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.

8 Most Common Reasons Restaurants Close Within the First Year.

Every now and then, the concept of owning a restaurant can make you start up a new company while overlooking the actual responsibilities and issues that restaurant ownership entails. All too often, this leads to novice restaurant owners closing their doors in the first year.

You shouldn’t be one of them.

According to some studies, 60 percent of restaurants close or change ownership within the first year of operation, and 80 percent close within the first five years.

Restaurants fail for many reasons, ranging from health-related closures to constantly poor reviews. However, if you understand the most common factors that cause restaurants to fail, then you can identify warnings signs early, make better decisions, and hopefully not face a disaster.

A Terrible Location

You’ve heard it said: Location, location, location.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, reasons a restaurant fails is a poor location. Low visibility, no easily accessible parking, and low foot traffic is a mix that makes turning a profit almost impossible.

Choosing the right spot can even compensate for many of the other shortcomings in this list, but a great location won’t ever compensate or excuse you from providing the basics of excellent service and great quality food.

A great location won’t ever compensate or excuse you from providing the basics of excellent service and great quality food.

If you are already operating in a bad location, there are strategies and things you can do to overcome that challenge. Here’s an article we’ve published that may give you some ideas: 7 Ways Your Restaurant Can Still Thrive Despite a Bad Location

Not Enough Capital to Operate

Based on the sort of restaurant you are planning to open, hundreds of thousands of dollars or more may be needed to cover payroll, suppliers, and other expenses until you turn a profit.

Keep in mind that your loan has to last through the grand opening day. Before you serve a single customer, don’t foolishly purchase brand new appliances and furniture for a restaurant. Buy only what you need and weigh the advantages of the equipment you are using. Do not put anyone on the payroll until as near as possible to the opening day.

Be very frugal with your starting loan; do not treat it as if you were just winning the lottery.

As your planning your restaurant, here is a free guide you can read to help you along the way. It covers everything from concept, to funding, legal setup, and grand opening. The Ultimate Guide: How to Start a Restaurant

Bad Customer Service

Poor customer service is a common reason for the closure of any restaurant. A reputation for poor service will spread like wildfire and sometimes it may seem irreparable. Even the finest three-starred restaurant would close down with poor service. Customer service is one of the essential pillars of operating a successful restaurant, and to remain open.

A reputation for poor service will spread like wildfire and sometimes it may seem irreparable.

In the early phases, asking for customer feedback ensures that you can work out the kinks before it’s too late.

Poorly Managed

When you’re searching for a general manager to help run your day-to-day operations, you’ll probably find someone with the most experience and excellent references –and an all around good vibe and cultural fit.

But even still, sometimes you may find a few months later that they’re not running the restaurant well. They may be alienating employees, taking long breaks, or even worse –stealing money or taking advantage of restaurant resources.

These day-to-day pressures of owning and operating a restaurant, combined with the difficulties in staffing restaurants and hospitality brands, can cause great harm to your staff and team culture if not addressed. You need to do regular check-ins with your management and team members to make sure they’re performing at their highest potential.

Poor Marketing & Advertising Efforts

Advertising and marketing are both essential to creating the reputation of a unique restaurant –especially as more and more chain restaurants open throughout the nation. Most people believe you need to pay exorbitant prices to attract customers, however, you can spread awareness at little to no expense to a targeted demographic with social media and word-of-mouth marketing.

Even more importantly, before you begin spending money on any marketing or advertising, you should make sure you have a clear game plan and strategy on what message you’ll be communicating with your customers.

Who are your customers? What do they care about? What makes your restaurant unique? Why should people care about your restaurant?

Do you have a purposeful and profitable brand strategy?

Answering all of these questions and more will help ensure you have a compelling brand story that attracts more customers. Do you have a purposeful and profitable brand strategy? Read more about our restaurant brand strategy process – BrandGPS™.

Ignoring or Evading Taxes

Federal and state taxes come with heavy penalties, charges, and other assorted fees when paid late, but when a restaurant faces tough times, on-time payments are often difficult. Many owners will completely avoid paying taxes and hope that they will get away scot-free.

It may happen once, but tax negligence ends almost always with heavy penalties, closures of businesses, or even jail time.

Being Too “Hands-Off”

To be a restaurant owner, this means that you need to work at your restaurant. Your job as an owner isn’t to just hang out, chat with customers, and become a famous restaurant owner in the process.

Great restaurant owners are often the first in the door and the last out at closing because the owner not only has the most to lose, but the most to gain. Unless the property is solely an investment or the proprietor lives outside the city, the person in charge should be there every day, discovering new solutions to increase profit margins, engage team members, and develop a profitable brand.

Not Properly Tracking Food Costs

The first step towards making a profit is to know how to correctly price your restaurant menu. Do you understand how to calculate your cost per-plate? The majority of owners don’t. For instance, you could try adding an expensive premium ingredient to a lower cost dish, to take full advantage of your per-plate cost and profit margin.

Several other modifications can help to bring the cost of food down without the same flavor. Sticking to the 30% food price golden rule will help you to maintain a healthy profit margin for all of your menu items.

Sticking to the 30% food price golden rule will help you to maintain a healthy profit margin for all of your menu items.

In Conclusion

Now you know the primary reasons why many restaurants fail. You have the chance to study your market and research new ideas – make sure that your concept really works.

Yet, if you never step out and try -you’ll never truly know what it means to be a restaurant owner.

Regardless of all of your planning, the restaurant may fail. But if you continually try to grow and learn while operating within the core functions of any successful restaurant (excellent food, service, and location) you will increase your chances of achievement.

On top of all this, developing a great concept, great name, and brand identity for your restaurant is the icing on the cake. These core foundational strategies will help you be more focused and intentional toward building a strong reputation for your restaurant – and a restaurant that’s set up to succeed.

Want to know more? Download our free E-Book: “7-Figure Restaurant

The Greatest Restaurant Grand Opening Ever

If you are getting ready to open up your new restaurant, you might think the hard part is over. You’ve considered the location. You have nailed down your concept. You have financed it, after weeks and weeks of applications, letters, meetings, and presentation of your ideas.

You have sent the menu to the graphic designers and they have sent back a menu that would make Gordon Ramsay hungry. The staff has been hired, from the host all the way to the chef.

You are ready, right? Not so.

This is not meant to discourage you or prevent you from feeling the well-deserved joy that you will experience as the doors open and customers with empty stomachs come by.

This is meant to make sure that you cross that finish line like a true champion-that is, by hosting a grand opening that will leave a positive impression on the minds of your customers and keep them coming back week after week.

Stay with us as we discuss various ways to start your business with a bang and keep it booming.

The Basic Steps

At long last, it is time to throw a fun party because it’s true: The really tough stuff is done. So, what are the basics of throwing a memorable grand opening? Let’s take a look.

1. Figure Out the Sort of Event You Want, And A Budget for It

When you think about all that has gone into starting this business up to this point, it can be extremely tempting to handle the opening of your establishment as just another day; a relatively minor thing.

However, having a well-mapped out restaurant grand opening is a huge part of your overall restaurant marketing strategy. The key to opening a restaurant with a bang is relatively easy; you are going to need to know how to get people in the door, and throwing a great party is a way to make it all happen.

However, this does not mean you have to go crazy and spend heaps of money as a way of holding a super grand opening. It is better overall that you do not do this, as there are going to be lots of other expenses that come your way once the business gets up and running.

There are lots of ways to get a restaurant grand opening going. You can actually roll out a “red carpet” to make guests feel like VIPs. You can set up a buffet of samples and then tempt customers with a special offer, like buying an entree and receiving a percentage off the second one.

You can also offer some refreshments or feature live music. You might also print up some coupons in the form of fliers that guests can use on a future visit.

Make yourself a comprehensive list of all the expenses needed for your opening and be sure the total cost is budget-friendly. Once you have thought about and priced fliers, music, decor, food and any giveaways or promo products, you can see if you need to modify your budget or celebration in any way, whether you are under budget or need to take it down a notch.

having a well-mapped out restaurant grand opening is a huge part of your overall restaurant marketing strategy.

2. Allow Ample Time for Yourself

Give yourself plenty of time to plan. A month to three months will be sufficient. You may wish to print up fliers, or invitations, depending on the type of establishment you are opening. You will need time to mail the invites/fliers to the local area, or at least time to hang them in public areas where everyone can see them.

Delegate tasks to your staff members, or the restaurant PR firm so that duties and deadlines are met and filled. Be sure that you keep track of everything you do, and how much money you spend. Use Excel spreadsheets or checklists so that nothing is overlooked. And be sure that you check in with all of your help so that everybody’s on the same page.

You may even consider doing a dry run. You might start doing business before the grand opening takes place so your employees know what to do, are well trained, and any little bugaboos or issues can be worked out ahead of time.

3. Know Your Target Audience

The art of launching a restaurant has many facets, and one of them is knowing the demographics of people you would most like to reach. Your restaurant’s grand opening needs to draw in your customer base, but also the restaurant supply companies you are working with as well as the local media. It is a chance for you to show off your new restaurant and enter your community with a bang.

Let the local media know that you are new in town. This is a great way to get some publicity, before and after the grand opening takes place. About three weeks before your grand opening is scheduled, contact your local media by phone. You can also mail out a press release if you like. (We will discuss shortly how to do well when using a press release).

If you can, ask a local celebrity like a popular radio host or the mayor to come in for a meal and drink, and also give him or her the honor of cutting the ribbon if you plan to do such a ceremony. Be sure that you also inform the media as well. This can result in photos being sent to the local newspaper or a social media site, along with a column about your new eatery.

Preparing for the media is just as important as planning your grand opening. Be sure that you have that press kit available-and this is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. You can simply pick up some pocket folders and include your business card, a copy of the menu and some questions and answers about your restaurant, and some other helpful facts about your business.

The art of launching a restaurant has many facets

4. Be Sure the Event Is Restaurant-Friendly

For a restaurant, you will want to do things like give away free samples of the food you are offering, as well as have menu copies available so customers always know what great meals you offer.

You might have a staff member offer to show guests around if you have varying areas of the restaurants. For instance, if you cater to families, show off the banquet rooms or areas designed for groups with little kids or babies.

If you are running an upscale establishment, show off your intimate table settings and bar areas. Your goal is to sell your establishment as the place your target demographic would like to be when it’s time to go out to eat.

5. Make Sure Your Expectations are Realistic

Remember, things don’t happen overnight. Your grand opening will be a great way to get your restaurant off on the right foot. But restaurant marketing must be a top priority as your business grows and expands.

Some great ways to keep the word going about your great eatery include:

  • Fun giveaways, like magnets with your phone number and a photo of your signature dish
  • Keychains (perhaps shaped like a food item you offer) or can koozies customers can use to advertise for you
  • Email newsletters or loyalty programs that keep customers coming back for good deals and specials
  • Praising and showing off your hardworking staff on social media
  • Asking grand opening attendees to tell a friend or family member about your place

Restaurant marketing must be a top priority as your business grows and expands.

Regarding Press Releases

Okay, so you have sent out some press releases to your local papers, magazines, Pennysaver, and other media outlets, like radio or television. But there have been no callbacks! What is going wrong? What can somebody do to increase their chances of being published?

First, do not assume that you have completely missed the boat on this one if you haven’t heard back from the people and outlets you have contacted. There have been stories published in some major newspapers and magazines long after the press releases have been sent in. However, we sometimes don’t have that much time to wait. Try again, revising your submission in such a way that appeals to the readers of the publication you seek to advertise in.

When you send out a press release, consider who you are sending it to, and how newsworthy it is. The editors of your local paper have to publish things that appeal to their readers. Therefore, you want to make sure your press release appeals to the people in your local area. Be sure you read and revise your press release over before sending it so that it conveys interest to the editors of your local publications.

Do your best, and perhaps have your PR specialist go over it. They can help you be unique and appealing with the way your release is presented. Don’t use buzz words or try to sound like something you’re not; most editors usually edit the release so that it fits the target audience. Make your headline attention-grabbing so that the editor stays hooked and doesn’t simply put your release at the bottom of the pile.

Make your release sound more like news than anything. Promotion is what editors find most annoying; your goal is to make your release sound like useful info, entertainment, or relevant news.

Remember, keep on keeping on. One publication may want nothing to do with your establishment, but another one will take joy in publishing your story. Editors are always seeking some news. Just keep it short, sweet and to the point while still telling why your restaurant is important and valuable to the community.

Make your release sound more like news than anything. Promotion is what editors find most annoying.

Generate Some Hype

One important aspect of any restaurant start-up event is getting people ready for your establishment. Get them amped and excited to come down and give it a try!

In this portion, we are going to talk about how you can use some marketing strategies to get the word out and get people excited about your restaurant.

  • Keep an eye on your presence when it comes to social media. Social media is a huge deal in today’s world. Sure, you can slip some menus under the door and mail out some coupons, but that’s not enough. Restaurants that have a strong social media presence tend to do well. Start up a Facebook page before you open that shows off your planned Grand Opening festivities, menu, and photos of meals you plan on serving. You can even use your Facebook page as a place to share savings opportunities, promote news and let people know your hours. You can also use this as a place to promote the positive press your company gets!
  • Promote visual content with Instagram. Show off the front of your establishment so people will know what to look for when they come looking for it. If you are a steakhouse, upload photos of the meat cooking on the grill or the fields from which your beef grazes. If you specialize in family dining, upload photos of families who happily celebrated birthdays or special events at your establishments, thanking them for their business. Make hashtags fun again-you can use old favorites like #TBT or create some of your own. Photos of food, employees working hard and more will appeal to customers.
  • Keep Your Menu Easy to Navigate & Functional. Do not make it hard for users to locate your menu. Publish one that is easy to read, accurate, and current. Be sure you include what dishes are good for those with dietary restrictions: gluten free, vegan/vegetarian, diabetics. Customers today NEED to access menus online, or they will take their business elsewhere.

Get People Inside

The whole town will not be able to make it to your grand opening, unfortunately. So, what can you do to get people in the door once they have time to come down?

This section ties in with our previous discussion of generating some hype. This portion is all about enticing the customers into your establishment.

  • Invest in Photography. Photos are what your clientele sees before they even set foot in your restaurant. Your website should feature top-notch photos of your food, settings, and bar area. Try to hire a food photographer if you can, and, combined with your fun Instagram photos, put them all over social media and in your fliers/commercials to get people excited about what you sell.
  • Have Regular Events. This is dependent upon your restaurant. You might bring in live music, have a wine tasting event where you collaborate with a local winery, or bring in a face painter or balloon artist for families with kids. You can even host events that correlate with big movie releases or concerts and invite people to dress up as their favorite character or wear a band t-shirt to get a percentage off their bill.
  • Be the Hangout Spot. Is there a major sports event coming up? Be sure you can broadcast it and offer drink and appetizer specials in honor of the occasion. A lot of people like to go out and share the joy of sports with friends and they don’t have to be in charge of cleanup. Large groups of people will eat, drink and linger while they watch the event for a few hours.

Encourage Repeat Business

Great food and amazing service from your staff are the key drivers in making sure your customers keep coming back. But what are some other methods you can use once your grand opening is over?

  • Keep the Menu Fresh. Fresh foods are loved by diners everywhere, but for this scenario, we mean keeping it changing. Restaurants always offer daily specials, and this makes the experience exciting for customers. You might even have the chef make up some samples and distribute them to diners, imploring them to try. You can then let them know it will be served next week, so be sure to stop by again. Ask your chefs what their specialty is. If your chef perfectly replicates his Italian grandmother’s lasagna, for instance, make sure it appears as a special one of the nights and you advertise on social media.
  • Have a reward system in place. Everyone and we mean everyone, loves a good deal. Giving away a free item once in a while is a good way to bring diners back. Families and couples alike always look for ways to save money. Cards that can be stamped toward a free meal or appetizer are surefire winners. Email lists are a great and unobtrusive way to offer customers deals and get them coming back for more. Send these out before special days like Super Bowl Sunday or Mother’s Day so that they can plan to come to your restaurant and celebrate. You might offer a free dessert or 50% off the purchase of a second meal on these special occasions.

Summing It Up

Keeping your restaurant at the forefront of everybody’s mind is going to be tough, but you can absolutely do it. Plan ahead, budget accordingly, and of course, have confidence in your staff, food, and ability to provide excellent service. Your community will be enjoying your eatery for decades!

Longitude is a hospitality branding and concept development agency. For questions, please reach out to Jeremy Wells at jeremy@longitudebranding.com.

Top 8 Restaurant Marketing Trends in 2019

Restaurant marketing trends are rapidly changing as tech, consumer desires, and food choices change. Thankfully, it will only take a little information and social media know how to stay on top of the greatest restaurant trends in 2019.

Read on to find out our top 8 methods for you and your team to stay on top and increase your establishment’s traffic.

Chatbots

For lead generation, the future lies in chatbots. This tech tool is on the rise and is taking over customer service for many brands you already know and love. One firm, Gartner, predicts that by 2020 85% of customer interaction will be handled by chatbots.

Give a try to this feature using SMS and Facebook Messenger. You can set up this option for your restaurant on Facebook and setting up an autoresponse message.

Are you getting lots of inquiries about operating hours for holidays or about reservations during the busy season? Include a response that has this information contained, plus any other of your restaurant’s frequently asked questions.

If you do not have an answer to your question, set up an auto-message with an instruction to call the restaurant directly or include wait time for response.

Bots are not only a great way to scale communication, but they are also around the clock solution for your customers and audience.

In addition to increasing customer satisfaction, they will bolster your response rate on Facebook, which in turn improves SEO and the chance that your restaurant is recommended by other patrons.

Transparency in What’s Offered

Another critical component of restaurant branding this year is ensuring that your consumer base is clued into what is offered at your restaurant.

With the amount of information available online from reviews to images of food, diners are more aware than ever of shortcomings regarding meals sold at restaurants and brand experiences.

It is critical to your restaurant’s good health that all photos of your meals are updated and accurate on your website as well as other social media channels.

Furthermore, ensuring accuracy and understanding the way you describe the “vibe” or ambiance of your place in the “about” and “history” areas of Facebook and other review sites like Yelp and its competitors can help you see if you have really captured the attention of your patrons.

Mobile is King

If you want your restaurant to soar, and be as popular as possible, optimize your site for mobile. Lots of consumers are checking out their eating choices on the go, not having the time to sit at a desktop or crack open a laptop.

The search engine algorithms of Google value mobile performance for your website. In this manner, you should devote the bulk of your restaurant marketing efforts to keeping your site and app running in top form.

You can also broaden your options for digital restaurant marketing too. For instance, you can set up in-app contests for free food, promos and other special discounts inside your restaurant.

Your best bet is to adopt the following strategies:

  • Take a minimalist approach. Even though tech in advance and phone screens are huge, you should avoid clutter and unnecessary menus. Avoid drop downs because other content gets blocked.
  • Make your design focus on the image. Avoid bright colors and lots of text and details. Put an emphasis on the food itself, and make use of simple, contrasting hues.
  • Go the extra mile for a great hosting service. Do not allow your site to crash or load slowly. A low response rate coupled with lots of content leads to a negative impact on SEO.

Let Me Upgrade You…On Social Media

Every piece of content that is on your website should also be present on your social media pages. Some might argue that social media advertising is on the decline, but more than half of restaurants use social media platforms as a means of advertising.

It is still the most popular solution for advertising against any other form of outbound marketing. One great way to increase your influence on social media is to complete different tasks onto different platforms.

Many marketers in the restaurant and hotel branding industry advertise their businesses in the same way on every social media platform. However, you should separate different varieties of content to make them work with one another, instead of against one another.

Some strategies include:

  • Use Facebook for posts and text. This is the one that is least focused on brevity and visuals in terms of content. Use this platform for your more informative content.
  • Instagram, on the other hand, is visual in nature. 2019 will be huge in terms of visual representations of food. Upload short videos and show the “vibe” of your place through video.
  • Twitter can be used to pose questions and conduct polls to your target audience.
  • LinkedIn can be used for written content. Recruit new team members and bring in other industry professionals using this platform.

Visuals of Food

It’s okay to outsource some tasks. In marketing, we sometimes think it is better to save money by not spending it when it’s not really necessary.

But given what we know about 2019 being a huge year for visual food representation, a photographer will be a worthy investment. Do not save a few dollars now and miss out on spending from customers of the future.

Take all the chances you get to make your restaurant more enticing to consumers. On your ads and social media be sure you include photographs that are high-quality and professional. After all, food cannot be experienced from afar.

Photographers know what makes something visually memorable. Work with them to make your food look as appealing as possible. This will also give your restaurant something of a luxury vibe-so don’t be afraid to display them proudly on social media platforms.

Furthermore, do not be afraid to recycle old content and re-use photos. People will take note of your brand and your attention to great detail in doing so.

Dive into Content Marketing

Hotel marketing and restaurant marketing need content marketing sectors. You simply cannot avoid them. Offering top quality food is meaningless if you cannot direct your audience to it.

As a means of increasing brand awareness, place your brand so that people will always be directed to it.

You can do this in many different ways.

  • Put written content that correlates to the food you are selling. Connect the act of eating with culture and create a feeling for your consumer.
  • Provide top-notch descriptions and high-res pictures for each dish on your restaurant’s website.
  • Provide other creative content. Do video tours of your banquet rooms, show your method of making a signature dish, interview your staff and have them give recommendations.

Nutrition for the Masses

One thing consumers care about now more than ever is their health and well-being. If you want to improve repeat business, show them that you care, and you are in the loop too. People now really care what their food is made of as well as how it tastes.

Customers want dishes that are nutritious and taste great at the same time. This change in what matters to consumers means you must adjust your marketing to fit the needs of your audience. Many famous restaurants have incorporated messages about health and nutrition into their advertising campaigns.

To aid in your quest of attracting more customers that value nutrition, have a look at these ideas:

  • It is important to include calories, fats, and other nutritional guidelines. However, people do not respond to this information as much as they used to anymore. Make your ads something that connects your food to good health, positive feelings and wholesomeness of ingredients.
  • Put the human element into your advertising. People who are in good shape and smiling about your food will make consumers feel good about coming to your dining establishment.
  • Nature is one way to show off the natural good taste and ethical sourcing of your food. You can photograph your food in a natural setting, or even place it on a stump or chunk of wood as it adds an organic and natural feel to the entire ad.
  • Be sure to do your photos in such a way that is minimal – meaning light and colors are focused solely on your food’s natural colors and textures.

Plant-Based Marketing

In the same vein as natural and organic food, many consumers are seeking a plant-based option for dining. This has been on the rise globally, moving from being a niche market to a mainstream fixture in recent years.

Different regions handle this in different ways, and in 2019 it is predicted that the normalization of plant-based diets will be prevalent. This means less talk of health and more focus on eating foods like burgers, nuggets and other comfort foods like pizza that are plant-based.

There will also be a large influence from vegan culture and greater interest and desire for dairy-free products like almond milk and coconut ice cream.

Conclusion

Tell us what you think what will be the biggest restaurant marketing trend in 2019? We would love to hear from you and get more ideas. Join us on our private Facebook Community: Restaurant Owners Startup & Growth!

How Your Restaurant Can Attract and Retain Good Employees

Restaurants in America are struggling to find and retain good help. While the quality of hire is important, time to hire is also a factor for the fast-paced restaurant industry so fast casual, table service, and quick service restaurants can effectively serve their customers. There are several factors that restaurant owners must consider to attract and retain good employees, but the last one just might surprise you the most.

Finding good employees isn’t as hard as you might think. With today’s tight job market you must look at the obvious items such as pay, benefits, flexible work schedule, company culture, etc. However, the best employees you will find in the market are those who already work for your restaurant brand. Depending on your type of restaurant, there are some unique considerations to explore in retaining the talent you already have and then empowering them to help you fill additional staffing needs you may have to keep up with your brand’s growth.

The best employees you will find in the market are those who already work for your restaurant brand.

Fast-Casual Restaurants

Fast-casual restaurants are known for good quality fresh food, served fast. However, their environment still allows their customers to calmly sit down to enjoy their meals. Retaining employees means you must create a brand culture where employees want to stay. A brand that they can get behind and become a part of something great. When it comes to hiring and retaining the right kind of employees as a Fast Casual restaurant there are five top priorities for employers:

1. Pay – A fair wage is critical in this space. Most employees are younger and starting their own families. Pay needs to be enough to help them live. The earning potential with tips is somewhat limited in this restaurant environment. Pay your staff well.

2. Schedule – With starting a new family and many staff members breaking out on their own, flexible work schedules that work well with school and family is important.

3. Growth Opportunities – Grow your people. Fast-casual is a unique space within the restaurant industry. Invest in your people and treat them well so they don’t want or need to leave to find other growth opportunities. If they leave, be sure they leave well equipped to represent your training commitment and your investment in their professional development.

4. Career Path – This is one of the harder requirements needed to attract and retain great employees. Building a management mentor program or manager in training program along with several different levels of management could be a way to create a career path for your team. This allows staff to see what their options are within your company before the exit strategy ever comes to mind.

5. Cultural Alignment – This is all about brand. Be the kind of company that employees want to be part of.

Flexibility and culture are very important factors needed to attract and retain employees

It seems that in the fast-casual restaurant setting pay can affect your employee’s performance the most. However, flexibility and culture are very important factors needed to attract and retain employees. In fact, when it specifically comes to hiring quality staff employees who feel aligned with your brand’s culture are those who get excited about work every day. They are those employees who are most engaged. Never forget to keep an eye on your current staff and their career aspirations. Be keen on helping them get to where they want to go in their career and you will retain and attract better employees over time.

Table Service Restaurants

Table service restaurants offer more of a formal setting where patrons can pre-plan reservations for sit down meals. Most customers are higher end and statistically more educated. Attracting and retaining employees to this type of restaurant brand requires a bit more planning and employees often want these three things:

1. Earning potential – Most restaurant workers that come to a table service setting are in it for earning potential. They are after the more service-oriented setting that enables them to work hard for better tips from patrons.

2.Brand culture – Create a brand that delivers a clear message of quality. Brand culture is what drives spending for these higher-end establishments. Spending drives the opportunity for your employees.

3.Benefits (health, dental, vision, 401K, etc.) – These are more senior workers, usually, and they are aware of what the job market can offer them. Standing out with a great benefit or compensation package is a great way to attract and retain employees.

Quick Service Restaurants (QSR)

As the last type of restaurant employer, we come to quick service restaurants or QSRs. More often than not this is an area where the conflict between the generations can be found. More often than not these type of employers attract the younger employees. Millennials can often be found in these types of establishments as young managers. Attracting and retaining employees in this space seems to be done easier with strong multinational brands that present these top three values to their employees:

1. Growth Potential – QSR is a fast-paced beast all on its own. McDonald’s has been one of the most successful examples of innovating growth potential for its staff. Their mentoring programs and management training are some of the best in the world. McDonald’s managers are also paid well and recognized for going above and beyond in their individual stores.

2. Employee Recognition – You see it on every employee badge as you walk into most QSR spaces. If someone is new the employer calls it out. If someone is a trainer, they are considered the experts even though they might be young and obviously inexperienced.

3. Brand Culture – QSRs are nearly always large, global brands. They have a clear brand message and brand culture that people want to engage with. Those who seek out opportunities with these brands are doing it to be part of a big industry brand.

There are many things that drive higher employee retention as well as others that make it easier for your restaurant to hire. However, the one consistent tactic across the entire industry is connected to your brand. Brand culture, being something that others can’t live without helps you attract, hire, and retain the best employees in the space. This goes back to the idea that people don’t really care until they know you care.

Being something that others can’t live without helps you attract, hire, and retain the best employees in the space.

Team culture, benefits, pay etc can affect employee performance. Employees who perform at peak performance exhibit more self-confidence and they attract others like them. If your employees are weak, then what you will attract is more weakness. Drive and expect optimal performance from all employees at all times and always offer fair earnings for those who deserve it. The end result will be a restaurant brand that has good employees, increased quality of hire, and lower employee turnover.

The Ultimate Guide: How to Start a Restaurant

How to Start a Restaurant

If you’ve looked around online about how to start a restaurant, it’s likely that you’ve seen an article or two talking about all the reasons you should not even try.

But don’t listen to these naysayers — it’s your dream, so go for it. Even after hearing all of these arguments of these pessimists, if you’re still excited about pursuing your dreams of being a restaurant owner, then we’ve got the perfect step-by-step guide that you’ll need for starting a successful restaurant.

Three Foundations of Opening a Restaurant

Before you get hung up on too many ideas, focus on these three foundations of starting a restaurant:

  1. Pick a Relevant Concept.
  2. Hire the Right Chef.
  3. Location, Location, Location.

There’s nothing that can ever really prepare you for starting a restaurant, no matter what type of background or level experience you came from. No matter how much you read, how many videos you watch, how many seminars you go to, there are some things that can only come from the experience of being a restauranteur. However, with this guide, we will do our best to make sure that you are set up for success, and are fully prepared to make the plunge.

Finding your perfect Niche

In our experience as both restaurant branding experts and passionate foodies, we know that there are many options out there as far as concepts that you could consider. Each one requiring a certain set of skills in order to keep them running effectively.

As you consider starting your restaurant, try to find opportunities that you can take advantage of. What food, service, or convenience have you found missing? Is there a need in your market that is still unfulfilled?

As you consider these questions, if you find that it’s not meeting your options enough, maybe consider looking at the latest restaurant trends for inspiration.
There are plenty of unique, and fun concepts out there – so there’s no need for you to create something from thin air.

Should You Choose a Franchise?

As you are dreaming about one day opening a restaurant, you might be thinking, “I don’t really want to reinvent the wheel, but there is a big need for a fast and casual Indian joint in my city!”

If that sounds like you, then it might be good to start looking for a franchise opportunity.

The great thing about a franchise is that most of the work has already been done for you. Organizing a menu, conceptualizing interior design, and making a marketing plan from scratch, are all things you don’t have to worry about. Plus, the allure of an already recognizable brand will help draw in customers for you.

The brand recognition that comes with franchise restaurants, as well as a lower failure rate than independently owned restaurants, are all part of the reason franchises are so appealing.

However, just like anything, owning a restaurant franchise has both pros and cons. Despite all the benefits that come with launching a recognizable brand with a proven plan for success already in place, there are a few downsides.

First and foremost, franchises aren’t cheap. Often times you’ll need a large sum of personal assets instead of a loan, and buying the rights the franchise are typically non-refundable.

In addition to this, you don’t have flexibility with the business model, so when it comes to getting creative with running your restaurant, your options are pretty limited. For instance, if your franchise headquarters opts to do a complete overhaul of its decor, then you’ll have to put out the money for it, even if you don’t want to. If you’ve chosen the franchise route, then make sure you consider these things and do some more research into your specific franchise before you dive in.

A Better Business Plan: Crafting a Brand Strategy

In all honesty, when all you want to do is get cooking in the kitchen, crafting unique and delicious recipes, and making your customers happy, the last thing you want to do is slow down and begin writing a business plan.

Nothing sounds less fun than researching, creating spreadsheets, graphing charts and analyzing statistics.

But, before your eyes glaze over and you move on to the “fun” steps of opening a restaurant, you should ask yourself the following:

Would you try and create a dish you’ve never made before without ever even looking at a recipe? No.

Just as a recipe gives you the guidelines, roadmap, and action plan to create a stellar dish, a brand strategy will give you the recipe to make sure your restaurant is set up to win, not fail.

This step is often the difference between a restaurant that will fail or one that will succeed. Or a restaurant that is doomed to make just enough to pay bills or one that is very profitable and successful.

A brand strategy gets you thinking deeper

A brand strategy gets you thinking deeper about the future of your restaurant, the market you’re serving, the risks and challenges you’ll face, and the viability of seeing your ultimate dreams become reality.

When your brand strategy is well thought out and refined, you’ll have a better idea of which steps should come next for you as you are opening your restaurant and pursuing your dream.

Here are the 12 biggest questions you should answer as you are planning for the future of your restaurant:

Decide What kind of restaurant do you want?

There are so many types of restaurants in all shapes, and all sizes. From fast-and-casual concepts to food trucks, to cafes, bars, or major franchises. Step number one is narrowing down your ideas to a specific concept.

Write out a long and short answer to this question, and then get familiar with explaining it to family, friends, investors, lenders, and future customers. This will be like your “elevator pitch” in a way. It’s something you’ll need to practice repeating over and over.

Who is your restaurant for?

Before you can begin getting customers into your doors, you need to know who they are. This is also known as your target market. It’s a group of people who your restaurant is meant to serve.

The more specific you can get, the better. When you know your customer deeply, and intimately, you’ll be able to craft a better menu, design, environment and better overall experience for them.

When you understand your customers’ decision making, their fears, their desires, their motivations – your marketing campaigns will be much more effective and you’ll reach your ideal demographic more easily.

When you make these customer profiles, it’s good to be aware of how many households in the area you plan to serve are in your price point. You’ll need to find a location that is close to customers who can support your prices, and that isn’t already flooded with similar restaurant concepts. This decision is hugely important in the long-term success and growth of your restaurant.

Who are your restaurant’s main competitors?

Many business owners might tell you to never worry about your competition and just run your business with your nose to the ground. Only worry about yourself.

This could be good advice in the sense that you don’t want to mindlessly copy your competition, always worrying about what they’re doing, and trying to mimic them, or “one-up” them. However, when you’re first starting a restaurant it’s vital to know who your primary competitors are in the market.

You’ll want to know how they are similar, and how they are different from your restaurant. Do plenty of research to identify your competitors, as this will save you from the frustrations and failure that can come from creating a restaurant concept that is already too saturated or is positioned poorly against the other options.

Where’s the best location?

You’ve heard it before, “location, location, location.” It’s been said millions of times, yet it still rings true to this day. This step is one of the most important steps in the success of your restaurant.

By now you should have already narrowed down potential locations based on defining your target market and looking at your competition. You should be able to make some smart conclusions from these things.

For instance, it would be silly to put a high-end steakhouse in the middle of a low-income neighborhood.

With the same token, a trendy taco truck probably wouldn’t do well near a gated community of retired elderly people. Although, who knows… everyone loves tacos!

What’s your unique value proposition?

Don’t let this word scare you, it’s not complex, and really all that it means is that you should find what makes you different from your competition.

What is it about your food, your storefront, your atmosphere, your location, your pricing, that makes you unique and stand out among your competitors?

Maybe there’s something special about your specific location, or maybe you offer a very unique customer experience, or maybe the ingredients of your food are locally sourced and organic. There are many ways that your restaurant can stand out amongst the competition, so it’s important to discover this for your own restaurant.

One important factor of discovering and defining a unique value proposition is the menu that you offer. It’s important to test it, even on a small scale. Host tasting parties, or pop up events, leading up to the grand opening of a restaurant. This will allow you to gain important feedback, so you can know how to serve your customers best.

Your menu may change over time, but with a well-defined brand strategy, unique value proposition, and understanding your customers, the menu that you launch with should serve your restaurant well.

How will your customers find your restaurant?

How are you answer this question will be the beginning foundation of your restaurant marketing strategy.

Unfortunately for businesses, especially restaurants, the idea of “if you build it, they will come “doesn’t apply. Simply existing, is usually not enough for a restaurant to survive let alone thrive.

Since you now understand your customer, be thinking of ways that you can connect with him. Will you connect through paid advertising, social media campaigns, rely on word-of-mouth? Word-of-mouth referrals are great but aren’t always enough. You need to have a plan of action of what, and who, you’ll need in order to help get your message out.

Some other ideas for spreading the word could be inviting food bloggers to visit your restaurant, hosting a large grand opening event and inviting the community, and of course ensuring your restaurant is listed on Yelp, OpenTable, and has updated listings on Google and other social platforms.

Also, before you open you want to make sure you have a press kit, Nice photography, a video, and an “about” section of your website ready for any local or national news organizations that show interest.

What resources will your restaurant need?

You’ve heard it said before, it takes money to make money. And the same rings true for restaurants.

You’ll need to know what it will take to open and operate your restaurant. What types of resources will you need? Will you be the head chef, or will you hire a head chef? What type of technology will your restaurant use to process payments, or book reservations online? How many employees will you need? Will you hire an agency specializing in restaurant branding to design your logo, or have your nephew design it?

Take time now to list out all of the expenses your business will incur; both one time and recurring expenses. Be diligent, and as precise as possible.

Don’t forget to search for costs related to other mundane and operational things. Utilities, pest control, cleaning services, laundry services, etc.

If there are other needs that are not related to money, list those out as well.

How will your restaurant make money?

You can have the best idea in the world about what food or service you offer that customers will love, but that doesn’t always mean that your restaurant concepts will succeed and be profitable.

The effort that you put into your business model through developing a brand strategy is often what will determine how successful your restaurant will be. Will you generate just enough revenue to get by? Will you be able to make enough to cover all of your expenses? Will you eventually be able to make more money, and be profitable?

This is often where many restaurants fail because they don’t take the time thinking this through. The average restaurant thinks that simply opening their doors, will mean that the restaurant will make money.

That simply is not the case.

You’ll want to think through things related to the pricing structure of your menu, how you will choose your staff, what sort of insurance and licenses you will have and how much they will cost, and many other tax obligations, and red tape you’ll have to jump through.

How long will it take for your restaurant to make a profit?

It’s typical for a new restaurant to start out with a loss when they first open up, the first year is especially difficult. As you continue to invest in the necessary resources and work towards understanding and acquiring new customers, and work out all the kinks that come with operating a restaurant, there is a learning curve.

However, after some time, if you’ve done your due diligence, you’ll be making a good profit on top of your expenses.

Consider using a revenue forecast model to figure out how long it will take your restaurant to recoup your initial investments, to simply breakeven, and eventually run a profitable business.

What values will you never compromise in running a restaurant?

When you are in the thick of operating a restaurant, it important to be making good decisions at every turn and knowing what you stand for is critical to that.

You should define what values are most important to you, in business and personally. What values do you hold closest to you? What’s something that’s non-negotiable?

Write these values down, and limit them to two or three. This doesn’t mean you can’t have more than two or three values, but as the saying goes, “ if everything is important, then nothing is important.”

Creating and documenting these core values at the start will help you in your decision making, your operations, and every decision you make for your restaurant. From choosing the right vendor to how your menu should evolve over time, or critical decisions during pivotal times.

What’s your staffing plan?

Great service makes food taste even better.

It’s important to have skilled, hard-working, and qualified staff. And this begins with finding great candidates.

You can certainly find candidates through the usual means of job boards and website listings, and there’s always the classic sign in the window approach. However, finding the best quality team members is often achieved through personal connections.

Whether it is your head chef, a friend, or family member, reach out and start looking for the most reliable candidates possible. It’s very likely that your chef will want to bring people they have a past working relationship with, so be sure that these people fit into your company‘s culture.

Finding them is just one challenge, next you’ll have to train them.

Solid foundational training related to rules of food service and best practices in customer service will set your company apart, and a lay out a precedent early on with your restaurant.

When your team members are engaged, and you have a staff that supports you and your vision, and delivers exceptional customer service – that is a recipe for success. Your customers will notice, and their loyalty to your brand will strengthen.

What’s the endgame?

Have you considered what your endgame is? Is your plan to build a restaurant that one day you hope to sell, or are you hoping for a long-term sustainable business for you and your family? Do you simply want to start a small restaurant that you can pass down to your children and your grandchildren? Or are you wanting to start a franchise that will revolutionize the industry?

Understanding where you want to end up and how you want to get there, and when you want to get there, will help you make informed and smart decisions along the way.
Before going any further you should take time and outline what that looks like to you and create steps along the way.

If you want to reach your goal in 10 years, what should you be doing on an annual basis? What action should you be taking on a monthly basis to reach your annual target? What thing should you be focusing on a weekly basis to reach your monthly goal? And what should you be doing on a daily basis, to reach your weekly goal?

Make Your Restaurant Official

Now that we have the big picture game plan out of the way, it’s time to get down to business, making it official.

The early stages of starting a restaurant are filled with more paperwork and legal red tape to jump through than at any other point in your business.

This is definitely not the most exciting part of opening a restaurant, but be diligent. Taking time now to ensure that you properly establish your restaurant from the beginning will save you many potential headache and hazards down the road.

Below are some of the primary steps you’ll need to take in order to get your restaurant legally established with all of the proper paperwork for federal, state and local authorities.

Register Your Restaurants Official Business Name

If you’ve chosen a unique name for your business, then you should go and file your “Doing Business As” (DBA) name with your state’s agency.

Even if you have different future plans for the legal structure of your restaurant, filing a DBA at this early stage will protect you from getting your name stolen from you by a fellow restaurateur. It’s really simple and usually only costs a small amount to register it, so don’t wait.

Pick a Legal Structure for Your Restaurant

The next big step for getting your restaurant legally sound is to decide what sort of business entity is right for your restaurant.

Whatever structure you decide now will affect how you file for your state and federal business taxes, will influence how you split duties and roles of your team members, and determine how you will be held liable in the event that legal action is taken against your restaurant.

At this stage, it can be a good idea to consult with a business attorney to help you make the right choice because there are a lot of long-term issues that can arise from choosing the wrong option at this stage.

As you are considering all options, here is a basic overview of the various business structures you can choose from.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the most basic business structure, and a simple one, but there are upsides and downsides to this structure.

In this structure, you alone own the company and are personally responsible for any liabilities or legal claims associated with it.

The best part of this structure is that you don’t need to take any formal action to start.

If your business is operating under your own name, you can start right away. Or, if you have a clever idea for your business’ name, then filing a DBA will be all you need.

This could be a perfect structure for you if you won’t be taking on any fixed assets or hiring employees: examples would be a food truck, pop-up restaurant, or a very small operation.

Partnership

This structure is meant for a single business that is owned by two or more individuals.

There are a number of partnership structures you can select from, including a general partnership, joint venture, or a limited partnership.

The downside, and why most experienced entrepreneurs don’t recommend the partnership structure, is because there isn’t much protection from liability offered.

As you are considering this, also remember that business partnerships are very much like a marriage. It should be a long-term commitment, and you are legally and financially tied to them.

Because of this, you should do your due diligence in choosing a business partner who is in it for the long haul and shares your same goals and values. Be sure that you are both very clear on the terms and expectations, and put it into detailed writing. Define the roles and responsibilities of each partner.

Be very clear and communicate well upfront with your partner, before anyone “signs the dotted line.” This could save you from potentially catastrophic issues that may arise in the future.

Corporation

The corporation is a very complex business structure typically reserved for larger organizations, or for those that have a particularly high liability — needing some extra reassurance.

Many attorneys will recommend this is the legal structure for your restaurant. And it scales well as you hire more employees.

However, keep in mind that filing as a corporation requires you to have Board of Directors, and has more stringent tax filing requirements.

So be sure to consult an attorney and be prepared from a more complex process.

S-Corporation

These are very similar in structure to a C-Corporation, yet it’s different in that it’s taxed on an individual business owner level, instead of as a corporation.

If you think that the structure of the corporation would be a good fit, but don’t want to have to deal with complicated dividend tax filings, an S-Corp might be a good route for you.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC offers a liability structure similar to a corporation, yet flexibility and simplicity of a sole proprietorship or partnership. The Limited Liability Company (LLC) structure has grown in popularity over the years because you are able to get the “best of both worlds.”

Restaurateurs who select an LLC for the business structure can choose between a single officer, a partnership, or a limited liability corporation.

When selecting between various options, always it’s important to consult with an attorney.

This is an important decision that will have a potential long-term impact on your business, so be sure to do your due diligence, research, and consider all the options.

Get a Tax Identification Number

Your tax ID number, also known as your employee identification number (EIN) helps the IRS keep track of your restaurant for tax purposes.

It’s almost like a Social Security number for your business.

If you plan to hire any employees, such as waitstaff, hosts, hostesses, chefs, cooking staff, or even dishwashers, you’re going to need this number to ensure that your restaurant is on the up and up. This is especially important if your restaurant is established as a corporation or partnership.

You can easily obtain an employer identification number by applying online at the Internal Revenue Service website.

Register Your Restaurant for State and Local Taxes

In addition to federal business taxes, almost all US states and territories require you to pay income and employment taxes for your business.

Some states even have additional requirements, such as state-mandated Worker’s Compensation or unemployment insurance.

Be sure to check out your requirements, since filing procedures vary widely from state to state.

Get Secure Permits, Insurance, and Licenses for your Restaurant

Every four years the FDA will update the food code, but the specific details of what is required, strongly encouraged, or just optional can vary depending on which state you live and sometimes even between specific counties.

We recommend starting by finding your states food service code regulation department. Be sure to check your local health department to ensure that all of your bases are covered.

It’s also a very good idea to keep a calendar to remind yourself of renewal, and payment due dates. You don’t want to experience the frustration of walking into your restaurant one day and find that one of your permits or licenses has expired!

Get Food and Health Code Licenses

No matter the size of your operation, it will require some sort of official approval showing that you are safely handling the food and drinks that you serve.

The specific names of these can vary depending on your establishment, but they all certify that you’re safely handling, storing, and serving the food in your restaurant. And if you thought that having a food cart or a simple booth at a festival will get you out of this, think again. They have licenses for those too.

Alcohol has its own special sets of permits and rules. These will not only cover the protocols around safely serving alcohol, but also deal with training on how to handle customers that have had a little too much to drink.

Health Department Permits

Isn’t this the same thing that we just talked about? No, not exactly.

The health department has its own specific standards and guidelines around how you store, prepare, and serve your food. Your restaurant will need to be inspected to comply with operational standards as well as consumption safety.

Things like maximum occupancy, ventilation, fire hazards, sink placement, restroom regulations, or food preparation surface types, and so on.

Make Your Restaurant Compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act

In 1992 the Department of Justice passed the Americans With Disabilities Act to protect consumers and employees with disabilities from being discriminated against, and allowing places in public to provide proper accommodation.

The complete details of the ADA are available, but the Small Business Administration has also created a short guide for small businesses to understand what is expected of them.

Besides all of the specifics of various angles, measurements, and legal jargon, it really just boils down to having proper accommodations in place for people with disabilities. So they can safely park, enter your restaurant, order food and eat at a table.

Find Insurance for Your Restaurant

Despite jumping through all the red tape and every legal hoop with the health department, you still need some added safety nets in place.

There are many, many small business insurance options. There’s one for everything, and some are way more beneficial than others.

Specific requirements vary depending on where you live, and how you were funded, but at a base level you want to consider these:

  • Property Insurance
  • General Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Auto Liability
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Liquor Liability
  • Worker’s Compensation Insurance
  • Fire Insurance
  • Food Contamination
  • Loss of Business

Funding Your Newly Opened Restaurant

To be quite honest, funding a restaurant isn’t easy.

Even if you only hope to open a small café, all of the costs associated with construction, staffing, permits, equipment, marketing, and of course the food, can add up very quickly and can easily be more than what you have in your bank account.

You’ll likely need some funding from somewhere to start your restaurant unless you happen to be independently wealthy.

Restaurateurs choose to finance their restaurants in many different ways. Some reach out to friends and family, others will get a loan, and some work with investors.

Below we are going to review some financing options that can be considered.

Small Business Loans for Starting a Restaurant

The most common way that many small businesses get financing is through borrowing funds through a bank or lender.

The lending industry has grown tremendously over the years, and now has a wide variety of loan products that can meet the needs of any entrepreneur.

If you think this could be a good route for you and help you fund your restaurant, then it would be worth taking a moment to review the most common loan types used.

Term Loans

This is probably the most well-known type of loan. A term loan provides a set timeline and repayment structure, with fixed or variable interest rates.

The terms of this loan will vary depending on your business needs, and your credit rating. Terms can range from one year with daily payments up to a five-year with monthly payments and everything in between.

SBA Loans

Because small business lending is so risky for many commercial lenders, they’ve been slightly hesitant to let the small business owners borrow money, and this is especially true with new restaurant ventures.

Due to this, the Small Business Administration began to guarantee up to 80% of the loan principal for term loans with participating lending institutions. This might be a viable option if you are already experienced in the restaurant and food industry. If you are not, you likely won’t be considered.

The SBA offers many different loan programs, including some for aspiring restaurant owners.

If you plan to go this route, you will certainly need to have all of your ducks in a row. Write a great business plan that highlights the need for your restaurant and the uniqueness of your concept. Also, be prepared to have anywhere from 20% to 30% of the total loan amount in cash — or take out a mortgage on your home.

Keep in mind that while an SBA loan may make lenders more willing to consider your application, the SBA loan process is very lengthy and can take several months.

Equipment Financing

Equipment financing might be a good choice if you are needing cash to make a large purchase such as point of sale technology, furniture, or commercial kitchen appliances.

This type of financing is very similar to the structure of a car loan, with the amount that you can borrow depends on the price and type of equipment that you’re buying.

You likely won’t be asked to put up collateral either, because the equipment itself will serve as the collateral.

The terms of this type of financing typically are a fixed interest rate — often between 8% and 30% — along with a fixed term length which makes your payments the same each month.

Short-Term Loans

For a restaurant with smaller and immediate needs for finances, a short term loan can be a lifesaver. These loans are typically between three and 18 months and are similar to traditional term loans. They are usually in the range of $2500-$250,000.

Short term loans can get you to cash in hand in as little as two days, helping you make rent payments, pay food vendors, cover your payroll, or meet other immediate overhead expenses when cash is tight. Interest rates can be as low as 14% on these types of loans.

Line of Credit

The most flexible form of financing for a business is a business line of credit, which gives you capital to draw upon to meet your business needs.

After being established, you can draw from your line of credit just as you would a personal credit card. Use your line of credit for more working capital, buying inventory, paying off other debts, or getting you through seasonal cash flow issues.

If you are planning to apply for any type of small business loan at any point in the future, be sure that you regularly audit your personal and business credit reports, and do everything you can to improve your score.

Aside from your annual revenue, length of time you’ve been in business and your average bank balance, your personal and business credit scores are often the most important factors that determine if you’re eligible for a small business loan.

Business Funding Alternatives

There are also other ways to finance a restaurant. Here are a few alternatives you may consider to help cover the costs of your new restaurant venture.

Angel Investors

Every single day there are thousands of people who are investing both finances and their expertise into what they believe is the next big thing.

Angel investors have the means and experience — and have often been very successful entrepreneurs themselves — to personally invest in a variety of restaurant ventures, lending their resources and expertise, and furthering their own income as well.

When an angel investor provides funds and expertise, you will also be giving them a certain amount of equity in your business, and often times they will have a certain amount of decision making power.

Just as you think through a partnership, be sure that you think through working with an angel investor. You want to make sure that you both are wanting the same thing for the restaurant.

Venture Capital Firms

Venture-capital firms are similar to Angel investors, but they are more organized and can fund projects on a much larger scale through purchasing percentages of a business in a startup’s “round” of funding.

Most venture-capital firms require a minimum investment to be in the $1 million range, so you should only consider this if your goal is to build a very large scale chain of restaurants, as opposed to only a handful of locations.

Funding a restaurant through a venture capital firm can also be highly competitive most restaurant owners won’t meet the criteria a venture capital firm would seek.

Friends and Family

You’re likely to have the support of your family and friends as you start your restaurant, and some may even be interested and willing to invest funds to help it succeed.

Accepting money from friends and family may often have strings attached, despite everyone’s best intentions. Loss of income and a failing restaurant can ruin relationships.

If you go this route, strive to keep all interactions as professional as possible.

Negotiate as much up front as you can, and communicate expectations as clearly as possible. Be sure to offer a well-thought-out proposal just as you would any other investor, and put the exact terms of the investment in writing.

Restaurants will often offer “dining perks” for these investors. Think of it as a permanent reservation or discount to sweeten the deal.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has grown significantly in popularity over the years. Websites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo are perfect for small ventures that are simply looking to offer products or goods in exchange for a contribution.

Larger scale startups may consider equity crowdfunding platforms like EquityNet. This type of crowdfunding will sell company equity to capital investors.

You should not underestimate the value of a few hundred pledges, each around $10, $20 or even, $50. And if your campaign goes viral, your possibilities grow even more. It can all add up fast!

A Final Note

At the end of the day, starting a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. There are many challenges ahead, and many questions must be answered.

The restaurant industry is one of the most ruthless, cutthroat, notorious industries. The failure rate of restaurant startup is significantly higher than any other industry.

Although we covered a lot of details surrounding what it takes to start a restaurant, the bottom line is that you won’t fully understand these challenges, until you’ve experienced them.

Before starting your restaurant, take time to make sure you’re ready to jump in – mentally, financially, physically, and relationally.

Make sure you seek out help from mentors and experts in the industry.

Any additional amount of work you can do, before getting too far into the process, can save you a lot of wasted time, energy and frustration down the road.

When the time comes for you to develop a brand and marketing strategy for your restaurant — please reach out to the restaurant branding experts at Longitude. We’d love to chat.

6 Fatal Mistakes That Restaurants Commonly Make – and How to Avoid Them

As restaurant brand experts, it is safe to assume that we genuinely love everything about restaurants and the strong-willed, creative people who run them. If you’re ready to unveil your own brand, then we really want you to prosper.

It’s commonly said that 90% of restaurants will fail within their first year, and although that isn’t entirely true, it is true that new restaurants are much more likely to fall than established restaurants. In fact, 60% will fail within the first 3 years of opening their doors.

60% of restaurants will fail within the first 3 years of opening their doors.

With an ever-increasing world of consumers who are brand-conscious, we see first hand that whether a restaurant sinks or swims is largely dependent on the quality of their brand strategy and identity. However, we also realize that most restauranteurs are very busy, wearing multiple hats, working long hours – and most aren’t branding experts. This means errors are often made, or things overlooked regarding their brand strategy.

Because of this, I have pulled from our team’s experience in helping hundreds of brands over the last decade, and I’ve put together a list of the 6 most common ways restaurants fail at branding – and how to avoid them. I hope you find it insightful, and that this article will help you identify and steer clear of these potentially harmful missteps.

1. Forcing Your Story

At the root of any great brand is your story. This isn’t just a cliché word either; our story gets us through ups and downs. It gets us up every morning and gets us excited about what we do. It makes our brand authentic. However, a problem occurs when a leader tries to push their passions onto their team members, or other partners. People have their own passions, their own pursuits, their own desires – their own story. If you aren’t able to clearly tell your story and relay your vision, then challenges will inevitably come. This is one of the most common ways that restaurants fail – building a culture centered around a single vision.

Avoid this Mistake:

  • Having open and honest talks with everyone on your team
  • Discovering how to encourage and excite your team members
  • Identifying areas where your team’s vision isn’t aligned with yours, and also finding commonality
  • Leveraging the things you learn about your team to shape your brand and your vision so there’s a better chance at energizing and motivating your team

2. Following Restaurant Trends

Trends will come and go – this always been, and always will be, the case. Inevitably, there’s always one shiny new concept that attracts the most attention and stands out among the rest. Restauranteurs will flock to this concept, and before you know it there’s a vegan burger restaurant on every corner.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always a bad thing to launch a concept based on a trend. You’ll even find restauranteurs attempt to take a new spin on a trend – “vegan burgers with a new twist!” As irresistible as it may be, following trends isn’t always the best decision.

You don’t want to appear second-best.

The real problem lies in the fact that a trend is set by the leaders, and it’s hard for consumers to see any new attempt as anything other than an “imitator.” You don’t want to appear second-best. This is a very difficult position for a restaurant to dwell in because you’re forced to compete on price or availability alone. If you’re not careful you’ll be lucky to survive, let alone thrive.

Avoid this Mistake:

  • Do your research on the market before launching
  • Find a concept that will be unique and viable in your market
  • If you’re trying to start in an existing category pin-point the category leader
  • Figure out what you can offer to your customers that can special and differentiate you from the leader
  • When you discover your unique position, follow through and be consistent. Pretty soon you’ll be the leader in your own industry.

3. A Confusing Restaurant Concept

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes restaurants try something so unique and out-of-the-box that it causes more confusion and harm than anything. Usually, this approach is thought to differentiate them against the competitors and establish their own completely unique category. The problem is that when your primary goal is simply “be different,” you risk alienating your customers.

People usually pick where they eat based on their own understanding of existing restaurant categories. When your concept doesn’t fit the mold of any common restaurant category, it’s easy to be overlooked by customers. Being unique can be beneficial, but if you can’t communicate it clearly to your audience, your “uniqueness” will fall on deaf ears.

Avoid this Mistake:

  • After you find a good opportunity in your market, think about how you’d want a new customer to explain the experience and the food to their friend.
  • Is it hard to understand? Could people easily explain it?
  • If your unique concept is too confusing for you to explain, it’ll be much more difficult for your customers to explain
  • Spend time to clarify your concept until it’s so simple a child could explain it

4. Naming Your Restaurant

Picking a name for your restaurant is often a huge creative endeavor of its own. Restauranteurs love to see their dream becoming real, but too often that can lead to making rushed decisions. This happens a lot in naming a restaurant.

There are two ways that this problem commonly occurs: first, the name is decided well before any sort of brand story or strategy is in place, which can cause great confusion if there is anything misaligned once the brand strategy is in place. Second, the name isn’t available which leads to picking a name that isn’t future-proof or will cause huge headaches with trademarking down the road.

Avoid this Mistake:

  • Develop your name with the help of a naming or branding agency which has this as a part of their brand development process
  • If you can’t do that, simply use a temporary “working name” until your strategy is defined and ready to go
  • In order to avoid any trademark issues, be sure to have an attorney review your name, and give it the “okay.”

5. Too Focused on a Logo Alone

Your brand isn’t your logo, it is your reputation. It’s how the public perceives you. It’s created by what you say, how you look, and what you do. Simply put, your words, look, and actions need to align, or you’ll be causing harm to your brand.

This is where many restauranteurs fail. Creating a brand for your restaurant is much, much more than creating a pretty logo. In order to create a wonderful experience that will turn your customers into raving fans, you need a brand strategy and identity that will make an impact. A comprehensive and cohesive brand identity system for your restaurant can tell the story much more effectively than if you only had a logo and a handful of colors.

A first impression is everything, and you won’t get a second chance.

A first impression is everything, and you won’t get a second chance. Putting a logo on your doors and saying your restaurant is “branded” won’t draw in more customers – especially those who have a keen sense for good design and aesthetic.

Avoid this Mistake:

  • Hire an experienced brand strategist or agency to design and develop a comprehensive visual identity for your brand
  • Be sure that you have a guideline book created to ensure visual consistency with all future touchpoints
  • Use this new system as a filter to ensure that you’re creating a memorable and consistent experience for your customers

6. Ignoring Your Target Audience

This is one of the most common mistakes that we see restaurants make. Restauranteurs will often spend so much time thinking about their restaurant as they are creating it, that they completely forget to be mindful of who their customer will be and how to attract them.

We’ve posted about this in another article (related to hotel branding), but it goes back to the mentality from the popular movie, “Field of Dreams.” In that movie, a baseball field is built on the simple idea that, “if you build it, they [ghosts of famous baseball players] will come.” It makes for a great movie, but a terrible business strategy.

Your customers aren’t ghosts. If you don’t know your customer, you’re not going to have a clear plan of how to get them excited about your restaurant. This makes it very difficult to create a brand experience that will resonate with anyone, let alone the target audience that exists only in your mind.

You may be building an entire restaurant concept based on a customer that doesn’t exist

Another problem that could arise is that without thinking about a target customer, you may be building an entire restaurant concept based on a customer that doesn’t exist. This will result in the swift death of a restaurant and is a common culprit in many restaurant failures we’ve seen. Your customers will only come if you are providing something they’ll care about, and your brand strategy is focused on them.

Avoid this Mistake:

  • Take time to sit down and understand your customer
  • Create customer personas that are a mixture of demographic information and experienced-based information
  • What do your customers care about? What negative things are they trying to avoid?
  • Ensure that as you are defining your restaurant concept, that these customer personas are at the front of your mind

7. Going it Alone (Bonus!)

The benefit of working with a brand agency, like Longitude, who specializes in restaurants, food, beverage, and hospitality will help you develop a restaurant concept like no other. We help guide you through the difficult journey and tumultuous terrain of building a powerful, influential, and profitable brand for your restaurant. Let the restaurant branding experts at Longitude help you avoid these fatal mistakes and turn the vision for your restaurant a reality.

Don’t attempt to go it alone. We’d love to help.

Avoid this Mistake:

Balancing Creativity & Consistency With Your Brand Design

Post originally posted at Foodabletv.com

Have you ever enjoyed the wit or creativity of a television spot but then had no idea what it was for? This is probably because they valued creativity without consistency. Different is not always better. In fact, when it comes to positioning your brand in your consumers’ minds, you should be careful not to dilute your message.

Maybe you’ve grown tired of looking at elements of your brand and want to see something fresh. Some of us err on the side of wanting to change things up constantly. Others may never seek to change anything and grow out-dated and irrelevant. Is there a balance? How can we know when it’s time to do something new and creative, or when it’s best to maintain consistency?

There are two distinct areas to identify so that we can apply these principles correctly:

1. Foundational Elements

The foundational elements of your brand should stay consistent. These include items such as your logo, primary color palette, and tagline. The foundational elements should be developed to reflect the essence of the brand. Once in place, they shouldn’t change unless there is a fundamental strategic shift for the brand.

If Coca-Cola switched up their logo every few years just to stay fresh, their brand would not be recognizable all over the world. If Starbucks created an ad using blue and yellow, you wouldn’t associate it with their brand. It would be confusing and ineffective. Large brands understand the power of consistency in their foundational elements.

2. Secondary Elements

Secondary elements of your brand can include typefaces, secondary colors, and graphic styles. New items, seasonal promotions, and campaigns can provide a great opportunity to try something different, as long as it stays true to the foundational elements of the brand.

We see great brands roll out visuals that are extremely creative and fresh, yet they still remain unmistakably on-brand. You can usually identify an ad for Target without seeing the logo. That is because of their consistency. Starbucks is a great example of having new and exciting visuals during their seasonal promotions. Because they stay true to their foundational elements, you still know that it is Starbucks.

4 Tips on Being Creative but Consistent

Think about your audience. Are you wanting to change something because you are tired of seeing it, or because your audience is tired of seeing it? Remember that others are seeing it less frequently than you and you should be base decisions on their needs.

Don’t stick with something that doesn’t work. If your logo and visuals do not reflect the essence of your brand, you should consider if a rebranding effort is needed. It is better to make changes now than to consistently put out the wrong message.

Continue Reading on Foodable.

 


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