How to drive traffic to your restaurant

by John Jones | Feb 23, 2023

When on the subject of driving traffic to your restaurant, it is easy to think we’re talking about click & collect services. Certainly offering dine-at-home is a great way to fill your restaurant's car park with customers eagerly awaiting their take-away, but that’s not the type of traffic we’re discussing today. That said (and cue the shameless plug) our Sales Manager Ian would be delighted to have a chat with you about Favouritetable’s online food ordering system

No, today we’re talking about traffic of a different kind: potential customers on the web. The objective of every restaurant is to encourage internet users to find you online and be wowed by your product offer and hopefully book a table via your online reservations portal.

In this week’s blog we suggest five ways to drive traffic to your restaurant, without a car in sight.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

News travels fast in the online world, so use this to your advantage to promote a great reputation. The more you interact with customers online, the more mentions you get, the more prominent you are and if you are highly visible, the more customers will be guided towards you in internet searches.

Always welcome online reviews via the usual sites such as TripAdvisor and respond to every single one, good or bad. Use these sites not as points-of-view areas, but as a wonderful opportunity to say the right thing, in the right tone, in front of an audience of potentially...well, you name the number, because it could be into the millions.

Always remember that great reputations are yours to create, but the customers’ to believe. Simply doing “good stuff” is only half of the journey to getting that five-star badge – you need to promote what you do not only via your own channels, but primarily by your customers’ channels. Put simply, potential customers are more likely to believe the words of existing customers than you. Get your existing customers raving about your restaurant online by encouraging them, and asking them to review you.

Word will spread fast; people will forward your great reviews to friends and family, or share on social media. Word will get around and your reputation will grow, meaning that you are more discoverable online causing your traffic to increase.

A final point here is to make sure you are totally diligent when it comes to managing your reviews, so consider using a restaurant management system which has this functionality built-in. 

Create a buzz

So, you want a great reputation, right? Sure you do, but creating an advert which says “we’ve got a great reputation” simply won’t cut it. You can’t decide that your reputation is amazing, because it is for the customer to decide. We’d suggest you work on the buzz and the reputation will follow.

This is all about truths. To drive traffic to your restaurant by virtue of reputation, you’ve got to do something noteworthy to begin with. We’d suggest it begins with your product offer.

Now, the more cynical among you might claim that “product offer” is too clinical for a restaurant: you’re not selling tins of beans, after all (or maybe you are?). But – and we’re sorry to put it in these terms – that’s exactly what you have. Your product is you, your restaurant, everything you do in it and how you do it; if you offer that to the public then that’s your offer. You therefore very clearly have a product offer.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s define some of the elements of your product offer:

  • Food and drink, obviously
  • Quality of service
  • Fixtures, fittings, décor
  • Friendliness of staff
  • Location
  • Source of ingredients
  • Culinary focus
  • Facilities
  • Price
  • Reputation (can you see a virtuous circle developing here?)

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but these things are good examples of what might go into your overall product offer. It’s a bout being distinctive; having one, two or three key areas in which you excel and can claim as your territory. Make your product offer buzz and people will talk about it, which means chatter and photos on review sites, Facebook, Instagram and the rest, which can only lead to one thing: more traffic to your website.

Be discoverable

Gosh, isn’t the internet a big place? All those zigabytes sloshing around with a gazzilion users is the idea environment for a website to get lost among the online hussle and bustle of internet life. Simply having an internet presence such as a website or Facebook profile isn’t enough to get noticed , however amazing it is or good the reputation. You need to tick every box possible in order to make your restaurant and its product offer discoverable.

We’ve done quite a lot of this at Favouritetable and can tell you that designing a new website is half the battle. Perhaps we should let our Marketing Manager, Manav, explain:

“The market for high quality internet traffic is ferocious and extremely competitive. Imagine millions and millions of restaurants all vying for the same bit of space and identical customers – well, that’s what restaurants have to contend with if they are to get their brands out there.

“There is no point whatsoever creating a great website and nothing else, because the website itself is just the start. Behind the scenes you have to do everything possible to make the restaurant really stand out among the others. Think of it as a car park full of identical white cars. The one colourful car will stand out. That’s discoverability.

So, what specifically should restaurants do to make their online presence discoverable? Manav says

“First, you must optimise your website’s content for the search engines like Google. This is a science in itself but think of it like this: if, say, restaurant-loving Google user’s most-used search term is ‘the best Chinese restaurant in town’, you’re going to miss out if your website refers to your restaurant as ‘the best Asian restaurant in town’. You need to research key words because without them you’re missing out. It is that simple".

Manav also goes on explain how the search engines love dynamic, regularly updated content. “A fire & forget mindset just won’t cut it when it comes to web content” he says. “Videos, news, menus, photographs – they are very important together with use of the correct key words. Also, make sure you have ‘back-links’ to other relevant websites or content because Google loves that approach".

Get this right and your website will have a fighting chance of being discoverable in the car park, leading to a far greater amount of traffic to your restaurant.

Have online booking

Congratulations! You’ve driven a whole load of traffic to your website and that’s fabulous. Er, what now? Have you forgotten anything? Well, yes, if customers can’t book online right there and then.

There is no point having a great reputation, the best buzz in town, amazing discoverability and an incredible website if the customer cannot immediately avail themselves of your product offer. In short, you must provide mechanism to satisfy customers who are so excited that they want it now

We have all been there: you find a great product on a wonderful website, decide you want to buy it and scroll down. At the bottom is a telephone number which is available Monday through to Friday. Today is Sunday. So, in frustration you throw your credit card across the room and curse the company for wasting so much of your time. After retrieving your now spider-web encrusted credit card from underneath your sofa you go back to Google and grumpily start a new search. 

The same is true for restaurant wannabees. They live a world in which instant decisions and instant purchases are made online – sending emails and calling the restaurant to make a reservation is not the way they wish to book. 

By offering your web visitors an easy and reliable way to book a table online, you’re giving them what they want. And here’s the best bit: you’re getting what you want, too: instant, restaurant-filling bookings together with pre-payments and deposits. There’s no catch, no danger and frankly no novelty any more, because the days of online booking being a curiosity are long gone. 

Don’t be one of those restaurants which views online booking as a frivolity; an after-thought; a secondary booking channel. Today, online booking should be the primary method of capturing demand & cash from all those lovely visitors who have – through your hard work – finally ended up on your website. 

Use third parties

Sometimes getting traffic to your restaurant via the web can feel like pushing sand uphill: sometimes you need a helping hand. We mentioned above that you really need your brand to be distributed across the web to make it discoverable by Google and its fellow search engines, which is where third parties can come in. 

Restaurant directories are a great way to gain more exposure online, meaning that customers may actually find you via a third party site. Similarly, pay-per-click ads or paid-for advertorials all have their place. But, for now, that's a subject for another day.

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