you want to move the traffic to another source where you can convert easier? Remember that a lot of social networks have stopped giving out free organic juice, your posts will not get any traction unless you pay for it, but remember this; social networks will always give individuals traction for free otherwise their network will fail to network. Bearing this in mind you should always prioritise on how to get your customers to become your brand ambassadors, it is free and much more valuable as a referral source.

If you are going to advertise then make sure you use the right tools, to do this effectively you must have a strong CTA (Call To Action), just boosting a post will burn a hole in your pocket, make someone extremely rich, even richer, and not a lot much more. I received a ‘help me call’ the other month from a well-known bar/restaurant in Dubai who had over 40,000 Facebook fans, the owner woke up one morning only to find out they most of his fans had vanished with just a mere 6,000 left, I dread to think how much money they had wasted. Do you think Facebook reimbursed them the money? Hell No, it’s not Facebooks fault they didn’t know what they were doing, the terms and conditions are there for everyone to see. The reason they had their fans removed was because they hadn’t adhered to the laws which govern the land, the land being UAE which has strict regulations on alcohol consumption and advertising. Even without reading the rules one would hope that a small amount of common sense would have prevailed, advertising to 18 year olds when your target market is working professionals, age 27+? That’s plain stupid! If you are going to do the advertising yourself, do some thorough research or pay someone else to do it who knows what they are doing, it will save you money in the long run. Above all, always have a clear strategy, focus on your goal and stick to it.

The Power of Product and Service Offerings in your restaurant

Creative product and service offerings when used correctly can do an amazing job of promoting your restaurant with minimum cost. They can also be key differentiators for your restaurant, helping your business to stand out from the crowd and giving prospects more reason to visit your restaurant. Give your chef and mixologist the freedom to be creative, relax the reigns, and get them to collaborate with the manager and wait staff, they will all have an idea about what will / won’t work and the practicalities involved. A good friend of mine Thomas Gillgren launched a cocktail called the Dosarita which is a Margarita with a bottle of Dos Equis stuck into a giant Margarita glass. Customers loved the offering so much, that they would frequently snap a selfie with the drink and share on social networks. They thought the product was cool, and having the association ultimately gave them that much more kudos in the process. That is one of the best forms of marketing ever, it translates what is going on inside of your restaurant outside of it, you have word and mouth, advocacy through social endorsement and free advertising which can only ever translate to yet more sales – WIN/WIN!

A customer drinking the Dosarita

An image I found of a customer drinking and endorsing the Dosarita

Get your audience to participate in the development process. Be open and tell them what you are doing, throw your ideas and photos out there, they love to be involved and can also offer great feedback. Finally when you have decided on the finished product, put it out there and get suggestions for the item name, don’t worry about whether or not they will come up with a good name, they will, I have tried this many times and it has never failed to work, I give you my guarantee on this! Your customers will now be emotionally involved and feel a part of the whole process. When it comes to them visiting your restaurant next, I will bet my last penny that most of them will purchase the product, and a large percentage will also share and endorse on their social networks.

Keeping your Restaurant Directory Listings Updated

This may be a task that sounds painstaking, and it is, but it is truly worth the trouble. The algorithms of search engines like Google prefer information that is consistent, correct and verified. Keep a track of all directories that your restaurant is listed on and keep editing or correcting any incorrect information with frequent updates. Your SERPS (Search Engine Results Page) will rise and your restaurant website click-through rates will improve, keep on top of this. Backlinks may not carry as much weight with google as they once did but they are still of vital importance for healthy SEO.

Keep on top of Your Restaurant Reviews

There are several websites which can help promote restaurants referrals with reviews, most regions will have a local website which offers reviews, you will need to look these up for yourself, I can’t do this for you. Pay close attention to the local sites but pay extra special attention to the big international websites, they can be a game changer. Trip Advisor, Yelp, Zegat (some regions do not apply with Zegat just yet but with the recent Google acquisition, expect this to change in the near future, so keep a close eye on this), and Foursquare, they can all have a profound impact on your business, for better and worse.

Monitor information listings at relevant sites on a regular basis and keep up to date with reviews, it is vital that you deal with reviews promptly, especially the negative ones. Be prepared for some negative criticism and embrace it, be honest, transparent and admit when you are wrong. A customer that complains presents an opportunity, they are telling you about a problem they had to face. The chances are that other customers may well have faced this problem also, the only difference being that they didn’t tell you, they told everyone else. Remember that you also have a golden opportunity to win over this unhappy customer, if you are in the wrong then make be certain to make up for it, nobody likes to be ripped off, it is a two way deal, they pay and you deliver, do this successfully and you will have a customer for life.

Always be genuine in your response, don’t use generic messages, there is nothing more annoying than someone copy and pasting a message, this tells your customer that you don’t give a crap, they are nothing but a number and of little importance. Don’t delete negative reviews, prospects like to read bad reviews, see how you address issues and then rectify them, it helps to develop trust. If a customer writes a bad review, engage and rectify the issue, you are quite likely to receive a positive review which can actually look better than a poorly written good review (providing this doesn’t happen too frequently, you are supposed to get it right the first time).

The customer is always right? No, the customer is not always right, not sure who made up this BS, the customer is always important but can sometimes be wrong. Can you imagine if the customer was always right? It would lead to complete anarchy, dancing on tables, not paying the bill, refusing to leave at close – heaven forbid! I one was asked to assess the Trip Advisor page of a seafood restaurant, the vast amount of comments suggested that the company didn’t offer value. I engaged reviewers to find out the reasoning; the overwhelming response being they had all ordered the Alaskan King Crab. For a start the restaurant hadn’t labelled the item correctly and the description was wrong. I apologised for not having named the item correctly and opened discussion about the Alaskan King Crab. I explained that Alaskan King Crab was expensive to import due to the fishing fatality rate being 80 times that of the average worker, with one live lost every week during season. I then messaged them privately and engaged in one on one conversation away from the public eye, asking about all manner of things, pending on what direction the conversation took. I closed the dialogue by stating how much I had enjoyed the conversation and would love to continue more, inviting them to visit again with a companion and the promise of meeting the chef and having a drink on me. The vast majority took me up on that offer and they all purchased a meal.

If it’s an unfounded malicious review with bad intent then check up on the user history of the individual that wrote the review, if they’ve only ever written just the one review before then then the chances are they are fake. State your case with facts and make an official complaint, believe it or not the review websites are on your side, they don’t want this kind of spammy behaviour as much as you do. Keep responses prompt and timely, the longer you leave it, the more chance you have of others getting involved and blowing the incident entirely out of proportion. Remember your business is at stake here. Try to locate the staff member involved in the incident, obtain the facts, the chances are that they will have a better grasp of the situation than you. Know when to take the situation off-line, sometimes the review may be of a delicate matter and you could be held liable (food poisoning). Message privately and ask for the phone number, some conversation are best not being recorded.

Take a good look at other restaurants such as El Cellar De Can Rocca,  Midsummer House, Maison Lameloise,  The French Cafe,  and Alinea. These  pages represent the top 5 restaurant profiles on Trip Advisor, they haven’t achieved that position by doing nothing, look and learn from these shining examples of restaurants which are doing it right. Take a good look at your competitors pages, here you can find vital information about what they are doing right and wrong, if they are not listening and acting on the feedback, it could present you with a vital opportunity to solve a problem they face, and win their custom in the process.

Don’t bother trying to write fake reviews from different accounts, Trip Advisor is wise to this, and blocks multiple reviews from the same I.P address. This is by far the quickest way to get blacklisted. Do all of the above correctly and the world is your oyster!

Use a Reservation Widget

If you take Reservations then it has to be one of your top priorities when marketing your restaurant, it’s where leads created from your hard work get converted. Restaurant staff are there to wait on your customers and can’t be expected to enquire about referral source on your behalf, for a start that is just plain rude and secondly there priority should and will always be to deliver an exceptional service. Set up goals in Google Analytics to understand how people arrive to this point, with a few tweaks here and there the change can be quite dramatic.

I have come across a number of restaurants that choose not to take reservations, with some I can completely understand the logic but with other it makes literally no sense at all. If your customer would like to make a reservation then why turn away business, people often expect to make reservations and don’t want to take the chance of having their evening spoiled by being turned away or having to wait for hours. If you don’t take reservations then make sure you have adequate bar space so that waiting is not a chore. The trick is to be aware of your floor and match it to your customers’ needs. I previously worked with a restaurant in Dubai whose tables consisted mostly of x 4 covers, yet they insisted on only taking reservations for covers x 6, only when the deadly Dubai summer kicked in and the demand decreased was I able to convince them to change it from x6 to x4, and the result? revenue increased by 15% This meant that instead of having tables of x4 with an average of 2 customers they now had tables of x4 with an average of 3 and sometimes 4 customers, the customers now had an added incentive to rally up another guest or two on the basis that they could guarantee a reservation.

Always you use a good reservation system, you can find out more about reservation requirements here. It will save time, reduce overheads and effectively manage table wait time and produce a much improved overall experience for your customers. Restaurant reservation is a great tool for collecting customer data, this data can be used in future marketing initiatives, away from the noise and distraction of social media. With the right reservation platform, synced with POS (Point Of Sale), you can also learn about customer patterns, behaviour and preferences, use this data correctly and it will help you to not just meet but expectations but exceed them. You can use a customized widget on your website, share it with your affiliate partners and display on social media channels to drive more leads. Some customers will want to use the phone but try to make it as easy as possible for them to use your reservation system. It will help you to learn so much more about your customer and establish which marketing initiatives have been the most effective.

Never Ignore Your Website

Remember that when using social media people are in the mood to socialise with friends, they are rarely in a mood to purchase or make a reservation unless it is for an event. The web pages on your site are crucial for placing reservations, develop a floating widget so that reservations can be visible from any page. I use reservation widgets on Facebook pages, but don’t expect a high return, I have drawn comparisons many times to see which campaigns have been the most effective and the website always wins and not by a small number, we are talking as much as 0.7% Facebook and 39% website. Of course each case is different but the statistics are huge. This isn’t a one off, I see these figures all the time.

Merge a blog with your website and keep it live and up to date, this is good for your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), search engines love new content. If you are short on time, resources and budget then at least use social media feeds. Make it easy for people to share important news, events or menu items by using compelling images with share buttons. If you have an International brand then have a good think about domain hierarchy, done correctly you can create sub-domains and target audiences in different countries, but don’t be lazy and copy content otherwise you will meet the wrath of Google in full force.

Get a good web designer who really understands hospitality and can quickly identify your needs; it will make your life much easier. I can’t stress the importance of this, there is no point having a website that looks great but can’t do its job. It still amazes me the amount of times I see restaurant websites which haven’t been indexed correctly, absolutely pointless, you may as well not bother having a website at all if no one can find you. I have developed and worked with a number of websites for hospitality that rank high in search engines and blow their competition out of the water. This is something I’m extremely passionate about. Follow the link to know more about web design or contact me to learn more.

Email Marketing is Crucial for Restaurants

You can use email marketing to build up healthy dialogues with your customers, and communicate on a one-to-one basis. This can turn into a powerful marketing tool for your restaurant, and win repeat business. Target by birthday a month in advance, and offer a free meal on the house, customers will appreciate that you have acknowledged their special day. The chances are quite likely that they will end up inviting a group of friends, spend more than usual while celebrating, and all of a sudden your free meal is the best bargain ever, WIN/WIN! What’s more, they will sincerely thank you for the nice touch and return to your restaurant more frequently.

It is of paramount importance that you construct and segment your database correctly from the start; otherwise it will be impossible to do target your customers in this manner. I have lost count of the amount of times I have seen databases consisting of thousands of email addresses, some of which are not even associated with the correct name. Connect your data fields to your mailing API and create automated subscription within your website, reservation platform and social media sign up. I spoke about this subject in a previous article so I will keep this brief, you can learn more about how to do effective email marketing here.

Build Customer Trust at your Restaurant with Mobile Phones

Psychologically, customers tend to attach themselves to a brand much faster when they use a mobile phone than when they are using any other kind of device because information is available to them in the palms of their hands. Holding a brand in your hand is empowering and will help to develop trust much quicker, it is known as psychohaptic or ‘whatever you touch has to be real’. Surveys also indicate that more than 40%/50% of all searches for a restaurant are made through cell phones. There is a strong likelihood that people searching for your restaurant on their mobile phones may actually end up physically at your restaurant in a matter of minutes or hours. Equally, if your mobile website is outdated then it doesn’t say much about your restaurant, it gives the impression that your restaurant is outdated and worse your offering, that’s a catastrophic fail.

Make sure that your website is mobile compatible, if it isn’t google will now penalise you as they have openly stated that none compatible mobile friendly websites will harm search engine rankings. Google offers a service where you can check the performance of your mobile site here. If you fail the test let me know and I will be more than happy to assist.

Develop Strategies that merge the Off-line with On-line

Online orders have a tendency to be bigger than the calls you receive on phones. People tend to achieve a sense of ownership when they control something. This is the reason why touch-screen devices are popular with users. The possibility of interacting with a restaurant menu on a mobile device will give your customers a complete sense of ownership and, hence, control. If your restaurant is in the right sector for online ordering then embrace it, your customers should be able to order the great images which they see.

Explore the idea of having an app and encourage customers to download when they visit by offering an incentive, you can then communicate with them after they have left with feeds from your blog driven direct to their mobile. You can use the app to generate repeat business, implement a loyalty scheme, encourage social sharing, let them complain direct to you instead of everyone else and even create social chat communities where you can connect them with other customers and friends. Have an incentive strategy in place to get them to download the app to their phone, there is no point having an app which nobody is going to use.

If your restaurant is of the more fun variety, encourage customers within your restaurant to engage in on-line activities by offering a reward incentive. Perhaps create an on-going competition with an on-line leader board. Remember the old tactic with the membership card drop, the same principle applies; just it is’s not only the telephone number we are after.

Actively Develop Affiliate Relationships for Your Restaurant

There are many opportunities out there for you to drive your business through affiliate relationships. If recently starting out, the first stage is to know exactly who your target customer is by obvious, research demographics, psychographics and geographics. Once you have established this you then have to identify other companies which have the same target audience but are not in direct competition with your restaurant.

Put yourself in your customers shoes, ask them questions about what they like to do in their free time when not at your establishment. Look at the brands they like to purchase, it could be a clothing brand, art gallery or local community group. The very fact that you have the same target audience creates a WIN/WIN solution for both parties. Speaking from experience, this is the easiest sell ever, it’s so simple to approach and suggest that you promote their business through your social media / newsletter and they in return can promote you. Try to be a bit creative and think about how you can tie more closely together, create an event or networking opportunity and make sure that you are offering something of value in the process which is relevant, fail to do this and prospects will see straight through your campaign and you will have a great opportunity wasted.

The power of Advocacy

I mentioned this earlier at the start of this article but I will mention it again because of its obvious importance: there is no better way to promote your restaurant than to get others to do it for you. The obvious way is to not by posting pretty pictures on Instagram which you hope will generate lots of likes; it is to make certain that you have a happy and satisfied customer. If your customers are happy, they will tell others about this. So how do we do this you might ask? Send them a message to rate the overall experience from 1-5, keep it short and sweet, be transparent and show them that you care. If they rate the experience as bad then contact them immediately and rectify the issue, this will also help prevent a mini crisis and stop them telling everyone else about their bad experience. If they rate the experience as great them provide a link for them to share that experience with everyone else, you could even use a small incentive such as a reward for their next visit.

A good Reservation / Loyalty platform will make your life a lot easier and make this process more automated, you can find out more about this here. Influence your influencers; there are many tools out there which can help you to identify your influencers, utilize these technologies and befriend them, make them feel valued and invite them in to your inner circle. Why try and do all the work yourself when they are others out there that can potentially do a much better job for you.

Keep an eye on Technology

There are many great examples of Restaurants and cafés who have embraced technology and made handsome rewards. The Starbucks loyalty system is a great example of this, the solution wasn’t rocket science, but it was a great idea. They just turned the barcode reader upside down, instead of the retailer using a barcode they empowered the customer, making them read the barcode. April 2015 Starbucks revenue grew by 18 percent to $4.6 billion beating all expectations as profit jumped 16% above the expected 14%. A company record 1.3 million new members enrolled to the loyalty program bringing the total active sign-ups to the whopping figure of 10.3 million. 

“We are now seeing large numbers of last holiday’s first-time gift receivers become loyal, engaged, repeat Starbucks customers, supporting and contributing to the growth we are seeing across our global base,” Schultz said on the company’s earnings. Over $1.1 billion was loaded on Starbucks cards within that same period, for a 19% year-over-year growth. “We know that increased Starbucks cards sales drive increased My Starbucks Rewards membership, and in turn increased traffic and sales in our stores,”Schultz

Starwood Hotels just recently embraced a new technology with Apple and now the Apple Watch. They have shown themselves to be industry thought leaders in the field of technology and I hope to see more great developments from them in this sector. You can read more about that here.

My tip is to keep a close eye on NFC (Near Field Communication) and RTC (Real Time Communication) this is going to blow up huge and will have a major impact on how we communicate in the near future. Don’t be afraid to take a risk with a new technology, try something different and make it one of your unique differentiators, not only will you be a step ahead of your competitors, you could also win new loyal customers in the process.

Know your marketing ROI (Return On Investment)

Quite simply put, if you don’t know your marketing ROI then you may as well not bother trying at all. Pay Attention to Retention, 15% of your customers are responsible for 55 to 70% of you restaurants total sales. It is 6 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain the customer you already have. Learn about the 3 methods of customer retention: Raw Customer Retention, Sales Adjusted Retention Rate and Profit Adjusted Retention Range. While you want to retain your best customers it is not profitable to retain them all, some of them might well be too expensive to serve, so be ruthless and drop from future marketing initiatives. Your marketing ROI will reveal which marketing initiatives are working for you and which ones aren’t, you can then analyse, reflect and refine accordingly.

Before you even bother to embark on any of the above ask yourself this, how can I quantify my marketing efforts with sales? Always put your prospect / customer at the centre of your marketing strategy, then figure out how best you can follow the cycle, from  reservation > purchase > retention, once you have this sussed you will be able to sum up your marketing campaigns in one sentence. I invested £….. in the ….. campaign and the return was £………..!! Trust me, the CEO, Client or Investor doesn’t want to hear all the analytics jargon and circulation BS, (that’s called excuses for not knowing how to do the job) all they want to know is how much money you have made them and how you arrived at that figure. Do this successfully and start negotiating for a bigger cheque, that’s the easy part!! If you still feel confused then read up on The Customer Life Cycle which I will be continuously updating.

Well that’s all from me folks; I have a job to do..! If you want to ask a question or a point which I may have missed out, feel free to start a discussion using the comments box below. I would love to hear more about your views on the future direction of technology in Hospitality? If you want to know more, send me a message or use the comment box below. I love to share what I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you found this information valuable, and if so, please share with others too!

About the Author

Freddie Frampton

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A progressive and operational, British National, strategist and trusted consultant with a rich mix of Business Development & Marketing experience spanning over 20 years of international work experience (Middle East and Europe) as a leading business professional in the hospitality industry.

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