If your restaurant is doing well, it is easy to overlook the need for a small business marketing plan and a dedicated marketing budget. Traditional thinking leads a lot of local restaurant owners to believe that serving good food is all it takes to succeed.
That may have worked in years past, but in today’s volatile marketplace, restaurants need to do more than provide a quality product and write something clever on the sandwich board out front.
When today’s customers talk about where they should eat, overwhelmingly that conversation takes place online. 97% of people read online reviews for local businesses, and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.
What’s more, the power of online word of mouth can work against you. One bad review can cost you 30 new customers, and a one-star drop in your online rating can result in a nearly 20% drop in revenue. Ouch.
The good news is, the right marketing strategy can help your restaurant bring in more customers, save you time, increase loyalty, and help you weather the storms that come with changing consumer trends, internet whims, or other unpredictable factors that influence your restaurant’s bottom line.
To maximize the effectiveness of your restaurant’s marketing budget, we recommend you follow the following steps in order, and don’t skip steps:
- Take control of your “online presence”
- Engage your existing customers online and get involved locally to build loyalty
- Spend appropriately for targeted advertising in relevant media
- Save time and do more with small business marketing software
Let’s go over these four steps in a little more detail.
First: Take control of your restaurant’s online presence
Your online footprint matters… almost more than your food.
Data shows a half-star boost in your Yelp rating makes it 30 to 49 percent more likely that you will fill every seat during your busiest hours. It’s vital that you show up in local search results, and show up well.
As the first step in your marketing plan, you need to make sure you’ve taken control of your online presence because 1) it’s the way most customers will find your restaurant, and 2) it boosts the effectiveness of all your other marketing efforts.
Here are the most important elements of getting control of your online presence:
- Claim your restaurant’s business listing on all the major online review sites (click the links for helpful how-to articles on how to claim your profile on Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor. You should also claim/monitor Facebook, Foursquare, OpenTable, Zagat (if applicable to your area), Zomato, Gayot, and GrubHub—even if you don’t intend to formally interact with one or more of these sites (or if, like Gayot, they don’t allow restaurant owners’ direct involvement)
- Ensure your restaurant’s profile (including hours of operation, location, contact info, etc.) is accurate on these review sites, fill in as much information as possible, and review your pages regularly
- Read all your reviews and implement a strategy to get more reviews (for more details on the right and wrong ways to get more reviews for your restaurant, read our in-depth article)
You might also like: 3 easy ways to get customer feedback for your restaurant
Second, build loyalty by engaging your existing customers and getting involved locally
Online reviews matter. Take them seriously
Once you’ve claimed your pages, it’s very important to read and respond courteously to every customer review (yes, even the negative ones… and you will get them).
When you show appreciation for positive reviews and genuine concern and commitment to fix any problems reported, it shows you take your customers and quality control seriously.
This alone will start attracting more customers to your restaurant and building a strong online reputation. (For our tips on how to respond to negative reviews, click the link.)
Get involved in your community and capitalize on the “eat local” movement
Small, local restaurants are gaining traction, and not just with trendy food bloggers. The biggest advantages you have over cookie-cutter, industrial cuisine is you can provide the unique ambiance, positive customer experience, and personal attention to detail that big corporate restaurants can’t hope to match.
You can develop passionate fans who will be your strongest online advocates (and do a huge portion of your marketing for free), if they feel a personal connection with you and your food.
So, get involved in your community. Host local events. Participate in local pub crawls, wine walks, tastes of the city, street eats, food festivals—whatever is available in your area (63% of customers say they want invitations to more local events, but only 12% get them).
If there are no programs like this in your area, start one!
Volunteer for or sponsor the local symphony, or the baseball, football, bowling, or underwater basketweaving team—whatever your customers are proud of and support. Build a creative float for the local parade. Think outside the box.
The main point is your restaurant should be inseparably linked with your town, and local customers should feel a personal connection with you. Small efforts in this area can have a huge impact.
Third, spend appropriately for targeted advertising in relevant media
Now you’re finally ready to start spending some money. But what should your marketing budget look like?
We recommend that local restaurants dedicate approximately 7-8% of gross revenue toward marketing, and the U.S. Small Business Administration agrees.
You can dump money into a local ad agency to manage your campaigns for you, but the cost/benefit ratio for these efforts is almost always unimpressive.
For small businesses, email marketing is hands-down the most powerful, efficient, and effective marketing tool, with an unsurpassed ROI (return on investment) of up to 44 to 1. (Read more in our detailed email marketing article.)
86% of your customers actually want promotional emails from businesses they like. A simple email receipt with a “thanks for your visit,” happy birthday wishes, or promotional offers delivered to their inbox can go a long way. Email marketing software can be a big help here (see below).
You might look into spending some of your budget on an advertising plan with Instagram, targeting IG users in your specific area and desired demographic.
You can also offer specials for people who post on their IG accounts and tag your restaurant. If you can beg or borrow a food stylist/photog to shoot nice photos for you to post regularly, it can go a long way toward spreading “online word-of-mouth.”
Fourth, save time and maximize your efforts with small business marketing software
Restaurant owners are among the world’s busiest people, so if the above seems a little overwhelming, the right software can really be a lifesaver.
Dedicated loyalty program software can help, but be careful with this one: restaurants often gravitate to the “punch card” model, but this may not be the most effective place to spend your time and money. Studies show the average U.S. household is enrolled in 29 loyalty programs but only uses 12. Focus on building the relationship first, or your loyalty efforts will go unnoticed.
Womply CRM is the first and only customer relationship management software that comes “pre-populated” with your customers’ transaction history, contact information, and much more.
Womply can also help you understand your revenue trends, benchmark against competitors, send timely reminders and promotions, and automatically request online reviews from your best customers.
Businesses that use Womply bring in 20% more revenue, get 23% more repeat customer visits, and save 10 hours of work per week. Imagine what you could do with an extra 10 hours per week!
Click here to get a free demo of Womply’s small business software and learn how it can help you grow your restaurant into a local landmark.
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