Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine surveyed marketing experts to find out the best ways restaurants can market themselves now. Here are their insights.
Tony Abate, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at AtmosAir Solutions
Customers are going to be hesitant to dine indoors. They’ve heard from the experts that Covid spreads through the air. That tables are too close. That they can get coronavirus from someone sitting next to them while dining.
So, it’s imperative that restaurant operators not only improve indoor air conditions, but also communicate the new measures taken to mitigate the transmission of viruses, both as a safety measure and as a business enabler that can promote consumer confidence This can be achieved by advertising, hiring a public relations pro to create media attention, place signage outside and inside a restaurant and using social media to inform your customers about the new steps you've taken to enhance safety and wellness.
Promoting the air in your restaurant is as a force to clean and disinfect, instead of something to be feared, is a strategy that all restaurant operators should aggressively approach and promote to their patrons. By providing a safe, pleasant and healthy indoor dining experience, and promoting and marketing it to your new and past customers, restaurants can help to hasten the return of customers and keep everyone safe.
Basant Baruah, Senior Content Marketer, Beaconstac
Create a contactless experience via QR Codes with a contactless menu and contactless check-ins.
'Safety' is what I believe to be most important now to help assure patrons to revisit their favorite restaurants.
An app-first experience for restaurant chains
Gift cards and cashback vouchers to increase footfall
Below are a few examples of small and big F&B chains applying unique marketing techniques.
- Camden Town Brewery and their drinkable ad campaign
- Burger King putting a QR Code in the VMAs
- Doordash with unique Zoom backgrounds
The marketing message has not changed drastically from food-based to safety procedures. But now there is an added message about the safety precautions that are in place for a restaurant. Safety is the new variable that got added up along with the usual suspects pertaining to food.
And this word "safety" is what I believe to be most important now to help assure patrons to revisit their favorite restaurants.
Keegan Brown, Marketing Manager Easy On Hold & Brand Music
Restaurants make up a large part of our client base and we’re responsible for helping script and produce their on hold messages. We may be a niche part of the marketing mix, but we’ve had to change their messaging during COVID.
What’s working right now:
- Hours should be updated everywhere: Facebook, google my business, yelp, your website, etc.
- People don’t know who shut down, who’s only curbside, etc.
- Post a picture to Google My Business of “2020 Hours”
- Callers just want to know you’re open and what type of dining is available.
Impressions are everything.
- Say this info in the auto attendant.
- Increase profits by pushing Bundle deals on higher-margin items. Extra side, desert, take-home dressing, etc.
- Pizza chains still getting orders via phone 70 percent of the time.
- Train staff to handle these calls well and keep people coming back.
- People want to know about safety measures in order to know what rules they must follow.
- Safety measures aren’t increasing demand, but not making the rules clear may cause frustrated diners who don’t return.
- Focus on joy and getting away from it all
“The good ol’ days” is a strong sentimental feeling. It’s a strong message to lean on today. Impressions are everything. Up to date info and employee processes will make the research and dining/ordering experience all the more impressive.
Blaze Bullock, SEO Strategist, Blaze Digital Marketing
Restaurants should advertise what precautions they're taking to keep people safe. If they have outdoor dining and require all of their staff to wear masks and gloves, practicing social distancing in the restaurant, they should prominently display those things everywhere. They should talk about these precautions in their blog posts, at the top of the homepage of their website, on their Google My Business listings, and on their Google and social media ads. It's critical to just make sure people know that you're open. Lastly, put up a sign that says your restaurant is open and practicing social distancing. Doing these things accomplishes that and then some.
Stacy Caprio, Founder, Accelerated Growth Marketing
One restaurant marketing tip is to find micro-influencers in your restaurant location, and host a micro-influencer free dinner party where you invite those with 2K+ followers for a night of fun and free food in your restaurant. They'll likely post about the event tagging you and your restaurant, driving more traffic and their followers to come visit you in the coming days and weeks.
Rick Camac, Dean of Restaurant & Hospitality Management at the Institute of Culinary Education
Restaurants need to show all the ways they have made things safe for their customers, for example contactless interaction especially in regard to menus and payment helps a lot and should be mentioned. There’s no doubt that this has taken precedent over anything else. This message has to be welcoming and sincere, as no one wants to go to a restaurant when it’s clear the staff (and/or ownership) doesn’t want to be there.
Keep in mind that most customers go out for an experience, this has not changed and never will.
Keep in mind that most customers go out for an experience, this has not changed and never will. While you have to mention the steps taken to provide a safer environment, you still have to market the experience! If you fail to provide the experience, you will not last. You may be as clean as an intensive care ward, but no one wants to dine there! Ultimately no experience equals no customers.
Has the marketing message changed from food-based to safety procedures?
There’s no doubt the message has changed as safety procedures was never foremost in anyone’s mind prior to the pandemic. As I mentioned above, restaurants should clearly explain and show all the changes they’ve made to make the experience as safe as possible.
What can restaurants do right now to reach guests and get them to visit?
Restaurants need to communicate the change in safety measures and share the experience. Now being obsessively clean and sanitary is just as much a no-brainer as any other expectation a diner will have walking into your establishment (or prior to walking in). You still have to provide an experience, even though it has become harder (but not impossible) to do and there are some venues already very good at it. Great service is still great service! Music, lighting and ambiance can still be great! Everything now just takes a little extra effort but it’s all mostly doable. Now, how to get that onto marketing material is a challenge but no more different than the challenge of conveying that pre-COVID.
Alonso Castañeda, VP of Brand Development & Strategy at Savory Management
Yes, we are still in the middle of the pandemic but as consumers we still expect great quality food, good service and consistency in a clean and safe environment. I have found myself in many of my favorite restaurants (national chains or my local favorites) and the quality of food and service is not what I know they can offer. Just because your restaurants are only open at 25 or 50 percent capacity does not mean it’s okay to offer 50 percent quality of service.
As restaurateurs and operators, we need to take our “COVID goggles” off and recalibrate our teams to do the same. Let’s do the simple things right before attempting to drive more traffic into our restaurants.
As restaurateurs and operators, we need to take our 'COVID goggles' off and recalibrate our teams to do the same.
Google My Business: Although not the same amount of people are not walking into your restaurants they are still googling it. Make sure your online presence is locked in. Be searchable and ensure that you are doing as much as you can to be found. Take full advantage of Google my business, it’s free and it’s the most used tool by the consumer for search (your google listings) and maps.
Yelp Enhanced Listings: Yelp is another highly used tool by the consumer. A big percentage of restaurateurs are not utilizing Yelp to its full potential. Yelp is not free but a paid partnership for enhanced listings is fairly reasonable in price with the right negotiation.
Social Media: Social Media got more saturated with content when COVID hit. At the same time, the consumer has also started spending more time on social media. Now is more important than ever to continue your social media presence and increase your content. Use stories, videos and show your customers what you have to offer that makes it easier and safer for them during these times. As an example, family meals and extra health and safety procedures.
Paid Digital Ads: If you stopped social media ads, turn those back on. As third-party delivery has increased a bigger percentage of your sales are now less profitable. Turn on ads to guide your customers to your own online ordering pages. This does not have to be super expensive for you. The key is to turn on local ads in each of your Facebook location pages.
Chris Kaiser, Founder & CEO of Click A Tree
One of our partners recently released that they were able to grow by 22 percent in the first quarter of this year, then keeping business stable despite the Corona limitations in Q2.
The idea is simple: Our restaurant partners select one of their meals as "Food for Future". Every time this specific dish is sold, one tree is being planted.
The costs for the tree are either born by the clients or shared between client and restaurant – depending on the owners' preferences. When running with the former option, restaurants bear zero risk. They only plant trees if the Food for Future is sold. If the dish isn't sold, there are no costs whatsoever.
It's a win-win for everyone, and one that has garnered lots of media attention, too. It helps bring more customers into the restaurants, revenues increase, and hence more trees are being planted. Everybody profits.
Candace MacDonald, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Carbonate
Restaurants will need to be savvy to the situation on the ground where they are located, different markets will have different tolerance thresholds based on the local situations. But for many safety is still the first concern, restaurants must make guests feel safe to enjoy the restaurants and that means communicating clearly to guests all the efforts you are taking to create a safe environment.
The pandemic has accelerated one very important trend that restaurants were already facing prior to COVID-19: the guest interaction starts online.
The pandemic has accelerated one very important trend that restaurants were already facing prior to COVID-19: the guest interaction starts online. This is not a new idea, but COVID made this an essential necessary shift in thinking, one that can be difficult for restaurants, which are inherently an in-person experience. A website's and social media channels are not only critical marketing tools, they are the first point of guest contact. It’s how guests are first experiencing a restaurant, especially now as guests are ordering online and also checking to see if their favorite restaurant is open or operating with adjusted hours.
As the digital space becomes even more where people “live,” their online interactions shape how they feel about restaurants. It is no longer the person greeting them at your door that sets the tone for their experience, it is a restaurants' online presence.
Our online interactions and relationships are as critical as those we experience in-person. These interactions must be as carefully curated as those that happen in the real world. This goes well beyond up to date information. Online ordering must be seamless and similar to other e-commerce experiences. Social media managers should interact with guests online with the same tone and level of responsiveness that guests experience online. Restaurants are an inherently emotional experience and restaurants need to create that connection and build trust long before the guest even comes to the door.
Restaurants are an inherently emotional experience and restaurants need to create that connection and build trust long before the guest even comes to the door.
Annabel Maw, Director of Communications, JotForm
One of the best things restaurants can do right now is to invest in social media. People are bored and on their favorite social platforms looking for entertainment, at-home activities, and take out options. Share high-quality images and engaging captions of your food and beverages, outdoor dining if you have it, and anything else that differentiates your business. Be sure to offer deals when you can to further motivate people to purchase from you.
Lindsey Maxwell, Co-Founder of Where You Make It.
Connecting more to people and the local community is an excellent way for restaurants to gain more customers and keep customer loyalty. Joining more social media platforms, making live videos, and developing cooking classes can be some ways to grab attention and get them to want more from you.
Not everyone feels safe enough to go inside restaurants, so restaurants can show them by filming or updating customers on renovations and new health procedures. You can let them know you value their safety by being more open about the changes.
Showing them how the new design and how you will ensure social distancing and other ways you're making the restaurant safer than your competitors.
Restaurants can also be more creative to entice their customers back by providing meal kits to customers to make their food from home. It's an excellent way to continue eating at your restaurant when some customers are still too hesitant to eat-in.
Marcin Muras, CEO Upmenu.com
Restaurants have been through the mill this year and, while some have flourished, some have sadly been run out of town. During the closure and then reopening of restaurants around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve seen some brilliant marketing campaigns by restaurants and have learned a thing or two about restaurant marketing as a result:
Email marketing – it may be considered old school by some but, the fact is that email marketing still very much works. Send out weekly email newsletters (no more, no less) telling customers about new menu options and special offers.
All of these tips are online/digital – that’s because that’s where the customers are and, how they want you to get in touch.
Keep it social – your customers are pretty much all on social media – pretty much all the time so, this is the best place to hit them with your brilliant content and marketing campaigns.
Incentives – everybody loves a freebie – and a discount – make sure that your incentives are appealing – and then shout about them for maximum effect.
Getting mobile – on every street, in every pub and cafe and, in every bedroom and sitting room, your customers are sitting there staring at their phones – which means that they’re not staring at your brand unless you’re doing mobile marketing. Simples.
You’ll have noticed that all of these tips are online / digital – that’s because that’s where the customers are and, how they want you to get in touch.
Joshua Okungbaiye, Founder at Goldstar Social Media
Has restaurant marketing changed since COVID? Are you advising clients differently?
Restaurant marketing has changed drastically since COVID. Before COVID the marketing message was mostly catered to providing a pleasant dining experience with a promo code to sweeten the deal for consumer. Currently, restaurants have slowly turned from focusing on the physical dining experience to focusing on takeout and delivery experience. Consumers want their food fresh and fast with hygiene and cleanliness top of mind. I have consistently reminded my clients of this fact. This has led to our marketing messages strongly highlighting cleanliness, speed and taste. Restaurants are also now faced with the new challenge of transferring that unique dining physical experience straight to your home. It is done through the packaging, food presentation and overall customer service.
What are some trends you are seeing? Are they focusing on cleanliness and takeout awareness?
The trends I have seen have mostly been in takeout/delivery awareness, hygiene and cleanliness. Consumers are hyper aware of how restaurants deliver and present their food.
Are you advising clients to spend more now?
I am advising clients to spend more now as there is an opportunity for an online land grab. Uber Eats and other third-party delivery apps have facilitated this land grab for restaurants and takeaways. By spending more, it brings more awareness to potential customers and it ensures that our adverts appear at the right time so the customer is more likely to impulse buy (especially when a customer food craving arises).
Why do you feel Facebook is a good socially distant option?
Due to being in quarantine and more people working from home. A lot more people are online and are always looking for things to purchase to satisfy their needs. This further increases the chance for Facebook adverts to be seen by potential customers, so they can take action and order their food while implementing social distancing practices.
Jeremy Ong, Founder at HUSTLR
Offer free meals for people "who fight Coronavirus." Offer free meals doctors, nurses, and even the patients. This is one of the best ways to show your engagement with society and your social responsibility you believe in.
In addition to that, you can market your brand and cooking using social media to show how you create these free meals through health and safety procedures.
Generally, people's interests have been changed since the pandemic started. Now they are looking for brands that understand their needs and put community safety before anything else, so you have to be and act like one.
Kate Pyle, Account Manager at Big Spoon Co., a PR and marketing company
The marketing focus should be on promoting outdoor dining. As we move into cooler months, this will be essential. To prepare your outdoor space for cooler weather, you will want to consider a tent with heaters to provide warmth and fans to circulate air. Make the space feel as inviting as possible, with planters showcasing fall flowers and evergreens through winter.
Be sure to keep communication open with your patrons through your website and all social media channels. Whenever there is a change in your hours, it should be communicated through all platforms. Regularly posting menu items and the outdoor space will keep the restaurant on customers minds as a go-to place to dine. It is smart to occasionally remind guest of the precautions you are taking to keep staff and customers safe. Regularly updating your menu or having a special or two will encourage guests to keep frequenting your restaurant, as they won't want to miss out.
A collaboration with another chef or local community business is a fun way to bring hype to an event. Especially for dining rooms and outdoor spaces with lower capacity, we suggest keeping a credit card on file for reservations. Communicate with customers through social media and the website that there will be a $20-25 charge for no-call/no-shows. As this is already a tough time for the industry, making a reservation and not showing up can greatly affect an already struggling restaurant.
Jon Torres, Founder of JonTorres.com, a digital marketing and SEO agency
The best way for restaurants to market themselves during this time is to be in constant communication with their customers via social media. Rules and regulations are changing all the time so you customers might not know if you're open, open for take-out or available for dine in.
Keep them up to date with the status of your business and what safety protocols you are taking. Many studies show people go to social media profiles for information first so make sure when customers come to your page they can easily find information on the status of your restaurant. This will give them piece of mind that you're within guidelines and have their safety in mind.
Jeff Weaver of Quick Results Marketing
A major marketing problem that restaurants have always had… People come in, eat, pay, and leave. The restaurant owner has no way to thank them, appreciate them and invite them back.
Nearly all restaurant marketing is targeted at getting new diners not taking care of their past and current customers.
Nearly all restaurant marketing is targeted at getting new diners not taking care of their past and current customers. Especially with the pandemic restrictions, this communication with customers is vital.
It is cheaper in marketing cost and more beneficial to revenue to communicate in a way that the clients actually receive the message.
Sure, there is social media. But, if posts are not boosted, the reception rate is only one to two percent of those who like the page. Further, studies by Constant Contact and Get Response showed that the open rate for restaurant related emails were 13 percent and 10 percent respectively.
The solution, Broadcast Text Marketing where 97 percent-98 percent of messages (communications) get read. It allows you to thank customers, to show your appreciation for them, and invite them back. More magic is that restaurants already have a ‘list’ of phone numbers…they just don’t know it.
It is important that every text include an opt out instruction. Because of limited space in a text, use of links to webpages or the menu are recommended when possible. Restaurants cannot afford to broadcast text to over 500 people as that requires having what is known as a short code. Short codes can cost from $500-$1,000 per month on top of the cost of the individual texts. Lastly, this is extremely affordable. Our fee is based on the number of texts sent per month in total. Remember, these are customers who will appreciate being appreciated and invited back.