How to Market a Restaurant - Marketing Strategies - Group On

  • Register your restaurant's domain name, and launch a website. The goal when you market a restaurant is to build awareness. Your website can begin to build buzz long before you open your doors. Include details of your concept, the type of cuisine, the atmosphere, location of your restaurant, and, of course, contact information so the reservations can begin streaming in.
  • Make sure to have the restaurant marketing basics in place, such as referral programs, comment cards, dining certificates, etc. Use an existing restaurant marketing system such as the well respected ValCards Restaurant Marketing System, that has ideas and ready made templates, which will save you time and money and are already proven to work.
  • Add social networking to the fold. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have brought the world and people who share like passions (such as food) together. Connect your website to several social networking sites and get as many "friends" as possible to spread the word. You can also post details about your restaurant, including photos, menus and specials.
  • Provide coupons to your regulars. There was a time when the high end restaurants would shy away from coupons, but not so much anymore. Consider using different types of coupons such as bounce back coupons where the customer only receives the coupon after they pay for the bill. They must "bounce back," or return for another visit, to get the deal.
  • Support local fairs, festivals and fundraisers. Many restaurants succeed because a community embraces them as a member of their own. Therefore make sure your restaurant becomes a part of the fabric of the community. If there is a local fair, festival or fundraiser, rent some space, and serve suitable items from your menu.
  • Distribute fliers and menus to surrounding offices. Everyone needs to eat lunch and dinner, and many people do not have time to prepare homemade meals. Make sure that the workers in the vicinity of your restaurant know they can go to your restaurant during or after their work day for a bit of reprieve. If you offer delivery service, tout that in your fliers and menus.
  • Purchase radio or television advertising time. Broadcast advertising costs considerably more than maintaining a website or distributing coupons or fliers. However the payoff can be big if you are in a metropolitan area. Contact local advertising firms to see what it would cost to produce and run these ads. Have a budget in mind, and if the price tag comes in too high, negotiate to see what the agency can tailor to fit your budget.
  • Place a newspaper ad. Sure, newspapers are going the way of the dodo, but there is a certain demographic that still reads newsprint every day. If your target market are 20- and 30-somethings, then maybe this is an expense you can afford to forgo. But folks 40 and up still tend to read the daily newspaper at least a few times a week. Plus, most newspapers will offer you a deal where if you purchase ad space in the print addition, the ad will run on the newspaper's website at a reduced rate or even for free. Opening a successful restaurant can be extremely tough, and many restaurants never even survive the first year. However, once a restaurant builds a solid reputation, it can be a literal gold-mine which spawns endless opportunities such as franchises and the supermarket sales of their products. But before the restaurant reaches that level of success, the owners must master the art of how to market a restaurant.

    10 tips on how to market your restaurant

    1. Create a customer database so you can market to your customers. It's much easier to market to people who already like you than try to convert new business. Obtain your customer's details by using a business card draw with an appealing prize. Use your database to remember their birthdays, anniversaries, favorite dishes, likes and dislikes. Capitalize on building a relationship with your customer throughout the evening - talk to them if it's appropriate and take note of what they're saying. Few industries allow real-time feedback on customer experiences or purchase of goods/service. The database doesn't have to be complex - an Excel spreadsheet will do. The most important thing is to start one now.
    2. Communicate regularly to your customers. Avoid the connotation of spam by considering frequency and always including relevant interesting information. Provide details of upcoming special events, new dishes on the menu, or behind-the-scenes snippets - make sure there's something in it for the customer. Develop a personality, preferably authoring it from the owner or the chef. If you are not a natural writer, you should enlist some help. Marketing research has found that the best time to email is 10.30am-11.00am on a Tuesday, just when people are having their first break for the day. Mondays are too hectic as people catch up on weekend emails.
    3. Target your marketing. Generic advertising is a shotgun approach that has a high risk and low conversion rate. At best it will increase enquiries for Friday and Saturday nights - times you don't need customers. Instead target your marketing so people will come when you want them -  on a Monday or Tuesday. Attract them by waiving corkage, having theme nights, cellar nights or hosting cooking classes. One restaurant organized a special networking lunch on Tuesdays for local doctors and chemists in the area - it was hugely popular and effectively created a new market audience.
    4. Identify your marketing radius. Almost every restaurant has an area which is the source of 90% of their customers. Find out who they are and how you can look after them. This area is not always geographical - it can be an online community or a group united by a special interest.
    5. Talk to your neighbors and find out who they are and what they're doing. Investigate the possibilities of cross-promotion or whether you can work together on an event.
    6. Can you explain your business offering in one sentence? If you can't succinctly articulate what your business does or offers uniquely, then maybe your customers don't know either.
    7. Deal with your complaints. A complaint is not just a negative criticism - it's an opportunity to not only win back a customer, but to significantly raise their perception of your business to another level. Listen to their feedback and address their concerns. Respond personally. Turn their experience into a positive and people will be impressed. Wow them with your earnestness and they are likely to tell their friends and colleagues about what a great restaurant you are.
    8. Restaurants live or die based on the quality of their front-of-house. Good service can save a bad meal, but even the most amazing meal can't save poor service. Your customers should feel special, attended to, and believing their experience was above-average. Make sure your internal operations are right before you even consider marketing your restaurant. Your customers will soon find you out and not return. You will only end up wasting your money.
    9. Eat out to see what others are doing. Are you aware of what trends or changes are happening in dining? Could you improve your own booking processes by observing how others do it? Don't get stuck in a time warp - are you meeting the demands of today's customers?
    10. Remember young customers are your future business. Understand they are looking online (often on the street with their iPhone), they are less patient and they want real value for money. Attract them with value offerings like tasting menus or all-you-can-eat pizza on Mondays. Develop products that are more affordable or different - you don't have to discount. Create an experience opportunity they will enjoy. Tap into things they want or appreciate, like wireless access, Fair Trade coffee or cocktails - cocktails that always sell are the ones with quirky or exotic names and ingredients. Be inviting and polite. Treat them with the same amount of attention you would give an older diner. Don't ignore them or offer poor service. Understand that Gen Y are your future customers and they have the potential to be your best vocal advocates. If they are happy, they will naturally spruik you online and on social marketing channels. Tap into the online community, network actively and genuinely, use Facebook, get onto Twitter, start a blog and make sure you're listed on relevant iPhone applications like Urbanspoon. Be an early adopter of these online technologies whilst the market is still relatively uncrowded.

      Be purposeful.

      In order to establish yourself as a thought leader, be purposeful in your strategy. Don’t do something just to check a box. Before you decide to jump on an initiative, take a step back to evaluate the following:

      (1) Does the initiative help establish credibility for your brand?

      (2) Will you be reaching influencers and decision makers?

      (3) How you will measure success?

      This mentality helps to frame future marketing decisions, leading to more successful efforts overall.  Take social media as an example (I see this come up over and over again when talking to marketers). If you want to ‘do’ social media, make sure it serves a purpose for your company. You must select the right channel(s) to focus on—facebook may not be the optimal channel for your company—and have a unique point of view to share.

      New tactics: Make them happen quickly.

      If you want to try a new marketing tactic, you must put yourself and your team on an aggressive timeline. This even holds true for those of you that work in an environment that has complex organizational hierarchies and legal processes; it just means that you will need to get your part done even quicker.  New tactics often get pushed to the back burner as one gets absorbed in putting energy and resources behind tried and tested ideas. However, these new tactics are what could change the course and success of your marketing efforts.

      Use trial and error, then scale.

      When executing new initiatives, embrace the process of trial and error. Carefully watch the results of the initiative, and if it works, double down. If it doesn’t work, tweak it, try again, and drop it if it ultimately doesn’t work. This tactic has been used by many of the panel participants to reach and/or expand their customer base, but it certainly applies to marketing and PR initiatives as well.

      Improve what already is working.

      This may seem obvious. But when a marketing tactic is working, it’s easy and tempting to say, “don’t fix what’s not broken.” Even when something is working, it’s important to fine tune your approach to ensure you’re putting forth your best possible marketing efforts. You may be weary at first, thinking you might mess up a good thing, but you will likely discover a more efficient, innovative process along the way.

      Regardless of whether you’re at a lean startup or a large corporation, you will face limitations as a marketer. Above all, the biggest lesson learned from startups is that you have to be open to trying new and unconventional tactics. We do it every day, and we’re better for it.

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