New restaurants operate on razor-thin margins, which means you need all the new and return business you can drum up. And while there are plenty of robust marketing tools that will put your menus in front of new customers, that outreach won’t mean anything unless your food service and internal processes are impeccable.
According to Entrepreneur, “More than four out of five consumers are likely to choose a table-service restaurant they haven’t patronized before on the basis of a recommendation from a family member or a friend.”
Of course, an attentive staff and a to-die-for menu will almost always help you secure that recommendation for future business. But you can bet your bottom dollar that those new customers searched your business online, checked out your website, perused your menu, and scrolled through your most recent Yelp reviews, too.
A 2016 BrightLocal survey found that not only do most consumers form opinions about an establishment after reading fewer than 10 reviews, but that online reviews drive web traffic and reservations. While word-of-mouth may still be king, your online presence counts for a heck of a lot – which means you’ll have to learn how to bridge the gap between word-of-mouth business and online marketing.
Everything from your website to your customer loyalty programs should help you put your best foot forward, making it easier for customers to recommend you to friends and family in the future, or leave a recommendation for your business online. Here are the very best marketing tools you can use to manage the interest of new customers, and turn them into your biggest future advocates.
Search engines drive the majority of web traffic for restaurants, making pay-per-click (PPC) ads a good investment for establishments with a sizeable marketing budget. Since PPC advertising can be pricey, it’s important to conduct research about this powerful tool before you commit advertising dollars.
According to Restaurant Marketing Labs, marketing managers should aim to spend about 10% of their annual marketing budget on PPC outreach. By leveraging traffic data from your website, you’ll be in an even better position to tailor your budget to your demographic – essentially saving money by avoiding clicks from unlikely customers. Geo-targeting – or using specific visitor location data – can help you further cut down on expenses by only advertising to customers who live within a certain distance of your restaurant, while allocating dollars for mobile ads can increase your web traffic and reservations.
Design a budget, campaign, and SEO-friendly ad for your restaurant that capitalizes on keyword searches for your business. If you spend more than $10 per day, Google will match you up with an AdWords specialist who can help you develop and manage your campaign. By carefully geo-targeting your campaign, you’ll get the best returns on new business in your area. Plus, when you work with Google, you know you’ll have access to powerful data about your campaign to help you drive future targeted outreach.
2. Bing! Ads
Use analytics for your website traffic to determine if you should put ad dollars toward another search engine, like Bing! or Yahoo. Which service drives more of your traffic? Since you’re not competing for as many eyes as you are on Google, advertising with Bing or Yahoo can be cheaper than advertising with Google – potentially even offering better ROI. Still, it only makes sense to put ad dollars toward this service if your customers are using these search engines to find you. Bing Ads offers simple tools for reaching customers on mobile devices and for using the specs of your Google AdWords campaign on their platform.
Yahoo has developed a robust and competitive mobile ad platform, which restaurant marketers would do well to consider. According to Search Engine Land, 64% of mobile searches for restaurants convert within one hour. Check out Yahoo’s guidelines to learn about all of Yahoo’s options, including native advertising, video ads, and more.
4. Facebook Ads
Facebook ad campaigns aren’t traditional pay-per-click packages – rather, you’ll pay to boost your posts for a specific time period. But when 72% of users turn to Facebook to help them make a decision about where to eat, it makes sense to promote your page, a specific event, or a seasonal marketing campaign where your networks will see and share your content. Facebook also has the ability to target specific demographics, which can help you pull in new business.
While it might be easy to make fun of the selfie and foodie photo culture, lifestyle photos on platforms like Instagram can drive business to your restaurant – so you might as well meet customers where they’re at. Promote existing posts from your restaurant account or design a new campaign around an upcoming event or promotion. You can even experiment with video ads, carousel ads (ads with multiple photos), and Instagram stories (a reel of your most recent content that disappears after 24 hours). Learn more about how to use this new feature in your marketing plan at Buffer.
Online Ordering & Reservations
While there are plenty of valid criticisms leveled at third-party online reservation systems for charging large subscription or commission fees, these services still drive sales. According to Toast, online users spend more per check than customers who order in your establishment.
Since demand for online ordering is also increasing, restaurant managers should consider how third-party ordering systems – or robust POS with online ordering and reservation capabilities – might give them an edge over their competition. If you opt for a third-party system, make sure it integrates with your point-of-sale, so you can accurately manage customer data and ordering.
OpenTable offers solutions for everything from online ordering and reservations to managing front-of-house turnover. Listing your restaurant with OpenTable makes it easier for big parties to make reservations, as well as for mobile customers to locate your business and reserve a spot. Fill up any empty seats by listing available reservation times with OpenTable and its marketing partners, who can give your location a signal boost when you need it most.
Upgrade to their monthly subscription package, and you can manage your tables more efficiently, helping with front-of-house workflow. Encourage waitstaff to add helpful notes about customers in the OpenTable platform, since sharing important customer data with your marketing team can improve your email marketing and targeted offers.
Seamless and GrubHub merged in 2013, though the sites kept their individual branding to prevent customer confusion. Their services, which include third-party ordering and delivery, are all managed through GrubHub’s online portal.
With GrubHub’s easy-to-use interface, you’ll streamline your take-out orders and increase your ROI by making it easier for mobile and tablet users to search for your restaurant, place orders, and track their order progress. If you haven’t yet embraced online ordering at your restaurant, using GrubHub’s platform is an easy way to catch the attention of mobile users. In 2015, nearly 1.5 billion customers searched for and ordered food using their phone or tablets.
Although GrubHub charges a 13.5% commission fee, they offer marketing services – like coupons and targeted email campaigns – that can help drive new business in your area and take the pressure off your marketing director.
Not ready to hire a full delivery staff? GrubHub can manage your deliveries, too, including payroll and insurance for drivers.
8. Eat24 / Yelp
Easily integrate Yelp’s Eat24 platform into your existing site, where customers can place orders for pick-up or delivery that are then fulfilled at your location. This is a great option if you’ve worked hard on your branding package and want to shape your customers’ experience online and in your storefront. Though you’re using Eat24’s technology, the online ordering experience will still look and feel just like your restaurant’s.
You can also enable customers to order directly through Yelp, eliminating an extra step for hungry dinner guests. Since customers are already using Yelp to learn more about your business, it makes a lot of sense to use the Eat24 integration there, too. According to Yelp, they receive more than 485 million searches and page views per month – capture some of that interest and drive new business right to your doorstep.
Foodler is a good option for restaurants that are still building their online presence. If you haven’t yet had a chance to develop your own website, Foodler makes it easy to set up a branded online storefront where you can offer delivery and online ordering. You can also use the service to encourage customers to join loyalty programs.
Sure, you want to make transactions as quick and easy as possible – especially if you’re a fast-casual restaurant or chain manager. But if you’re not using your POS to collect customer data like email addresses, you’re missing out on one of your most powerful marketing tools. That’s why it’s so important to offer incentives – including customer loyalty programs – for making customers part of your network.
Sign-up incentives can also decrease barriers between your online presence and your brick-and-mortar establishment. Start a monthly newsletter to interact directly with customers, provide updates on new menu items, distribute coupons, and talk up your staff – all strategies which help personalize and fuel future interactions and sales.
Have a new menu item you can’t wait to show off? The visual appeal of email marketing is also a great opportunity to showcase your space and menu – a fact that Instagrammers and lifestyle bloggers have long capitalized on. You should, too.
It’s easy to set up a free account for up to 2,000 subscribers, though if you want more advanced list management options, like segmentation and CRM integration, you’ll have to opt for a paid subscription. MailChimp also provides easy-to-use, drag-and-drop templates, so you can avoid code or hiring a designer but still look professional. Search through 15 customizable template options designed just for restaurants, like the “Frosty Beer Template,” as well as suggestions for automating birthday messages and integrations with customer loyalty programs like Fishbowl. Remember to track your campaigns and use analytics to determine the success of your offers.
Made with restaurant managers in mind, Fishbowl is used by big chains like Applebee’s to market directly to individual customers. You can even integrate data from your POS to design customer profiles and create targeted marketing campaigns that convert readers into repeat business.
12. Constant Contact
Like MailChimp, Constant Contact offers drag-and-drop email templates and fairly robust list management capabilities. While Constant Contact is cheaper, MailChimp tends to outstrip Constant Contact in terms of price, ease-of-use, and analytics. If you don’t have complex design or analytics needs, Constant Contact can definitely get you started on the path to email marketing.
Social Media Management
Let’s face it: every restaurant marketing manager wears multiple hats and needs to cut down on office time. Online social interactions for restaurants have moved beyond tweets and Facebook posts to include online reviews – all of which can zap what little time you have to work through your to-do list.
The good news? User-generated content gives you the stamp of approval you need to drive new business. If you’re a one-person marketing shop, you’ll need a few tools to help you automate posts, track notifications, and respond to customer feedback across all your social channels. Pretty soon, you’ll be gathering all the social proof you need to demonstrate how delicious your enchiladas are in real life.
Schedule social media updates across multiple channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The free version of Hootsuite is robust enough for most small businesses and will even give you access to basic data about your posts. You’ll pay more to access detailed analytics that can help you manage more effective social media strategies. An upgraded account may even help you boost and track ROI by working in concert with paid ads to drive traffic, online reservations, and ordering.
Like HootSuite, Buffer helps you schedule social media updates across multiple channels. Have a great Instagram post of your best-selling burger with a ton of likes? Use Buffer to re-post and optimize that same image for Facebook’s algorithm. Buffer has a host of other helpful tools, including analytics that help you time your posts to maximize visibility and easy-to-create image templates, so you can increase the shareability of your posts. Want to opt for a paid plan? At $10/month, it’s totally affordable, too.
If you’re running marketing for an enterprise business that requires thoughtful content planning – like multiple posts per channel for a major chain – then you can’t go wrong with CoSchedule. With tools for planning, writing and scheduling content across multiple channels, you can get all your work done in one place – even during the busiest of months.
Want to launch a new menu, offer seasonal discounts, or roll out a loyalty program? CoSchedule makes it easy to see your entire campaign no matter where you’re promoting, from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to your blog or newsletter. Take the bird’s eye view to ensure all your channels are working together to get the traffic you need for success, then use their powerful analytics tools to track customer feedback and improve future campaigns.
Increase customer retention with a review and user-generated content service like Yotpo. Integrate Yotpo into your website for customers to leave feedback about their dining experience, or offer discounts to customers who leave a review. Have a killer Instagram that features items from your menu? Use Yotpo’s “Shoppable Instagram” feature to drive dinner orders and increase your ROI – all through the power of social media.
17. Get Five Stars
Use Get Five Stars’ testimonial widget to collect customer reviews, respond to feedback, and display positive recommendations on your website that will drive new business. Because Get Five Stars is a total system for email marketing, mobile push notifications, and testimonials connected to a robust POS, the platform helps you use customer data – like ordering and spending – to trigger successful incentives for your loyalty program.
With powerful analytics and reporting, you can easily see which of your email and SMS messages are getting the best returns. Even better? Use their dashboard to track how your restaurant is viewed across the web and keep tabs on your Net Promoter Score to boot.
Whether you use a simple punch card or offer more complex rewards, customer loyalty programs are key to more effective marketing – and repeat business.
First and foremost, use the insights you have from customer data to drive incentives for your loyalty program. Have a lot of business clientele? Design a targeted email marketing campaign offering free entry for a VIP night at a new location where top customers can network with one another. Want to increase the number of touchpoints you have with high-paying customers, or use customer feedback to strengthen your service and menu? Consider supporting a customer referral program that earns top customers gift cards to your restaurant or other rewards.
Smaller, more casual businesses can also benefit from mobile “check-in” technology. Mobile check-ins increase customer engagement, meet younger demographics where they’re at, and amp up your mentions in local social media feeds – all in exchange for a review or other reward.
Offer incentives to customers for reviews and other feedback on Foursquare. Since this is a social app, customers who use Foursquare will boost your social media and web presence in return. The service also encourages creativity, which means using Foursquare can help you create a fun atmosphere at your location – not to mention establishing more meaningful relationships with return customers.
Belly is one of the leading loyalty and marketing solutions for restaurants. Belly offers customized rewards, email campaigns, social exposure, and marketing automation for your restaurant. No matter which plan you choose you’ll receive, a digital loyalty program, a customizable iPad for signing up your customers, in-store marketing materials and inclusion in the Belly mobile app where potential customers can discover your business, and a Merchant Success Manager to aid in strategy, positioning, & product.
Additionally, their newest feature, Belly Listings, helps drive customers into your restaurant by making sure your menu (and other important business information) is showcased on Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other top search and discovery engines used to find restaurants like yours.
With a focus on reaching mobile customers, LevelUp shares many similarities with Belly Card. The service was designed with restaurants in mind, so you can enable online ordering and mobile payments, or eliminate wait times for loyal customers. You can also use the app to reward repeat business with point systems and gift cards. Part of what makes LevelUp so effective is their hands-on app and customer reward design. For example, LevelUp helped their Texas-based client, VERTS Mediterranean Grill, develop a mobile customer loyalty program that increased monthly revenue from under $80k to more than $240k – in less than six months. Find out how they used push notifications, coupons, and a first visit campaign to encourage app downloads and drive ROI here.
21. The Fork
Restaurant managers flip for The Fork because it handles just about everything: online booking, email marketing, and – you guessed it – reviews and customer loyalty, too. Use The Fork to capture important customer data from each order, then fuel your next targeted marketing campaign.
This data can help you build a rock-solid loyalty program for return customers, so you can send customized SMS or email messages when you have special offers you know diners will love. Send satisfaction surveys after dinner, publish and respond to customer feedback, and reward customers for their input – all strategies that will help you drive repeat business.
Running the Clover POS? Then Perka’s Mobile Loyalty program could be the perfect solution for all your customer loyalty needs. Offer customers a mobile punch card they can use to collect rewards each time they visit your restaurant. You can also track customer points and award them during visits. Want a solution that goes beyond a digital punch card? Clover POS also offers a Promos app for sending SMS, email messages, and Perka notifications. Like Flok, you can geotarget customers to drive sales, and you can even re-post deals to social media to increase your reach.
There’s a reason some of the most successful customer loyalty programs for restaurants use location-based marketing to offer customers incentives: this technology drives sales.
A study conducted by Research Now found that 72% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase if they receive a relevant text message while shopping. And 30% of customers will redeem an incentive triggered by location-based marketing tools like beacons.
You don’t have to be a major chain to use location-based marketing, either. Even small businesses, like food trucks and taco stands, can benefit – as long as you have the right tools.
Want to harness the power of beacon technology but not sure how to make the leap? Flok makes creating and sending customer push notifications easy. Use their platform to design your own customer loyalty app, then invite customers to join for rewards and discounts.
Whether you want to make a digital punch card or design a more complex campaign, Flok’s real specialty is using beacon technology to send targeted messages to customers. Any time your customers are within a few blocks of your business, send them a deal they can’t resist via push notification. Voilà! An instant way to remind customers how much they love your menu – and reward them for shopping with you.
If you’d like to create a fully customizable beacon for your restaurant, consider a service like Kontakt.io. They provide both hardware and software to program and manage beacon technology. With the right messaging, you can increase the number of customers who redeem offers, including coupons or other deals, and return regularly to have a meal. If you’re not sure about installation and maintenance, Kontakt.io’s team offers scalable service packages depending on your needs.
Like Kontakt.io, Beaconstac will help you leverage the hardware and software you need to create a successful marketing campaign. Their blog contains especially great resources for restaurant managers new to beacon technology. Learn how to install your hardware, brand the messages your customers will see on their mobile devices, and schedule the rules and triggers for messages that will get sales. Their helpful guides make it a whole lot easier to manage your own Beaconstac dashboard from a back office by the walk-in cooler.
Estimote is the start-up kid of beacon technology. They’ve developed a disruptive pricing model that makes it easy for businesses of all sizes to hop on the location-based marketing train – including a $59 proximity beacon starter kit. You’ll still have to build your own app, or use an app powered by a third-party service for the food industry like Yelp or Epicurious, to send out your offers to hungry customers. Last year, Estimote also started creating app templates to help small businesses cut down on app development time and ease point-of-entry.
Leverage the data you receive from location-based marketing tools to find out how effective your messaging actually is. SAP Digital Consumer Insight gives you a detailed picture of your foot traffic and the mobile technology customers use to interact with you – even how you stack up against the competition in your neighborhood. If you want to learn how to optimize your advertised specials, email marketing campaigns or mobile push notifications to fill up your dining room, this is the tool that will help you take the guesswork out of the process.
Do your restaurant marketing efforts stack up?
As online ordering and search engine results start to drive more restaurant business, there’s plenty you can do to adopt the online tools that will help you manage your reputation, draw new customers, and ensure positive word-of-mouth. Hubworks apps let you stay across your internal processes, like time tracking and shift management, meaning you can invest more of your time into your marketing efforts.
The more quickly you can adapt your current marketing strategy to account for online inquiries, the better returns you’ll see on more traditional outreach, including local TV and newspaper ad buys. Put your systems in place now, so your team can focus on creating an incredible meal for all the customers about to start knocking down your door.
Have a favorite restaurant marketing tool that you think we missed? Share yours with us in the comments below.