This is an honest article.

Restaurateurs are right at the top of my admiration list. You dare to put your passion and creativity on the line in search of owning a business you can put your heart into. My hat goes off to you. As we all know, a restaurant will live and die by it’s customers. That’s where your marketing comes into play.

I’ve spent the time in this article highlighting some of the critical areas where I see restaurants and businesses alike falling flat on their faces. There is no silver bullet to bring you more customers. If a marketing product sounds too good to be true, guess what? It probably is. It’s my hope that the following will help you avoid costly mistakes. My aim is to give you an advantage with some honest advice. If I come across as the marketing equivalent of Gordon Ramsey in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares then I have failed. Let’s jump into it…


What not to do – A recipe for disaster

  • Advertise before marketing. There is a fundamental difference between advertising and marketing. Advertising is actually just a small part (of a part) of marketing. Advertising falls under the promotion segment of your restaurant’s marketing. Other segments will include your product i.e. your menu, pricing of your menu, processes e.g. how you take bookings, the customer experience at your restaurant and so on. You will want to ensure that you have carefully considered all other segments (product, people etc.) before promoting anything. As such advertising should be one of the last areas to invest your time and money in.
  • Over invest. Set a budget and have a cut off point. It’s scary how many businesses do not do this! It is true that you will invest in ideas that will not work. That’s life. Just make sure that you don’t continue to invest in the same strategy. Aim to always track your spend and the outcomes it has achieved. Even with print marketing you can track bookings by including codes/vouchers. Always look at the data and never…
  • Ignore ROI. Some of your marketing efforts will go into raising awareness of your restaurant. The return on this can sometimes be intangible. However, in the majority of cases you should be able to calculate a return on your marketing spend. Treat your marketing as you would your staff; if they weren’t working for you, would you still give them your hard earned money?
  • Be sold to. There will always be sales people. Avoid impulse buying, no matter how good the sales pitch is. It’s all too easy to chip away at your marketing budget with ‘quick win’ solutions (or as I like to call them money oven solutions). A simple way to save yours and the sales person’s time is to have a marketing plan. If the services/products they are offering are not on your plan, or you’ve got it covered, there’s no need for them.
  • Get caught up in buzzwords. The easiest example of this is SEO. So many business owners ask me about SEO and almost all of them have been burned before. You need to understand what you are paying for. In the case of SEO, as a very quick guide; you will want to know how much a visitor to your website from Google is worth to your business. Only then should you be paying anything for SEO as there are cheaper alternatives. Learn what you need and why you need it first before paying out for it.
  • Go off brand. All of your marketing should reflect your core brand. Everything from the colours and typography to the pricing and tone of voice you use in your materials. This is why it’s worthwhile working with one company on all aspects of your branding and marketing. It allows you to keep your appearance, message and brand consistent across all channels.
  • Outsource everything. You just don’t need to. There is a great deal that you can do (sometimes more effectively) in house. Social media is a good example; no company will be able to consistently get as quality photos/video as you. This is simply because you are at the location. The same with your website’s content, you are the expert on your restaurant, run your own blog. I always advise business owners to outsource their social media paid advertising and website creation to specialists. Once this foundation is in place I strongly recommend that you ask for some training. This is how I work with my clients and make their marketing both affordable and scalable. It’s essential to look long term at your profit margins.
  • Be happy with a ‘one hit wonder’. It is possible to put out your first flyer and pack your restaurant. Just because a marketing strategy (or even a single advertisement) performs well, this doesn’t mean that it will forever. People change and more specifically they become less influenced by the same things. Learn from your successes and perfect your unique recipe for success. I will provide with some ingredients to get you started.

What to do – A recipe for success

  • Define your customer. You cannot effectively market your services if you don’t know who your customers are and importantly what they want. Who are your customers? Walk in their shoes and create your ideal customer profile. Marry up your restaurant’s unique selling points to their desires/needs. Determine what value your restaurant is adding to the area. All of these points will shape your marketing messages, appeals and promotion.
  • Get in their decision cycle. Some of your potential customers will be interested in booking a table right now, some next month and so on. You will want your marketing to reach these people both when they are actively looking for your services or in need of your services. For example when they are searching for a local restaurant that evening or thinking about an upcoming birthday party. Simply put, this is having your restaurant’s presence at the right place at the right time. Use multiple marketing channels to achieve this – Google Adwords, flyers, social media, online reviews etc.
  • Define your budgets. More importantly define what return on investment you will need. Over time you will want to aim to get your advertising spend down while increasing your sales i.e. a lower cost per customer acquired. This leads us into…
  • Track your performance. It is vital to understand how your marketing is performing. Utilise Google Analytics, Facebook Insights etc. on a regular basis. This will allow you to benchmark your marketing efforts. Discover what works and what doesn’t. Adjust your marketing strategy and advertising spend accordingly.
  • Embrace online. This is where your customers spend their time, be there and engage with them. Invest in a website that you own. Your website should make money for your restaurant. As covered in the previous point, everything needs to be trackable. There is no easier way than doing this than with online marketing.
  • Use social media. In defining your customer, you should know which platforms they frequent. Focus your efforts there. Aim for engagement and highlighting your restaurant’s value in terms of customer experience. Social media is an excellent resource for gaining referral business. Humanise your business, give your audience a behind the scenes insight into the passion you have for your restaurant and the services it provides.
  • Capture data. Create, build and maintain customer email lists. Track website visitors for re-targeting. Segment your data by what services they have shown interest in/enquired about/purchased. This will enable you to personalise your future promotions.
  • Have a solid SEO foundation. Ensure that your website is SEO friendly and optimised from the outset. SEO is a long term strategy, always keep this in mind. Don’t over-invest, especially at the start (refer to my point about buzzwords). Aim to be found for keywords that are local first.
  • Consistent branding. Everything from uniforms, food presentation, marketing materials and your online adverts should be consistent in style. You want to present your brand to the world as though it was an individual. Create brand guidelines and stick to them.
  • Public relations. Get out there and get noticed. Be newsworthy and give local reporters something to report on. PR needn’t be expensive. Aim to get as much positive discussion about your restaurant as possible, for as cheap as possible (if not free).
  • Focus on word of mouth. There is no better form of marketing than word of mouth. Provide an excellent customer experience in your restaurant and marketing channels. Interact with your audience online and gain social proof (that others recommend your services)
  • Retention. Once you have a customer, keep them. Stay in the front of their minds by communicating worthwhile news on social media and email. Reward your customers with intelligent incentives, promotions and prize draws.

This is by no means a detailed strategy for helping your restaurant. Your unique business and goals will affect how you utilise your marketing. Take the time to get it right, don’t wing it.

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