Tips, trends and marketing advice to help you grow your business.

Whether you’re just starting a local restaurant, or growing to your next location, you’re handling the logistics of one of the most complicated small businesses you could tackle. From distribution logistics to managing a staff, marketing can at best, feel like a challenge, and at worst completely fall by the wayside. We have pulled together 11 tips to make marketing your restaurant more manageable. You’ve already got many of these tools at your disposable – all it takes is a nudge (and maybe another free tool or two) to take you to the next level.

buy local produce

1. Walk local, talk local

Surveys show that the local food trend continues to thrive. If you can, order from local vendors or farms, and incorporate local flavors into your menus. No local farm nearby? No problem. Local doesn’t have to mean next door. New York City claims things as their own all the time, even though they may hail from a farm or orchard four hours upstate, rather than the next borough.

Gone local? Brag about it! Call out locally sourced or inspired items on your menus, social media and signage. 8 in 10 tableservice operators say that diners are interested in locally sourced menu items, so train your wait staff to highlight them at their tables as well. If it isn’t feasible to incorporate new local ingredients into your menu right now, use language like “signature,” “house-made” or “local favorite” in your menus as an alternative.

2. Be insta-fabulous - and engage with other fab foodies

Not on instagram yet? Then you are missing out on a free – and powerful – social marketing tool. Getting started is simple: make a recognizable username that is close to your restaurant’s name, then start snapping with your smartphone. You can share the password with trusted staff members who have an eye for excellent food presentation to generate more content.

food baby ny pizza
food baby ny pizza

Put your “handle” (@example) on signage around your restaurant and let them know that you’ll be posting exclusive sales and promotions to your Instagram account, and encourage diners to follow and tag you in posts. You can even run contests for diners who promote hashtags of your choosing. For example, promotion-esque hashtags like #oysterHAPPIESThour or #middaytreats from customers’ social accounts can help drive off-peak traffic when combined with your Instagram handle.

Finally, follow local foodies and send direct messages with special offers to come in for a meal or an appetizer on the house, and entice them to post a photo of their food. How can you find said foodies? Search by localized hashtags, like #indyeats or #nashvillefoodfan and look for users with the most followers or likes on their photos. They have pull!  I, for one, can’t get enough of this kid.

3. Invest time in your Yelp presence

Dining starts digitally: 87% of consumers research restaurants online before choosing a place to dine, according to the August 2015 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News. Like it or not, even if diners aren’t immediately turning to Yelp to choose a restaurant, they’re probably ending up there at some point, since even Google bows to this user-generated content king.

Yelp is one of the highest-ranking sites in the entire country out of ~430,000 according to Alexa, outranking consumer-focused giants like Buzzfeed, Disney and Macy’s. To pretend your business presence there doesn’t matter is equivalent to sticking your head in the sand while your competitors fluff their feathers for all the Yelpers out there.

The volume of searches including the word "Yelp" have continued to trend up since 2006.

Step one: claim and update your free business account. Post photos, make sure your hours and basic info are correct, and set up weekly email alerts to monitor user activity. Success! Now comes the tougher part…

Step two: get yourself a glass (or two) of wine and really read through your reviews. Yelp is for the people, and the people are what keep you in business. Here’s what you need to know about reviews:

  • Asking and bribing customers for reviews is frowned upon. Having a family member or friend write a review of your restaurant is an absolute no-no. If a Yelp user has little to no activity prior to writing a rave review, Yelp’s algorithm will likely remove it anyway, leaving your friend with wasted effort and you with a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Yelp is also by the people. Whether or not you claim your business, anyone can create a listing for your restaurant and start writing about it. If you have negative reviews, start looking for ways to improve based on them. Then respond to customers’ reviews, thank them for the feedback, and invite them to come back for another meal (and an appetizer on the house) when you will give them a better experience.
  • You can game the system…a little. Creating a Yelp check-in offer can a) entice Yelpers to visit you instead of your competition and b) help you boost service to them, if you so choose. Check-in offers are a free feature on every Yelp business account, and can range from a percentage off of a bill to a free appetizer or drink. You design them and choose the parameters. Yelpers have to ask you to redeem the offer on their phones, so ones they have to show at the beginning of a meal (ex: free mimosa with brunch purchase) are best if you want to know which diners are regular Yelp users. Giving patrons a little extra love certainly will not hurt your chances of a positive review.

4. Get on Google+

Chances are pretty high that you have never heard of Google+ (or “Google plus”). Chances are also pretty high that your customers haven’t, either – but that they have likely used it to find you.

Immediate, local searches (often referred to as “nearby search”) are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, they’ve increased 34x in the past few years.

google near me search traffic
google near me search traffic

Google saw this trend and conquered, improving the way search results are displayed in the local “3-pack” and giving users a great search experience with local options, location & map view, reviews, hours and links to a menu. What else could a girl with an urgent pizza craving ask for?

google local pizza search
google local pizza search

The good news? Your local Google business listing is another free tool you should take advantage of. The better news? We break down how to claim your free G+ listing in our free eguide.

5. Get on the 'book. And the bird.

These are the last social media and/or listing sites I’m going to write about, I promise! But it includes another free tool tip, so listen up. Facebook has 1.44 billion users worldwide, with 70% of American adult users visiting daily. Twitter has 302 million users, and although small(er), still mighty.

You’re busy running a restaurant – who has time to tweet? You do, if you are smart about it. Want to promote your seasonal specials, limited time offers and happy hour events online? SinglePlatform can post announcements immediately or schedule them on a recurring basis to match your schedule (had to give you at least one promotional tip!) on your social media accounts and your menus on listings like Yelp and Google. So no matter where customers are finding you, they can find your specials, too. Using a free tool like Hootsuite to post will allow you to schedule announcements as well, but is limited to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Last tip – use photos! One study shows that photos on Facebook drove 120% more engagement. And tweets that include photos (yes, you CAN do that!) get more retweets and favorites. Here’s the last free tool in this section: Facebook and Twitter each have their own reporting built into their business pages. Check out your Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics every month or so to see which posts are getting the most love. You will start to learn what works for your audience so you consistently improve your strategy.

6. Start a loyalty program

It’s actually pretty easy. Even if you do this digitally, you don’t need to sink tons of money into a custom app to rival Starbucks’. One-size-fits-all options like LevelUp allow users to pay on their phones and be rewarded for spending regularly with your restaurant, and are easily integrated into your regular system.

Serving mostly old school customers? No problem. Punch cards are still an affordable and effective option if you’ve got a grab-and-go concept or lunch promotion.

Ask for contact info while customers have a pen in hand with the check! Deliver a pen and a feedback postcard when you give the bill, giving customers time to write, while a server makes change or charges a credit card. Collect email addresses by incentivizing diners with a coupon or to be entered into a drawing. Bonus: asking for written feedback is a free way to help avoid negative online reviews!

7. Start email marketing

First, go get email addresses – then use them! Email marketing is not dead, especially when it comes to local restaurants. In fact, 86% of adults in the U.S. would like to receive promotional emails monthly from brands they trust. Here, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite tapas restaurants, Tasca.

I first tried Tasca years ago when I lived nearby, and signed up for their email list on a postcard (delivered with my check) that promised emails when their sangria would be discounted or the chance to win $10 When I moved out of the neighborhood to a 50-minute commute away, I would still schedule nights at Tasca with friends when I got an email saying I was their “Lucky Draw Winner!” awarding me my $10 coupon. Having since moved to a different state, I still save the emails and use them when I’m back in town for work or play.

girl reading email on smartphone

Moral of the story? Consistent, targeted email marketing is effective. Tasca’s audience is grad students with low budgets and a serious love for sangria. If yours is a crowd of game-day fans, send out a weekly line-up of what will be on your big screens, and an offer for a discounted bucket of beers or wings. If you’re serving busy parents in the ‘burbs, remind them about your kids-eat-free night, or send them a “date-night coupon” for half-off a bottle of wine. Check out this article from Constant Contact for more restaurants doing email marketing right.

8. Put your menu out there across the web

The other day, I was craving corn dogs in New York City. Turns out, it’s not the most popular dish, but Yelp served up a couple of listings with the magic words “On the menu: Corn Dog” that led me to their pages, and then, one of their doors. It was a menu item (not a review or a photo) that appealed to my appetite.

yelp search for corn dogs
yelp search for corn dogs

With increasing dietary-restricted diners, there are more people looking for specific items and researching menus before they make plans to eat away from home. Whether they’re typing it into a search engine (a growing trend in the U.S., according to Google’s graph below), searching a review or travel site, or turning to social media, you cannot afford to lose business to a competitor over not displaying something that you already have – your menus.

menu search volume
menu search volume

Getting discovered for your menu items is important, but getting chosen for them contributes directly to your bottom line. According to OpenTable, 86% of consumers view a menu online before dining out. At SinglePlatform, our customers who have enabled online ordering and have an accurate and updated menu online see 73% more orders and 76% more revenue than businesses without correct menus. That’s a lot more bang for your buck. Interested in more menu stats? Check out our infographic on trending tastes.

9. Leverage other local businesses

Your waitstaff probably gets their hair done at a local salon, right? And could make a great recommendation for a before-dinner drink if there’s a wait for a table. Or give directions to a local shop if someone’s looking for a sweater to throw on. And the people working at those salons, bars and shops could direct people to your restaurant and make a recommendation on the best dishes.

female restaurant owner smiling

Right now, that may or may not be happening. Opening the conversation up officially (in a Chamber of Commerce meeting) or unofficially (over drinks or coffee) is worth doing. Offer to host the salon staff for half priced appetizers after they close one day a week in exchange for them handing out a small flyer or to display your menu. Throw an advertisement for a local shop in your window and ask if they’ll do the same for your restaurant. If you can, offer to host the next Chamber of Commerce meeting to test your new seasonal menu items on local business owner, who will remember your hospitality and delicious food, and can then drive customers from their doors to yours.

10. Incentivize patronage - and loyalty - smartly

First, look at your numbers at different days and times. When aren’t you making money? Which menu items seem to be customer favorites? Offering popular dishes at a discount during low-traffic hours can get you previously untapped revenue and even things out for your kitchen staff. Then get the word out with signage in your restaurant and across the web. Google has just launched a free tool to show you the most popular times that you’re being searched for; make sure that your specials are listed on social media and your online menus to help turn that search traffic into foot traffic.

little girl at restaurant

Next, look around town. What night do the local Little League teams play? A kids-eat-free offer that night could send hungry families to you. Is there a bingo night at a nearby church? An extra-special early-bird special could give your weekday dinner sales a boost. Keep up with community calendars and gear specials to bigger, more seasonal events like local theater productions, sports games and festivals.

11. Always be improving

These tips are only as actionable as you make them. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Your first tweet or promo email likely won’t hit the marketing lottery, but if you stick with it, and see what works for your audience, each one will be stronger than the last.

Ask for feedback! Your customers are your best soundboard. Ask them how they’d prefer to find out about your specials (social media, email, even text message) and what you could improve. Then do it. All it takes is a little time.

And if you don’t have time (again, have to be a little promotional!) – let us help you out. We’ve got ways to improve your online presence, post your specials everywhere that matters, and engage your loyal customers.

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