The Definitive 2019 Guide to Online Marketing For Your Restaurant, Cafe or Bar

Every business needs to do marketing because every business needs customers. 

Marketing is fundamentally about getting in front of the customer, wherever they are.

If they’re watching TV, that’s where you need to be. 

If they’re walking on the street, that’s where you need to be. 

If they’re at a festival, that’s where you need to be.

Marketing is about getting in front of the right customers for the right price. Nothing is free – including your time – and promoting your business is far from it.

So where do consumers spend all their time these days? 


According to the Internet Trends Report, the average adult in 2017 spent just under 6 hours per day on a digital device. That’s over double what it was in 2008 at 2.7 hours.

Whether it’s through Facebook or Instagram or Netflix or Spotify, people are spending more and more time online.

And that makes it a channel for reaching customers that needs to be in every business’s marketing campaign.

Why people are spending so much time online

You don’t look at a TV and expect it to solve all your problems. Same with a phone or a car.

But people do look at the Internet and expect it to solve their problems – fast. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Online is fast and convenient

The convenience with which you can get what you want today is unparalleled.

In the past, if you wanted to find the answer to something, you’d have to look it up in a textbook or encyclopedia. If you wanted to buy something, you’d have to get in a car and head to the store. If you wanted to a taxi, you’d call the taxi company and have it show up.

The Internet changed all of that.

Now, everything is instant. It’s convenient. It’s on-demand.

You can find answers to your questions immediately using Google. 

You can find and discover music immediately using Spotify. 

You can buy products immediately using Amazon – and have them delivered to your door.

 You can order food on Grubhub, a taxi on Uber, or even a personal helper using TaskRabbit.

In just a few clicks of a button, or taps on your phone, you’re done. All the hassle of doing what you needed to do in the past are done by online services now – and done fast. For the end consumer, that’s irresistibly convenient.

2. Online is competitive: cheap with lots of choice

It seems in the modern Internet, there’s a website for anything and everything. That means that whatever you’re looking for, there’s at least a few dozen services that will do it for you.

When things are competitive, they start to compete on price. That makes everything cheaper for the end user.

But they also compete in other ways. For example, they compete to provide all sorts of benefits and features. That gives the consumer a lot of choice – there’s endless variation regarding what to ultimately purchase.

Finally, competition means there’s a lot of information on different products. If you can find the same product at your local store on Amazon – and see 10 different versions of it there – you can figure out exactly which one is the best deal.

In other words, competition is good for consumers. It drives down prices, increases variation and provides the information customers need to make smart buying decisions.

3. Online is enormous, and enormously social

As of June 2019, Facebook had over 2.4 billion users on its platform. There are more than 350 million products listed on Amazon (that is, more types of products than people living in the U.S.). For any given day on Twitter, there are about 500 million new tweets shared on the platform.

Before the Internet, the only way you got this type of reach was through the traditional media channels: film, radio, TV.

But since the Internet, you can reach millions of people using the Internet alone. Case-in-point: the person with the most subscribers on YouTube, PewPewDie, has over twice as many subscribers (99.5 million) as Justin Bieber (45 million).

All this is to say that, because everyone is online, if something goes viral online, it has the potential to reach millions of people fast.

In one way or another, almost everyone has a social media footprint. They spend time on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or the dozens of over social media platforms for finding your people. 

Of those nearly 6 hours per day people spend on social media, over 2 of them are spent on social media.

Online content must fill a need

If there’s one thing we know about content online, it’s that there is too much of it.

There are always more YouTube videos, Instagram photos or Facebook posts to scroll through. There are always more things to look up on Google, or more products to research on Amazon, or more shows to watch on Netflix.

There is so much to do, and so little time.

People online have a limited amount of attention, and if you want to capture it, your content has to be engaging. Engaging content is both entertaining and informative.

If your content is not entertaining – it’s not an eye-catching photo or video – then people won’t spend a second moment on it.

If your content is not informative, people seeking answers will quickly move onto the next source of information.

Remember, the point of marketing is to get noticed. If you’re not catching and keeping someone’s attention, there’s no point in doing any marketing at all.

So when you’re designing your marketing collateral, keep these questions in mind:

  • How am I informing the end user?
  • How am I entertaining them?

This is the type of content you either need to create, or have your business featured in, because anything else will not engage the people you’re trying to reach.

A lay of the land: the online marketing landscape

When you’re marketing online, there are certain marketing channels – or ways of reaching your customer – that you need to be aware of. 

Each method’s utility depends on both your business and your customer – there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing solution. Often, you need to experiment a little bit with each and see which works best.

Here are the major types of digital marketing to keep in mind:

Business listings & review sites

When people want to find information about your business – hours, reviews, photos – they go to certain places.

As a result, you should complete the basic descriptive information on the following platforms:

1. Google My Business

Google is the primary resource people use to find information about something, including your restaurant, bar or cafe. When they Google your name – say “Frank’s Bar & Grill” – the first thing that’ll come up is a bunch of search results related to your business.

It could be your website, social media accounts, review sites.

But if you’ve completed your Google My Business profile, information about your business will come up first as the very first result. In other words, if you fill out this information on Google, you’re the first source of information people see about your own business.

The other advantage of filling out your Google My Business profile is that you’ll appear in Google Maps. This means that if people are in the area and search for your restaurant on Google Maps, a pin for your location will appear.

On both Google My Business and Google Maps, you can put up professional photos of your restaurants so people have a sense of what the experience will be like before they get there. You don’t want to leave this up to a mishmash of reviewers, whose photos they post may be less flattering!

2. Yelp

When people Google your business, often one of the very first results will be your Yelp profile. Whether or not you’ve created an account with Yelp, people can post information and reviews about your business.

Sometimes, these reviews are positive, but sometimes they are not.

As a result, you want to make sure you handle negative reviews when they inevitably arise. The best way to do this is by claiming your business profile on Yelp, then responding to the reviews.

A simple courteous response goes a long way:

“Hey Steven, we’re sorry you didn’t have the best experience because of [the reason for the complaint]. This is something we’re looking into, and hope you’ll come by again to give us another chance! Thanks.”

Here, it’s often hard to apologize to a customer when you think your business wasn’t in the wrong. But if you become defensive on the reviews, it shows potential customers that your business may not be a particularly accommodating one.

As a result, it’s often best to bite your tongue, issue an apology and see if you can fix up the problem for next time.

You never want to leave negative reviews hanging on your profile without a response. This shows potential customers you’re not an engaged business. If you’re not engaging with your customers online, who knows how well you are servicing them at your actual restaurant?

3. Facebook

The last place people will look for information about your business is on Facebook. Here you might post photos of your business, store hours, a founding story or mission, and any other information potential customers may find useful.

Facebook is not the best platform for reaching new customers because it’s increasingly expensive to get content to show up in their feeds. But it is still useful in answering the questions that existing customers may have.

You can also set up Facebook Messenger for Business so that if your customers have questions, you can answer them in real-time.

Email marketing

In the Facebook and Instagram social feeds that are becoming increasingly crowded, emails are still one of the best ways in 2019 to reach your customers directly.

Email is an opt-in medium, meaning that if people want to receive email from you, they opted-in by using your service or agreeing to be emailed. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, this means the customer is “warm” – they’re already open to your marketing outreach.

While managing your emails in the past used to be a pain, it’s gotten much easier with email service providers (ESPs) which handle all of the logistics for you.

Now, you can just:

  1. Design or using an existing email template
  2. Build your audience of email subscribers, often from a form on your website or after they purchase something online
  3. Send out emails on a consistent schedule


You might consider free or low-cost ESPs like:


These take just an hour or two to setup and kick off your first marketing campaign.

One thing you may want to keep in mind is collecting emails after a customer purchases at your restaurant, bar or cafe. For example, if you use the Square point-of-sale, you automatically collect emails after a customer buys.

You can integrate these emails into your MailChimp account and include these buyers in your next email campaign.

Generally speaking, you want to keep emails concise and informative. You may want to include:

  • One main image to grab their attention
  • An important announcement, upcoming event or business change
  • A promotion or sale with a discount code


This gives the customer information about your business – a “touch point” to keep them remembering you – as well as a “call-to-action” to get them coming back.

Social media marketing

1. Facebook

Although Facebook is arguably the most successful of the social media platforms, it’s no longer the best place to perform social media marketing for your business.

That’s because, if you post and don’t pay, your content has a low chance of hitting your customers’ news feed. In 2018, Facebook instituted a change to the news feed which prioritizes posts from friends and family over those from businesses.

In effect, if you’re not friends and family, and you’re not paying for ads, then you’re not showing up in the news feed.

For example, say you have 1,000 likes on Facebook. The amount of people who will see anything you post is about 65 people, or 6.5% for organic reach.

In other words, creating content on Facebook for all your fans and followers means only a small fraction will actually see it. And that’s a small fraction of the people who already liked or followed your page.

When it comes to reaching new customers, it’s even harder.

As a result, Facebook isn’t a great platform in 2019 to promote your business. If you create content, not many people will see it. If you pay to promote your content, it can quickly get expensive.

As a result, it’s best to keep Facebook for informing your customers about important changes to your business, not for creating content they’ll enjoy and engage with.

2. Twitter

Although Twitter deserves an honorable mention as a popular social media platform, it’s hardly the best place to promote your restaurant, bar or cafe.

People go to Twitter for short bursts of entertainment, or to get their daily dose of news.

They don’t go to find and engage with new content from their favorite restaurants. You may consider Twitter if you have a large restaurant or hospitality brand, but for small businesses, it’s not worth investing the time in.

You may consider creating a profile just to be exhaustive with your social media footprint, but keeping it updated may be more work than it’s worth.

3. Instagram

Undoubtedly, the best platform to get exposure on social media for your restaurant is Instagram. 

In fact, when people think of social media marketing today, the first place they go to is Instagram. It’s dominated by visual media – photos and videos – which is perfect for something as appealing as food.

There are hundreds of existing guides out there on how to primp your Instagram, so we won’t rehash the details here. You may want to check out:

But we also wanted to emphasize some post ideas which tend to get the most traction:

  1. Run special promotions

Everyone loves a good deal, and posting one on Instagram is no different. In fact, according to a 2019 Blippr study, “77% of shoppers followed their favorite brands on social media to stay informed of sales. 

Not only that – customers spend more when there are promotions (for example, buy-one-get-one deals), and they’ll often shop at places which do run promotions if yours is not.

The best way to do this is to run a discount code on Instagram, like “RAMEN20”. Then, when customers purchase in-store, you know it’s because they saw your promotion on instagram. This can help you measure the effectiveness of your Instagram content.


2. Don’t skimp on the styling

It’s one thing to take a photo of your food, but it’s another thing to set the scene before you take a photo of your food. Without a doubt, food photos look better with a bit of “prep work” behind the scenes.

This means getting out all the fancy decorations and plating for a great photo. It means setting the lighting – and setting it twice! – to get the perfect shot. And it means taking photos at several angles to get the right look.

Instagram users are trained to see attractive content, and a food photo sans styling is not enough to get their attention anymore. Take a few minutes to style the photo and you’ll get much stronger feedback, guaranteed.


3. Hold a contest

Contests are one of the best ways to engage your followers. You may ask them to share content with your #hashtag, and the person with the most likes gets a free meal.

Contests are both interactive – so they engage your followers – and rewarding for both you and the follower.

You get free promotion in someone else’s feed, while they get a free meal for supporting a business they love.


4. Respond to the comments

As a business on Instagram, you want to make sure you respond to all the comments. This is for two main reasons.

The first, most obvious reason is that it keeps your followers in engaged. If they have questions or things they want to sure, you’re involved in that. You’re someone they can actually talk to, rather than a faceless business just serving food.

The second reason is that more comment activity on your posts – including yours – helps you show up higher in the Instagram feed. It helps people see that a certain post was “highly commented on”, which encourages them to check it out.

Sometimes you just want to get as many likes and comments on possible on a post, and doing it yourself is one way to do it!


5. Play (nicely) with others

One of the main benefits of social media is that it is social. The more people you can get involved talking about your business, the better.

One way to achieve this is by getting other people on Instagram to feature you in their content. You may regram their posts, encourage them to use your hashtag, or invite them into your restaurant and collaborate with them.

The point is that both you and the follower create content together, which amplifies the reach of your content on Instagram. The more social you can make Instagram, the better.


6. Show everything, not just the food

When it comes to restaurants, people want to see everything about how the food gets made, not just the final product. The final product may be glamorous and fancy, but it is definitely not authentic or relatable.

If you want to make relatable content that people connect with, be relatable!

This means showing your photos of your team. Or recording a short video of some behind-the-scenes work.

Maybe it means showing the prep work for a catering event your hosting. Or how you worked collaborated with someone on Instagram.

The point is you want to show process. A process keeps people involved in your journey. The food may be beautiful to look at and delicious to eat, but how you get there – the story – may be just as important!


7. Repeat the good press

Columnists and editors are always looking to feature fun places in their city, and local digs rank high on the list. It’s not uncommon to land your restaurant in a “Top 20” or “Best new restaurant” list in one of your city’s print or digital publications.

In New York City for example, you may land in Time Out, New York Mag, or Eater.

And if you do, you want to let people know! Not everyone will read the review when it comes out, so you want to make sure you share some content about it on Instagram.

Simply snap a screenshot of the article feature and post it on Instagram. This lets everyone know that your restaurant got some social proof, is a good place to go to, and one worth checking out with their friends.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a relatively new channel for reaching new customers, and a particularly effective one. Unlike traditional offline marketing or conventional digital marketing, influencer marketing offers two distinct benefits:

  • It costs less money than offline marketing
  • It costs less time than digital marketing

This is because you work with professional content creators whose job it is to create captivating, relatable content for their followers. They spend the time creating the content, and you – as the business – provide no more than editorial input.

Additionally, working with content creators costs far less than paying for distribution over traditional marketing channels. In these channels, you typically cost-per-mile (per thousand viewers) or per-action (for example, per click to your website).

But with influencers, you get the audience of tens of thousands of people for free.

In other words, influencer marketing combines both reach with a large audience, as well as content creation. Normally these are two separate costs, but influencer marketing combines them, making it extremely cost-effective.

With influencer marketing, you get to:

  • Tap into the huge audience of someone else
  • Borrow their voice as a trusted source in promoting your restaurant
  • Leave the hard work of content creation up to professionals; and
  • Spend far less than you would with traditional marketing channels

If influencer marketing is something you may be interested in, that’s exactly what we do at EarnLocal. We help restaurants and local businesses get more people promoting them on social media.

When people create content for you and share it on social media, you pay them in food or cash. And only for proven results: when people drive new traffic to your website.

EarnLocal is a set-it-and-forget-platform: you create your offer and let influencers find you. This means you don’t have to spend more time managing yet another marketing program.

If you want to learn more about EarnLocal, request a demo with someone on our sales team. They’ll answer any questions you have and see if EarnLocal is a good fit for your business.

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