Hospitality Industry
5 min read

Restaurant Management: Marketing for food entrepreneurs

EHL Insights
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A comprehensive marketing and advertising plan can help your new restaurant attract customers. Here's what you need to know about getting started with restaurant marketing.

Advertise Your Restaurant

Aside from getting your restaurant fully staffed, built, and open, advertising is one of a new restaurant owner's most important tasks. It's through marketing and advertising that potential customers will find out basic information about your restaurant, get excited about your concept, and give your eatery a try. Below, find advertising essentials to guide your marketing efforts.

Host a Grand Opening

Done right, a grand opening can launch your restaurant with fanfare. A grand opening brings together community members, friends and family, and local media to sample your menu. You'll need to decorate the space, put together media kits, and arrange a menu for the big event.

To get a grand opening right, your kitchen and front-of-house staff must be ready. If everyone is still getting used to the space or the menu, the night could turn into a mess. As a trial run, many restaurant operators have a soft opening for friends and family, who are likely to be a more forgiving audience if there are hiccups in service. Once the soft opening has passed -- and hopefully been successful -- you can hold a grand opening for the public.

Send Introductory Letters to Potential Customers

While you're building the restaurant, prepare introductory letters to send to people in your community who belong to your target audience. Consider sending your introductory letters to local businesses, hotels and inns, transportation companies, celebrities, and other notable people in your community.

You'll be swamped with tasks once the restaurant opens. By taking steps to build awareness now, you can move forward with restaurant advertising and begin to generate interest, while decreasing overwhelm as the opening nears.

Create a Website

Every restaurant needs a website these days. Customers go to the website to look up hours, make reservations, check the menu, find out about private parties, schedule delivery, and much more. If you ignore the concept of a website, you make it more difficult for potential customers to find basic information about your new restaurant, and as a result customers may decide to eat elsewhere.

Design one yourself using drag and drop website tools or hire a website builder who can put one together for you. You'll have plenty of time to write text and design your website while you are waiting for the build out to be completed. Don't delay on this task: your website must be up and running in advance of your opening, so you can attract media interest, staff, and more.

Develop Social Media Accounts

Like a website, social media accounts are expected by today's restaurant consumers. These help with advertising and marketing by building brand awareness and interest, even if your restaurant hasn't opened yet.

Social media accounts for your restaurant should be on brand, which means photos and text that sounds as if they are coming from your restaurant's voice. You can share photos of the construction, images of food as your chef is testing recipes, or tell your story about why you decided to open a restaurant and what kind of food you plan to serve.

The top three social media accounts to consider are Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Rather than build a presence across all three and become so overwhelmed you abandon the accounts, start with one. Once you're accustomed to posting and interacting with customers on one social media account, add in a second account. Let your target audience guide your choice of social media channel, so you can get the most payoff from your efforts.

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Sign Up on Online Platforms

Yelp is part social media channel, part discovery tool. The platform allows diners to explore restaurants (and other businesses), post reviews of their experience, and make reservations or order delivery from restaurants that use their reservations system.

As a business owner, you will want to be aware of what customers are saying on Yelp, whether it's good or bad. While you would hope that customers who have a bad experience will say something in the moment, so you can correct it during their visit, this isn't always the case. It's better to know there's a service issue, so you can bring it up with employees and quickly correct the oversight. Being active on Yelp helps you gather information.

When you are active on Yelp, you can reply to customer reviews. Restaurant operators often thank customers for their reviews while adding clarifying information to put any negative feedback in context, a move that can reassure prospective diners that their visit will be a great one.

Take Out Ads

While people who live and work in the neighborhood may see your restaurant going up, ads help you expand your reach within the community. Restaurant operators have their choice of ad platforms, from direct mailing campaigns to print, radio, television, search, and social media ads.

The array of choices can feel overwhelming. Is your budget better spent on search ads, direct mail, or taking out a billboard? That depends on your location, type of restaurant, and goals. For something like a quick service restaurant near the highway, billboards make more sense than something like search or social ads, because the majority of you customers would be coming off the highway looking for a quick meal, rather than searching online for someplace new to go. With a fine dining restaurant, the opposite may be true.

Most restaurant operators choose to cover their bases with a combination of traditional and online advertising for their restaurant. To narrow down the options, set a budget and think about where your typical diner would be getting their information. Then invest in those channels, track the results, and tweak your ad spend if you're not getting the return on investment you crave.

Join Professional and Community Associations

Don't overlook a ready base of potential customers, namely other local business professionals who belong to professional or community associations.

There are associations for restaurateurs, which can provide helpful opportunities for everything from marketing to mentoring. There are also local or niche associations, such as those for women business owners or business owners in your city or town.

By joining these associations, you can network with local business owners, many of whom may be looking for a restaurant to host business meetings, cater their events, or just take their family out to eat. You can also take advantage of one of the most powerful free advertising methods, namely that of word of mouth. Consider that the more people you know, who know your story and get excited about your concept, the more potential customers you have. As everyone who learns about your new restaurant tells their friends and family about the restaurant, your potential customer base will grow exponentially.

Encourage Referrals

Referrals will automatically happen as you tell people about your concept, because people naturally like to share new information. However, you can also incentivize customers to give referrals by using a perk, for example by offering a free dessert or appetizer to customers who refer business. Customers who refer others to your restaurant and get special attention will feel excited to be recognized and keep referring.

Apps make it easy for customers to refer your restaurant and keep track of perks for your customers and the new people they refer. Social media platforms integrated with automated referral systems too. By making it easy for patrons to share, you can boost the number of referrals and build a growing customer base for your new restaurant.

Start an Email List

These advertising techniques will get initial customers for your restaurant. To generate repeat business without relying on platforms like social media, you'll want to start an email list. Email lists give you full ownership over data, such as customer email addresses, so you can market to customers whenever you have something newsworthy to share. Make it easy for customers to sign up for your email list by placing links prominently on your website and social media channels and by keeping a paper list at the host stand, where customers can sign up in person.

Host Events

Once your restaurant is up and running, you can host events and maintain top of mind awareness within your community. Let the tone and style of your restaurant dictate the kind of events you offer. If you're a quick service restaurant, you might offer a family special. If you are a northern Italian restaurant, you might consider wine tasting events. Be creative when thinking about what sort of events will engage your target audience and, as always, evaluate how things went and where you can improve.

All of these marketing methods can work to build awareness and interest in your restaurant concept. Before you jump into marketing, however, determine your restaurant's brand identity, from your core values and target audience to your tone, voice, and personality. Time spent coming up with a persona for your restaurant will streamline marketing efforts, taking the guesswork out of what to say. 

 

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