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Five Easy Ways to Market Your Restaurant Without Going Broke

Restaurant marketing doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. See how you can market your hospitality business without going broke.

By Dave Eagle

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In their first few years restaurants have a bit of a reputation for operating with razor-thin profits – if profits even exist at all.

Because of this, non-essential expenses are often cast aside to lighten the financial load. That’s good thinking. Unfortunately, restaurateurs tend to relegate marketing to this “non-essential” category, and that is not good thinking, especially in this day and age when you can do most of it online, and for very little cost.

If you’re a new business, you need to get the word out to attract customers. Even if you’ve been operating for years, you still need to generate buzz about things like events, promotions and new additions to your menu among others.

About 40 per cent of people learn about food through digital methods, that is, through websites, blogs, or apps, so it’s essential for all hospitality business to make some effort to reach out and market themselves. 

Thankfully, our connected world makes it possible to spread your culinary gospel with minimal – or even zero – expense, and here are our top five ways to do so.

1. Loyalty Programs

It’s a little known fact, but the bulk of your customers are those who you’ve already served.

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There’s something known as the 80/20 rule, which states that 80 per cent of your revenue comes from 20 per cent of your customers. Obviously, those aren’t hard and fast numbers, but the general idea is truth: investing in customer retention is a better long-term strategy than spending on customer acquisition.

And loyalty programs are a proven way to do this.

But how is this marketing? In and of itself, it really isn’t. Incentivising someone to make repeat purchases is good business, though. Loyalty becomes marketing when you go beyond the standard punch-card or points accrual system with apps like Collect Rewards.

These apps add a social component to a loyalty program by letting users share their purchases on social media. Referrals can earn your customers more rewards, a powerful incentive.

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Even better, research has shown that 71 per cent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a referral from a friend than an advertisement. You can increase that likelihood even more by offering a small discount or freebies to new customers. Sign them up to your loyalty program, and the cycle begins anew.

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2. Create vibrant content on your blog

Most of our customers have one thing in common, they create content and get it out through social media. Even if you just post something once a week, a blog goes a long way towards exposing your business to new eyes. 

A blog entry shouldn’t be (or even read like) an advertisement. Instead, it should showcase you and your passion for what you do by offering an educational experience of some kind.

For example, a pizzeria owner might dedicate a post to the importance of the crust to a pizza, discuss the things that can go wrong when making dough, and even teach readers the right way to do it.

You’re not giving away secrets when you tell people that dough needs to be refrigerated for three days before it’s ready to go into the oven. Instead, you’re demonstrating your passion for getting it right, and your willingness to take the time to do it that way. You’re giving readers a reason to come down and try your pizza without ever explicitly telling them to.

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3. Get located

Location-based apps abound, and it can be an overwhelming to task to try and get listed everywhere. Just focus on the most popular engines for this kind of searching – Google and Yelp – to make sure that anyone nearby can find you.

Supply as much information as possible with your listing, so the next time someone searches for “restaurants near me” that person will be able to make an informed choice. Ensuring you’re listed accurately and prominently will not make you stand out amongst your competitors.

If you’re using a reservations service like Dimmi or OpenTable, customers may be able to book a table at your venue’s listing directly from Google search results, as seen below. 

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READ NOW: The Low-down on Restaurant Reservations (and How to Survive No-Shows)

4. Team up with other local businesses

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Local businesses can often strengthen their business by teaming up with others in the area for marketing purposes. A cafe that doesn’t offer alcohol, for example, could create an offer in conjunction with a nearby bar that doesn’t serve food. “Have a meal with us, and we’ll buy your first after-dinner drink” is a good way to get customers to patronise both establishments.

This type of cooperation is also especially helpful in competing with large chains. A coalition of small businesses can devise ways to encourage people to shop local by creating a whole campaign on the theme.

Every participating business can take to their social media pages to promote the campaign and see tremendous reach. This was how Fancy Hanks, now a high street restaurant in Melbourne, started – by teaming up with lawn bowls clubs.

“We looked for opportunities for mutually beneficial relationships, where we could both add to each other’s offering. The lawn bowls club was the perfect choice – they had a bar but no food, people generally went there with their friends and family, spending time relaxing and being happy. It was the perfect spot for us,” said co-founder Mike Patrick.

“We got the word out via social media. We would just do a shout out on the day and some posts a few days before to generate buzz,” he said.

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5. Show off on Instagram

Most of our customers have one thing in common in their marketing tactics – they create content and get it out through social media. 

“Social media has been really important for us and it’s been the main avenue we use to communicate with our customers. Once upon a time in hospitality, you would pay for an advert in the local magazine once a week to let people know what you had on. Now you spend that $500 on someone who can take good photos, create good content and communicate with your customers more directly,” shared Frank Hannon-Tan of Adelaide’s Mother Vine Wine Bar.

In 2017, over 70 per cent of Australian hospitality businesses (we’re talking small outfits here) used some form of social media to market their businesses, and for hospitality and foodservice businesses in particular, Instagram is the one social media platform to get on.

It’s a visual platform, which means it’s the perfect place to show off With over 66 per cent of frequent diners wanting to visit restaurants after seeing photo or video posts from their friends on Instagram, mastering the art of food photography will go a long way in getting your venue the right exposure and increasing awareness of your hospitality brand.

Pro-tip: To increase your chances of exposure on Instagram, you’ve also got to participate. Follow local accounts, and show pictures of staff and customers alike having a great time at your restaurant.

The goal should be to make your restaurant look like the kind of place that people not only want to eat at, but to hang out in.

The importance of getting the word out about your establishment cannot be understated, and with so many ways to do so with very little or no cost at all, there’s no time like the present to get started.

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