In this #snack, we explore everything you need to know about digital marketing for restaurants and explain some high impact strategies you can start with right now. 

Success in the restaurant industry isn’t easy – we all know this.

And the statistics don’t make for pretty reading. 

60% of restaurants don’t make it past the first year and 80% don’t make it past the first five years. 

How you market your restaurant can be the difference between failure and success – and it’s digital marketing that’s going to make that difference. 

Let’s dive in. 

What is digital marketing for restaurants? 

Digital marketing is basically all marketing activities that happen over the internet. For restaurant operators this will include using channels such as: 

  • Social media 
  • Paid digital advertising
  • The business website
  • Email marketing 
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Review websites 

The goal is to make prospective customers aware of your brand through a selection of these channels and convert them into paying customers. 

People now live their lives online and make purchasing decisions based on what they see there.

When it comes to the restaurant industry it’s no different.

Nearly 3 in 4 people have visited a restaurant based on images and comments shared by others on Facebook. 

Crucially, 99% of Millennials and Gen Z rely on social media when choosing a restaurant – this will be the behaviour in the long term for your customer base.

3 important areas to cover before you get started

Before getting started with your marketing, lay a good foundation to achieve good results. 

Here are three important areas you need to cover.

Have a digital marketing plan

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. 

The basis of any good digital marketing strategy is a plan. It doesn’t have to be overly extensive, but it should include the following points: 

  • Goals: Increased sales, increased social media following and increased online reservations are three of the most common goals you should have for your digital marketing.
  • Timelines: Break these goals into a set amount of times they can be achieved. For example, by the end of Q3, you may want a certain percentage increase in online reservations. It’s also wise to track your weekly and monthly progress on a spreadsheet to see if a campaign is working or not. 
  • Channels: Select the channels that are going to help you achieve your goals. Social media is likely going to be your main channel. The key is to select one or two main channels first and build from there. 
  • Budgets: Most restaurants don’t have a lot of cash to burn so you need to carefully budget each marketing activity carefully. 

Put photography first 

It’s a familiar sight to see people whip out their phones to photograph their meal when it comes to the table. 

And while some may roll their eyes at this, if it’s happening in your restaurant it’s definitely a good thing! 

People love taking pictures of their food when eating out. It’s no surprise that food is in the top three categories of posts on Instagram.

Good photography can make a real difference to your bottom line. Restaurants that replaced their text based menus with photo based menus saw a 25% increase in conversation rates in online ordering

There are three main areas to cover when it comes to photography: 

  • Hire a freelance photographer: Have someone on a freelance basis to take high-quality photos every few months of your menu items and premises. These can be used across your website, online ordering platform and social media. 
  • Think about presentation: People are only going to take pictures of food that looks incredible – that’s what drives them to snap and share and spread the word. Check out the drool-worthy presentation of UK based vegan fast food chain The Vurger Co. for inspiration.
  • Make your restaurant Instagram friendly: Encourage people to share photos of their food online – Instagram Stories is a great platform for this. Offer discounts for the best pictures to give people an extra incentive to share. 

Put one person in charge of digital marketing

Sometimes budgets can be tight when it comes to marketing. Hiring a full-time marketing manager probably isn’t realistic right away.

To get things up and running though, assign one person to oversee all your digital marketing activities – this could be you or someone on your team. 

This person’s responsibilities may include: 

  • Setting up and managing your business on social media 
  • Overseeing email marketing campaigns 
  • Liaising with a freelance photographer
  • Responding to messages on social media
  • Overseeing website updates 
  • Setting up and managing your business on Google My Business and other review sites

The reason you need this person is that your activities will slow down to a halt – theres nothing worse than a restaurant regularly active online and then stopping.

It’s a sure way to lose potential customers. 

5 digital marketing strategies for restaurants

Now you’ve built your digital marketing foundations, it’s time to put things into action. 

With these strategies, we wanted to make them practical for restaurant owners to implement and get results as soon as possible.

Pick the right social media platforms

Instagram and Facebook are where you should invest most of your time initially. Facebook is still one of the most popular social media platforms the world and Instagram is highly visual and popular amongst younger people 

Facebook: First make sure you’ve set up a Facebook Business page. It should be the social media hub of your business. Here you can list your address, and opening hours and collect reviews for your business. 

In terms of content, post promotions and discounts, menu item pictures and competitions that encourage liking and sharing to help grow your business. 

Instagram: Take a look again at the Instagram page of The Vurger Co. It’s all about posting highly desirable photos of your menu items and restaurant. As a vegan restaurant, they use hashtags such as #veganlife or #veganfood to appear in relevant hashtag searches and #veganbrighton and #vegansofmanchester to appear in location based searches. 

In general, when it comes to social media platforms, stick to these golden rules: 

  • Have a consistent posting schedule – start with two to three posts per week.
  • Respond to comments, both positive and negative – 71% of restaurant customers will recommend a restaurant that responds quickly to them on social media.
  • Be light and fun in your tone – people use social media to be entertained!

Set up a Google My Business profile

88% of consumers who conduct local searches on Google end up visiting a related store within a week

Google My Business is a free tool provided by Google that allows you to list your business at the top right-hand side of Google’s search results.

It’s simple to set up and an absolute necessity. When someone Googles your restaurant you want all the essential information to be displayed. To set up your Google My Business profile follow this guide from Google.

On your Google My Business profile put as much information as possible. 

Basic information:

  • Business category
  • Address
  • Phone number, email address and website link 
  • Opening hours 

Additional information that will make you stand out

  • High-quality images of your premises and menu items
  • A short description of the business
  • A reservation call to action for bookings
  • Links to your social media platforms 
  • Encourage and respond to reviews – the higher your star rating, the more likely you will come up in searches like “restaurants near me”

Putting as much relevant content in your listing as possible will make your restaurant look professional and help you place higher in local searches. 

Manage online reviews 

88% of all online reviews come from four main websites, namely Google (73%), Yelp (6%), Facebook (3%) and Tripadvisor (3%).

Reviews can make or break a restaurant business – in general, a lot of customers don’t trust restaurants with a below four-star rating. The most common filter applied on review sites is four stars or above. 

The secret to managing your online reviews successfully is to cover the following:

  • Claim your page on all the top review sites
  • Assign someone to manage reviews
  • Respond quickly and correctly to all reviews 
  • Adapt positive reviews for marketing content

For a more in-depth look at making an impact with online reviews, check our article on managing online reviews

Make sure your website is working properly 

According to a survey highlighted by Zippia, 77% of customers will visit a restaurant’s website before deciding to dine or take out food from there. 

The same survey found that 30% of customers are turned off by poor website design and functionality. 

At the base level, you need to have a website to come up on search engines – and not miss out on crucial website traffic. You also need somewhere you can host your online reservations.

The question is though – do you manage the website yourself or hire an agency to do it? 

It all depends on the budget. At the beginning, it’s probably more practical to manage it yourself. Luckily there’s loads of easy to use website building platforms, with the likes of WordPress, Wix and Squarespace aimed at helping complete novices build quality business websites. 

The key elements of a good restaurant website are: 

  • A reservation function 
  • An order online function – if you do takeaway 
  • Opening hours
  • Contact information and/or a contact form
  • Address of all locations
  • Job openings 
  • High quality photography
  • Well branded design
  • Social media links
  • A contact form to sign up for a newsletter

Take advantage of email marketing

According to email marketing gurus Mailchimp the email open rate for the restaurant industry is 19.77% – which is just below the average rate across all industries of 21.33%. The click rate is 1.40%, which is a bit below the industry average of 2.62%. 

People are opening emails in line with the industry average but not clicking through as much – but don’t discount email marketing entirely. 

Email marketing gives you a direct line to a potential customer. With organic social media and SEO you could be impacted by a change in algorithm. Similarly with paid ads you may have to spend more and more with less return. 

With email marketing all do is hit send – once you have the persons email address. To expand your email list think of the following strategies: 

  • Add an “opt in for marketing messages” check box when a person books a table.
  • Place a pop up box on your website where a person can join mailing list or newsletter – use a promotion or discount to encourage sign ups.
  • Run competitions and promotions that require an email address to enter – again have check box where the person can opt in for marketing messages.

And to get your open rates and click rates above the industry average, improve on these areas:

  • Write a compelling subject line: Subject lines that are direct, short and descriptive work best. If you can, personalise them using merge tags as this will improve open rates. 
  • Segment your audience: Think strategically about who you are sending your emails to. For example, regular customers could get a certain promotion while customers who’ve only been there once or twice might get a different promotion. 

Explore paid ads

While it’s vital to have a consistent organic social media presence, it’s going to take a while to build up. The reason for this is that organic posts have smaller reach due to the almighty algorithm choosing what you see!

This is where paid ads come in. The advantage of paid ads is that you can specifically target the type of customer you want and there’s a better chance of the ad coming up on their feed.

Paid ads are also called pay-per-click (PPC) ads – basically everytime someone clicks on your ad, you pay. 

There are three main types of paid ads that a restaurant can use: 

  • Facebook Ads: One of the most powerful ad platforms for specific targeting. For example, Facebook Ads can help you target people who may have only visited your website or Facebook Page for a short time.
  • Instagram Ads: Similar to Facebook Ads (both are run from Facebooks Ad Manager), Instagram Ads have powerful targeting features. The highly visually nature of the platform will help your ads stand out on the feed.
  • Google Ads: A lot of people turn to Google to find restaurants in their area. Alongside all the good organic work you put into your Google My Business listing, you should use Google Ads to ensure your business is at the very top of the search results for a search term like “restaurants near me”.

Keep one thing in mind about paid ads – if you’re operating on a tight budget really do your research into what will work so you don’t end up wasting money.

Wrapping up 

There’s a hell of a lot in digital marketing – we know it seems daunting at first. 

But it’s necessary. 

90% of visitors research a restaurant online before choosing to go there – this will include the website, review sites and social media posts. 

It just shows how much the online world affects purchasing decisions. 

But by implementing some of the strategies mentioned in the guide you will create a strong online presence that will help you stand out in todays highly competitive landscape.