Four Ways to Effectively Market Your Restaurant in 2021

We have watched as the pandemic has gutted the economy, altered consumer behavior, and destroyed longstanding businesses essentially overnight. While some industries have thrived, the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit. With continued restrictions being imposed across the country as cases surge, making it through to the other side is hardly guaranteed.

As we hunker down for a long winter and uncertain spring – whether you are Team Keep Going or Team Hibernation — now is the perfect time to focus on a plan to ensure that your restaurant not only survives, but thrives, in 2021. While there is no single answer as to how best to do so, if we look back at the pandemic’s impact thus far, it’s clear that the ability to effectively pivot offerings and communicate with your customers is critical to a restaurant’s survival. Put a plan in place now and you’ll be ready to execute the minute you’re back in the game. 

Be Transparent About Safety

Over the past year, restaurants have had to evolve their communications to consumers with a sensitivity and transparency never before required around issues of safety and health. Today, an expectation of transparency is the baseline, and it will only continue into 2021.

Safety is the new “trend” that every dining establishment must offer, and it goes far beyond offering paperless QSR code menus and bottles of hand sanitizer at the host stand. Every action taken on-premise by anyone who represents your restaurant has the potential to be shared far and wide, reaching an audience with heightened sensitivity. Doing everything to ensure your customers feel safe dining with you will remain priority #1.

Think Beyond Your Four Walls

Pre-pandemic, it’s likely that a good portion of your marketing efforts were focused on communicating with guests on site. After all, you knew that if you continued to offer hospitality-first service and quality food, you could count on seeing your customers within your four walls. That — combined with intermittent website updates, social posts, and being actively involved in your communities in the kind of way COVID upended — was enough marketing for many restaurants. Now we know that the occasional communication isn’t going to cut it to remain top of mind. 

Today, customers are expecting a different level of engagement and convenience and expecting you to be where they are – on their devices. To stay relevant restaurants must establish or enhance what they are doing digitally as part of their marketing mix. Whether that means introducing online ordering, adding contactless pay options, upping your social media game or launching paid digital advertising efforts, you need to adapt to make sure you are effectively engaging new and existing customers. And it’s not only how you engage with them, but what you engage with them about. Obviously, safety protocols, revised hours and the like are key, but being creative in your offerings (virtual wine tastings, to-go kids’ cooking kits, etc.) to remain top of mind and relevant to meet your customers’ needs at this very specific moment in time has never been of greater importance.

Quality Over Quantity

The pivoting we’ve seen across the industry throughout 2020 has been, in one word, impressive. From selling groceries, to prepping cook at home meal kits, to cocktails to-go, the hospitality industry has stepped up to the challenges presented by responding with creativity and resourcefulness. 2021 will be the time to hone in on what you know works and focus on doing fewer things well. Whether it’s carefully curating menu items, fine tuning hours of operation to optimize traffic/sales or more heavily investing in fewer marketing efforts, now is the time to go deep, not wide.

Be critical in evaluating what your “must haves” versus your “nice to haves” are and use the data and metrics available to you as your guide to determine what should stay or go. When do reservations spike? Which part of town dominates online orders? Which menu items are fastest to make and hold up best for delivery? Crunch the numbers to find out and focus efforts accordingly. And if you don’t have that capability in house right now, it’s time to find someone externally who does. 

Find the Experts

So, now that we’ve established that your traditional marketing efforts – both what you’re marketing and how you’re marketing – likely won’t ever look the same again, where to start? While some larger restaurant groups may have been lucky enough to retain some level of internal or external marketing support, many teams likely didn’t survive pandemic budget cuts.

As you look to establish or reestablish your marketing efforts, one option to consider is an outsourced marketing solution. In this trying time for operations, growth and planning, it’s easy to quantify the benefits that come from hiring outside marketing experts with a broad skillset and lower overhead than restoring an in-house team or CMO. Similar to outsourcing finance or human resources, bringing in an external team of diverse experts under one roof who can cover the roles of CMO, internal team and agency partner(s) all in one lessens both the six-figure cost of a CMO as well as the time required to recruit and retain an internal team. When resources are likely stretched thinner than ever before and every minute counts, time truly is money, and efficiency is king.

With the proper outsourced team and strategy in place you can feel confident that you are not only keeping costs in check but also effectively reaching and engaging the customers that remain crucial to your success – not only in 2021, but long after the pandemic is over.