Welcome to 2020, where nearly everyone jumps on the internet to look for new and exciting places to visit. Restaurants are no different. Your audience is already online, browsing different restaurant menus, making reservations and writing thoughtful reviews.

It’s true that advertising a restaurant in today’s digital environment is a tricky and challenging job. Most restaurant owners and managers are looking for creative ideas to market and draw in new customers, then keep them returning week after week.

You’re no different.

 

It’s All About Who You’re Looking to Bring In

Before you can effectively advertise your restaurant, you need to have a good understanding of who your audience is. Are you looking to bring in families with children, hip millennials or an older generation of diners?

Figuring out who you’re trying to reach is the first critical step you have to take before you can start an effective marketing campaign. It’s impossible to build an advertising strategy without clearly defining your target audience. The more you’re able to narrow down your target market, the simpler it’ll be to create ads, content and social media campaigns.

Let’s look at an example. Chipotle recently ran a campaign targeted toward millennial diners. They figured out that millennials are constantly coming up with new pronunciations of words, so they played off of that trend. The ad is humorous and relatable to millennials. It focuses on the idea that no matter how millennials choose to pronounce the name of the brand, their food is still the best option in town.

By using generationally-relatable jargon, you can also help your restaurant better align with the customers you seek, while increasing overall awareness of your brand. You can rest assured that the next time a millennial is hungry for a burrito, the Chipotle ad will be at the forefront of their mind.

 

How to Advertise Your Restaurant When You Don’t Have a Clue Where to Start

You might be sitting there thinking, “Good for Chipotle. But I don’t have anywhere near the marketing budget they have. And I can’t afford a marketing team.” If you feel that way, you’re definitely not alone.

That’s why we’re going to look at how to market your restaurant on your own, from the ground up. These strategies won’t require a million-dollar budget or a team of marketing experts.

But rest assured that they work.

 

1. Social Media Contests and Challenges Create a Buzz

Have you ever known someone that doesn’t love winning free things? As long as there are no strings attached, people jump at the chance to win something for free on social media. This makes social media contests and challenges an exceptional way to promote the branding of your restaurant.

Think of creative contest ideas that are relatable to your target audience. Then, in the contest, request that all entrants tag the person they would like to dine with. This strategy helps your social media page earn more followers, increases the visibility of your brand and causes more patrons to visit your establishment.

Even better, if the contest winner is new to your restaurant, they’ll get a chance to try you out without risk. After their dining experience is complete, ask them to leave a review for you on your social media page and on Google.

 

2. #Hashtagswork

Don’t ignore the power of #hashtags in your restaurant marketing. They are definitely not a waste of time. In fact, the truth is actually quite the opposite. Hashtags are a very effective marketing tool that increases consumer engagement on your social media profiles, builds awareness of your brand and gets customers coming through your doors.

Without building awareness of your brand within your market, it’s impossible to find long-term success. When a consumer sees your restaurant name and logo, you want them to know immediately:

  • What kind of food you’re famous for
  • Where you’re located
  • What your restaurant stands for

When you use a hashtag (such as your restaurant name) consistently, your followers will be encouraged to do the same. This practice increases the engagement you get online and helps build a larger community of diners.

After your chosen hashtag starts to gain more traction and popularity, you’ll notice how much your customer base is growing and how many new customers that follow you online start walking through your doors.

Remember that it’s very important to use very niche hashtags in conjunction with more widely-used, popular hashtags. If you’re only using hashtags that have been used millions of times, your posts will likely get lost in the vastness of the internet. Always be sure to use hashtags that are local to your area so that your posts show up for the people who live near you.

Also, be careful about the number of hashtags you use on each post. Try to keep your hashtagging to around five for each post. Too many hashtags decrease user engagement, while too few are not effective.

 

3. Your Customers Can Market for You

How familiar are you with user-generated content? If you haven’t dug into it, you’re missing out on a marketing strategy that makes marketing a new restaurant much easier. When you use content that your social media followers post to their pages, you have an immediate marketing message that didn’t cost you any time or money.

Did you know that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people over content that’s branded? Generally speaking, consumers are turned off by salesy marketing content that’s put out by brands. They trust other average people a lot more.

This makes user-generated content about your brand a very powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal.

Have you noticed how many people on social media love to take pictures of their food and post it online (#foodblog)? As the owner of a restaurant, you’ll probably get a lot of people doing this while they dine with you. Have them hashtag or tag your restaurant when they post pictures of the food you serve, and you’ve just earned a completely free and effective marketing campaign.

Content that’s generated by users is normally a strong indication that a brand is reliable and trustworthy. When consumers promote your restaurant brand, it’s the same (or better) as when they leave a great online review. When you use content from your customers, it helps your brand connect with consumers on a human level. It’s very authentic.

Let’s look at how Starbucks, in 2014, used this idea along with hashtagging and contests, to create a brand new design for a limited-edition coffee cup.

Starbucks made the decision that rather than spending time and money on design, they wanted to turn to their customer base to create one. The requested that their customers submit pictures of their cup ideas, and include #whitecupcontest as a hashtag. The winner of the contest would be given $300 and have their cup design featured for this limited-edition run.

See how they combined a social media contest with an effective hashtag and user-generated content? How can you implement an idea like this that will get your customer base excited?

 

4. Local SEO Doesn’t Have to Be so Difficult

If you only choose one lesson to learn about how to market a new restaurant, make sure this is the one you choose.

It can’t be stressed enough: for restaurants, effective local SEO is absolutely critical. If your restaurant doesn’t show consumers search for restaurants in their area, you won’t bring in a lot of new business.

Set a tangible goal to rank in the top three on Google Map results when a user searches specific keywords such as “best Italian food.” By ranking in the top three of search results, you’ll receive a lot more foot traffic simply because you’re one of the very first results people see.

Here are some ways you can increase your chances of showing up in the top three of Google search results in your local area:

Get a lot of positive reviews. Good reviews help create a level of trust with the customers you want to bring in. Encourage your current customers to leave reviews for you on Google, Facebook and Yelp. Of course, negative reviews will also be a part of the process. Make sure you stay on top of your reviews and respond to every single one of them. If a customer had a bad experience, you want to make sure you address it publicly in their review.

To help keep up-to-date with the reviews customers leave for your restaurant, set up a Google Alert so that you’re notified every time a review is posted or your restaurant is mentioned anywhere online. Remember to address any negative comments in a friendly and professional manner.

Local listings and Google My Business. Your restaurant’s Google My Business will show consumers your address, contact info, restaurant photos and reviews, and the hours you’re open. Make sure your business is in the local listings. Then claim it on Foursquare, Yelp and other review sites. This practice helps ensure that you appear in local search results.

Consistency is key. As a restaurant owner, you know how important it is to stay consistent with your food offerings and overall dining experience. The same holds true with your business name, phone number and location address. It needs to be consistent across all online platforms. This includes all social media platforms you have accounts on, and any other online listing in which your restaurant shows up. Even the slightest inconsistency (such as St. instead of Street) can confuse search engine results.

Keep your brand’s website updated. When’s the last time you checked to make sure that every single detail on your website is 100% up-to-date and accurate? Doing so will keep search engines and customers happy. Search engines like Google are always crawling websites across the internet to ensure that they are currently active and still relevant. If you haven’t updated your website in months (or years!), you’re giving search engines a strong reason to lower you in search results.

When it comes to consumers, it’s incredibly important to keep your website updated so that it reflects the menu you currently offer and the hours you’re open. If a hungry customer shows up to your location and you’re closed because your website gave them the wrong hours, you’ve lost a customer and helped ruin their day.

 

5. How Good Is Your Website?

When you feature a professional restaurant website, it allows customers to begin their dining experience with you before they even walk through the doors. Your website needs to convey the atmosphere they’ll experience when they show up, as well as the drinks you feature and your most delicious menu items.

Is your website mobile-friendly? If not, it definitely needs to be. When a potential diner is hungry and looking for a place to go eat, there’s little chance they jump on their computer to look up restaurants. Instead, they begin their search on their smartphone.

 

6. Boosting Posts and Creating Sponsored Advertisements

Beyond just posting on your social media accounts, it’s important that you create paid advertising messages and pay to boost your social media posts.

Social media platforms such as Facebook have truly turned into pay-to-play websites. While some followers will see your non-paid posts, you’ll need to pay for boosted posts in order to really get your brand’s message out.

Keep in mind that when you decide to pay for these advertisements or boosted posts, you’ll have direct access to helpful analytics that allow you to grow your traffic even more.

Advertising on social media is one of the least expensive and most effective forms of advertising in today’s consumer market. In fact, the budget you’ll need for social media advertising won’t be anywhere what you might spend on newspaper ads, billboards or television and radio.

Social media advertising allows restaurant owners to make a big impact with only a few hundred dollars.

 

7. Build a High-Performing Loyalty Program

To get customers into your loyalty program, start obtaining their email addresses. This can easily be done on your website or through a social media campaign. A loyalty program encourages your customers to continue returning to your restaurant in order to earn that free meal or coupon.

Use personal terms like “inner circle” or $20 off your next meal, just for you” to make loyalty members feel like they’re part of a highly exclusive club. Send out regular email campaigns with offers at times when people are hungry, and they’ll show up at your location.

 

8. Become a Blogger

This might sound like the last way you want to spend your time as a restaurant owner. But it really helps people find your restaurant online. And it’s great for local SEO.

If you’re not much of a writer or struggle to figure out what to write about, share different stories about the restaurant. Give simple cooking tips and tricks, or share recipes that readers will enjoy.

As an example, create a post telling people how they can make one of your famous recipes right at home. But at the end, make it clear that it’s hard to beat your chef’s special touch. And do they really want to do all the work on their own anyway?

When you blog, target local consumers. Talk about local events that you’ve sponsored or other community activities you’ve been involved in.

The more people you get reading your blog, the more time people are spending on your website. This informs search engines that your site is highly useful and relevant. You’ll end up ranking much higher in the search results.

 

9. Don’t Skimp on Pinterest

When you use Pinterest for marketing your restaurant, you can pin food photos that you can then link directly to other social media platforms and your website. Pins on Pinterest are always being re-pinned, which creates a cycle of endless marketing for your business.

When you pin your absolute best food pictures, there’s a good chance that they’ll get re-pinned. It’s important to make sure that your brand is attached to all of your pins. When you do this, the people that discover the pins know where they need to go in order to enjoy the delicious food that’s posted.

 

10. Email Marketing Isn’t Dead

If you’ve been told that email marketing is no longer a viable way to market your business, you’ve been grossly misinformed. Email marketing is an absolutely critical part of marketing for every business.

The first step in building an effective email marketing campaign is building a solid list. Consider implementing a non-intrusive, value-adding pop-up on your website landing pages that collects email addresses from customers. To entice people to leave their address, offer them a 20% off coupon for their next visit.

Another idea is to collect email addresses right in your restaurant. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to add them manually into your system later on.

Once you get your list to around 500 customers, start creating both real-time and automated email campaigns. If you don’t know where to start on campaign development, here are some ideas:

  • Send out a customer appreciation day email, inviting subscribers to get a special discount at your restaurant on one given day
  • Talk about upcoming events
  • Send customers an email about your weekly specials, or menu updates/changes
  • Share a story about your restaurant or talk about the history of the building

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t be promotional with every email you send out. Create quality content that subscribers look forward to receiving. It’ll help them remain engaged while opening every email you sent out.

 

11. Influencers

How familiar are you with influencers? Basically, these are people who have large social media followings of people who listen to, and take action on, their suggestions and advice.

Invite some local influencers to try out your restaurant for free. Request that they post some photos of your atmosphere and food. Encourage them to post their thoughts about your restaurant for their social media followers.

By getting a few local food influencers into your location, you’ll gain a big advantage over much of your competition.

Atladventurer is one Instagram account run by a local Atlanta blogger that works with many restaurants, tasting their food and reviewing it for over 60 thousand followers. If you’re able to find a local food influencer such as Atladventurer, take advantage of their social media reach and invite them in.

 

12. Insta-Worthy Food

A lot of diners, especially those in the millennial generation, head to restaurants with the intent of photographing their food. By posting delicious-looking food pictures on your restaurant’s Instagram account, you’ll be drawing in diners from this target market.

Spend some time coming up with creative #foodblog ideas that your competitors haven’t yet done. Create a signature drink or meal that really stands out. Then take a photo that fully captures it in all of its glory.

It’s important that you keep your photos as sharp as possible. They need to be clean and crisp. Posting low-quality photos shows a lack of professionalism. In fact, it’s better to post nothing at all than to post poor-quality food photos.

Photos that are high-quality will make people want to show up and try the food for themselves.

Some additional Insta-worthy tips to consider:

Make sure your photos are unique. Avoid posting the same, or similar, shots repeatedly with various dishes. Instead, mix things up. Use wide shots, close-ups and pictures of people enjoying your food. Create diverse photo offerings that keep users engaged and looking for more content.

Pay attention to the lighting. Look for windows throughout the restaurant that let in great lighting throughout the day. Natural light has a beautiful way of enhancing photos of your food.

Post content from customers. You’ve probably been tagged on social media from customers that are posting pictures of your food. This is the perfect opportunity to post this user content right on your page. Keep in mind that it’s important to name them and tag them back when you post. This practice makes other social media followers want to come in and post photos that you might also use on your account.

Remember to share more than just food pictures on your Instagram account. Show off your amazing atmosphere and special events as well. This will give customers a taste of your restaurant’s vibe and make them want to be a part of it.

 

Putting It All Together

You started reading this article because you had the question of how to market my restaurant in a competitive environment. Remember that it’s important to remain flexible during this process. Some ideas you try might be duds. Others might work for a while, then flame out.

Avoid getting stuck on one or two ideas. If things aren’t working, change them up. Don’t get discouraged.

What restaurant advertising and marketing ideas have worked for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.