You built a restaurant to share your grandmother’s fried chicken with the world or because the lunch crowd downtown couldn’t find a decent bowl of soup. Now that the doors are open, you have to figure out how to fill seats every day.
You need a restaurant marketing plan, but you might not know where to start because your other daily responsibilities don’t magically disappear.
Good news. You don’t have to have a massive amount of money or a wacky commercial to stand out from the crowd. You only need to authentically highlight what makes your restaurant unique.
The most successful restaurant marketing plan is the one that fits your time and budget.
We put together a six-step guide to help you find your restaurant’s voice and audience. Learn about each step below and how you can discover new restaurant marketing ideas.
1. Consider hiring a professional marketer right from the start
Here’s where having a restaurant business plan comes in handy. Your budget might not be big enough to hire a full-time marketing team, but that doesn’t mean you have to develop a restaurant marketing plan on your own.
Use your network to find a marketer. Ask them to develop the structure for a business marketing plan: balancing your efforts on social media, email offers and in-person promotions.
Then, either you or a trusted team member can execute the steps of the plan over a period of months.
This will help you learn how to examine the financial return of different marketing efforts and provide a potential growth opportunity for an employee.
2. Entice your customers through your menu
Don’t know what to kickstart your marketing efforts? Look at your menu. It’s a shorthand for your restaurant’s identity.
The dishes you choose to serve — like a recipe passed down for generations — will tell your story, but only if customers can find your menu.
A simple and cost-effective first step in restaurant marketing is to make sure your menu is readily available and easy to read on your website.
A survey from MGH, a restaurant marketing firm, found that 77% of people visited a restaurant’s website before stepping inside the door.
Build anticipation with mouth-watering descriptions and clearly mark potential allergens to make it easier for diners to pick your restaurant.
Take the same care with how you present your menu in the dining room. The trend of digital menus isn’t going anywhere.
3. Share your food digitally to build your audience
Diners eat first with their eyes.
Showcase your menu by investing your time (and budget, if it’s available) in appetizing pictures and videos. With the right lighting and a smartphone, you can take dynamic food photos to share on social media sites like Instagram or Facebook.
Likewise, a quick video tutorial about how you make a dish can help you catch the eye of would-be diners on video-sharing sites like TikTok or YouTube.
Consider that 65% of TikTok users (there are more than 1 billion now!) ordered from a restaurant after seeing a video on that platform, according to a recent survey. And TikTok users regularly document what they’re eating, which could lead to a chain reaction of more videos and potential customers for your restaurant.
Take note: This step is where you begin to learn about your audience. Try highlighting different menu items on different platforms. See what resonates. Pay attention to what’s shared and what brings people to your restaurant.
4. Learn what guests love about your restaurant
Once people start showing up, do a little research to see what diners are ordering. Look at your restaurant point-of-sale (POS) system to understand the most popular dish. That dish should be the new star of your restaurant marketing campaign.
Bands play the hits when they go on tour. Go ahead. Take that favorite dish on the road.
Reach out to local television stations and offer to do a cooking demonstration on a morning show. Look for the producer’s name in the credits and send them an email. Or, instead of traditional media, partner with a creator or online influencer to share the secret behind your chicken tenders.
A signature dish can define a restaurant. It can build your reputation in a city. Think of the French fries on sandwiches at Primanti Bros. A signature dish is a conversation starter, a singular reason people have to dine at your restaurant.
5. Reward diners for visiting your restaurant
While it’s important to bring new folks in the door, take the time to get to know your fans. Find your regulars — the lifeblood of every restaurant — and reward them for spending money at your restaurant.
Develop a loyalty program (incentives for dining more often or on certain days) that ties into your POS system. Square, the payment processing platform, found that 90% of restaurateurs plan on using customer engagement practices.
Send guests email coupons in a text or tease new dishes in an email newsletter. Think of it as an extension of hospitality, especially if your business has been shifting away from in-person dining to pick-up or delivery.
Loyalty programs strengthen connections with your customers and encourage them to come back. A study by Waze, the navigation software company owned by Uber, showed that 40% of customers “feel a loyalty program would encourage them to spend more on food orders.”
6. Use what you learn about your customers to refresh your menu
Small, independent restaurants can still use sophisticated marketing techniques. The final step in your restaurant marketing plan is to listen to what diners are telling you and apply it to your menu.
If items aren’t selling, take them off your menu. While the trend of trimming menus can help you navigate potential supply chain issues or make it easier when you’re understaffed, it also allows you to refresh your menu. This gives you something you can share with new and existing customers.
If delivery is a big part of your business, you may also want to consider exploring customized menus for customers. Remember the idea that diners were more likely to order something if it was in the top right of a paper menu? Here, in a new form of menu engineering, you’re using data about customer preferences to create personalized menus and drive sales.
NEXT makes restaurant insurance easy, so you can focus on marketing
While you’re busy telling the story of your restaurant, you don’t want any surprises in your business. At NEXT, we offer custom restaurant insurance packages that align with your journey.
Got questions? Our team of licensed, U.S.-based insurance professionals are ready to answer them.