Marketing 101 for restaurants

  • Posted on August 08, 2021 by John Jones

Owners of restaurants, café bars and pubs usually need to consider marketing at some point, in an attempt to drum up trade. The great news is that you don't need a £multi-million budget to market your business really effectively, but it does need some thought and an understanding of the principles. In this short blog we look at the basics, dispel some urban myths and provide some tips designed to have you marketing like the best.

Marketing

We've all done it: we go into work one day and decide to “do marketing”. Our minds whirr with thoughts of logos and adverts, but after an hour or so the enthusiasm wanes as we realise it isn't as easy as we first thought and frankly it's all a bit confusing. That's usually because we have starting running our marketing marathon before we can walk, and we really should have started with the basics.

Marketing is the umbrella for the strategic approach to a whole range of activities which, if done correctly, will knit together seamlessly. Let's get one thing clear – marketing itself does not start with logos or adverts, it is about identifying the truths about your business, or your brand. But before you reach for your pen and start designing what you believe to be a new brand, branding isn't about graphics, either. We'll get onto branding later.

Marketing is your overarching strategy: it ties all subsequent activity together; it is what you live and breathe; what you believe about your business; what you are known for; what you want to be.

Speaking of which, think of marketing as your menu and your marketing activity as your dishes on that menu. Get it?

Branding

Companies the world over spend an eye-watering amount of money on firming up their brands and no, we're still not onto logos. We're taking about public perception and what people associate with us, when we come to mind. 

Similarly, what do you believe your restaurant is defined by, or want it to be? These are your truths, and they must be, er, true. A few years ago there was a UK-based retail bank whose slogan was something like “The Helpful Bank”. Doesn't that sound great? The truth was, however, that the business was closing hundreds of its high street branches which wasn't actually very helpful at all. The claims and the truths, then, just didn't stack up.

You really do need to be honest here about your strengths and truths, to avoid propagating very confusing messages to the public.

Without defining your business right at the start, you risk either giving untruths, or embarking on promotional activity which just baffles customers or simply doesn't align with their experience. Building a marketing strategy on such shaky ground will be a waste of time and money. Here's an example:

Let's take a restaurant based in an 1960s building in an average town centre's high street. However hard the owner tries, they will probably struggle to convince the public that when dining there they'll experience a countryside thatched pub, roaring fireplace, cosy and horse-brassy ambience. No matter how much money the owner throws at advertising or widely those adverts reach, the reality will be something quite different.

That particular owner might be better to concentrate on the fantastic customer service, or the price (high or low!) or the fun factor or the wonderful innovative menu.

The key here is to keep it simple and clear: favouritetable's brand, for example, is known for providing the feature-rich software and value to restaurateurs. That's it – that's what we do and as it happens we have built our brand that way because it is the truth.

Remember, branding is all about honesty, believability, truths and strengths. Once you've established those, you have defined your business and can start to convince the public. So, can we begin promotional activity yet?

Brand identity

Well, not quite. You'll be pleased to hear, however, that now is the time to look at how your brand will translate visually. The marketing-speak for this is your brand identity, or simply what those truths look like visually in your output and within your promotional activity. Yep, that means all things design, including logos.

By now you will be very clear about what your business stands for at top level, so a strong and believable brand identity is critical. A business's logo should encapsulate your brand values and do it as simply as possible. There are some great web-based logo design tools out there, but before you start your work of art you must create some kind of design brief.

There's a huge amount to consider here and as it is what your public will see, we'd suggest putting a good degree of thought into it. Much will be intuitive, but always, always, refer back to your brand and if in doubt this would be the time to speak with a marketing specialist. It is amazing what you'll learn from them – appropriate colours, typefaces and fonts, curves, lines, shades are just the start of it. It is quite easy to create a lovely-looking logo, but if the design process leaves our country pub with a logo more suited to a multi-national insurance company then, frankly, the process has failed because the end result illustrates an untruth. 

We can't cover all scenarios here, but in essence if your brand is based on your green credentials for example, you want to underpin this in your brand identity by using appropriate colours. Green might be good. Similarly, businesses basing their brand on the depth of their welcome would be well advised to use warm shades and avoid sharp edges. This is where the marketing consultants we mentioned really do earn their money.

Don't forget that your brand identity must be universal and consistent for it to cement itself into customers' minds. Putting the logo above the door is one thing, but it and the design cues must flow through into all areas, from website to staff uniforms. A jumble-sale of design across the business really does say a lot about you to your customers, but probably not the right things.

Finally, and this might sound contrary to the above, don't absolutely obsess over the logo at the cost of everything and anything else. Logo creation can be very emotive at the design stage and the more people you involve and opinions you seek, the longer the process will be (with inevitable arguments ensuing). Keep it simple and once you have a design which you believe truly represents the business, fix it in stone and don't fiddle with it: get it visible and move on to growing the business.

Promotion

You have identified what your business is known for or wants to be known for and designed your brand identity. Is that it? Well, not yet. For your overarching marketing strategy to be complete, now is the time to pull it all together and decide what you want to promote, to whom, and how.

Promotion brings together all of the outward-facing activities designed to grab customers' attention. It includes advertising, but also covers a wide spectrum from special events to PR (and PR itself is such a weighty subject that we can't cover it here, but take a look at this previous blog).

When planning promotional activity, the obvious question restaurateurs ask themselves is “What are we going to promote?”. Unsurprisingly, the answer shouldn't just be “the business” because that is simply too vague. Which part of the business are we talking here?

If your plan is for a general awareness campaign, your wording and graphics (remember our brand identity, above?) should of course align with your brand values. However, you should also consider being benefit-lead rather than features-lead, so in broad terms describing your pub's cosy atmosphere and locally-inspired menu is better than listing the menu items themselves. This is your “offer” in the context of the promotion and it doesn't necessarily mean a special offer – that can be something completely different – it means what you offer.

Once you have made your offer clear, don't leave it there. What do you want the reader to do next? You need a call to action, or “CTA”, which leads the customer towards a specific action and answers that question. Hopefully your offer is so enticing that customers will be chomping at the bit to obtain it, so make the CTA clear, be it book online, call, email or just walk right in. Adding a sense of urgency also helps to nudge customers along, so imply using phrases like “limited availability” or just “now” can really make a difference to bookings.

In the above paragraphs we've talked about an advert, but the principles apply to all kinds of output. The important thing is to decide which medium (print, online, leaflets etc) is likely to bring in the audience you're looking for and make the content as joined-up as possible.

Be patient and measure

If you have followed the steps above, by now you're really doing marketing. You have a clear set of truths about what your business stands for; the brand identity looks great; the promotions are well-thought through and all of it sits under your marketing umbrella. Time to sit back after a job well done, right?

There's just one thing left to do before you relax, and that is to set up some way of measuring the results. It doesn't need to be complicated, but tracking the effectiveness of your marketing will help greatly in informing future decisions on additional or similar activity. At its simplest you can ask customers where they heard about you (and record the answers) but if using social media ads such as those on Facebook, there are some great data-driven tools at your disposal.

The last bit of advice we have is this: be patient. Marketing isn't a fire & forget activity, it takes time to build momentum and influence consumer behaviour. Don't expect instant results (you are now measuring those, aren't you?) and don't be afraid to try different things at the same time, to see what works.

Wrapping up

Effective marketing is certainly within the capabilities of restaurant, café bar and pub operators but it does need some structure and understanding – it isn't a one-shot affair and there's no magic tap to turn which will flow with resultant bookings. Everything you say and claim to customers in your promotional output must be based on truths about the very essence of your business and reinforced by an appropriate brand identity. 

Promotional opportunities can come from a huge range of media, but it is vital to connect with the target audience, wow them with your benefits and have a clear (and possibly urgent) call to action.


favouritetable is the leading provider of easy to install, easy to use restaurant management software, which includes a fantastic marketing module. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and commission-free systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue and create seamless workflows which make owners, staff and customers happy.

For a demonstration, call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at info@favouritetable.com and see why favouritetable is the best value full-feature restaurant management system on the market.

 

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