How To Market Your Restaurant Online
How To Market Your Restaurant Online
Much has been written and there are far too many experts who claim to have the magic bullet for how to market your restaurant online — and offline for that matter. One thing we can all agree on is that the competition for restaurant customers is brutal and successful marketing requires an all-out committed effort and the stamina to grind it out.
There are a few things fundamental to a restaurant website and online marketing that resonate more than others, but we’ll go a level deeper here to look at some of the key online strategies that will make you stand out in a very crowded field.
One additional point here: I assume you already have a website of your own. Facebook should not serve as your primary landing page online. There’s a multitude of reasons why — not the least of which is Facebook only cares about Facebook. Never give up control of your most coveted online asset. Facebook is a facet of your online strategy, not the whole enchilada.
Acquiring a minimal but functional website with solid SEO and the ability to engage your customers is not overly expensive and it should be at the top of your budget if you haven’t already made the investment. Let’s get started.
Photos for the Foodies
It can’t be overstated that beautiful photos of food sell. Photos that your patrons share and tag on Facebook don’t count (although they don’t hurt). No, this is well-planned and executed, professional photography with staged plating and sumptuous portions. If you want to give it a go yourself, be warned that it’s not as easy as it looks. Lighting is key. The newest smartphones even have modes that will make the DIY process a little more forgiving, but we suggest taking a look at this article from Gizmodo for some extra help.
Consumers like to be prepared more now than ever, so they will seek out your restaurant before arriving to make sure there is something palette-pleasing they can eat. Don’t make them work to find your menu! Publish an easy-to-read menu that is accurate and includes any relevant specials — not this. I also suggest you should not rely on a third-party site to do this (i.e. Zmenu, or even Yelp). A great-looking menu should be a centerpiece of your website. If you want extra credit, publish it on other sites too, but only if you keep it accurate and up-to-date (not from six months ago, but up-to-the-day).
If you don’t have a menu that is prominent on your website and easy to read, most of your other restaurant marketing strategies here are basically useless! Customers need and want to have access to an online menu, otherwise, they’ll just look elsewhere.
We eat with our eyes, so photos are huge, but our brain usually kicks in at some point during the decision-making process and wants to know what others think about the food and service. Here are some reviews do’s and don’ts to consider when it comes to managing your reviews.
- It’s OK to ask for a review. Whether you ask in person or reach out to your tribe through email or social media, asking is acceptable. There are some guidelines you can follow here, but being authentic is the best approach.
- Good reviews are worth their weight in gold. It’s OK to say thanks to a good review, but whatever you do, do it consistently. If your business is blowing up (in a good way), it may be hard to keep up with personal thanks to every review, which believe it or not will leave those you don’t respond to wondering why.
- Bad reviews happen. Whether you are a pedestrian restaurant serving decent fare or a 5-star boutique hosting dignitaries, you will get bad reviews. If you believe the bad review is unwarranted, appealing it is difficult at best. If you are a restaurant operator you already know that you will simply not please everyone.
- Responding to bad reviews. This is the trickiest part of the online review game. Sound advice would be to let it go. However, if your reviews are typically strong (> 4.5), you may be compelled to respond. Do not blame, reprimand, or otherwise demean the reviewer. If they have gone to any length to explain why the review is bad, learn from it and apologize. “I’m so sorry you had a bad experience and I assure you that we go to great lengths to make sure all of our customers are completely satisfied. If we didn’t already make it right, we hope that you will allow us to do so on your next visit.” Do not go any further than this and certainly do not get into a dialogue in the review thread. There is no upside here.
- The bottom line on reviews is this. Reviews are essential if you serve consumers. You don’t have to protect and defend your 5-star rating with your life because you will eventually meet your detractor. If you choose to wade in with a comment, beware of the downside because there are people out there who do this for the attention, the fun of it, or just to see if they can get a reaction. It rarely pays to feed a troll.
Set Up Your Google My Business Account
Don’t read any further until you have taken this step. When you search a business within Google, Google’s Knowledge Graph provides the business’s details, usually in a nice box at the top of the search results page (or SERP). Google’s Knowledge Graph used to pull data from Google+ but now they require you to claim your My Business page. It is possible that you already see a box like this when you search your business name. Just make sure that you own the data in it.
To claim your page start here. You will navigate through some basic questions about the business, location, contact info, etc. Most importantly, Google will send you a postcard through the mail (yes an actual postcard) with a verification code. This is the only way they can determine you are you and that the business does exist at the noted address. Best of all, this is a free service! It gets you noted on Google search as well as Google Maps and adds immediate legitimacy to your business.
Set Up Your Yelp Account
Yelp provides this as a freebie but they will bug you to buy a premium listing. Shoo them away. In most cases, the free listing is just fine if you are doing the other things right. Go to the Yelp Business Listing site and claim your business page. It’s a pretty straightforward setup and well worth the effort.
For most restaurants, local is the only target market that is important (with the exception of some tourist destinations). Most people are looking for good restaurants close to home or hotel, and you’ll get far more value from your online marketing efforts by spending on location-targeted ads.
Location-targeting saves you money by ensuring that only users in a specific locale or within a given radius see your ads. This eliminates non-relevant click-throughs, which in turn saves you money.
Most of the big online ad services like Google Ads, Facebook, and even Twitter, offer location-targeting options at no additional cost. Take advantage of this to make sure your ads are getting in front of the right consumers in the right location.
Offer Something Exclusive Online
Want to pull more traffic to your website? Offer something exclusive that can only be redeemed by visiting a special landing page. Make sure the landing page has a call-to-action and that you are capturing the visitors’ email address (at the very least). This is really a no-brainer and will take you leaps and bounds in your outbound marketing efforts.
Do you have an email list? Yes would be the correct answer, so if you do not, get to work. Believe it or not, email still works. Your loyal tribe likes to know what’s going on and there isn’t any better way to get them to engage on your website than to draw them there with a regular outbound communication.
Your restaurant newsletter doesn’t have to be a weekly ordeal – in fact, customers will probably appreciate a less is more approach unless you provide a list of weekly or daily specials, hold special events, cooking classes, or anything else that requires more frequent communication.
You can use your email newsletter to celebrate your successes, discuss menu items, announce new employees, or share coupons and discounts.
Promote User-Generated Content
User-generated content (content that your customers create) is a great way to develop personal engagement. Contests work great here. Ask your customers to share their favorite experience at your restaurant. Promote these on a website landing page and across your social media sites. Don’t forget to reward the winner with something of value, like a free meal or dessert. A 20% off coupon is not recommended here.
Promoting user-generated content tells customers you appreciate them, and it will convert many casual patrons into die-hard loyalists.
Promote Your Staff
Well, maybe not in the way you think. Make them visible on your website. After all, these are the people who are in the trenches and most likely the smiling faces your customers see day in and day out. Showing off your employees also provides major reputation points — happy workers say a lot about a business, and fans are sure to take notice. Plus, your employees will appreciate the fact you care enough to show them off. Surely a win-win.
Monitor Your Social Media Accounts
Social media marketing is a cornerstone of any good online marketing strategy. Mailing coupons in Val-Pak just doesn’t get it done anymore. It’s a proven fact, restaurants with a strong social media presence fare best, and in the competitive food industry, ignoring social media is a death sentence, to put it bluntly.
You’ll want to create a Facebook Business Page and an Instagram account to share discounts, special coupons, photos of your food and establishment, and general promotion. Setting this up is the easy part. It is essential to monitor activity, keep content fresh, and mind the trolls.
Some tasks can be automated and there are some great tools out there you can get for free:
- HootSuite is a dashboard for keeping watch over all your social media sites. You can create custom streams, schedule posts, and more.
- Buffer is a great scheduling tool to share articles across your networks. This means you can set up many posts to drip out at scheduling intervals so you don’t have to do it in real-time.
- Staying active and posting valuable content that your customers relate to is key to social media success.
This sums up the thought on restaurant online marketing ideas. There is an infinite number of possibilities and combinations to consider, but a few basic but thoughtful moves in the right direction will work wonders to get you further down the road than you already are.
You can always reach out to us here at Delegal Digital and we would be delighted to share some additional ideas or provide an assessment of your current strategy. Cheers!