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.
To be blunt: this is not good thinking.
First, customers are an integral part of a successful restaurant.
Yes, you need to have money to buy the food and drinks you prepare. And, yes, you’ll need to pay staff to then prepare and serve it all. But if you don’t have customers to buy it all, you might as well throw your cash into the compost bin along with the all the food no one’s buying.
More importantly, restaurant marketing doesn’t have to be a very costly venture.
Our connected world makes it possible to spread your culinary gospel with minimal—or even zero—expense. Sure, you’ll have to spend time to do it. But if your next thought is “time is money,” try going to a bookstore and buying a book about meaningless cliches with time. When that doesn’t work for you, come back to this post and read on. We’ve got a nice list of ways you can raise awareness and boost your clientele that anyone can do.
1. Loyalty Programs
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. The bulk of your customers are those who you’ve already served.
There’s something known as the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% 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 or Hey You.
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.
Even better, research has shown that 71% 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 of freebie to new customers. Sign them up to your loyalty program, and the cycle begins anew. This is restaurant marketing 101.
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 3 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.
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.
Ensure that 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.
Be aware that making sure you’re listed accurately and prominently will not make you stand out amongst your competitors. Be doubly aware that ignoring this simple method of marketing absolutely will make you stand out—and not in a good way.
The harder you make it for people to learn about you, the more likely it is they will ignore you.
4. Team Up Other Local Businesses
There’s safety in numbers, and 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.
See how the best of the business team up for great exposure.
5. Show off on instagram
The first thing about your food that’s going to whet some appetites is its appearance. This all starts with properly photographing your food, but it definitely doesn’t end there. To be successful on Instagram, you’ve got to participate. Follow local accounts, and show pictures of staff and customers alike having a great time at your restaurant.
Participate in hashtag games like Throwback Thursday (#tbt), and encourage your diners to share their own experiences using your own hashtags.
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.
Check out the Instagram pages of Doughnut Time, Uncle Ming’s, and even the upscale Noma for amazing restaurant marketing inspiration.