Digital Marketing Checklist for Restaurant Owners

Congratulations – you’ve decided to start your own restaurant. Now that you are a restaurant owner, it is important to put time and effort into your digital marketing for your restaurant, as this is a key component of customer acquisition for restaurants. Digital marketing for restaurants is complicated, but it is an essential component to your overall success, in addition to providing excellent food and service.

We’ve written this checklist as a jumping-off point, to help you start thinking through some of the elementary components of digital marketing for your restaurant. You’ve likely started to brainstorm on each of these as you began thinking about opening your restaurant, but this checklist will help you flush out each in more detail to set you up for success.

1. Develop a Strategy

It isn’t enough to simply have social media accounts, send emails, and build a website. There must be a strategy behind these components in order to make them effective. A marketing strategy typically contains your company’s value proposition, key messaging about your brand, data on your target audience, and any other high-level elements that make sense to include, such as how you expect your employees to treat your customers. We also highly recommend including a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to help you clearly see areas where you can focus your marketing strategy in order to build a competitive advantage.

Once you’ve thought about your strategy, it is time to write it down. This is critical to get everyone on your team on the same page, as well as help you check in with yourself periodically regarding the strategy you’ve created. Once you’ve written your strategy, remember it is not set in stone. It can be readjusted and reevaluated as time passes and your business needs change.

A marketing strategy is critical because it connects all of the components of your marketing and keeps them in alignment.

A marketing strategy is critical because it connects all of the components of your marketing and keeps them in alignment. It is also a fundamental part of building a winning marketing strategy that will help you stand out against your competitors.

2. Understand How Much a Customer is Worth

Once you have a strategy in place, it can seem like the next logical step is to start choosing channels and launching all of your marketing efforts. However, before you start investing time and resources into specific marketing initiatives, you need to have a clear understanding of how much each customer is worth. This will help you have a very clear understanding of which marketing efforts make sense for your business and customer acquisition – and which ones don’t.

There are already thin margins within the hospitality industry, and many hospitality ventures fail. If you are offering a discount or promotion to customers to bring them in, and also losing a significant amount of profit from each customer due to overall marketing costs, you might not be getting anything, and that is obviously not sustainable for any business, but especially a new business.

Therefore, it is important to calculate how much profit your business generally receives from each customer. Then, you’ll need to figure up how much of that revenue you want to invest in your marketing efforts. One of the best parts of digital marketing instead of traditional marketing is that you can typically track how much you are spending per lead or per purchase, and have a very clear indication if something is working or not. If a margin for a particular channel is too high, it is also fairly easy to turn off that channel to avoid spending too much. You also have a lot of opportunities to test in digital marketing, which does not exist in traditional marketing.

3. Invest in Brand Identity

Now that you have a good indication of how much you can reasonably spend on marketing, the next steps are to invest in your brand identity. You will use the components of your brand identity to build all of your other marketing components, so it’s important to invest a good amount of your budget in this arena.

Restaurant branding is essential because it helps customers identify the type of restaurant that you are. It also helps you distinguish your restaurant from its competitors, and is a tool to help keep you in mind so that customers return.

Your restaurant’s brand identity includes your logo, your website, your interior and exterior designs, your signs and your menu design. This is one area that many restaurant owners outsource, especially in the beginning, so that they can be sure they are starting out as competitively as possible. Because your brand identity will be the foundation for all of your marketing, it is not something to take lightly or rush through.

Because your brand identity will be the foundation for all of your marketing, it is not something to take lightly or rush through.

Take a look at other similar businesses for inspiration on your own brand identity. This can also help you make sure that your brand identity ideas are aligning with your overall restaurant concept and the market you are entering.

4. Procure Photography

We eat with our eyes first. As a restaurant owner, you know your food’s presentation has to look good. But this concept actually starts well before your customer’s orders. In your advertising, on your website, on your social media channels, and anywhere else your potential customers interact with your brand – they will expect to see pictures of your food.

Just like the other components of your brand identity, you will want to make sure you invest in your photography. You will want to hire someone who specializes in food photography for restaurants, as it is considerably different than other types of photography. Depending on your budget, you may also consider hiring someone who is familiar with food staging for the photoshoot.

You’ll want to get pictures of multiple dishes – ideally, everything on your menu. Even if you do not have plans to use an item in your promotions right away, that may change later on and it will be much easier if you already have these photos ready to go.

In addition to the menu, you’ll also want to have plenty of pictures of the inside and outside of your restaurant.

5. Launch Your Website

Once you have your overall strategy, brand identity, and some amazing photography, you’re ready to dive into digital marketing efforts. The first major component of your digital marketing mix is your website. Most of your other efforts will connect to your website, and it will be the hub potential customers use to find out the answers to their questions and determine whether or not they will go to your business.

For restaurants, it is critical that your website is mobile-friendly. Most people who are researching where to eat are doing so on-the-go. If your website doesn’t load well or is not easy to navigate, you will lose potential customers.

For restaurants, it is critical that your website is mobile-friendly.

You’ll also want to make sure your website contains many great photos as well as your menu. Answering potential questions is also very important for your site. Your restaurant’s location, hours, and prices are all common inquiries your guests might have before deciding to come to your restaurant.

Depending on your type of restaurant, you may want to include information about whether or not you accept reservations and if private spaces are available for parties or groups. Think about the questions you typically have before visiting a new restaurant, and ask friends and acquaintances what they would want to know in advance – and put all of it on your website, in an easy-to-navigate format. You can also browse other restaurant websites to see what information they include and add anything to your own website that you might have missed.

6. Claim Social Media Channels

Once your website is set up, it is time to claim your social media accounts. Even if you do not plan to be incredibly active on a particular channel, you’ll want to set up an account so that you can be aware of any conversations happening about your business on that channel and also to avoid someone else taking an account you might want later.

The most popular channels for restaurants include Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Depending on your target demographic, you might also consider platforms like Snapchat or Twitter.

Again, you’ll want to set up these accounts on each channel, but then you will choose which channels make the most sense to update regularly in alignment with your overall strategy. There are multiple social media management tools that can help you manage multiple channels at once, and even schedule social media posts in advance.

Your food photography investment will be critical on social media – especially the more visually-focused platforms like Pinterest and Instagram.

7. Optimize Local SEO and Online Listings

Similar to social media, you’ll want to claim your restaurant, or add it, to any online listing platforms. One of the most important is Google My Business. This is the listing that pops up to the right when searching for a particular business. It includes information like your hours, what you serve, where your restaurant is located, and what the price point is.
This is a very attractive search placement for a business, and should not be ignored. It is very straightforward to create or claim a listing. Then simply follow Google’s prompts to ensure everything is filled out properly.

You can also add pictures of your restaurant to these listings to attract more attention and to give anyone searching a better idea of what to expect from your restaurant.

Additionally, it is important to optimize your website and social media channels for Local SEO. While that sounds like it could be a complex process – it is actually straightforward. It simply means including your location (City, State) in multiple places on your website and tagging the location on your social media channels. This will ensure your restaurant is included when people search for things like “restaurants in Miami, Florida.”

8. Prepare for Reviews – Good and Bad

When claiming online listings, you should also take management of your business on review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and UrbanSpoon. If your business has not yet received any reviews and hasn’t been added to that website, you can add it yourself to encourage customers to start leaving feedback. Taking ownership of your business on these sites will allow you to add any information that may be missing, correct anything that isn’t right, and respond to any new reviews you receive.

And you should plan to respond to all of the reviews your restaurant receives. Being responsive to positive and negative reviews is one way to attract additional reviews. It is also a way to get in touch with customers who may have had a bad experience but were not able to adequately communicate that while they visited the restaurant.

Many restaurant owners are nervous about online reviews. They worry that unhappy customers may trash their business and keep new customers away. They are concerned that competing businesses will create “fake” negative reviews in order to damage their reputation. And they worry that satisfied customers may create negative reviews in order to take advantage of their business. While all of these concerns are valid and do occasionally happen – it is far more likely that they won’t.

You should develop a strategy to handle any reviews – especially the negative ones. We recommend that restaurant owners simply ask a negative reviewer to reach out to a specific phone number or email address to resolve the problem. If the person reaches out, try to make it up to them in a way that makes sense. “Fake” reviewers will likely not reach out to you directly, but you will appear to third-parties that you have made an effort to make things right – which is crucial in the hospitality industry.

Some restaurant owners fear that they will have trouble responding to reviews without being defensive. In these situations, it can be a good idea to assign review management to a marketing person or a manager. Provide the person who is responding to reviews with clear guidelines on how to handle specific situations, and then stay off the review sites!

9. Advertise Your Business

Once your website and social media channels are set up, it is time to start advertising your business. This is one place where it is absolutely critical that you understand the value of your customer. Social media advertising as well as paid search advertising, for example, will provide you with a very clear cost per lead metric. You’ll want to make sure that the cost per lead is appropriate for the overall value of the customer.

There are dozens of advertising options to consider, but for restaurants, we highly recommend Google Search and Facebook. For Google Search, you’ll want to make sure you appear at the top when people are searching for restaurants near your location. Facebook advertising has a lot of options that allow you to provide a notification when someone is near your business. You can also target people who live near your business in a highly-specific way, which makes Facebook a great platform for restaurant marketing.

It is critical that you test different ads

Once you set up advertising, it is critical that you test different ads. Test different pictures, ad types, copy, offers, and platforms. Discover what works well for your business and what doesn’t.

10. Consider Messenger Marketing

Facebook Messenger Marketing is one of the newer paid social media channels restaurant marketers are attempting to capitalize on. Messenger marketing is engaging on a highly-personalized level, making it one of the more effective channels, when used properly. There are multiple ways a restaurant can approach marketing through Messenger, but some of the more common include:

  • Showcasing your menu
  • Taking reservations
  • Loyalty programs
  • Offering discounts for birthdays or anniversaries

Depending on the goal you want to accomplish and your type of restaurant, you may want to invest in a Chatbot that can handle a majority of the inquiries and conversations for you.

Because Facebook Messenger Marketing is relatively new, there is a lot of areas to capitalize on for relatively low cost. It is definitely a channel restaurant marketers should be considering.

Additionally, there are a lot of other digital marketing efforts restaurant owners can take advantage of once they have tackled the basic concepts on this list. For example, there are delivery partnerships that can help restaurants get in front of new and younger audiences, depending on the type of restaurant and the target market. There are also other types of digital advertising to consider such as Instagram or Google Display. Restaurant owners can also set up remarketing efforts to encourage customer loyalty which includes combinations of social media marketing and email marketing efforts.

Hopefully, this checklist has provided you with a starting point for your digital marketing efforts. Marketing strategy involves a lot of components, which is why so many restaurant owners often choose to invest in a restaurant marketing consultant or restaurant marketing agency. It can be overwhelming, especially if you are just starting out in the restaurant industry or as a business owner. Even if you have managed the basic components on this list on your own, advancing to the next level and knowing how to achieve growth through digital marketing channels is another challenge that can be difficult for even the most seasoned restaurant owners.

Take your digital marketing efforts one-at-a-time, and stick to your foundational strategy. If you do need help, guidance, or support along the way, reach out to a restaurant marketing professional who can help.

Restaurant Marketing Ideas for 2020

The restaurant industry has historically been among one of the most competitive industries. In today’s digital marketing landscape, this has never been truer.

When advertising your restaurant online, you’re not just competing against other restaurants to get your ads in front of your potential customers. You’re competing against millions of brands that are targeting the exact same individual.

This article showcases 7 ways you can get in front of potential customers and keep your existing customers loyal in 2020.

1. Messenger Marketing

With modern technology, wearable devices, and a phone in every pocket, it should be a no-brainer that restaurant marketing tactics should evolve as well. The days of generic direct mail campaigns to the masses are gone. These types of marketing campaigns were very difficult to track, and would often result in wasted money.

Messenger marketing for restaurants is a great new way to engage with your audience, track their behavior and purchases, and bring in predictable revenue on a monthly basis. Using applications like ManyChat or MobileMonkey you can set up these campaigns for your own restaurant. They can be fairly complicated, however, so it may be worth working with a restaurant marketing consultant to get help.

Even a simple Messenger Marketing campaign generated over $16,000 in revenue for a restaurant over the course of 4 months.

2. Free Wi-Fi

If you aren’t offering Wi-Fi in your restaurant – or you are just freely giving it away – you are making a huge mistake.

Don’t charge your customers money for the Wi-Fi. Instead, they require them to sign up with their phone number and email address.

This is a fairly inexpensive way to boost your customer remarketing list – plus offering Wi-Fi is another perk for your customers. On your form, you can notify them that they’ll be opting into email communications automatically, but they are free to unsubscribe any time. Then you can send emails about sales, new menu items, and friendly reminders about how awesome your restaurant is.

You can also ask them if they would like to receive text messages from your brand.

3. Text Message Marketing

Text message marketing has been on the rise for a few years now, but brands are still trying to figure out how to use it to their advantage. The key with text message marketing is to hit your customers frequently enough that they keep you top of mind, but not so often that you become a nuisance.

There are also a lot of privacy laws that apply to this type of marketing, so it is critical that you get your customers’ permission (and a second opt-in) before you start utilizing this channel.

Once you have a customer list, you can advertise your sales or promotional menu items. There are a lot of third-party text messaging providers to choose from. Several of them are budget-friendly. Some of them may even integrate with your POS system. It is critical to shop around for the best bang for your buck with any technology platform – but that is especially true for text message marketing.

4. Push Notifications

If your restaurant has an app, you are likely already utilizing push notifications. However, if it doesn’t, or you aren’t, here are a few examples for when to use them:

  • When a customer is near your restaurant
  • When you have a sale or coupon code
  • When you release a new or promotional menu item
  • When they have not visited your restaurant in a specific amount of time

If you do not have an app and are not interested in creating one, you can set these up as browser notifications. Browser notifications are slightly less effective because they are designed for the desktop instead of mobile. However, if you’re mostly serving a lunch crowd – it could be worth sending a lunch reminder push notification out to your potential customers.

5. Delivery

Delivery is king in the restaurant industry at this time, and there are no indications that that is going to change in the next couple of years. Some restaurants are attempting to fight the inevitable, and it isn’t going well for them. Still, others are doing the bare minimum by simply pairing with a 3rd-party food delivery service but that may not be a great strategy either.

Delivery is king in the restaurant industry at this time

Yes, you should consider partnering with a food delivery service, but you must also make sure your food (or at least the food you allowed to be ordered through the service) is still delicious when it arrives. Too many restaurants are offering their entire menu without any modifications, and it is preventing their growth.

If the budget allows, it is also worth offering promotions or even purchasing ads through these delivery services so that your restaurant is sure to be seen. Many of the delivery services will remind customers of restaurants they have ordered from or browsed in the past so that extra marketing boost can help offset the cost of the service.

Several restaurants also offer promotions for new customers, such as free delivery. You’ll want to explore your promotional opportunities with each third-party vendor before settling on one specifically.

6. In-Store Kiosks

Several fast-food chains have started incorporating in-store kiosks already, and this is another trend we expect to see growth over time. Customers enjoy being able to customize their orders without having to talk to a person. They also help increase accessibility at your restaurant.

Additionally, in-store kiosks give you the opportunity to collect additional data that restaurant owners have not had access to before. For example, you can collect data about the most-viewed menu items, even if they aren’t ordered the most. That type of insight encourages you to change an ingredient in that menu item to make it more appealing.

Many in-store kiosks also partner with the POS for aggregate data about specific customers. This means you can personalize your marketing efforts in a new way. Imagine being able to send an email or text to a specific customer, advertising a discount on an item you already know they love.

Although the initial cost is high, there is also a decrease in labor costs associated with a kiosk. It is certainly something worth looking into this year.

7. Community Events

People are also placing higher importance on brands who do “good” and restaurants do not fall out of this category. While it’s great if you can source all local ingredients and recycle practically everything, that may not be realistic.

Another route to consider is utilizing brand activation ideas such as getting involved in local community events and sponsoring charity events. These can seem like losses, but they can do a lot to boost your reputation in your local community.

If you aren’t sure where to start, contact your local school systems and see if they are interested in doing a “Dine and Donate” event. Basically they pick a day and anyone who brings in a flyer for the event on that day (or mentions the promotion if you don’t really want to collect dozens of flyers) your restaurant would donate a percentage of the check to the organization.

While you certainly shouldn’t do this too often so that it isn’t sustainable, it can be a great way to get in front of new customers while building goodwill and a solid reputation in the community.

Things to Keep Doing

We’ve also put together a shortlist of items that you should already be doing by now. If you aren’t, make these marketing efforts urgent priorities. While you may not be able to incorporate all of them right away, you’ll certainly want to tackle a majority of them by the end of 2020.

Advertise Your Restaurant on Social Media

Yes, there are a lot of brands advertising on social media already. However, most social media advertising platforms do offer pretty specific targeting options, which means you have a good shot of getting in front of your customers.

Because competition is so high, social media advertising should not be your only marketing strategy. However, it definitely needs to be part of your restaurant marketing mix.

Facebook is the largest social media marketing platform – and for good reason. Facebook also has the most users. One of the best parts of Facebook advertising is the audience targeting options. You can choose customers based on their locations, and/or their demographics. If you have an idea of who your target market is, this can be invaluable.

You also have the option to target an audience based on their interests. That means if you’re a vegan restaurant, you can target users who have expressed interest in veganism. If you are a burger and fries place, you can target users who love a good sandwich.

Another great component of Facebook advertising specifically is that you also have the ability to create specialized ads when a potential customer is near your restaurant. This can mean if they are a few blocks away to within a certain zip code. This type of targeting is great because it can also help you get in front of potential customers who may just be visiting the area instead of only those who live nearby.

Local SEO for Your Restaurant

Make sure your website is optimized for local SEO. This means optimizing your website so that you always rank in localized searches. This means making sure you’ve completed your Google My Business profile, and embedding a map on your site. You’ll also want to include your city name and state in titles, headers, and meta-descriptions within your site. While this sounds like a complex strategy, once you understand the concept of local SEO, it can be fairly straightforward to implement.

Manage Feedback

Online reviews greatly influence decisions when it comes to choosing a new restaurant to go to. While you can’t/shouldn’t delete negative reviews, you can respond to the guest’s comments and try to make bad experiences better.

You should also respond to positive reviews. This will create a relationship between your brand and the customer, which may encourage them to share their experience with your restaurant with their friends and family. You can also consider services such as Ovation to help you easily capture and manage feedback from your customers.

Restaurant Loyalty Programs

If you don’t already have a loyalty program in place, get one. There are several options out there. You might look to see if your POS system has one already. If your POS system does not, there are several third-party vendors you can try. Most of them are pretty affordable – and it is easy to calculate your return on your investment once you start tracking your loyal customers.

Some examples of third-party loyalty programs include Preferred Patron, ReUp, and Upserve.

Discount Apps

There are several restaurant discount apps out there such as ChowNow or Restaurant.com. You might even consider running a promotion on Groupon. This is an excellent way to draw in new customers as well as to remind past customers to come in again.

Print Advertising & Coupons

For almost all industries, print and coupons seem to be dying off. The two industries where that doesn’t seem to be the case are restaurants and grocery stores. If you are already sending coupons out to local residents, continue doing so. In fact, there are now several services available where you can send specialized coupons or letters to those who have just moved into your city or within certain zip codes.

If you haven’t implemented this strategy already, consider it. There is likely a coupon circulation in your area designed for local restaurants to advertise in.

In Closing

If you are interested in any of these marketing tactics but aren’t exactly sure how to set them up or which ones to prioritize, consider hiring a restaurant marketing agency or restaurant consultant. Restaurant consultants have likely worked with several restaurants in your area. They are already familiar with how to best get in touch with your target market.

A restaurant consultant can help you create an overall marketing plan for your business. Some restauranteurs consider hiring a general marketing firm to handle the promotion of their restaurant. However, they quickly discover that marketing or PR firms can be too expensive for one single restaurant. Your consultant will either handle your marketing directly or come up with a promotion and brand strategy utilizing outsourced agencies that the consultant is familiar with and trusts.

This marketing strategy can include everything from the overall restaurant concept to web design and the social media strategy. You will discuss your current marketing efforts and any that you wish to include in the upcoming year, and your restaurant consultant will balance your budget along with the typical efficacy of each tactic before helping you decide on a perfect strategy. Hiring a restaurant consultant can be an excellent way to boost your brand quickly, without having to make any marketing mistakes in the process.

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