5 Essential marketing tips for restaurants

  • Posted on November 01, 2021 by John Jones

Running a restaurant is a hectic, often stressful vocation. Kitchens are hot, dining rooms frantic and the owner has to simultaneously manage the finances, health & safety, procurement and HR together with a host of other operations. It isn’t surprising, then that we often hear restaurateurs say “I just don’t have time for marketing”. 

In this short blog, we look at five essential marketing areas which are highly effective and easy to implement.

Online reservations

If a restaurant doesn’t have online booking, the chances are the business isn’t long for this world. That may sound controversial, but the past decade has seen a tremendous shift in how customers book their requirements, from medical appointments to gym sessions, garage servicing to vacations and yes, restaurant tables. Far from being a novel and perhaps risky way to book, the internet reservations are a permanent and secure fixture used the world over.

As a restaurateur you may rue the day that customers preferred an online form to picking up the phone, in preference to hearing a professional two-way conversation. On the other hand, you may see online booking as a great way to get fast, low maintenance bookings to fill your restaurant. We see it as both. 

There are a number of excellent online booking software companies out there, so do your homework and choose one that is right for your business. Look for a customisable booking widget and calendar which can be easily integrated into your existing website to ensure new and returning diners can check availability and book their table in just a few clicks. Real time availability is absolutely essential, so – sorry, but – a calendar which just sends a request rather than actually books the table isn’t going to cut it.

Here’s what to look for.

Online menus

Online menus are great and can be found is modern restaurant software. However, the best restaurant software packages will come with interactive menus, so your customers can browse your dishes, see photographs and go on to select them during the subsequent booking process. 

The very best systems offer multiple menu options, so, for example, the restaurant can offer the online visitor breakfast, lunmch and dinner options together with any seasonal specials. 

Having the ability for diners to browse menus online is a great way to promote and up-sell: just don’t fall into the trap of thinking an online list or downloadable PDF is acceptable to technology-savvy customers these days. It’s really not.

Collection & delivery

Events of the last two years have changed the way consumers like to interact with their favourite brands, including restaurants. Many restaurants have been quick to harness this shift in behaviour and use it as an opportunity to develop new sales channels. 

Offering options for customers to pre-order their food online and have it delivered or collect it may be a new concept to some restaurateurs, but for those wishing to maintain their brand’s values can take steps to ensure their business isn’t perceived as now operating in the “take-away” sector. Far from it. 

Diners are adaptable, resourceful and usually loyal people if the food on offer lives up to expectations and the service consistently high. A great online booking journey will get the experience off to an impressive start, if that journey itself reflects the standards usually experienced in-house. 

Further, with the right attention to detail (packaging, consumables, nice touches) coupled with that fantastic food for which you’re known the consumer will quickly associate their non-restaurant gastronomic experience as highly exclusive, private at-home dining. 

With careful thought, the humble take-away can be repackaged as a luxury treat with the highest level of exclusivity.

Photography

Having your menu online online is essential, but it isn’t the only way to entice customers with talk of food. Peoples’ minds perceive and react to information differently, so while some will be licking their lips after reading about your dishes, others will want to see what you offer. That’s where a set of great photographs comes in. 

Food photographs are incredibly powerful for showing off your delicacies, presentation skills and overall dining experience. Get it wrong, however, and what’s described as fine dining fare could end up looking like the product of a greasy spoon café. 

It’s harder than it looks to take great food photographs and you might want to consider finding a local professional to help out. If you do decide to do it yourself, think about:

  • Plating. Arranging your food and giving it context is an art in itself. Wooden boards suggest rustic; round china plates give a classy feel.
  • Arranging. Some dishes need a regimented textbook look, whereas others look better with an intentionally messy feel.
  • Lighting. According to Shopify, food for photos should be softly diffused and lit from the side rather than the front, with just enough shadow to accentuate texture without being harsh.

Reviews

It is essential to set up and maintain some form of review platform, so customers have the opportunity to leave highly visible feedback. Why? Because a collection of feedback, coupled with well-thought responses by the restaurant, is a hugely powerful and free advertising medium. 

According to Restaurant Clicks, TripAdvisor, Google My Business and Facebook are the most popular free sites where customers can leave reviews. The nice thing about utilising these platforms is that doing so is something of a double-edged sword, in that they really are all or nothing. There’s usually no way for the business to moderate or filter out published reviews, so being present does give the business an extra impetus to strive for excellence in all it does.

The key thing to remember with reviews is that harnessing them is not a vanity project, although we’d all like to receive 100% positive reviews all of the time. Opening a business for reviews online is a marketing activity, where each review is a potential advertisement to influence other readers. The magic comes into play when dealing with negative reviews, and let’s be clear, you’re going to get them occasionally. This is where the savvy restaurant owner will use the opportunity to respond as a marketing opportunity, too – gently and politely leaving a great response which turns the tables and makes readers even more likely to book. Here’s an article we wrote some time ago about dealing with negative reviews. 

Promotion

The internet offers multiple opportunities for restaurateurs to have an ongoing dialogue with prospective and existing customers. Far from being a “fire & forget” activity, providing a great experience to diners can be a continual process if carried out carefully. 

By breaking down the experience into before, during and after their meal restaurateurs have the opportunity to interact with diners to create a sense of anticipation, urgency, gratitude and loyalty.

Unlike the booking-only software companies (the ones you often see advertised on TV), those vendors offering fully-featured restaurant management systems tend to provide more bang for their buck because they’re able to send marketing communications directly to the restaurant’s customer list. For busy restaurateurs, the ability to quickly create SMS and email campaigns from within their software means that news, special offers, promotions and blogs can be distributed very effectively in a bid to make existing customers stickier.

A word of warning here, however: we have seen the occasional instance of restaurateurs getting a little trigger-happy with their fantastic marketing modules, such are their effectiveness. We would suggest taking a measured approach to marketing and follow a plan rather than shower customers with irrelevant communications.

Wrapping up

Marketing can be a very in-depth subject and one likely to fill the pages of any weighty business textbook; restaurateurs have enough on their plate without having to become the next marketing guru. 

Equally, it is clear that few businesses are fully successful without some attention to marketing, even if in its most basic sense. By embracing modern tools and a few marketing essentials, restaurateurs can create an effective marketing output which needn’t be difficult or time consuming. 

Web-based reservations are essential to cater to the demands of modern diners, together with interactive online menus and attractive photographs. 

Active participation in the review culture will provide restaurant owners the opportunity to promote their brands at little or zero cost, if managed carefully, while offering collection and delivery is a great way to branch out and provide an exclusive “dining at home” product.

Bundle all of the above into an effective promotional strategy, utilising the marketing functions found in modern restaurant software and you’ll soon have more customers making more bookings. Just don’t bombard people with emails and SMS.

 


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Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
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