Whether you’re a restaurant newbie or veteran, marketing is essential to boost both brand awareness and sales. Often times, we associate marketing with money, meaning the more money you have to spend, the better your marketing efforts will be. This isn’t necessarily true. Of course, larger budgets allow for larger projects, outsourcing, and perhaps more desirable options. However, not everyone has a large marketing budget, and some restaurants don’t have a marketing budget at all.
For those of you with budget constraints, don’t give up hope. There are inexpensive options out there. The hard part is finding the right marketing strategies that work best for your business.
Below are some of the most tried-and-true, cost-effective marketing opportunities restaurants can use to gain exposure, drive sales, and improve profitability.
Online Marketing: The Ultimate Tool
The internet is the most powerful marketing tool available to you. And the best part? It’s FREE. There are more than 3 billion internet users worldwide, with 280 million of those users located right here in the good ol’ USA. The internet has opened up channels of communication that never existed before, allowing businesses everywhere to more efficiently reach their target consumers.
Now enough with the history lesson. Let’s get to the juicy stuff.
How do you use the internet to reach customers?
The first thing you need to ask yourself is what is your target consumer? Is it a husband and father of two, a spunky college student, an astute career woman? You have to first determine who you’re trying to reach before attempting to reach them. Based on your ideal customer base, what are their hobbies? What are their likes and dislikes? What is their annual disposable income? Do they spend much time online? All of these questions play a role in determining the best ways to reach your target customers.
Once you know who you’re trying to target, there are some viable tips that must take place in order to reach them.
1. Make sure your website is mobile friendly.
First and foremost, your restaurant’s website must be mobile friendly. In early 2015, Google announced that they would be favoring mobile friendly sites in consumers searches over those websites that are not mobile compatible. This means that if your company’s website is not easy to read or navigate from on a smartphone, chances are your target consumers won’t be able to find you.
You might be asking yourself, “Why is it so important that I have a company website?”
I own a restaurant, not a clothing store.” Well, what if I told you that over half of the searches recorded by Google were conducted on smartphones? In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Confluent Forms, 42% of restaurant websites were viewed on a smartphone! In addition, 92% of consumers reported searching online for a restaurant prior to visiting. These numbers speak volumes!
Be sure to include the following on your restaurant’s website:
- Photos of Popular Dishes: People like visuals. They add credibility to your restaurant and make your site more attractive.
- A Legible Menu: 62% of consumers are less likely to visit your restaurant if they cannot read or find your menu on their mobile device.
- Contact Information: Include contact information, including a phone number, hours of operation, and a link to a Google map. If consumers can’t find you, they won’t be dining with you.
2. Use Google’s free tools to promote your restaurant’s website.
Google offers so many free analytics tools to promote your restaurant’s site. Use Google Analytics to track traffic on your website, as well as how visitors found your website. Understand which pages are generating the most views and which pages are lacking viable information. If you’re a newbie to Google Analytics, don’t worry. There are plenty of free tutorials available to you on the web.
A paid Google feature that you may find especially useful (if it fits into your budget) is Google Adwords ,which allows business owners and operators like you to promote their websites with paid advertisements. You design your own ads, set your budget, activate your ads campaign, and boom! Done.
Restaurants with new websites or those that are not generating a great deal of organic traffic on their own, would find Google Adwords especially useful.
Don’t forget about Google’s other free tools, like Google Keep, which organizes to-do lists or Google Calendar, which helps keep track of schedules and reminders.
3. Be active on social media platforms.
I can’t stress the importance of having an active presence on social media for your business. Regardless of your personal thoughts toward social media and its impact on today’s society, it’s here to stay. Consumers from all backgrounds, all age groups, and all professional sectors are using it. Almost 1.7 billion people worldwide are active on social media!
Oh, and did I mention that social media is 100% free?
There are plenty of social media platforms out there, but if you’re new to the game, don’t make the mistake of trying to join all of them at once. The most popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Pinterest. Determine which platforms would help you reach the most customers (I recommend Facebook and Twitter because they have the largest number of followers) and start from there. Make regular posts, promoting new dishes, new hours of operation, new locations, a new appetizer, etc. If possible, throw in a free offer or coupon from time to time, like “Mention this post in any of our restaurants this week, and receive a free dessert!” Why are posts like this especially beneficial? Because the consumer gets something in return for following you on social media. See how that worked?
[pullquote-left] “Social media allows businesses to promote their products and services in a nontraditional approach. Speak the language of consumers. Engage with your customers on social media.” [/pullquote-left] If a customer tweets something positive about your restaurant like, “You’ve got to try to cheese fries at [Restaurant]. They’re fabulous!”, don’t be afraid to tweet them back, thanking them for their visit. Simply acknowledging the voices of your customers can go a long way.
What happens if a customer complains about your restaurant on social media?
The thought of a customer bashing your restaurant on the world wide web can be terrifying. In fact, this type of potentially negative feedback may be what has kept you from creating social media accounts for your restaurant in the past. My advice to you is in this situation, the good outweighs the bad. Your consumers are searching for you on social media, and in the event that a customer posts something negative about your restaurant, take it as an opportunity to make amends and grow. Reply to the upset customer, offering a sincere apology and a free meal. Let them know that you truly care about their satisfaction and that you will do everything in your power to prevent the issue from happening again. This type of accountability will not only build positive customer relationships, it will also allow your business to learn from mistakes and grow from them.
Summing It All Up
Saying there are endless marketing opportunities for restaurants is an understatement. Whether you’re a seasoned multi-unit restaurant operator with years of marketing experience under your belt or a small mom and pop owner who’s new to the dog eat dog world of marketing, don’t be afraid to take a chance.
Take a risk. Break the mold. Be different.
Successful marketing begins with trial and error. You must first learn what works for your industry and what doesn’t before launching full-blown marketing campaigns.
Before you get too overwhelmed, here’s what you should definitely be using in your marketing strategy today:
- An attractive mobile friendly website that includes your menu.
- Google’s free (and sponsored) tools to attract potential customers to your restaurant’s website.
- An active social media presence to engage with consumers.
Take it one step at a time, and you just might end up surprising yourself.
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