The restaurant industry is a tough one.
Rents go up, margins go down, and restaurants go out of business all the time. Most restaurant owners do not start restaurants because of the favorable economics.
They do it because of their passion for food, their desire to serve customers, or their insight into cuisine they know people will love.
But there’s a lot of other stuff needed to run a restaurant, and not all of it is so satisfying. There’s cleaning up after late weekend nights, there’s hiring and firing, there’s keeping the books, there’s fixing things that break.
And of course – there’s getting new customers.
Customers don’t magically appear at the entrance everyday – they show up because someone told them about a restaurant, or because they keep coming back. To put it differently, restaurants have to do marketing.
Without customers, there’s no restaurant. But marketing is tricky.
It’s time-consuming and expensive. And there’s nothing restaurant owners have less of than extra time and money to throw at marketing.
So how does a restaurant grow their customer base?
Most importantly, how does a restaurant attract new customers while spending the least amount of time and money?
That’s what we’ll discuss in this post. We’ll cover:
- Traditional marketing
- Web 2.0 digital marketing
- Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing
The 3 different types of marketing
Traditional marketing is defined by pre- and early-Internet strategies for attracting new customers. They typically involve a broadcast of a certain message you want to put in front of customers.
They’re one-directional: you send a message out, and the customer receives it. This is how advertising has worked for centuries.
Traditional marketing tends to be more expensive and time-consuming than Web 2.0 digital marketing because you, as the restaurant owner, have to create and manage all the content you put in front of customers.
If you don’t take photos of your restaurant or post an ad in the local paper, no one else will. In other words, the only person who will spread the word about your restaurant is you.
This is very different from Web 2.0 digital marketing. Web 2.0 – as compared to the early Internet of Web 1.0 – is defined by two-way interaction. In other words, you can create a message about your restaurant and send it out – but someone can also respond! Other people can spread the word about your restaurant, and you’re no longer responsible for every piece of promotional material that’s on the web.
Web 2.0 digital marketing tends to be less expensive and less time-consuming than traditional marketing.
If you can encourage other people to create content for you – for example, taking photos of your food and sharing it on social media – then there’s a lot less content you have to create yourself!
However, the major downside of Web 2.0 marketing is that you have less control. If people can praise your restaurant, they can also post negative reviews about it, which can sit on Yelp, Google and Facebook forever.
There is also a third type of marketing called Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing. It’s similar to Web 2.0 digital marketing – people create content for you and share it online. This can save you substantial time and money. But unlike Web 2.0 digital marketing, you don’t have to just wait until people create content for you.
In Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing, you can compensate people for creating content for you. For example, you may pay people in food, like a loyalty program, or cash, like normal advertising, in order to have people create content for you.
Now, you have people creating all sorts of content for you, and it’s far less time-consuming and less expensive than other marketing strategies.
If you want to skip to conclusion, Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing is exactly what EarnLocal specializes in. We help businesses get more people promoting them on social media. So if you want to cut to the chase, create a free merchant account today and claim your restaurant!
Before getting to Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing, let’s recap. What are all the different ways that restaurants can get in front of new customers today?
Traditional marketing methods are defined by a broadcast – you share a message to potential customers. In other words, you – and only you – is trying to get their attention.
Here are the different methods you might use in traditional marketing:
The most common form of restaurant marketing is conspicuous signage at and outside your restaurant.
When customers are on the street, they may see your display board outside your restaurant and discover your restaurant. They may also see signs and displays in your window, which let them know about what type of cuisine your restaurant serves.
Signage is often paired with some sort of promotion. If signage is what gets customers to notice your restaurant, then the promotion is what gets them to walk in the door. You may have a happy hour promotion, or weekly specials, or discount lunch pricing, or 2-for-1 deal. The promotion lets the customer know that there’s a limited time offer they can get a good deal on – and everyone loves a good deal.
Customers also learn about restaurants by finding them online. They may walk by your storefront once or twice, but that really doesn’t tell them much about your restaurant. Instead, they’ll look you up on Google and see what comes up. One of the first hits is generally your website, if you have one.
A website is a great opportunity to display photos of your restaurant and food, to describe your restaurant’s founding story and mission, to post store hours and contact information, or to include press mentions of your business. You may also offer online orders and deliveries through your website, which we’ll discuss later.
Nothing screams “stuck in the past” like a restaurant not having a website.
If a restaurant doesn’t have a website, which costs $50 to $100 to get setup nowadays, who knows what the quality of their food or customer service will be like? Hiring a freelancer to create your website, which is fast and easy today with the help of modern website builders, is an effective way to promote your restaurant on the web.
3. Email marketing
Email marketing is about keeping constant contact with your customers, for example, by sending them an email every few weeks. You may notify them of new dishes, or things going on at the restaurant, or special promotions you’re running.
Emails are a great way to keep customers hearing about your restaurant, but the fact is they can be a lot of work. The initial setup – choosing an email service provider, designing your templates, and building your list – can be very time-consuming.
After that, of course, you still have to actually build, write and send out emails at a frequent schedule! This can end up being a lot of work, especially when customers are already flooded with emails and may just skip over another one.
Email marketing makes sense for large restaurant chains with huge customer bases. They can afford marketing staff which set up and maintain their email programs. But for small restaurants, it’s not particularly effective in attracting new customers or retaining existing ones.
4. Events, festivals & restaurant weeks
Rather than focusing on the specific message you get out to customers, you may simply meet them where they are.
Almost every major city hosts restaurant weeks and food festivals, where thousands of customers gather with the specific intent of eating! This is a great place to get your restaurant’s name in front of a new audience of customers. And if you can delight them here – often offering free taster samples – then it’s far more likely they’ll come back for their next dining experience.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for festivals and restaurant weeks to gather a large group of people. Many restaurants will convert their space into an event venue for a few nights out of the month.
This gets people coming out and meeting up for the event, and at the same time lets them learn about your restaurant. You’ll often have to partner with some form of entertainment – maybe a band or speaker – to get people to come out.
Coordinating an event is no small feat, and it may be hard to get traction initially, but if you develop a loyal audience, you can have people spreading the word about your restaurants through the events you host.
5. Loyalty programs
Loyalty programs are a great way to get customers coming back to your restaurant, but they’re not particularly effective in getting new customers for your restaurant. Of course, you always want to retain existing customers, but you can only go so far with retention.
If you drive new customers to your business, and then retain them, that’s the best way to open up new sources of revenue. Loyalty programs can also be a bit of a headache to manage, so we think you may want to put them off a bit before investing in one.
6. Paid advertising
Paid advertising is the most common way for businesses to advertise, but ironically, it’s one of the least common ways for restaurants to advertise. That’s because paid advertising is both time-consuming and expensive.
You have to first develop ad creative – that is, the stuff that goes inside the ad. You may have to hire a designer to do this, or a photographer to take photos of your restaurant or food.
Second, you have to pay to get the ad in front of customers, often in a magazine or on social media. Both of these cost time and money, neither of which restaurants have much of.
As a result, it’s very rare to see restaurants engage in paid advertising. As a marketing channel, it’s a great way to get your business in front of customers in your local area, which makes it highly targeted. But because of its high cost and time commitment, it’s not a popular method of advertising for restaurants.
7. Direct mail
Direct mail – sending out flyers and business cards direct to customers’ doors – is a common way for restaurants to get in front of new customers.
But it’s particularly common with large restaurants and chains. They have the advertising budget and marketing team to promote on a wide scale. They also typically have broader culinary choices, like pizza or sandwiches, which appeal to the great majority of customers.
Advertising at every door for a small restaurant, however, is not particularly effective. While the marketing campaign is geographically targeted, it is not targeted for customers’ preferences – specifically, whether or not they like your type of cuisine.
In addition, it’s often seen as invasive and spammy, which may leave a bad impression with potential customers. Overall, direct mail campaigns can be expensive and a lot of work to manage, so they’re better left to the large restaurant chains.
8. Press & print media
Getting mentioned in a popular local magazine or digital publication is the holy grail of restaurant marketing.
First of all, it’s often free – columnists will write about your restaurant because they need to write a story, and readers love reading about great restaurants. Second, it costs you very little time. Beyond coordinating with the columnist, you don’t have to produce any of the content yourself.
Most importantly, positive press generates buzz around your restaurant that didn’t exist before. You might think your restaurant is good, but good press tells customers that other people also think your restaurant is good. Press is traditional marketing channel closest to the Web 2.0 digital marketing methods discussed later, which are all about getting other people to promote your restaurant for you.
Landing in “Top 10” or “Best new restaurant” lists immediately enhance the credibility of your restaurant to a wide audience. Popular print and digital publications in New York City include The New York Times, New York Mag, The Infatuation, Grub Street and Eater.
Send over an email to a columnist with your restaurant’s story and they may just stop by to interview you. The time cost here is low, but the potential rewards can be enormous.
Web 2.0 digital marketing
We already alluded to the difference between traditional marketing and Web 2.0 digital marketing, but to recap, Web 2.0 is about two-way interaction. It’s about creating a connection with your audience, and having them share content about your restaurant.
This content could be photos of your restaurant, reviews, videos, blogposts or anything else that spreads the word about your restaurant. Web 2.0 is defined by interactivity – a two-way connection between the restaurant and the restaurant-goer.
Here are a few popular marketing channels in Web 2.0:
1. Review sites
One of the great things – and not great things – about the interactivity of Web 2.0 is that people can post anything anywhere. These led to numerous “review sites” emerging, or existing sites which simply added the ability to post reviews about local businesses.
The most popular sources of these online reviews include Yelp, Google and Facebook. In other words, when people look up your business, they’ll almost always find a review posted by someone else on one of these sites.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t ignore these review sources. Whether or not you like them, people will create reviews about your restaurant, and other people will see them. As a result, you need to work these review websites to help control the image you give to customers.
As a result, you at very least need to include appealing photos of your restaurant and cuisine. If you don’t include photos, someone else well, and they may not be nearly as attractive! Similarly, if there are no photos of your restaurant or food, people are far less likely to check out your restaurant in-person.
The second thing you need is to monitor the reviews. If there are positive reviews, you often want to include a thank you note for the kind review. This lets customers know you’re an engaged business owner and care about the service you provide. If there are negative reviews – and there are almost always a few negative reviews – you need to respond to those as well. A simple apology can go a long way in letting prospective customers know that you’ve fixed the issue, or at least have acknowledged it and are toward fixing it.
Nothing leaves a worse signal to customers than a disengaged restaurant owner who doesn’t respond to the complaints your customers bring up. Checking these review sites every few days and responding to reviews can go a long way in strengthening your restaurant’s public image.
2. Social media
Social media is perhaps the defining feature of Web 2.0. It’s all about two-way interaction – people sharing, and sharing, and sharing again more content with each other. Getting active on social media is a great way to get in this sharing loop.
The most popular social media platforms are Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Each of these have different purposes. Instagram is best for creating awareness about your restaurant. It’s highly visual, so you want to post the best and most attractive photos of your food. But Instagram is not the best for driving a clear call-to-action, such as acting on a promotional offer or making an online order. It’s fundamentally about creating brand awareness.
On the other hand, Twitter is great for “actionable” promotional opportunities. You may include a one-time discount, or a special 2-for-1 deal here. This gets customers to act now, and is a great platform for broadcast-style notification. You want to keep your calls to action on Twitter.
Finally, there’s Facebook. Similar to Google My Business, Facebook functions similar to a second website. You may include business hours, contact information, photos of your food or special promotions here. Facebook is a “general” broadcasting platform, and as a result, it has less of the same specialized appeal as Instagram or Twitter. But lightly maintaining your Facebook is just another social media channel to stay connected with your customers.
Unlike traditional marketing, Web 2.0 digital marketing is almost always free. This is very appealing to restaurants, who have particularly small marketing budgets. On the other hand, maintaining all of your social media accounts can be particularly time-consuming!
There are almost always to posts to create – photos, videos, announcements – and this can feel like an overwhelming “content treadmill” that you have to keep up on.
The time-consuming nature of social media is the main downside of this marketing channel. Restaurant owners simply don’t have the time to keep all of their social media accounts up-to-date. In addition, it can be difficult to find out precisely what the benefit is. If you post content, do people see it? And if people see it, do they come to your restaurant, or simply hit the “Like” button?
Social media is an appealing marketing channel to restaurant owners because of its low financial cost, but often has a “hidden cost” of a substantial time commitment. As a result, restaurant owners may often create and post content on social media, only to discover they’ve unwittingly jumped on the treadmill they now have to keep up with. Regardless, we think social media is a cost-effective way to get the message out about your restaurant, but it can be a large time commitment.
3. Online order & delivery websites
The last major channel of Web 2.0 digital marketing is online order and delivery websites. Examples include ChowNow, UberEATs, Doordash, Postmates and Grubhub/Seamless. In just a few clicks, a customer can order from your restaurant on their computer or phone and have it delivered to their door.
Online orders present an enormous opportunity for restaurants, which we explain in this detailed post on the online ordering market. Some of the benefits include increased capacity in-store, increased throughput (because no one has to ring up a customer at the point-of-sale), lower utilities and operational expenses, and less square footage required to accommodate your customers.
If your primary focus is on food, and not on the dining experience, then slowly moving toward a “cloud kitchen” model is a great way to bring in more revenue while reducing expenses.
Often, you don’t have to change a thing about your business, and the online orders websites will take care of all order handling, processing and delivery for you. However, you may have to pay for this in fees! Some providers charge as much as 30% per order, which means your other expenses have to come down proportionally to make up the difference.
Like the review websites, the online orders websites are another place where customers can leave reviews about your restaurants. You may have all sorts of reviews scattered across all the delivery providers. Here again, it’s important to be an engaged restaurant and interact with your customers.
People are increasingly finding restaurants through these online order websites. If a restaurant is recommended to them, they’ll check the reviews and hit order. As a result, you want to make sure your reviews are top notch to secure the order.
Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing
Word-of-mouth 2.0 marketing combines the benefits of traditional marketing and web 2.0 marketing.
- Like traditional marketing, you get your restaurant in front of a new audience of customers
- Like Web 2.0 digital marketing, you don’t have to create and share all the content yourself
In other words, word-of-mouth 2.0 is a cost- and time-effective way to spread the word about your restaurant. So how does it work?
Let’s start with word-of-mouth 1.0 marketing. Here, your food is so good that people spread the word about you, themselves! In other words, you’ve impressed them so much that they’ll promote you for free. Word-of-mouth marketing is the original way to spread the word about a business because, fundamentally, it means the business is good.
The way to think about word-of-mouth marketing is to “get people talking.” You want them thinking about your food, talking about your food and sharing their excitement about your food.
When people are talking about your restaurant, other people want to know. The press picks it up. Events and festivals send you invites. Businesses – always on the lookout for new and exciting caterers – hear about your restaurant.
So what if you could build a loyal customer base who spread the word about your restaurant for you? That’s word-of-mouth 2.0.
Unlike normal word-of-mouth marketing, you as a restaurant have some control over who talks about your restaurant and what they say about you. You get people to promote your restaurant, and in return, you pay them in meals or cash.
Now, you have an army of promoters who will spread the word about your restaurant on social media. In return, you compensate them for helping market your business. As more and more people create and share content for your restaurant, you’re able to let this wave of people do all the marketing for you.
These promoters can be either professional bloggers, influencers, or existing customers. These are people who have sizeable followings on social media and get a lot of engagement from their followers. When you promote with them, you’re reaching a highly targeted group of people by both interest and geography. And, it’s extremely cost-effective, since you can set the payouts in either food or cash.
With word-of-mouth 2.0, you don’t have to worry about the “content treadmill.” You don’t have to constantly update your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Let others promote you on social media, and compensate them for doing so. When people talk about your restaurant, other people listen! That’s the power of word-of-mouth 2.0.
At EarnLocal, we help manage exactly this kind of “autopilot” marketing program. You specify just how many people a content creator has to drive to your website in order to earn a free meal or cash. You can also specify exactly where these people must reside in order to get the best results.
With EarnLocal, you can “set it and forget it”. You focus on the restaurant stuff, and we focus on getting the word about your restaurant.
If you’re interested in learning more about EarnLocal, you can create your free account by clicking here.
And if you have any questions, feel free to contact sales at 1 855 944 0105. We’re waiting for your call!