Your hospitality skills are on point by the time you open a restaurant. You’ve got it all covered, from food trends to honing a concept and the finer details of exceptional service. But what about restaurant marketing? Without a strong understanding of how to market a restaurant, it can be a struggle to attract new diners and returning guests regardless of how great the food and service are.
And, look, we get it: no one thinks too much about the marketing aspect when dreaming about opening a restaurant. Yet, getting the word out about your spot is essential for bringing diners through the doors. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it seems, and there are ways you can promote the restaurant without being a marketing guru. With that in mind, we’ve put this guide together, looking at restaurant marketing strategies you can buy into.
Ready to get started? Schedule your free marketing consultation now.
Getting your mind in marketing mode
Before launching any new marketing, it’s a good idea to think through your goals. Maybe the aim is to raise brand awareness. In that case, you’ll approach marketing differently than a restaurant targeting specific demographics or one designed to increase bookings.
Once you’ve established clear goals, it’s time to dive in regardless of budget. You’ll see there are plenty of easy actions you can take whether you’re working without a marketing budget and have limited time or have some cash and hours to invest.
Let’s dive in and discover an actionable restaurant marketing plan that works for you. Once you see how doable and effective marketing can be, it just might become one of your favourite parts of the job.
Start with zero-cost options
It’s true that restaurant marketing can become expensive, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. The idea that you must spend big on slick restaurant promotions to see any benefits is simply not true. There’s a lot you can do to move the needle, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
You likely already own several channels to market your restaurant, ones that you have total control over. Making the most of these channels requires a time and resource investment, but it costs very little compared to paid media. Even if you have a budget, starting with these low (and no-cost) options can be the foundation of an effective restaurant marketing strategy. Don’t overlook them because they’ve got more juice than you may think.
- First and foremost on the list of channels you own: your website. This corner of the internet is your digital home – it’s the place online to roll out the welcome mat for potential diners and get them excited about a visit. Here, they’ll explore your menus, read your story and find basic information about you, like hours of operation and directions. Building a website that attracts online and eventually real-life traffic is a restaurant marketing must.
- Part of the process of building or refreshing a website includes an understanding of search engine optimization (SEO). Upgrading your site with basic SEO in mind is a completely free way to increase the likelihood that people searching online will find you. Keep in mind that improving SEO is as simple as providing answers to the questions people type into Google. You already know what those are. You don’t need to be an expert to improve this aspect of your website. There are plenty of free resources online to get you up to speed on the basics of SEO.
- Email marketing and newsletters are often underused communication channels, but reaching people’s inboxes is one of the best restaurant marketing ways to get on and stay on their radar. And though email, like most of these strategies, is online, don’t neglect real-life, in-person options. Bringing the local community together in your physical space through imaginative Experiences can spark good old word-of-mouth marketing.
Tap into your own database
Overall, when it comes to staying connected with guests, the more data you can marshal, the stronger the relationship you can build. That’s why integrations like point of sale (POS) systems, email marketing and reputation management tools offer so much value. Connecting all this siloed data together creates a full picture of guest behaviour that you can use to segment and target your marketing. People tend to engage happily with content that’s personalised to them and relevant to their interests. That’s how occasional diners convert to loyal superfans that can’t get enough.
And don’t forget to tap into loyalty programs offered by partners, such as OpenTable’s loyalty and Bonus Points programs, especially when those partners handle the heavy lifting of administration so you don’t have to.
Bonus Points have proven an especially valuable restaurant marketing strategy. They reward guest loyalty and give them something to build towards. Restaurants are particularly personable to many guests, and offering them more through bonus point schemes is a way to show you value their loyalty.
Maximise your partner relationships
It’s likely several of your partners offer something in the way of marketing resources or support. OpenTable, for example, has prioritised restaurant marketing needs for the past 25 years. In fact, along the way, OpenTable has created an impressive marketing engine that can handle plenty of marketing tasks for you.
But reservation platform partners aren’t the only possible sources of restaurant promotion help. Take a look at all your vendors and delivery partners. There are likely creative and relatively easy ways to execute co-marketing and promotional actions you could tackle together at no additional cost. These kinds of win-win restaurant marketing strategies benefit you and your partners alike, bringing everyone extra exposure. .
Go after press coverage
When it comes to marketing, the dream is you open the newspaper or click on a well-read website to find a favourable article brimming with glowing praise about your restaurant. And it’s true that press coverage, known as ‘earned’ media coverage, is great for raising your profile and building awareness. But it doesn’t happen by magic. There are invisible and sometimes expensive resources at work behind the scenes making media coverage happen. Getting covered in the press takes a combination of time, commitment and resources. Oh, and some luck.
There are things you can do to maximise your chances.
- If you have a signature or other special event happening, it’s a good idea to pitch your local media outlets well in advance. That can be as simple as sending an email with information about it and why it would make a good story to the editor or even the “info@” email address.
- If you have the resources, hiring a PR agency – even on a short-term project basis – can help get media placements and find your way onto those sought-after “top 10” lists. If you are going to make that kind of investment, be sure to get clear about your goals upfront (for example, are you trying to increase brand awareness?) so you make that pound work for you and know how to gauge success.
Make your own media
It’s also good to remember today that the dominant form of media happens across social networks. Spend time creating and maintaining profiles on the most important platforms for restaurant promotion. There are many out there these days and only you know which are the right fit for your business. Conventional wisdom holds that if restaurants have the bandwidth for only one channel, it should be Instagram, which is especially food-friendly. (Get more tips on improving your restaurant’s social media presence in our quick guide.)
Social media is an always-evolving landscape, and there’s a case to be made for choosing TikTok as your go-to channel – especially if your target market is Gen Z. A recent survey of TikTok users found that 36% of them actually visited a restaurant after viewing their videos on the platform. And 51% of survey respondents even said they went to a restaurant after seeing a video showing off a new menu item. Because of its massive audience and potential reach, going down the paid social media route in the form of ads and boosted posts might help if your budget allows.
Another potential restaurant marketing idea to help expand reach on social media involves partnering with influencers. These are people with large followings who will post favourably about your restaurant – sometimes for a hefty fee, sometimes in exchange for a gratis meal, sometimes simply because they really love your spot.
There are no hard and fast rules about how these partnerships work. Ultimately, you’ll decide whether working with influencers is the right choice. Generally speaking, if you choose to work with them, it’s better to partner with an influencer who already is a fan of your restaurant rather than approach someone with a large following whose post about you may not feel trustworthy or authentic.
Focus on conversion
At the end of the day, you need to ask the serious questions, like: does it convert? Do people who read the article, see the ad, click through the email or engage with the post actually make a reservation at your restaurant? Or, at least, is there a further action. For example, do they read the article and move onto another section of your website, the menu page, perhaps?
When you’re seeing a high number of conversions resulting from some form of marketing, you know it’s doing its job. This is a good sign you should do more of that type of marketing. When your goal is to attract and convert diners, it’s time to get laser-focused on platforms and restaurant marketing ideas that win.
OpenTable is the world’s largest dining network. People come to the platform already intending to make a reservation. In 2019, roughly 805 million searches were made on OpenTable by people looking for restaurants. More than half (51%) of people don’t know exactly where they want to go to eat when they show up.
A detailed, descriptive OpenTable profile is an example of restaurant marketing that converts. It helps you climb search results on OpenTable and Google search alike. Doing everything you can to get more people clicking on and reading your profile is a great way to drive up reservations and ultimately revenue. An effective profile is more likely to pop up when diners are searching for a reservation.
You can polish your profile so it gets in front of more diners for no additional charge. But if you do have the resources to invest, a boost campaign, which gives your restaurant premium placement in OpenTable search results, is a low-cost way to get in front of even more potential guests. Boost campaigns can help you fill seats during off-peak times, and you only pay for people who actually dine with you.
Boost campaigns are a simple restaurant marketing strategy that’s paid off for many restaurants on OpenTable, from Park Row in London’s sought-after Mayfair restaurant to Glas, a vegan hotspot in Dublin. As Mateo Saina, General Manager at Glas, puts it, “OpenTable is the Ferrari of restaurant operations and online booking systems. It’s as simple as that.” And it’s features like Boost campaigns that give restaurants options so they can make the most out of their marketing.
Relax! You’ve got this
Regardless of where you are on the spectrum on restaurant marketing skills, OpenTable is here for you. We have decades of restaurant marketing expertise to share. If you’re new to OpenTable, talk to your account rep to discover how we can help. Even if you’ve been a customer for a while, you can always schedule a free marketing consultation.
Restaurant marketing can feel overwhelming but remember: you’re not alone. We have your back. With the right help and some practice, you won’t feel like a beginner very long.
Ready to get started? Schedule your free marketing consultation now.