While your restaurant may feature a diverse menu, delicious food, a great ambiance, and excellent customer service, you will still struggle to build a customer base without promoting it. The fact is that running a successful restaurant is more than just offering good food and good service.
Providing top-quality food and service should remain your restaurant’s foremost priority, but you also need to get the word out and attract new customers. Promotion and advertising are what we call a restaurant’s “secret sauce.” Let’s look at seven ingredients that you should include in advertising and promotional campaigns for your restaurants.
1. Emphasize Best-Selling Items
Let’s start with a simple ingredient. Your restaurant’s main selling point is the food. Promoting your restaurant should start with promoting the food itself. However, too many restaurants fall into the trap of promoting items with a low food cost and high margin. Others tend to emphasize their cheaper menu options. Both approaches might cause your restaurant to fail in attracting new customers.
Instead of promoting items according to price or margin, promote what your customers love. These items are your “greatest hits,” so why would you promote anything else? A quick look at your POS data will identify the top three selling items on your menu. These items are what your customers love, and these dishes are what you should be promoting on all platforms.
Make sure you have high-quality pictures of these items. Invest in getting these dishes photographed by a professional photographer who will know all about lighting and angles to make the dishes look mouth-watering. Let the pictures speak a thousand words.
You can then use these photos on your menu, Instagram and Facebook page, website, and other listing platforms that feature your restaurant. These photos will continue to give you a high ROI for years to come.
2. Create a Conversation Trigger
Your customer’s word-of-mouth advocacy is an invaluable marketing strategy. What’s more, it’s completely free. Great things happen when your customers share your passion and help in bringing people through your door.
A tried and tested strategy to spread the word about your restaurant is by creating a talk trigger, which at its core, just means something unique people will tell their friends about. A great example of a conversation trigger is Skip’s Kitchen.
While you are waiting to be seated, the hostess fans out a deck of cards containing four jokers. If you pull a joker, the meal is on the house. Customers are attracted to the outlet for its food and service and the chance to win a free meal. Net result? Book in advance, or wait half an hour for a table.
Train your staff to build other taking points. These could include:
Seasonal Items: “The chef only has this asparagus appetizer on the menu in peak season when it tastes its best.” “We only feature this salad for a few weeks while wild blueberries are available.”
New/popular: Introduce and promote new menu items: “This is a new and hot selling appetizer, our customers love the smoky sauce.”
Original: “It’s your first time here? We’re famous for this menu item. The owner invented it in 1969. It’s her secret recipe.”
Another great way to build awareness and traffic is to run hashtag campaigns of your conversation triggers. The more talking points you can generate for your restaurant, the more traffic you’re likely to get.
3. Make Use of Local SEO and Content Marketing
How much do you spend on creating your website and promoting it online? Chances are, it will be a five-figure number. What if I were to tell you that you don’t need to spend more than $2,000 to build your website and $4-5,000 a month on promoting it?
The logic here is simple. When your customers are looking for somewhere to eat, they type what they want into Google to get the information they need. This information includes your location, hours of operation, menu, and reviews. Creating a Google My Business account for your restaurant is a great way to ensure that all vital information will be at the customer’s fingertips.
Aside from using Google My Business, you may also use content marketing to promote your restaurant. For example, you can create a blog to share the inspirations and stories behind your dishes. You can also get backlinks from high-authority websites in your area by publishing guest posts that link back to your website.
If you’re trying to grow your customer base, you don’t need to go all-out with your SEO campaign. Instead, use local SEO to target people in your area who are more likely to drop by and try out your dishes.
4. Invite Food Critics and Bloggers
Influencers like food bloggers and food critics have a loyal audience that trusts what they say and recommend. Hence, their reviews can help you build your brand value while attracting footsteps to your door.
These influencers are considered experts on the issue of restaurants, and their verdict can be taken as a guarantee of great experience and even better food. Their online presence on social media platforms can help attract visitors to your website and build awareness of your outlet.
Snow’s BBQ In Lexington, Texas, enjoyed a good customer base that kept them busy every Saturday, but it was known only among locals. That all changed when chef and food influencer David Chang featured the BBQ joint in his Netflix show. Almost overnight, customers from all over the US started making pilgrimages to Lexington, a sleepy suburb with a population of just over 1,000.
What happened to Snow’s BBQ? Being featured in the show certainly played a huge role in promoting the business. More food critics and influencers tried out the BBQ and liked it so much that it was voted the best BBQ place in the entire state — a very impressive feat, considering that BBQ is often considered the state dish of Texas. Snow’s BBQ us still a Saturday-only operation, but the queues have grown considerably longer.
5. Provide Free Meals on Special Occasions
Nothing creates loyal customers like remembering their special days and offering them free meals on those days. Think birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so on. This strategy helps in creating a special bond between the customer and the outlet. You want a piece of this action.
Free meals on birthdays are a must for every restaurant. To find out which customer is celebrating when you need to configure your customer relationship management (CRM) or point of sale (POS) systems to store this information. Once you have this information, you can reach out to customers a week before the special day and invite them to celebrate their special day at your restaurant.
Another way to do this is to ask your front-of-the-house staff to ask someone making a booking for a large group if they are celebrating a special event. Then prepare to wow them with a special offer. Decorate and customize the table, offer complimentary appetizers or desserts, or . get your head chef to visit their table and interact with the guests to create a bond. There are many ways to get creative on this front. Do this, and you will keep the customers coming back for more.
6. Make a Cooking Show on YouTube
Successful restaurants do not sell food: they evoke emotions, offer experiences, and build relations. They tell a story. Creating a YouTube channel for your restaurant is the first step in unlocking your storytelling.
Creating content on YouTube is a powerful magnet to attract the millennial audience. A recent survey shows that food content on YT fueled a 280 percent growth in food channel subscriptions on a year-on-year basis.
Your content can range from demos of how to make your popular dishes, how you source your ingredients, and videos of special occasions that you hosted at your restaurant. Give behind-the-scenes views to engage and attract customers and build a loyal customer base.
7. Start a Food Challenge
People love food challenges, and these challenges help create a buzz around your outlets and raise awareness levels. People love to be challenged to step out of their comfort zone and try to achieve something special.
Joe Rogers’ Chili Parlor, for example, was known mostly as “Springfield’s favorite chili” since its first chili bowl came out in 1945. However, because of its location in central Illinois, Joe Rogers’ didn’t really ring a bell to chili fans, even if the Firebrand Chili Challenge has been one of the longest-running food challenges in the country.
When Adam Richman of Man v. Food came to the city, he immediately set his sights on breaking the Firebrand Chili Challenge record of five bowls. He didn’t manage to break the record, but he got to get his name on the restaurant’s Wall of Fame anyway. Since then, the record has been broken, with the new record — ten bowls — being set in 2017.
As of 2021, the record remains untouched and probably will stay that way for some time. It still hasn’t stopped chili fans from trying their luck. For many chili connoisseurs, just getting their names up on the wall is enough reward for finishing what many consider one of the hottest chilis in the country.
Even if your food isn’t as challenging — or explosive — as a bowl of chili, you can still hold food challenges to promote your restaurants. Brainstorm with your staff to come up with creative ideas for food challenges. Create extra spicy tacos and invite local celebrities to talk about their careers while they tear up on the ghost chili sauce! You will have your audience in splits.
These are the seven ingredients of your secret sauce to create a buzz around your restaurant and build a loyal customer base.
One last point that you should consider and keep track of is your online reviews. Your online reputation is the lifeline of your business, and this is what potential customers will read first. The general rule with reviews is to respond to and address all of them.
Thank your customers for positive reviews, and address negative reviews with proactive solutions. Show that you care for your customers and their opinions.