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Ultimate Restaurant Marketing Guide

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restaurants-owner(Special thanks to Misty Young for suggesting several improvements to the article, including adding the menu section.)

Do you make the meanest meatballs this side of Italy? Are your waffles to die for? Can your fried chicken go to war against a certain colonel, and win?

For many restaurant owners, the hardest part isn’t cooking, it’s marketing. You already know what you’re doing in the kitchen, but the prospect of marketing and advertising can seem downright scary.

Let’s start off with this declaration: if you can successfully run a restaurant, with all its moving parts, you can definitely run a successful marketing campaign. All you need is the right tools, and that’s what we’re here for. We’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide to restaurant marketing.

Whether your restaurant is fast food or fine dining, you can definitely increase sales and awareness through easy marketing. And it won’t cost an arm and a leg, either! Some of the strategies in this guide are free, and some of them require financial consideration, but all of them are proven to work. And even more good news? You can start right away. Ready? Let’s go:

The single most important restaurant marketing tool you have is your menu.

Most independent restaurant operators don’t know the easy techniques to make the most money from their menu. Guests in your restaurant are there to buy, not browse. Make it easy for them to spend their money, have a great experience and be profitable for you at the same time.

Five menu power tips:

  1. No leader dots………………………………………………………………… to prices. Leader dots make your guest treat your menu like a price list. They’ll immediately be focused on price and select as such.
  2. No $ signs. Doesn’t this: $ make you think of money? Don’t make your guests think of money. Your price should say 13.99 instead of $13.99.
  3. Descriptions sell: “Our large, delicious omelettes are prepared with four farm fresh eggs, whipped to fluffy perfection then folded with locally sourced freshly prepared vegetables, hand-sliced meats and hand grated cheeses.” This is far better than, “Four eggs, vegetables, meat and cheese.”
  4. The upper right hand corner is the single most valuable piece of real estate on your menu. Research shows this is the first place a guest’s eyes go. Use the top right corner wisely to highlight and feature your highest profit items.
  5. In addition to great descriptions, pictures are critical to your success. Full color, excellent food photography makes items fly off your menu. Choose your most profitable or highest dollar contributors to feature with food close ups!

Secondly, you must build a house list.

A database. This is non negotiable in today’s information society. You’ve already got guests coming in your door, you want to get a second date, a third date, your goal is to establish a long term relationship. Getting your existing guests to opt-in to your program is critical.

You want to be in that Top of Mind Awareness category when a guest is considering where to go eat. You get there by communicating with them continuously via postcards in the mail, newsletters, email, text messages and rewarding their loyalty by offering them valuable promotions, exclusive offers and benefits for joining your club, VIP program, house list.

Four Walls Restaurant Marketing

What is your marketing strategy inside your restaurant? Successful operators use their walls, table tops, table tents, menu inserts, bathroom stalls, messaging on guest receipts and other tactics to communicate with guests while they are in your house. Every campaign you conduct can have an in-house component.

Finally, before you invest your human energy or money on the important tools below consider this:

Training is the ultimate fulfillment of your marketing promise.

Your hosts, servers, bussers, prep and line cooks, chefs, even the dishwashers must know what your brand is about and why guest service and an excellent experience count. They must know what to say, how to say it, when to say it. They must know how to treat each guest with the utmost respect and courtesy and with the right attitude/approach for your brand.

You must clearly demonstrate to your employees, your commitment to the guest experience and hold them accountable to do the same. Investing in marketing without backing it up at the table is like leaping from a plane without a parachute. Don’t go there.

When you’re confident with your training and your product, go here:

Build Your Restaurant’s Website

Every local business needs a website, currently, 50% of all small businesses still don’t have a website! Don’t allow third party review sites to be the authority on your restaurant. When you create your own website, it will become the hub of your online presence. While you may interact mostly on Facebook, your website serves as a library of information, the base of your online footprint.

Be sure to include at or near the top of your page, your:

  • Physical address(es) with Google map
  • Hours
  • Menu
  • Your phone number

You’re busy, hire a professional. If you can’t afford to do that now, at the very least get a very basic couple pages up. There are many do-it-yourself website builders that make the process so quick and easy. We recommend Weebly.com. You can read why here and get our free guide to setting up your site with Weebly here.

Get Social Reviews Under Control

Approximately 90% of customers are influenced by online reviews.

You need to be listed in the major restaurant review sites, you also need to be represented in the most positive light possible.

Here are the top four review sites to focus on:

How do you handle negative reviews?

Respond. Quickly. Don’t let it fester.

If a customer posts a negative review, it’s not the end of the world. That’s why it’s so important to keep an alert presence on the most popular review sites. Whenever someone posts a comment, good or bad, you can follow up with an attentive response. Oftentimes, a quick and meaningful response will diffuse anger and totally transform the situation.

We did a thorough guide to online reviews. Be sure to check it out so that you’re prepared for reviews.

Go Social: Meet your guests where they are

For restaurants, social media is a necessary platform. A lot of restaurants know that social media is important, but don’t know where to start. So, here’s the answer: Facebook.

Facebook is the reigning champ of social media. Approximately 70% of people on Facebook use it to connect with local businesses. We’ve talked about how Facebook stacks up to the other social media platforms before here. In a nutshell, Facebook allows you to connect with your customers in a meaningful way. Whether you’re alerting them to upcoming events, sharing pictures of previous events, collecting online orders, or giving away coupons, Facebook is a one-stop shop.

Setting up a Facebook page for your business is really simple. Aaron Allen created an easy-to-follow slideshare to get you started on Facebook for business. We also have a wealth of information on the topic here.

Get Press For Your Restaurant

Getting the media to notice your restaurant may seem difficult, but not if you follow this rule: Always have the reporter and the audience’s goals in mind. Develop the relationship with your food reporter before you need a story, then tell a meaningful story when you do.

Opening a restaurant may not be news, but giving away one year of free pizza to the lucky raffle winner at your grand opening may be.

We’ve laid out a great guide on how to do that here, and we also share 25 ways to get press for your business here.

Take Out and Delivery Advertisement

Dominos is great at branding. They brand their pizza boxes, the drivers’ cars, their t-shirts, their visors. When it comes to marketing, think like Dominos.

If you run a takeout business, invest in a uniform or t-shirt that displays the name of your restaurant. Spring for car stickers to further advertise your restaurant (make “you’re busted” tickets to put on windshields of cars you find with your sticker on them! Give a $5 promo for sporting your sticker!). Make sure that you include a menu and a bounce back offer with every take out order. If you’re delivering to an apartment building, have your delivery person leave a few menus hanging on the doors. Post take out menus on bulletin boards in markets, laundromats and other public places.

Answer These Questions

What exactly do you want to advertise and why? Of course, the big picture is your restaurant, but it’s important to be specific about it. Chipotle doesn’t just advertise food, it advertises Mexican cuisine with a fresh, sustainable attitude. Likewise, McDonald’s doesn’t simply advertise food, it advertises fun, fast, familiar food. So, what is your angle?

Answer this question to figure it out:

Who is your target market and what are they interested in?

Always have one, ideal customer in mind when you answer this question.

Don’t Overlook Sporting Events

Whether it’s the Super Bowl or the U.S. Open, if it’s a sporting event, there’s likely to be a crowd of people who want to watch it together. If applicable, open your restaurant or bar to the crowd. Start spreading the word well ahead of time on Facebook and with posters or flyers in your restaurant. Be sure to incentivize it with special one-time deals, like .50¢ wings or $2 beers.

In marketing your restaurant, you can also host an offline event, such as a grand opening (we wrote a guide here). Additionally, be present at all sorts of networking events so that you can promote your restaurant. But, does the idea of networking send shivers down your spine? Take a look at this guidewhere we lay out how to network without panicking.

In Closing

Remember the importance of your menu. It’s your number one most strategic marketing tool. Don’t waste one more guest visit without having a database building system in place. Train your associates to deliver an excellent guest experience. We hope this guide gives you the boost you need to start marketing your restaurant. See– it’s not so scary after all.

Which one of this tips will you use today to strengthen your restaurant marketing?

(Thanks again to Misty Young for her help with this article. Misty Young, known as The Restaurant Lady, owns her own 5 unit restaurant company and is now franchising as well. She is a John Maxwell certified restaurant coach, speaker, and trainer who helps independent restaurateurs become more profitable and efficient. Misty discovered and perfected The Five Irrefutable Laws of Restaurant Success, which are the centerpiece of her best selling hospitality book, From Rags To Restaurants: The Secret Recipe To Success. Find more information about Misty on www.mistyyoung.com.)

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