If you’re a restaurant owner, chances are you’ve seen firsthand the challenges of running a successful business, especially over the last few years. In big cities and small cities alike, it seems that at every corner you turn, a new restaurant is opening up. The proliferation of new dining places has led to increased competition for customer attention, and because of that – restaurants now have to reach out to customers where they are most likely to be found – online.

For a restaurant to attract as many customers as possible, a good digital marketing strategy for restaurants is an essential part of your marketing plans. Your promotional team in charge of generating new business can no longer simply execute location-based campaigns (think flyers, local business partnerships) but must now think of ways to navigate the new marketing reality of the online world. Hungry people who are looking for a place to eat have a seemingly endless range of choices, and it is the restaurant which captures that customer from their smartphone to seating them at the table that wins in this new digital world.

Why is Digital Marketing important for restaurants?

As business owners, establishing your brand or business identity online is just as important as keeping your day-to-day running smoothly. The reality of our hyper-connected society today is, your potential customers are already online – right now. They’re scrolling through their social media channels, looking at restaurant reviews online, checking out their websites, making comparisons at every step of the process, and finally deciding on one to spend their money on.

If your restaurant isn’t a part of this process, then tough luck! They’re likely to move on to the next choice as quickly as appetizers go at a table full of hungry people. The first thing that someone does when they are curious about your business is to look it up online to find out more about it. Modern expectations of a business in 2020 – whether it is a restaurant or a RV rental company, is a functional website and a social media presence. The lack of either just shows the potential customer that you’re not making the effort to attract them and their patronage. It also shows that your business might not appear to be legitimate – which isn’t ideal!

If you’re feeling like you need to get better at digital marketing for restaurants, Here are 12 effective tips you can use in your marketing strategy for your restaurant.

12 Effective Digital Marketing Strategies For Restaurants

Take pictures of the food you serve

If you’ve been on instagram for a while, chances are you have. It is one of the most popular hashtags used by the people who take drool-worthy pictures of their restaurant-served food to share on their social media pages (arguably to make their friends and family jealous) before digging into their meal.

If you want to have a presence online, you’ll need to consider hiring a professional food photographer to take some really high quality snaps of the dishes you serve at your restaurant. Put together an ensemble of your best dishes, and photograph them at their best angles! Visual content remains one of the best ways you can attract potential customers and whet their appetites. And more hungry people served means more revenue for your restaurant.  

Be found on Google and Yelp

Restaurants who haven’t found their way on Yelp should do so immediately. It wields so much influence in the way that people perceive eating establishments, especially because of its ratings system. The thing about Yelp however, is that you need to be proactive and get your Yelp account going by posting photos, your location, your menu, prices and the facilities available at your restaurant (parking, Wi-Fi etc) as quickly as possible. This is because if you don’t set up an account, people can still review you – that leaves you open to the possibility and risk of negative reviews that you can’t mitigate.

Google also works the same way – at least about 90% of the time, when a potential customer wants to find out more about your restaurant, the Google search bar is the first place they will type your restaurant name into. Learn how to set up your Google+ account here, if you haven’t already done so.

It is worth saying that having good reviews from Yelp and Google is one of the biggest weapons in a restaurant’s arsenal of marketing tools – so get it done if you haven’t already! 

Boost your social media presence

Go where the customers are likely to be found – and in the age of smartphones today, social media is where you’ll find them. Get on apps like instagram, facebook and twitter if you haven’t done so already. Your potential customers spend a lot of time scrolling through their social media apps on a daily basis – and you’d be missing out on a lot of airtime if you don’t appear on their feeds. And with the professional photos that you’ve taken of your food, what better way to show it off than to an entire community of hungry people looking for the next restaurant to go to?

Reward diners for posting on social media

Your diners are your best publicity strategy. Leverage on their personal social media networks by offering discounts, freebies or deals in your restaurant if they post pictures or talk about your restaurant on social media. Remember, this is truly a numbers game – these discounts and deals will certainly eat into your profits at first, but the potential reach of customers you’ll get from barely any effort at all may surprise you!

Target ads geographically

Boosting your ads online on social media is a great thing. But if your target demographic is in your local area, it doesn’t make sense to set your ad parameters to people living hundreds of miles away. Use geo-targeting in your ads to save you effort, money and time, ensuring that your glorious food pics actually appear on people that are interested and live close enough to travel to your restaurant.

Show off good publicity and press

Any awards or good publicity that your restaurant receives – whether it is online or offline – find a way to flaunt it on social media or your website! Accolades in the food industry are few and far between, so anything that says “hey, I won an award!” is going to be great marketing in itself.

Write a blog

Blogs are a great way for businesses (restaurants included) to connect with their customers new and old. By sharing your stories, thoughts about your industry, or the passions that inspire the food you create, you can build a community of like-minded people who will engage with your restaurant business on a deeper level. Plus, you can definitely reach a lot more people in the online world through a blog.

Showcase your staff

Apart from sharing your stories, why not show off your staff? In today’s age of automation, people can get tired of robots and technology taking over their daily lives – a semblance of the human touch will inspire people to take a minute or two out of their busy schedule to read your content. Take nice pictures or videos of your staff doing what they do best – cooking, managing bookings, setting tables or, you know – just being human. Then post them on your social media channels for their one minute of #instafame!

Partner with food bloggers

Up-and-coming restaurants who don’t have that many reviews may find it difficult to reach the critical mass required to start turning a profit. This is where partnerships with food bloggers can help. Food bloggers have pretty huge followings, and are there for you to help you generate hype for your restaurant through a video, blog post or social media review (it is literally what they do for a living). The tradeoff is, you’ll have to offer a free meal or something in remuneration in order to get them to promote you to their followers. Look out for the food bloggers in your city that you think you can work together with, and get in touch with them. More often than not they’ll be happy to negotiate with you.

Constantly develop your brand

Always look out for where the wind blows. Your restaurant’s target market should define the vibe of your restaurant. If you feel like you’re not living up to the expectations of your target market, review your branding. For example, if your target market is eco-friendly millennials, you would want to consider heavily promoting your restaurant’s environmentally sustainable actions, like solar powered lights, upcycled furniture or paper straws.

Ensure your online info is up to date

There’s nothing worse than a customer coming in and being disappointed at the door to find out that a particular menu item or a lunch deal they saw online has been discontinued. Unfortunately, as easy as it is to post things online, it’s much easier to forget about them once they’re up. Conduct regular checks of all the information you have up online, and ensure that they are all up to date. This will save you a whole lot of headaches in the long run.

Create cool content

If you have a creative side to you, show it off! Create funny, inspirational or just honest videos or photos and use social media like instagram, or more recently, TikTok, to your advantage. Just ask this guy how he turned himself into a meme – and then on the back of his viral popularity, went on to open several successful franchises worldwide!