Drive Traffic and Gain Loyal Customers with These Easy Restaurant Marketing Tips
by Jillian Straw
Your restaurant is undoubtedly the best in your town. You spent years of R&D on your menu and know no one else in the local area offers the same type—or quality—of cuisine. The problem? Your seats are empty, your phones aren’t ringing, and all that food you worked so hard to create is going to waste at the end of every service.
We know you already have a million and one things to do when you run a restaurant. But if marketing isn’t on that list, it just grew to a million and two. To be blunt, if no one knows your restaurant exists, you won’t be able to keep the doors open. Marketing is a necessity in order to drive traffic to your business and find loyal clientele.
There are almost infinite ways you could market your restaurant. So to give you a clear starting point, we’re offering basic suggestions for amateur marketers that are easy to implement and cost little to nothing. Let’s get started!
Manage your Google Business profile
When you want to find information in the modern age, what do you do? Search for it online. You might even refer to that as “Googling it.” Of course, Google isn’t the only online search engine, but is the most ubiquitous. It’s estimated that the site processes 5.6 billion searches per day.
Google’s unparalleled popularity opens a fantastic free marketing opportunity for you. Its My Business feature allows you access to a business profile page that will appear in the right hand module of a search results page when people specifically seek you out. You’re able to provide your address, contact information, and even photos to an audience, without needing to have a specific website.
Google Business listings also offer an opportunity for customers to review your restaurant. When you have access to your business profile, you can directly respond to these reviews: whether it’s to give thanks for glowing feedback or push back on particular comments, searchers will be happy to see you’re engaged with all clientele.
To get started on Google Business, follow these directions. And be sure to add your business to Google Maps as well so even more people can find you!
Engage on social media platforms
Engagement is the name of the game everywhere on the internet. Think about Buzzfeed headlines: they’re usually sensationalist to encourage more people to click on them. You have to engage audiences not only on your Google Business profile, but anywhere you might have a digital presence, to drive interest in your brand.
It’s not enough to just sign up for Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. For social media to be worth the time investment, you and your team need to be active users on the platforms you decide to be part of and determine a simple yet smart strategy on how you’ll engage audiences there.
Here’s a short guide to determine your social media strategy:
1. Pick your platforms
Though it might seem wise to create a profile for every social media platform possible, consider the time investment you’d need to make to actively engage audiences on each of those platforms. You’d have a full-time job!
The sweet spot in picking your platforms is in the overlap between the sites you’re already familiar with and the sites where your audience is most likely to be found. For example, if you have a bubble tea cafe, you likely have a younger clientele that would be found on TikTok. You could enlist an employee to help shoot and edit video as part of their job duties.
2. Use original and user-generated content
It should come as no surprise that you and your team will actually need to create content in order to engage on social media. Whether it’s a simple text post on Facebook or an elaborate cooking demo for YouTube, your team should know exactly who is responsible to do what and when the content should be posted.
But it’s not just your team that will be creating content on behalf of your restaurant. User-generated content (UGC) occurs when your customers take photos or videos of their experiences and upload to their own social media accounts. If they tag your business in the content, you have a perfect opportunity to ask the customer for permission to repost it on your own profile.
It’s a win-win: your team spends less time on content creation, and you’re engaging with a customer who has already shown themselves to be a fan of your business.
3. Read and respond to your followers
Don’t just post content and ignore everything else on the platform. It’s likely you’re going to get comments and messages from existing and potential customers about your content, your food, or even your hours.
As frustrating as this barrage of inquiry may be, you aren’t engaging if you aren’t responding. So be sure to review all those notifications and send messages back to the people who have taken the time to reach out. Even a simple “Thank you!” can go a long way in letting people know you’re active on the platform and acknowledging their contribution.
Social media engagement will help you grow your following, which means more eyes on your restaurant—and ultimately more people to come through your doors.
Reward loyalty in real life
With more people engaged online, it’s time to really secure your relationships with them as loyal customers when they come through the door. For starters, you could offer a small discount or free item as a token of appreciation for any customer who can show you they’re a social media follower.
The ultimate goal is to get your customers to return again and again, so be sure to give them incentive to do just that. Start with the bare minimum: delicious food, impeccable service, and spotless surfaces. Then add an extra bonus that will cause customers to prioritize returning to your establishment above others.
For a cafe, this could be a physical punch card where customers can track the number of drinks purchased. After a certain number of punches, they could redeem their card for a free drink. For a farm-to-table restaurant, you might just want to send out an extra appetizer or dessert—a great way to get rid of extra food while delighting your customer.
To encourage additional traffic, consider a discount card for existing customers to offer to their friends and family as a referral. If you have some regulars, put their name on some cards and ask them to distribute it to their friends and family. When cards are redeemed, you’ll have an easy point of conversation with the new customers, and also be able to thank the referral directly.
The more referrals you get, the more difficult they’ll be to track. So once you feel comfortable with your new marketing baseline, consider digital loyalty programs that can take your customer relationships to the next level.
Make marketing a business priority
No matter how inexperienced in marketing you may be, this beginner’s guide should give you a solid foundation to get started in driving more customers through your doors and developing long-term relationships with them. After all, the biggest mistake you make in marketing is to not market at all.
Jillian Straw writes for Plate IQ, covering technology in the hospitality industry from a background in restaurants and operations management.
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