Digital Marketing for Restaurants: An Essential Guide

Published Oct 12, 2017. Updated Jun 14, 2019.

Digital Marketing for Restaurants: An Essential Guide

From delivery on demand to location-based targeting, it seems like every day there’s another new way to market your restaurant. Exciting? Yes. Overwhelming? Also yes. So before you panic and give up altogether, take a deep breath — we’ve put together a list of the top 10 essential digital marketing strategies for restaurants that will bring your business up to speed and draw more diners to your table, without doing your head in.

1: Create a website (obviously)

We shouldn’t have to say it, but it’s true. Not all restaurants have a web presence, even in 2017. And even those that do may not have one that works on all devices. These days it’s no longer optional to have your website optimized for mobile, as 83% of people use their mobile devices to look up restaurants. So not only should your business show up in that search, but the experience you deliver on your site should be inviting and usable. Do not do anything else in this guide until you have done this. Period.

While you’re at it, be sure to include the components of a great restaurant website: Has a clean, easy-to-use digital menu Contains basic, accurate information like your location and hours Tells your story Offers a simple way to make online reservations, if applicable

2: Get listed

Remember when every restaurant was listed in the phone book? If you weren’t on those yellow pages, you were nothing. And well, now the internet is our phone book. Here’s a checklist to make sure you’re properly listed online:

3: Start blogging

That’s right, you’re going to become a blogger. Before you freak out, starting a blog doesn’t have to be daunting. Simply writing two articles per month will help with your search visibility and increase traffic to your restaurant.

So, what should you write about? Anything goes, but the secret is to be open and authentic. Pull back the curtain on your restaurant and reveal what goes on inside. Who are the chefs? What are they experimenting with? Who’s in the front of house? Where does your food come from? Letting people in on the inner workings of your business is the key to being likable. And likability means more hungry bellies placing an order.

restaurant marketing

4: Launch a loyalty program

What are you doing to bring customers in not just once, but again and again? Making great food helps of course, but there’s a lot of competition out there. It can’t hurt to also create a loyalty program that allows customers to earn rewards, discounts or freebies by frequenting your establishment.

These days, there are plenty of digital platforms to help you create a simple loyalty program. Check out the likes of Flok, Belly, and LevelUp. Some of these platforms can even help you set up mobile payment, promotional campaigns and auto-chat with your customers, if you really want to get savvy.

5: Get social

Is your restaurant active on social media? If you’ve got a Facebook page and Twitter account, great — but those are table stakes. Simply being there and liking stuff won’t get you very far. So what else can you be doing beyond updating your cover photo and retweeting Anthony Bourdain? We’ve got some ideas.

Leverage customer-generated content

Social is a great tool for getting customers to spread the word about you. So issue a challenge to get them to do just that, in exchange for a small reward. Offer them a free drink for sharing a photo with your restaurant hashtag or 5% off their bill for checking in on Facebook. A little customer-generated love can go a long way.

Time your tweets

Twitter is the ‘real-time’ platform which allows you to take advantage of what’s happening in the moment. You can tweet at specific times of day to target the breakfast, lunch or dinner crowds. You can also sent out relevant messaging and offers around occasions like holidays, local events, or incidents such as bad weather or a local sports team win. Tailor your tweets to the moment and you’ll see a boost from your efforts.

Do something shareworthy

In other words, go viral. That’s easier said than done, but nothing you can’t come up with while brainstorming with your team over a few beers. Social shares happen when you do something unexpected, hit upon a universal truth or dare to touch a nerve. Take inspiration from restaurants who have gone before you with stunts such as the viral burger, the hilarious kids menu or the “no wifi” sign.

restaurant marketing

Image via flickr user Alan Levine

Two words: food porn

If there’s anything proven to perform on social media, it’s delectable, irresistible photos of food. The right camera (read: not your iPhone) and lighting can make any dish look amazing. So hire a photographer (or bribe them with dinner) and create a suite of drool-worthy images you can roll out over time.

Court local influencers

Who are the mavens of the food world in your area? You want them — and their social media followers — in your camp. A bit of spend for an influencer to post something on your behalf can help you reach a huge audience (or a small, targeted one). To find out who the kings and queens of food-related social media are near you, jump on Twitter or Instagram and search relevant hashtags, such as #AtlantaFoodie, and/or reach out to local journalists or bloggers on LinkedIn. If you’re pressed for time, you can also consider an influencer service such as Grin or BuzzSumo.

6: Court customers via email

If you aren’t collecting email addresses on your website and/or in store, you’re missing an easy opportunity to create a relationship with your customers and generate more return business. Having a list of email addresses gives you the ability to check in and share news, discounts, new dishes, specials, and more with your customers through an email newsletter. Maybe they had kinda forgotten about you when boom—you pop into their mailbox with a delightful message and an offer to come back. Sending a message just once a month is enough to get the job done without being annoying.

7: Monitor and respond to reviews

This is another no-brainer step, yet so many businesses fail to do it. You must, without fail, keep track of and respond promptly to reviews on platforms like Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor. A negative review, even if it is untrue, can be highly damaging to your business.

To make this task simple, you can set up Google Alerts to be informed whenever someone mentions your restaurant. Or if you’d rather someone did this all for you, try a service like ReviewPush ReviewTrackers.

8: Create geo-targeted ads

Ok, so we’re getting a little technical now, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Geo-targeting is simply going after a customer in a specific location. Restaurants are the perfect candidates for this kind of mobile-driven advertising, since people are often looking for dining options while on the go. And mentioning a location in an ad or search result can increase click-through rates up to 200 percent! These days, geo-targeting is easy to execute using simple advertising platforms like Facebook Ads and Google AdWords. Here are a few ideas for how you can use geo-targeted ads:

Target a specific radius around your restaurant

It just so happens that 65 percent of smartphone users looking for restaurants are looking specifically for locations within walking or driving distance. So when people are within a few-mile radius of your establishment, you can serve them an ad that encourages them to stop in and dine.

restaurant marketing

Focus on places your customer is likely to be

Maybe you’re a great coffee stop for people about to leave the airport, or you sell pub grub that’s perfect for students at universities. You can target people while they’re at that airport or university with your message.

Own location-based search queries

Geo-targeting doesn’t always mean you have to capture someone’s physical location. You can also reach them when they’re searching by location, e.g. “Atlanta BBQ joints” or “Jacksonville Beach bar.” Be the restaurant they see first when they enter that query.

9: Consider third-party delivery

We saved this tip for the end, because it’s not for everyone—but it is worth looking into. It’s no secret that millennials want their food when they want it, where they want it. Those who might never set foot in your restaurant would gladly order delivery from it. So if you haven’t yet partnered with a delivery service like GrubHub, Eat24 or UberEats, think about whether it might be right for your restaurant. There’s no question it will boost your revenue—if your staff and space can handle the additional demand.

10: Remember who keeps you in business

At the end of the day, your number 1 marketing tool is great customer service. How you treat people in store will, without a doubt, spill over into the digital space in the form of reviews and social chatter. So not only is giving customers impeccable service the right thing to do, it’s also a smart online marketing move.

Need help with putting any of these tips into action? Contact us to find out how we can transform your restaurant website and make your online and mobile marketing more successful.

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