Stop wasting money on marketing firms and social media consultants!
It’s time you take control of your own restaurant marketing with these fundamental strategies that will have your line out the door.
In this article I’ll be sharing 10 tried-and-true marketing tactics that have been proven to work by the industry’s best businesses and will continue to deliver in 2021 and beyond.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in.
1: Review Sites
The first free, timeless marketing strategy is review sites. Think Yelp & Google.
When deciding where to eat there’s three places people get ideas:
- Word of Mouth
- Social Media
- Review Sites
According to one study, over 35% of people visit a review site before deciding where to eat!
Pay Attention & Engage
The first step to using your reviews for marketing is to pay attention. Oftentimes, restaurant owners aren’t intentional with the content that they put onto the web, they don’t engage with feedback and reviews.
By forgetting or choosing not to do this, you lose out on a lot of potential customers.
In today’s world, review sites play such a crucial role in people’s decision-making process. Think about the last time you searched for a place to eat on your phone. You Googled “Indian Food Near Me”, picked the closest option, saw that it only had 3.5 and you clicked onto the next.
The next place only has 4 stars, but you see that the restaurant has replied and that some of the customers seem a bit unfair in their reviews, so you decide to give it a shot.
This is the power of engaging with your customers! Even though the food at both restaurants is probably the same, the second business owner paid attention and won back a customer.
Like it or not, this is what people rely on when deciding whether to eat at your restaurant or your competitor. Regardless of if they’re good or bad, reply to your most popular reviews to show that you care.
So how do you actually reply to bad reviews?
Well, if the bad review is warranted make sure you acknowledge that and provide a solution to fix the problem.
For example, if someone waited 45 minutes for their food and told you that they had a bad experience, that’s the reason why they gave a two stars, then yes, you can own up to that and say:
“Sorry about your experience. Our chef got into an accident so he wasn’t able to come to work. That’s why we were super short-staffed that day. In the future, we’ll make sure that we let our customers know so that they can manage their expectation a little bit better.”
That is a legitimate response and people are much more forgiving if you’re authentic and own up to your mistakes.
On the other hand, if this bad review was from a troll, if their review just gave you one star for a dumb reason, troll them back! I’m giving you permission to do so.
Let them know, “If you want to try out our competitor, here’s their address.” Something along those lines to show the character of your business, and that you’re confident in your food offering.
Encourage Customers To Write A Review
Now that we’re engaged with reviews, we need lots of them! Encouraging your customers to write a review is a great way to start.
You’ll never get what you don’t ask for! Even just simply asking your customers to leave you a review drastically increased the odds that they will. If you’re still not seeing the results you’d like, incentivize them with a discount appetizer, free drink, or a dessert.
Because when it comes down to it, would you rather eat at a 4 star restaurant with 2 reviews or 2,000? The latter is much more reputable and likely to get more business.
The second marketing strategy for your food and beverage business is to have high quality, beautiful photographs.
I can’t tell you how many restaurants just use their iPhone, go around the restaurant, take pictures of their food and space, and post it online. Unfortunately, this WILL NOT work in today’s age.
If the pictures aren’t up to standards and don’t do the real thing justice, why would anyone be interested in tasting your food? They won’t be, they’ll just move on to your competitor.
Get It Done Professionally
If you’ve already invested tens of thousands of dollars into your restaurant renovating, marketing, training, what is another couple hundred bucks for professional shots of your menu, staff, and interior?
Don’t underestimate them, having a beautiful set of pictures goes a long way!
Say I want to wine and dine my significant other, I will want to know that your food and ambiance are top quality! If your photos are blurry or too dark, it doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. But if you have beautiful, professional photographs that really show your quality, I will be much more likely to make a reservation.
And of course, once you have all these professional shots done, not only can you put them on your website and review platforms, but also your social media, business proposals, marketing campaigns, anything!
That’s exactly what we do at 720 Sweets. We take professionally photography shots every time we have a new flavor or promotion. We’re able to reuse and repurpose them for multiple different outlets so people can see how good our food looks.
Good photos by themselves draw in a lot more customers, so don’t cheap out on professional quality!
3: Website and SEO
The third marketing strategy that’s going to work for your food and beverage shop is your website and your SEO.
Remember the second place people go when searching for a place to eat? Your website!
This means it has to be in tip-top shape: design, photos, and updated info.
When making your website its CRUCIAL you include these three things:
- Contact Info
Without them, there’s no point in having a website at all!
Making your website easy to navigate is key. If your customer can’t find your menu or operating hours, and they have to search all over to find out they’re outdated anyways… they’re not going to have a pleasant experience at all. They’re going to trust your competitor more.
Another very important thing to include is mobile compatibility. Most people browse restaurants on their phone! If your website breaks or doesn’t show the right information and they can’t even see if you’re open your competitor will win again.
This is your opportunity to impress your customers. And at the end of the day, you spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating the interior of your food and beverage establishment. Why not a bit more on building a quality site? Without it, no one will see all your hard work anyways!
A big part of marketing with your website is SEO.
What is SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimization. Here’s an example of how we can use it to help our business:
If someone goes on Google and searches for “best ice cream in Vancouver” we want the 720 Sweets website to pop up high in the list of results.
We accomplish this by improving our SEO. One way to do this is include those keywords in your website!
If you’re confused about how do you do SEO, find a professional to help you get the foundational elements embedded on your website.
The goal is for your restaurant and website to show up high on the search engine results because the more people that see it, the more people will view your site with gorgeous pictures, the more customers you’ll bring in.
So don’t underestimate the importance of having a properly done website with proper SEO for your food and beverage establishment!
4: Social Media
The fourth marketing strategy for your food and beverage establishment is Social Media which is crucial to success in today’s day and age.
For example, when me and my wife are deciding where to eat, we’re always scrolling on Facebook like a digital menu. Lots of times we save the best posts to come back to later!
Any time we’re thinking about a brunch place, we open up our saved posts and click on the eggs benedict that we really enjoyed because it looks so visually stimulating. We find out which restaurant it’s from, and go check it out.
Make sure that you’re actually spending quality time nurturing your customers by consistently posting out beautifully appealing pictures of your food.
Instagram Is A Must For Restaurants
A very important and effective tool for the more advanced users is Instagram Stories.
Instead of posting pictures, you can actually post videos of how you prepare your food or how you shop for your food and something that is a little bit more engaging aside from the appealing pictures.
This behind the scenes content feels much more exclusive, and has an insider feel.
Make use of the interactive features of Instagram as well, such as starting a poll, so people can actually engage and feel much more connected with your restaurant and that they have a say in your offerings.
Try reposting your customers’ posts, because it adds to that social proof element to your food and beverage establishment.
Make this whole process fun and engaging! That’s the way to create loyal customers.
5: Word of Mouth
The fifth marketing strategy that you should focus on is word of mouth.
What other people say about your restaurant has much more weight and credibility than what you say about your establishment. This is why you need to be super intentional when creating your whole customer journey.
Touch points are how people interact with your brand. Their whole experience from the moment that they hear about your brand to the moment they leave your restaurant.
Every single touch point should be intentional – marketing, review sites, interacting with the host, etc.
Whenever there’s any conflict or friction, that experience will be lost. For example, if your sign outside your space is old or hard to find, that itself is a touchpoint which you can improve on.
Managing these creates a certain experience and feeling for your food and beverage establishment. The better experience that you provide, the better your reputation is.
The better your reputation, the more customers that come and visit to you which is why this by itself is a powerful marketing strategy.
Strategy #6: Host Events
The sixth marketing strategy is to host events at your food and beverage shop.
Fill any of your slow days or times with events! Reach out to other establishments, suppliers or small business talent willing to come in and provide a service to attract more people to you restaurant.
We invite and collaborate with calligraphy artists! They enjoy having a free establishment to hold their event in, and we’re able to expose our brand to their customers who inevitably buy some ice cream.
Regardless of the amount of business you have, you’re always going to have to pay your rent. Hosting is a great way to offset that at basically zero cost!
Why not cross-promote and use this opportunity to market to a new and different set of customers? Hosting events helps you stay relevant across different times and markets.
So how do you find these people?
The website meetup.com allows you to find events that are happening locally around your area. You can reach out to these people who are hosting and offer your place up for free or a small fee.
Aside from Meetup, sometimes we utilize Facebook groups, Facebook marketplace, or Instagram to find different small business people who actually need a place to host events.
7: Public Relations
The seventh marketing strategy that has worked wonders for us is Public Relations (PR).
A great example of PR is having a very prestigious outlet feature your food and beverage establishment.
What does this do for us? Gives you social credibility!
When a well-known media outlet within your city features you, it carries a lot of weight and has a big impact on the way that people perceive your business.
At 720 Sweets we were able to secure a feature from one of the biggest food publications in Vancouver within our first two months of opening, and in turn we were able to generate a lot of buzz. We were able to continually get published and it built more momentum and buzz for our locations.
Aside from this social credibility, you can actually use this piece as a marketing channel for you. You can run ads with it and put it on your social media outlet which really compounds the effect.
Now, I know you must be thinking, “Hey Wilson, I don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to give a PR agency.”
Good news for you is that all our PR is free PR! How do you get free PR?
The Elements To Free PR
First of all, you need a “Wow!” element, something for people to talk about.
This is KEY, because if you do not have a talking point, something that is different, out of the world, then why would anyone publish something about you? So make sure you’re not vanilla. Have some polarity.
For us, we have smoke coming out of ice cream. Conventional ice cream in a cone does not have smoke. And if you combine something that is visually pleasing with a product that is boring like ice cream, that itself is a huge talking point. That’s the reason why we were super, super successful.
After you have your “Wow!” element, you need to script and compile your own press release. Next reach out to the different publications and send them your press release.
Once they publish it, you’re going to see big compounding effects! The FOMO is real.
Regardless, you can’t neglect the importance of PR because it can really change the success of your business overnight.
The eighth way to marketing your food and beverage establishment is working with big vendors to cater your products.
Whether you’re offering ice cream, bubble tea, food, pasta, sandwiches, whatever the case may be – there’s always a need for your product.
For us at 720 Sweets, we catered lots of different weddings, offering the guests little tiny treats. People surprisingly loved having our ice cream sandwiches at their wedding!
Not only is it visually appealing and delicious, but also it adds an element of supporting a local shop, which is the reason that we approached all these different wedding planners. And in turn, we’re able to land a lot of wedding catering deals.
So within your industry and within your offering, reach out to different suppliers and offer them a catering service.
This allows you to diversify your revenue stream to guarantee you have an income. Whether you have people coming into your restaurant or not, you’re still catering which gives you a certain padding for your bottom line.
The ninth marketing strategy is collaboration.
This is a marketing strategy that I absolutely love, and as you can see from 720 Sweets’ Instagram, we have collaborations all the time.
Why do we want to collaborate with other brands and companies? It creates leverage.
Leverage is benefitting from your collaboration’s customers. By collaborating with one another, you’re able to expose your brand to this brand’s customers.
You’re going to be able to reach hundreds if not thousands of people much faster than if you were to go out there to look for customers yourself, which is the reason why we always promote collaborations.
To give you an example, we collaborated with an artisan marshmallow company and created a special ice cream flavor for them.
That company had more than 10,000 followers on their Instagram account. Because we collaborated, our Instagram account grew by 2,000 followers! And in turn, their customers fell in love with us.
This is the reason why I highly recommend you collaborate with any vendor or establishment with a similar client avatar and client profile to cross-promote and create leverage.
10: Running Ads
The final marketing strategy that I’m sharing with you today is running ads.
This is actually one of my least favorite marketing strategies to recommend because they’re expensive, everyone does it, and they only work if you really know what you’re doing.
Foundations and Fundamentals
Here’s the thing. If you don’t have the fundamentals right, then ads are just burning money.
It’s super important that your foundations are set and that you understand why you’re running the ads. You’re essentially trading dimes for quarters.
It is possible in the best cases that you spend thousands of dollars running ads and in turn may be benefiting $10k-$20k!
BUT If you’re not aware of the foundations, how you should structure your ads, the intent behind it, or the objectives, then it becomes EXTREMELY difficult and it will feel like you’re just throwing money out the window.
On the flip side, ads are now more effective than ever because you can hyper target users on Google and social media.
We can actually target people that live within a five kilometer radius of us that love Japanese food and have recently traveled to Japan:
“Do you miss Japan? Come and try out our latest offering!”
Ads like these on social media are much more affordable and effective than physical advertisements, so if you’re clear on the foundations and intent, give it a shot!
Time To Take Action
So there you go: The Top 10 Timeless Marketing Strategies. The platforms might change, but the principle remains the same.
If Instagram is no longer the king, you can STILL utilize these same principles. That’s the beauty of these concepts.
Which one did you find the most interesting? Maybe you could try collaborating with a local artist, to expand and diversify your community. You could try to pay more attention to the review sites and engage with the customers more. What about updating that website of yours?
Figure out which steps you can take first and then do it. Take action. Think, do, execute.
For more articles on marketing your restaurant or small business, check out this collection on my website [here].