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10 steps to nailing your restaurant marketing

Think slow roast, not a flash fry

By Chloe Chaplin

If you were running any other business, you could chuck up a few ads and customers would magically appear at your door.

It’s different for restaurants. Diners like to think they have the inside scoop, and that the quality of the restaurant should be its own advertising. We both know that’s not true. So how do you advertise without being seen to?

Here’s how to boost your awareness and your diner numbers.

Step 1: Socialise online

Most of your target market hang out somewhere online. And 88% of them are swayed by online reviews and comments. It’s not just about boosting a Facebook or IG post and hoping for the best, though. 60.7% of people need to hear from you two to four times before they buy. That means your social presence should be all about sustained, engaged effort – you’re there to build relationships, not just sell your restaurant.

Social media action plan:

  • Claim all your accounts. Facebook, Insta, Pinterest, Google, all the things.
  • Update them all with your opening hours, phone number, menu, links to your website and other social media sites.
  • Post to build your tribe online. Sprinkle morsels of information about yourself, the chef, or the dishes. Ask for people’s opinions on a new dish (people love to give opinions). Share an insider tip, like how your chef poaches the perfect eggs.

Step 2: Take control of reviews

Now you’ve got your social media humming, start asking your regulars for reviews. Log in to review sites once a week and respond to everything with warmth and professionalism. Pop over here to read more on how to manage reviews properly. Real reviews from your diners are Important, (note the capital ‘I’) so don’t skimp on this.

Reviews action plan

  • Claim your restaurant on all review sites.
  • Ask your regulars for reviews.
  • Share your review links so people can easily find you.
  • Acknowledge and answer all reviews with professionalism.
  • Invest in review management software to help you.

Step 3: Build (and connect) with your database

As well as cultivating that social media following, you need to build your own database. Why? Because you don’t actually own your FB and Instagram followers – one false move and the platforms could kick you off. Suddenly, you’ve lost all that hard work AND your customers’ ears.

Running the occasional mail-out with a run-down of a new menu or an exclusive offer will give you an extra way to worm into your customers’ minds next time they’re planning a meal out.

Database-building action plan

  • If it fits the tone of your restaurant, ask people to pop their business cards in a bowl for a shot at a monthly draw.
  • Online ordering system? Make sure it adds email addresses to your list.
  • Run a Facebook competition that gathers email addresses, then follow up with entrants.
  • Give your website visitors the option to add themselves to your newsletter.
  • Give incentives for people to refer their friends.

Step 4: Create loyalty

Creating a loyalty program rewards your regular customers and keeps people coming back. It could be as simple as a punch-card for the tenth coffee free, or something far more elaborate to better suit your brand. A digital loyalty system will naturally boost your database, too. Your POS system should be able to make it easy to keep track of points and rewards.

Building-loyalty action plan

  • Think about rewards that promise extra service, rather than just free stuff – first dibs at tickets to your events, free coffee-tasting mornings, or an invite to a new menu launch, for example.
  • Let people earn rewards fast, at least at first.
  • Make sure your POS system has the functionality to make this all super easy.

Step 5. Specials

Now you have a database, time to do something with it. Promotions can be more than just filling tables on quiet nights. Offer some genuine value to your diners. Can you team up with a booze supplier and run an exclusive tasting night? What about an event to benefit your favourite charity?

If you’re giving a discount on the final bill, make sure your POS can handle it, so you’re not doing mental gymnastics while the diner is tapping her card at you and sighing.

Specials action plan

  • Find a promo that works for your business and customers.
  • Tell your database about it.
  • Make sure your POS system handles it easily, so customers aren’t inconvenienced.

Step 6: Create PR buzz

PR buzz is restaurant marketing gold. When you stay in the media it keeps you top of mind and on people’s dining list. The trick? You have to do stuff worth buzzing about.

PR-buzz action plan

  • Partner with relevant brands to do some collabs. Get on their bandwagon for a charity event, run some pop-ups or run a promo. It’s a great way to cross-pollinate your networks, get free press and get people talking.
  • Enter awards. From illustrious barista or cocktail awards through to the best pie comp, if you win, splash it around social media, be available for comment and put that trophy up somewhere people can see it.
  • Make friends with critics and journos. You need to be on their radar, and in their publications. Identify journos that align with what you’re doing and do a teensy bit of Twitter and Instagram stalking to make connections. Comment on their posts so they know who you are.
  • Get an influencer on board. A good influencer is word-of-mouth on steroids. You can reach a large audience of people interested in what you’re selling. The trick is to choose an influencer whose demographic and style matches yours – they might talk about you in exchange for a free meal, or you might want to explore a direct pay-per-post deal.

Step 7. Get on TV (and famous)

If you (or someone in the kitchen) are personable, use that to create some video content. You don’t have to be Heston Blumenthal – anyone with a bit of personality and a nice manner in front of the camera will do.

It doesn’t matter if it’s making the perfect martini, boning a duck or chopping an onion, just create a short, fun video and you’ve got some engaging content. Then next time the breakfast show is looking for a new chef for their cooking segment, you’ve already got a demo reel and someone who’s camera ready.

Getting famous action plan

  • Sign up to YouTube and open a channel for your restaurant.
  • Buy a smartphone tripod and lapel mic – they’re surprisingly inexpensive and make a massive difference to the quality.
  • Brainstorm a list of interesting clips you could create, then start filming, posting and sharing regularly – the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and the easier it will be.
  • Keep an eye out for TV opportunities and be quick to put yourself forward.

Take time to do it right

You can’t rush this – don’t buy followers or try to engage influencers without forming a relationship first. Ultimately, you can’t cheat the process.

So, get started today and chip away at creating a loyal tribe online. Then, add on collabs, influencers and video content to create some buzz and get famous.

Really, restaurant marketing is just like running a restaurant. It’s about authenticity and connection over the long term.

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