Your dream of delighting the crowd with culinary masterpieces is finally coming true. The Grand Opening date is circled in red on the calendar. Now, it is time to bring in the crowd. But where do you find the crowd?
There’s So Much to Do, Where to Start?
Putting together a digital marketing strategy can be a bit daunting, but we’re here to help. We’ve got five restaurant marketing ideas to help get you started and then a few more down the line to keep you going.
1. Get everything set up and in place
You wouldn’t have your restaurant’s grand opening with your kitchen out of order, so don’t let your digital marketing strategy start out messy.
First, you must have a functional, eye-appealing, mobile-friendly website.
Without a website, you will have no digital home for your menus, specials, or announcements.
Next, you’ll want to handle all your local search engine optimization. This includes claiming your account with Google, Bing, and Yelp. It is also important to include restaurant-related aggregators like Zomato (previously Urban Spoon).
“You want images of the storefront with the address or name of the business, images of menu items, staff working, share the atmosphere of the location,” BigWing Local SEO Expert, Gina Jennings said. “Let people know if it is family-friendly, whether you serve alcohol, the hours of operation, delivery options, and accepted forms of payment. These are all things that your hungry customers are interested in knowing.”
Decide which social media platforms you are going to use when building your community. Not every restaurant needs to have a presence on every social platform, but Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are heavily used to build relationships in the foodie community.
No matter which social networks you use to position your new hot spot, make sure all graphics are optimized for the specific platform. People will get excited and begin to drool over your food with each new photo, but you want to make sure you aren’t cutting off the best part because the image is sized wrong.
2. Invest in High-Quality Photography
Speaking of photography, it is your restaurant’s marketing bread and butter. Don’t hesitate or skimp in this area or it will show and people will know.
“Good photography is important because those images are how your fans are going to perceive your restaurant,” BigWing Social Media Expert, Kellen McGugan said. “If it doesn’t look clean and delicious, you’re not going to drive the kind of engagement you’re wanting.”
A local Oklahoma City burger chain, Tucker’s Onion Burgers, is a prime example of a restaurant that uses photos to appeal to their customers’ senses.
“Think about it: would you be more likely to want to eat a burger that looks smooshed and uninteresting or a burger that’s piled high and delicious?” Kellen said. “If you want to see great food photography, go check out Tucker’s Onion Burgers on Twitter or Instagram. They set the bar.”
3. Restaurant Marketing: Build Hype with Everything You Do
You’re on the move each day, moving closer to your goal of a packed opening weekend followed by a successful restaurant. Use your daily tasks to help build the excitement among those in your social media communities.
Are you renovating the dining area? Show your progress and let people imagine what it will be like to sit across from a date there. Have your chefs been traveling, tasting dishes, and trying new menu items? Let your Twitter followers get a look at it, they’re excitement will get others interested in your menu. When your staff is in training, show them learning about the wine list. New wine drinkers and fanatics alike will be excited about a staff knowledgeable about the wine list.
“Use everything you’re doing to build hype for the opening. The hype behind your social media game needs to be palpable,” Kellen said.
4. Create an Email List to Keep Your Community Connected
The community you build will become your regular diners and your brand ambassadors. How will you keep in touch and how will they know what’s going on? Create an email list. Welcome them to your community. Thank them for their interest in the work you and your staff are doing and keep them updated.
Email campaigns are one way to create a deeper relationship with future customers. Only those who choose to engage can be involved and those who want to be in the know will be your best advocates.
5. Reward Your Social Following
There are real people behind the thumbs-up and heart emojis you see when you check your social media notifications. They’re ready to stand among the crowd on your opening night and be delighted by your new menu and the dining room decor.
They’ve been “drooling,” screaming “OMG,” and “Dying to finally try this!” each time you post a photo for the last several weeks. Find the most dedicated among them and reward them with spots at your soft opening or grand opening party. You will not only reward them and excite your community but also build trust among new fans.
“The Goro Ramen soft opening was done to perfection,” Kellen said about the opening of a local noodle house in Oklahoma City. “They invited the right people who took great photos of all of their dishes and got the word out on social platforms for them. The way Goro Ramen pays attention to their fans has rewarded them with a stalwart following.”
The folks at 84 Hospitality who market for Goro Ramen knew that if they focused on inviting the people who were already invested in the restaurant, it would be a success.
“When we had our soft opening, we mainly focused on inviting our friends, family, and colleagues,” Chris Nguyen, the Marketing Director for 84 Hospitality. “Some of them just happen to have large social media followings. Our owners worked their butts off, and all I had to do was shine a light on it.”
Your Restaurant is Open, Now What?
You’ve done it. You’ve marketed your restaurant through its opening. Now what?
You plan to beat the odds and make it through your first year and then past the first five. How can you up your digital marketing strategy to make that happen? We’ve got five more tips to help you get there.
6. Engaging and Rewarding Customers with Effective Email Marketing
Remember that email you list you built? You haven’t been forgetting about it, have you? Continuing to connect with your customers and keeping them informed about what’s happening is important. Your community is your tribe and it takes a tribe to keep a restaurant full of regulars as well as bring in new people.
So when you’re trying new dishes or specials, keep your email fans in the know. Give them access to information before your less engaged followers find out and show them they’re special to you.
You can use automated email marketing workflows to help you initiate contact with new email subscribers and keep them engaged with regular updates and newsletters. 86 percent of consumers say they would like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with at least monthly.
Would you disappoint your followers?
7. Join in community happenings
Your local grub spot is part of the community and that means you should act like it. Join the neighborhood association and the chamber of commerce. When there is a neighborhood event, get involved. Show your support for your online community and get the hashtags in front of your diners.
When people are streaming into the area for an event, sponsor an event themed Snapchat geo filter. Whether you’re hosting free yoga sessions or team trivia nights, sponsoring little league or benefit dinners, make sure your social media tribe is on point with handles, hashtags, and action photos. Let people know you care about them, and they will be more ready to care about you.
8. Have Fun with Polls, Games, Giveaways, and Contests
Sometimes the best way to get new customers to try your products is to give them the opportunity to try it for free. While it’s not something every business can do all the time, hosting a giveaway or offering a free item with the purchase of another item can introduce a new customer to what you have to offer, and can get them hooked for life. If giveaways aren’t possible, making customers feel included with polls or hosting regular events can also go a long way.
Pritchard Wine Bar has done a great job of this, going above and beyond by hosting regular giveaways, engaging their customers with polls, and hosting weekly card game events.
Being creative, conversational, and inviting in your digital marketing helps your customers see you as friendly and relatable, making them more willing to try a new place.
9. Make Yelp Your Friend
Nobody likes to read a negative review about their business, so it’s easy to feel like you can sweep Yelp under the rug and avoid dealing with unhappy customers, especially if you don’t believe that their reviews are necessarily fair.
However, Julie Porter Scott, the Oklahoma City Community Manager for Yelp, says the information that Yelp can provide you can help you connect with your customers in a different way, and help change a dissatisfied customer into a lifetime customer by righting a wrong situation.
“I always encourage people to take a deep breath on a negative review, and take a step back before deciding on how to respond,” Julie said. “If the reviewer wrote constructive criticism, I hope that the reviewer can take it as such and respond in a positive way and ensure that the reviewer feels valued and heard.”
However, not all negative reviews need to be responded to.
“The business owner can decide if it makes more sense to respond publicly or privately. Some reviews don’t warrant a response, and that’s okay. Trust that your consumers can see that that review did not warrant a response,” Julie said.
Yelp isn’t all about negative reviews, however. It gives you key data to track consumer interaction and gives you insight on the full customer experience that you are providing.
“One of the neatest things about Yelp is crowdsourcing from your customers,” Julie said. “You can take the input to heart and use it to improve upon your restaurant and know your strengths and weaknesses.”
At the end of the day, restaurants who are using Yelp the right way are having positive interactions with reviewers regularly – even negative reviewers.
“I always advise to interact with your Yelp listing,” Julie said. “Respond to reviews and add your own photos. That’s how you become a part of the conversation. Everyone that views your listing can see that, and it’s not all happening without you being a part of it.”
10. The Most Important Part: Empower Your Employees and Have Fun!
One of the best (and most fun) ways to engage your audience goes beyond taking beautiful photos of your food. Giving your customers a sneak-preview of what goes on behind the scenes at your restaurant, and empowering your employees to share their tips and tricks is a fun way to connect people to your business.
A restaurant who has built an entire social media following based on this practice in Oklahoma City is Pie Junkie. They post photos and videos on their Instagram featuring employees baking the pies, pouring caramel, and toasting marshmallows. Emily Hummel, the manager of Pie Junkie and keeper of the social media, explained how it has made such an impact on their business.
“We have a beautiful product and our bakers do a wonderful job, so the social media speaks for itself,” Emily said. “People love to see how things are made, so we realize that there is value in seeing what is behind the scenes and back in the kitchen. We have people making stuff in our kitchen from in their 40s to teenagers. We want people to have the confidence to know what’s going into the product. And it’s fun!”
Finding the balance between managing social media and professionally and having fun can be difficult, but customers notice and respond well to a brand showing authenticity.
“People really enjoy seeing how our pies are made. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and have fun with it, and it is very real to people,” Emily said.
“Our customers think it’s fun and cool, and it’s proof that we really do make everything right here in our shop!”
Giving customers insight into what goes on behind the scenes in your restaurant can also provide customers with a sense of empathy. For example, Pie Junkie’s peak season is during the holidays, but making pies from scratch in a small business space is difficult. Emily explains that showing their customers the space they have to work with by posting videos of the team making the pies helps customers understand that they are baking their pies in a limited space, so patience is key for larger orders.
“We love doing it around the holidays because we are always making a mass amount of pie in our teeny tiny pie shop,” Emily said. It helps people understand why we can only make so many pies, and all of the work it takes to go into it.”
Let Us Be Your Chef
We know there is a mountain of information available for how to market your restaurant but we hope these tips help. For more guidance when beginning the journey into the social media world check out our guide to social media for small businesses.