As the restaurant industry begins to recover from Covid-19, the competition has never been hotter.
So how does one do restaurant marketing in 2021?
We put a call out to experts helping restaurants thrive in this new marketing frontier. Here’s some of the wisdom they had to offer.
A killer brand is an effective promotional tool in itself, but with targeted research, you can bring your brand to a whole new level. “Your restaurant’s brand identity has a very direct impact on customer loyalty,” says Daniel Foley, CMO at Scooter Guide.
“Strong restaurant brands are based around a firm grasp of your restaurant’s target market,” says Foley. That means you’ll want to invest in research.
Are your customers health freaks? Are they obsessed with outrageous desserts? Investigate to figure it out. And then do more research to find out what kind of content your customers typically engage with. Appeal to their tastes with your menu options, store design, and social feeds.
Take the Rainforest Café for example. Those customers don’t pay for top-quality food at Rainforest Café—they pay for animatronic elephants, the thunderstorm simulations, and the monkey sounds. They pay for the unique branded experience. Once you have your brand, it’s important to stick to it, and remain consistent across your digital marketing strategy.
No one likes a bad review, but sometimes they happen. Courtney Quigley, a Business Reputation Consultant at Rize Reviews, says you need to have a game plan in place for when they do.
“Reputation management involves responding to customer queries in a timely fashion and responding to your negative reviews that will not tarnish your restaurant’s reputation.”
When you get a bad review, respond promptly. Thank the reviewer for their honest feedback. Apologize, sympathize, and take responsibility. Do what you can to make things right, whether it’s a refund, a coupon, or a sincere apology.
You might never get the upset reviewer back in your door, but if potential customers see you respond with grace, they’re much more likely to give you a shot.
It’s frustrating to call several places to get a Friday night reservation, only to realize after you’ve spent the time and energy to call that they’re booked.
As more and more people begin to dine in, sites like OpenTable and Resy present a great opportunity.
“People find the convenience and ease of reservation discovery platforms irresistible so consider tapping them as part of your strategy,” says Chris Nutbeen, Founder & CEO of Nuttifox.
The easier it is to make a reservation, the more people walk through the door—and these platforms make booking a reservation as easy as a few taps on your phone. Plus, potential customers can discover your restaurant for the first time through these platforms.
Bonus tip: OpenTable offers promotional deals where you can arrange for your restaurant to show up in a promoted spot in search results when an undecided diner is searching for a restaurant to book.
Research suggests that up to 61% of people are unlikely to revisit a mobile site they had difficulties using.
“Every one second mobile page load delay may result in conversion drops by up to 20%,” says HighFive Digital Marketing Expert Sylvia Adkins. That’s a lot of business lost. In her view, it’s worth investing in a high-quality site that runs at lightning speed.
Covid-19 has amplified the importance of SEO and digital marketing techniques—and increased the level of competition. Companies with cleaner, more searchable content tend to perform better. This concept trickles down into all your digital marketing content, which leads us to our next point.
Now you might be thinking, “Of course we need to create outstanding content.” And you’d be right. It’s a huge, indispensable part of restaurant marketing in 2021.
But it’s about more than creating a solid social feed. It’s about making your physical space Instagrammable, too, so your customers can do some work for you on social media.
“All that new, post-pandemic, outdoor eating should do double duty as nice backdrops for selfies and would-be influencers on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and elsewhere,” says Sharon Geltner, editor of Palm Beach on the Cheap.
For example, Fern Street Cafe in West Palm Beach hired local artists to paint murals on their walls—that’s a double whammy for Instagram-ability and community partnerships.
TikTok can also play a role here. CEO of GRIN Brandon Brown says, “with TikTok becoming increasingly popular, businesses now have a chance to go viral by producing outstanding content in-house, and promoting it through the app. It’s an inexpensive way to go about social media marketing and has the potential to hugely increase your profitability.”
Stumped on ideas for how to freshen up your social feeds? Try featuring behind-the-scenes videos with your head chef. Go live on Instagram or Facebook with a cooking tutorial for your signature dish. The possibilities are endless!
We’ve talked a lot about how to do digital marketing for restaurants so far, but Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Fingent Joby Antony also swears by direct mailers. When restaurants leverage both digital and physical marketing tactics, you can see great results.
“Physical mail is somewhat of a novelty for people these days, evidenced by their open rates. Use custom envelopes, include images, and make them feel welcome,” says Antony. Sure, the postal service has seen better days, but now might be the best time to capitalize on roomy mailboxes while the email inbox is a cluttered mess.
Don’t forget to integrate your digital presence into the physical mail with QR codes and NFC chips so customers can get straight to ordering from your super-fast mobile site.
You could even include your keyword and phone number with a special text offer to help drive that first order.
“Email and mobile marketing are two of the strongest and most effective campaigns and for very good reason—these strategies keep customers and audiences engaged and interested,” says Simon Elkjær, CMO of avXperten.
If you want your email to stand out among the clutter, personalization is key. Use first names in your subject line and address your customer as you might a friend or relative. And use email to keep your customers up to date on your new, viral-worthy dessert, new health guidelines, etc.
The same strategies apply when you use text messaging in your restaurant. Keep your texts clear, short, and personal.
Whether we like it or not, the pandemic is still shaping our world views—and your customers’ behavior.
We’ve all had difficult conversations with friends and relatives about masks and vaccinations. Nearly all the experts we polled say now’s the time to set clear rules at your business.
“Your customers should know that it’s safe to dine with you already. Market posters and graphics that remind people of the measures you have put in place and why it’s a must they follow it,” says Robert Johnson, founder of Sawinery.
When you make those rules clear upfront with signage and digital communication, you’ll avoid those awkward conversations altogether, and everyone feels a little more at-ease.
You should also keep some strategies from the Covid times to appeal to those who still don’t feel fully comfortable with indoor dining—and won’t for a while.
“It’s important to maintain options for outdoor dine-in, curbside pickup, and takeout. Every consumer will have a different comfort level, and it’s important to meet those different needs,” says Roy Morejon, President and Co-Founder of Enventys Partners.
The important thing is to ensure your customers feel safe in your hands, and a clear communication strategy is one of the best ways to spread the message.
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