Marketing for restaurants is as competitive as ever, with many customers turning to the internet to find places to dine out, or to read other people’s experiences on review websites. That’s not to forget traditional methods of advertising, which can also still be very successful for your restaurant. It’s about having the right mix for your business and we hope our free guide below will give you a few tips on improving your restaurant and café marketing.
This free restaurant marketing guide covers the following tips:
- Website Basics for Restaurants and Cafés
- What to Include on your Restaurant Website?
- Email Marketing & Newsletters for Restaurants
- Promoting your Restaurant via Social Media
- Online Restaurant Reviews
- Online Marketing for your Restaurant Website
- On-Street Marketing
- Attracting the Press
- Advertising your Restaurant with Leaflets
- Restaurant Menu Design
- Restaurant and Food Photography
- Getting People into your Restaurant on Quiet Days
- Encourage Customers to Buy More
- Bonus tips!
This guide was reviewed and updated in July 2016.
#1 – Not got a website? Get one quickly! Whilst passing trade and word of mouth are important to restaurants, there’s a large market of potential customers who like to research new places to eat, find out more about a place they’ve travelled past, or see what special offers are available. The internet has now become the preferred way for people to research restaurants in their local area or in destinations they’re travelling to.
#2 – Search Engine Optimisation. Have you typed in “Restaurant (your cuisine) (your area)” into Google and seen what comes up? Remember most people will not go past the first page (i.e. the first ten results). Therefore, think about Search Engine Optimisation. Ensure your restaurant name, type of cuisine and location are mentioned throughout your website.
#3 – Usability. Is your website easy to use and navigate? Set a few friends a task to find, for example, your desserts menu on your website. Watch them as they do it. Pick people who may not be confident computer users and see how they get on.
#4 – Is your website mobile friendly? Many visitors will be looking for a place to eat whilst on the move, plus a large proportion of home surfing is now carried out via mobile devices. Ensure your website is in a format that makes it load nicely on tablets and smartphones. Don’t just assume it works well because your web designer said so – test it yourself! Need help? Contact us!
#5 – Keep your website updated. We don’t want to see last year’s Christmas menu! Ensure the menu and prices are up-to-date.
#6 – Online menu. You must have a menu available on your website (with prices) – it’s normally the first thing people are after. Whether it’s in PDF format or available directly on the webpage shouldn’t matter too much, although having both would be the best option (PDFs are handy for people to share, but they do take a little longer to load and may be less suitable for mobile devices). Do include details of special offers and set menus. Don’t worry too much though about including daily specials, but you could include a sample specials menu.
#7 – Location details. Include a clear map of your location, with directions from well known landmarks (such as a railway station), and tell people where they can park their car. If there’s car parking charges in the area, include this info too – it’ll help answer people’s questions and help them plan their trip.
#8 – Advertise your opening times. It’s one of those basics that sometimes gets forgotten.
#9 – Have a clear way for people to make a booking. Have your phone number and email address predominantly displayed on every page of your website. If possible, have an online booking form as not everyone likes using the phone, plus it can save you time too. (Need a booking form on your website? Contact us if you need help!).
#10 – Give your website a personal touch. Why not include a message from the chef or manager, a team photograph, and a background/history of your restaurant? What’s your restaurant’s unique dishes? What dishes does your chef enjoy the most and is there a story behind his or her creations?
#11 – Have an email newsletter that your customers can subscribe to. It’s a great way of keeping in touch and sending them special offers, as well as reminders about key calendar dates. Email marketing is an extremely cost effective and quick way of targeting your customers and, if designed the right way, can have a high percentage of people opening and reading your message. Designed wrongly and your email may end up in the spam folder, never to be seen!
#12 – Promote your email newsletter. Why not add details on your receipts telling people how they can subscribe to your email newsletter? Even better, include a small flyer with the bill for the customer to fill in before they leave your restaurant. Explain to them the benefits of subscribing (after all, people aren’t going to sign-up just to be spammed!) and, if possible, offer them an incentive such as a discount or freebie on their next visit? (Want help setting up an email newsletter? Contact one of our experts!).
#13 – Business card raffle. If you’re targeting local business people, why not leave a bowl on your counter or bar asking customers to drop in their business cards for a monthly raffle for a free meal or bottle of wine, in return for them giving you their email address. Emails to somebody’s work address often have a higher chance of getting read as people spend a large proportion of their day in front of their work computers, plus they’re less likely to receive so many marketing emails to their work email account.
#14 – Birthdays. Several of the big chain restaurants ask subscribers for their birthday. Then, hey presto, a couple of weeks before the customer’s birthday, they get sent a special offer such as a free bottle of fizzy! Remember if it’s their birthday, they’ll probably splash out on a good meal and might bring a large group along, so a token gift is likely to pay itself back in the extra trade it brings you!
#15 – Broaden your reach. Allow your customers to recommend your restaurant to their friends by having a “suggest us” box on your website. Give them both an incentive by offering them each a special voucher.
#16 – Have a presence on social media. Create a Facebook page and ensure a geo-location is set to allow people to “check-in” to your place. Remember there’s a lot of people that check-in and, when they do, their friends see this in their news feeds as well, so it’s free advertising!
#17 – Ensure your social media profiles are fully populated. Add your logo, a link to your website, pictures of your restaurant, opening times, etc. Optimise your profile by adding keywords, such as your location and the type of cuisine you serve. Make sure your profile and cover pictures look professional.
#18 – Also get an account setup on Twitter. Use it for short updates and include links to your website so customers can read more.
#19 – Don’t just be a one-way bore on social networks – interact with your audience! People are less likely to follow you if you’re taking up their news stream with promotional messages, so don’t be afraid to inject some humour into your posts and off-topic messages. Do a few retweets when you get mentions. The key is knowing your audience and the kind of things they’ll like.
#20 – Be topical. Make sure you remind people of the key calendar dates coming up. As an example, check out The Alex in Southend on Twitter, who know their audience well and even use things like the weather as a marketing opportunity! Also check out Revolution Bars on Facebook.
#21 – Ensure you are in charge of your social media profiles. Make sure you have an “official” account for your restaurant or café, not one that a customer or ex-staff member controls! If giving access to others, ensure guidelines are drawn up to so they are clear on what’s acceptable and what’s not.
#22 – Keep your eye on restaurant review websites. Restaurants can live or die on their reputation. More and more people are using online review sites when exploring new places to go, including services such as UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor and Google. Respond to any negative feedback quickly and in a respectful way.
#23 – Register and claim your business profiles on these review sites. It’s important that you’re in control of your restaurant’s online presence and reputation, rather than having no control over what your customers may read after searching for your business. By claiming your listing, you’ll get notifications when new comments are left. Ensure photographs and other key information are added to the listing. Make sure you add a link to your own website from these profiles too!
#24 – Solicit good reviews. Include links to third-party services on your website, on receipts, or by producing a special handout. Maybe you could offer people a free drink or dessert on their next visit if they leave you a review (and email you the link). Obviously you must only encourage honest reviews, but hopefully they’ll be positive!
#25 – Using your own website for reviews. Your own website should hopefully rank above the review websites in search engine results, so include some reviews from your customers directly on your own site too and have a feedback box. It’s a way of getting feedback on your business and, hopefully, will help sell your restaurant further to potential customers.
#26 – Get listed in local business directories. If you want to get found when people search for restaurants in your area, then definitely get listed in online directories, such as Yell and Google Local.
#27 – Why not try video marketing? You can use this to entice people in by showing your best dishes, interviewing your chef or providing some basic recipes. Digital cameras now take good quality footage and you can host videos for free via YouTube or Vimeo (and embed these videos into your own website and social media profiles), so it doesn’t have to be expensive!
#28 – Reach out to influential bloggers in the area, especially ones that write about dining out. Ask them to sample your menu (on the house of course!).
#29 – Many areas have dedicated social media accounts, especially on Twitter. For instance, in our local area, Southend-on-Sea and Westcliff-on-Sea both have active accounts with a large number of followers. The owners may allow promoted posts (i.e. you pay them to send out a sponsored tweet) at a very cost effective rate – you could perhaps suggest the money is given as a donation to their preferred charity?
#30 – Get out onto the road! Many restaurants are in great locations, but could do much more to attract people passing by. Think about handing out menus on the street, talking to people and telling them how great your food is. This will certainly help make your restaurant more memorable to potential customers!
#31 – Credit-card size flyers may be the best! Research suggests that if you’re handing out flyers on the street, small credit-card sized designs are discarded the least as they’re easily fitted into pockets or wallets.
#32 – Give out samples. Why not try handing out small food samples using disposable cups and spoons, especially during the early evening to tempt hungry people heading home? Whilst they may not become a customer the same evening, the aim is to make potential customers aware of your restaurant and give them a convenient option to consider in the future.
#33 – Clear signage. Don’t forget to have an eye-catching shop sign/frontage that includes your business name, the type of cuisine you offer, phone number and website address. Having an A-frame outside your restaurant will provide another way of gaining visibility. You might need to check regulations with your council before putting a board on the pavement, but in most cases there shouldn’t be an issue.
#34 – Dressing up the windows. Make the best use of your window display and include any special deals currently available. Just don’t go too mad though!
#35 – Is your menu visible? Unless you are at the very premium end of the market, it’s vital that you include a menu in the window or have menu leaflets available to pick up. People like to see the type of food on offer and the prices. They are likely to be embarrassed if they have to walk in, ask to see a menu, and then have to leave again, so they probably won’t bother entering! Don’t make it difficult for them! I’m amazed when I see restaurants without any menu outside – but it does happen!
#36 – Pick a local business of the month. If you target business people or you’re in a central location, invite customers to leave their business card in a bowl and draw out a “Business of the Month”. You could offer them a VIP package and a few bottles of wine as their prize. It’ll help attract a buzz around your restaurant and they’ll tell their friends, etc.
#37 – Advertising in local newspapers can be effective. Local paid-for newspapers tend to attract a fairly affluent audience. Just remember, though, they have a limited readership (often the same “regulars” buy the newspaper day after day) and also you won’t be the only restaurant mentioned inside. As it’s hard to stand out amongst all the other adverts (and there are a lot in local newspapers!), personally I’d invest in a large and eye-catching advert every once in a while, rather than having a repeating smaller advert inside every day or week.
#38 – The food critic! Invite the local newspaper food critic to come to your restaurant, but only if you’re confident you can give them the very best experience, otherwise a bad review can be damaging.
#39 – Publicity stunts can work well. In 2001, as the Mir space station was falling out of orbit, US-chain Taco Bell floated a target off the coast of Australia and offered a free taco to everyone in the United States if their target was hit by the falling space station (the chances of which were virtually impossible!). It generated huge publicity for next to nothing in cost. Another example is Jesters Diner in Great Yarmouth, which launched the Kidz Breakfast, named because it weighs more than a newborn child! If it can be eaten within an hour, the customer eats for free. This attracted widespread coverage in many UK newspapers and on television. We also love the restaurant that displayed on the menu: “We will give you a 10% discount if you leave your phone in our custody and socialise!”
#40 – Get your leaflets noticed. Delivering leaflets to local households is an effective way of promoting a new business or reminding people of your restaurant, especially if you have special offers available to entice people in. However, with the pile of leaflets that get pushed through people’s letterboxes every week, it’s really important that you find an expert designer to create something special that gets noticed by your target audience, otherwise you won’t get the best return on your marketing spend. Have a really creative design, something out of the ordinary or really professional, so that it stands out. Use bright and bold colours to grab people’s attention.
#41 – Don’t try and cram everything into your leaflet. It’ll look cluttered and less inviting for people to read. Just include the key messages and refer people to your website for more info.
#42 – What shape to use? Try using different shapes than the usual third-A4 (DL) size, which are often used for takeaway leaflets. Leaflets that are larger, have fold-out panels, or have curved edges may stand out better. You could try unusual shapes too – how about a pizza shaped circle for an Italian restaurant?!
#43 – If you run a premium-market restaurant, then reflect this in your leaflets. Use a more formal design and choose a slightly thicker paper to add some quality. Many fast food outlets use thin, glossy paper, so why not try a matt or silk finish?
#44 – Have better success with door drops. If delivering leaflets door-to-door, try delivering them during the evenings or weekends, when most people will have already cleared the mail from their doormats and are likely to give your flyers more attention. Personally, when I get home after a long day at work and there’s a pile of leaflets through the door, they all get very little attention!
#45 – Be careful of budget leaflet delivery companies. Following on from the point above, remember leaflet delivery companies are likely to deliver your leaflet with a bundle of other leaflets. (And check they’re not delivering other restaurant leaflets at the same time!!). If you want to get the maximum return from your leaflet advertising, get your leaflet delivered on its own. Target the area around your restaurant – doing three or four roads a night around your location is not going to be too much effort, especially early in the week when you may be quieter.
At Primary Image, we can professionally design and print leaflets/flyers for your restaurant. Get in touch!
#46 – Is your menu professionally designed? Or is it boring, outdated or amateur-looking? People may think your food is not enticing too, so make sure it looks good! Include clear headings and, where appropriate, photos too. Make people hungry!
#47 – Add a touch of class to your restaurant with professionally-produced menu and wine list covers. These should incorporate your restaurant name or logo and are normally produced in either leather or faux-leather. Whilst there is an initial cost for producing menu covers, bear in mind that by using plastic wallets for the inside pages, you can print off menu sheets using any computer printer. The covers themselves should last for years. Menu covers also help keep your menu clean and crease-free, plus it allows you to quickly insert pages – such as specials.
#48 – Don’t use flimsy paper! If handing paper copies of your menu to customers, ensure they’re printed on fairly thick paper. Cheap, flimsy printer paper just looks cheap! One restaurant I went to recently just handed their customers thin leaflets (i.e. the takeaway menu!) – it really didn’t go with the feel of the restaurant!
#49 – Don’t offer too many choices. One restaurant in Chalkwell (which does great food by the way) offers so many set menus that it takes me quite a while to understand and get through the various options. Just keep things simple!
#50 – Put your most profitable items at the top of the menu. People tend to start skipping items the further down the page. Alternatively, highlight your high-profit items within a box so they stand out.
#51 – Don’t include the “£” symbol with your prices. Research suggests this can help people think less about the money they’re spending! For instance, “Chicken Madras 5.50”.
#52 – Do offer an expensive option on the menu. It makes people think they’re getting good value for money and making a good choice by picking a middle of the range option. For instance, see the sample wine menu below. Customers will be more likely to choose the Fancy Wine on Menu 2 than on Menu 1:
Wine Menu 1
House Wine 12.99
Fancy Wine 15.99
Wine Menu 2
House Wine 12.99
Fancy Wine 15.99
Very Fancy Wine 18.99
#53 – Think about your wording in the menu descriptions. Rather than “fried fish”, could you say “hand battered fish” to make it sound more appealing? If you use local produce, put this down on your menu too!
#54 – Include high-quality pictures of your restaurant. Remember a picture can say a thousand words, so make sure it’s professionally taken. Ensure some photos have people in – an empty restaurant doesn’t look good! Avoid generic stock-library photos.
#55 – Pictures of your dishes can be a great selling point, but must be photographed properly. Ensure the lighting is good; the background is neutral; the angle is right; and that your food looks appetising. Quite often shots have a blurred background too so that the food has the full focus. Look at how this sandwich is displayed; it’s colourful and very well presented down to the smallest detail. See this food photography guide (external link) too.
#56 – Get customers inside by advertising special offers, especially set menus. Offer two or three courses, possibly with a drink too, for a fixed price. I recently saw an Indian restaurant that simply said on Mondays and Tuesdays: choose your favourite starter and main course, whatever it is, and they’ll also add the usual side dishes for a price of £9.99 per person. Yes, you’ve got to make a profit on each dish, but there’s an opportunity to up-sell by offering drinks and desserts.
#57 – Theme nights can also encourage people in during the week. For instance, JD Wetherspoon have their Steak and Curry nights.
#58 – “Early bird” specials help get people in early, say between 17.00 and 18.30. It also helps your restaurant look busy for those looking for a meal later on!
#59 – Attracting community groups. If there’s community groups in the area, such as charities or business gatherings, why not suggest they hold their meetings or social events in your restaurant on quiet days? You could offer them a big discount or a special set menu? Some restaurants give away 10% of the takings back to the community group. Whilst it may not be a big money-earner in itself, it’s a way of advertising your business and encouraging repeat visits. They will also be advertising your restaurant in their newsletters and those attending are likely to recommend your venue to their friends if they have a good time.
#60 – Host events such as live music or comedy nights. An Indian restaurant in Westcliff-on-Sea started hosting a regular business networking event each month, which turned an otherwise quiet evening into a buzzing packed-out night!
#61 – Have you tried introducing a loyalty card scheme? Reward regular customers with a freebie of some sort during your off-peak times.
#62 – Run special offers, valid on quiet nights, for your social media followers. This can be a great viral marketing method if people share your offer with their friends.
#63 – Why not offer a take-out service where your food can be served in containers? Harvester and Toby Carvery started offering this service in 2011 and it’s proved very successful. It can open your kitchen up to a whole new market of people.
#64 – Up-sell items where possible. For instance, you could offer a side dish or a larger drink for an extra £2. JD Wetherspoon, for example, introduced a premium burger alongside their traditional burger, with a few extras such as onion rings. The aim is to get people spending as much as possible which, if they’re hungry or thirsty when ordering, isn’t too difficult!
#65 – Your waiters and waitresses can help upsell items by recommending menu items. For example, they could ask whether the customer would they like any “bottled or carbonated water” with their meal, or suggest wines that may compliment their food. Ensure staff can describe the dishes in an appetising way. Act on the customer’s hunger and entice them into some appetisers on their arrival whilst they’re looking at the menu.
#66 – Encourage “bouncebacks” by offering new customers a discount if they return within the near future. You could leave a discount code on your receipt, valid for say a fortnight. It could have certain restrictions on as well, such as a minimum spend or be valid on certain days of the week.
Here’s some bonus tips we’ve added after this article was originally published:
#67 – Get some feedback on what people think about your restaurant and understand where you need to improve. Run an online survey (such as via Survey Monkey, or we can setup custom solutions fully-branded at a very affordable price), or have printed copies of the survey available. The feedback could come in very useful to properly understand what your customers think. Questions could cover the variety of choices, the quality of your food, the promptness and politeness of your staff, the value for money, etc.
#68 – Ask your staff for their opinion. It’s sometimes the simple things that we forget! Ask your staff how they would improve your restaurant, such as the layout, menu choices, etc.
#69 – Display advertising in your loos! For instance, tell people about special events coming up or drinks offers. (If you don’t have anything to say, there’s other companies out there that will pay you to have their advertising displayed, so they know it’s effective!).
#70 – Remember to advertise key holiday events well in advance. People normally plan ahead for these occasions. Christmas is one of the biggest times of year, so make sure you advertise your Christmas packages early and get in touch with offices and companies who may hold their parties locally. Create a special package for all the key events, such as Valentines, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days, etc.
#71 – Try Facebook advertising. You can target the adverts to certain locations (such as your town) and even different age-groups. Therefore, it can have a high success rate at a fairly low cost.
#72 – Get friendly with local B&Bs and Hotels. If they don’t offer food themselves, get to know the owners and see if they’ll recommend your restaurant to their guests. In return for their advertising, you might want to offer them an occasional meal “on the house”.
#73 – Visit your local tourist office. Similarly to above, get to know your local tourist office and see if you can drop off some leaflets there.
#74 – Setup a Google Alert for your restaurant name. Find out when you’re being mentioned on the internet.
#75 – A tip for Indian restaurants! For Indian restaurants offering complimentary poppadoms (which I do like by the way!), sometimes the member of staff will bring them whilst we’re still looking through the menu. Personally, I think they’re missing a trick. Why not bring the poppadoms after ordering? It means people are more likely to order a starter if they’re very hungry, plus eating the poppadoms after ordering gives people something to do whilst the kitchen prepare their dinner (so they perceive there’s less time between ordering and their meal arriving).
#76 – I’m not a fan of completely frosted windows or closed blinds. People like to see into the restaurant before they enter (and sometimes people like to look out too!).
#77 – Host an open evening. Launch your new menu or let people preview your Christmas meal by offering a few little nibbles and a glass of wine.
#78 – Offer gift certificates. These can make great birthday gifts for people and it also means you get the money upfront!
#79 – Offer a meal as a prize to the local media. Newspapers and radio stations often hold competitions, so they need prizes to giveaway! Having your restaurant mentioned a few times could be a great opportunity, which would otherwise cost lots in advertising fees.
Get in touch with our marketing and design team…
I hope you’ve found this collection of restaurant marketing tips useful.
If you need an effective, professional image for your restaurant, café or takeaway businesses, why not get in touch with us at Primary Image? We’ve got many years of experience in website design and flyer design, but we can also help you in many other aspects of your marketing.
Get in touch with one of our team and we’ll be pleased to help you…
Mike is the founding director of Primary Image. He specialises in the WordPress website platform and speaks regularly at national web design conferences. Mike became a member (MCIPR) of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in 2015. Outside of work, his interests include photography and politics.