Biz Tips: What to Know When Marketing a New Restaurant

Biz Tips: What to Know When Marketing a New Restaurant

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What to Know When Marketing a New Restaurant

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Here are the sobering facts about starting a new restaurant: 59 percent of them fail during the first three years. Why? Usually there are a variety of reasons. These include things like:

  • Low startup capital
  • Poor location
  • A poor understanding of the competition
  • Poor partnerships with vendors and other suppliers
  • Poor management of staff and inventory
  • Poor marketing and marketing strategy

The restaurant business can be a profitable one, but it does mean taking these things into consideration. A little bit of education and some early research can prevent many of these reasons for failure. However, the theme of marketing runs through many of them. Let’s look at each shortcoming through a lens of marketing.

  • Low Startup Capital: Poor marketing of the idea itself and the qualifications of the owners means no one wants to risk the investment.
  • Poor Location: Good market research will reveal the best locations.
  • Lack Of Understanding of The Competition: Again, this is one of the cornerstones of good market research.
  • Poor Partnerships and Management: This is a product of not developing good company culture, which is essentially marketing company values to your employees and suppliers alike.

As you can see from this list, the most common issues with restaurant failure actually link back to a poor marketing strategy from the start, and this links back to a poor business plan. This is why franchising is often more successful when it comes to restaurants. Working with an established brand is easier, and there are usually some marketing guidelines and procedures in place.

So what are the keys to marketing a new restaurant before you even open the doors? Here are a few principles you should follow.

Develop a Tasteful Website

Even before you open your doors, you need to understand that the internet is where restaurant marketing begins. One of the most common searches on Google is “restaurants near me” and often specific types of restaurants, like “best Italian in [name of city].” What does this mean for you and your restaurant?

It means that you need to have some key elements as a part of your website:

  • Clear Hours of Operation: If you are not open yet, an opening date will be a good substitute. Be sure this information is accurate in the local Google listings. You can do so by using your Google My Business account.
  • Maps and Address: Be sure that your address is accurate and easy to find, you appear correctly in Google maps, and that there are photos of the exterior of your restaurant so you are easy to find. Update these photos regularly.
  • Clickable Phone Number: Be sure your phone number is clickable on a mobile device so customers can call you quickly and easily.
  • Email Contact: Be sure customers have a way to email you with comments, questions, and concerns.
  • Reservations Forms (If You Take Them): Be sure a customer can make a reservation directly from your site.
  • Menu With Prices: Customers often want to peruse the menu and know what things will cost before they arrive. Be sure that you offer them the option.

Once you have your site up and running with the most important elements, you will also want to make sure the SEO of your site is tasteful to Google. After all, who decides what restaurant ranks where in those Google rankings? Well, Google does, of course. If there are 15 Italian restaurants or pizza joints in your area, how do you get in that top four or five?

The first involves the technical aspects of your website. This means keywords, title tags, and page meta data. You’d be surprised how much difference a well-written meta description will have on the traffic to your site. If you do not know about or understand these things, talk to your web developer or hire an SEO company to help you. Your site needs to tell Google clearly what your site is about.

If you have a restaurant blog, you will be way ahead of much of your competition, but even if you don’t, update your site regularly with seasonal menu changes, coupon offers, and other updates that let Google know your site is active.

It is also important that you build quality backlinks to your site through earning organic links and other link building activities. There are a number of ways to do this, from being listed in various directories and on tourist websites to getting reviews from local and national reviewers on their websites.

These links let Google and other search engines know that your website is important in your industry and your niche. Link building can be time consuming and complex, and there are professionals you can hire to help you or to even do that part of your marketing for you.

Whet Customers’ Appetite

What makes you stand out from your competition? Is it fresh ingredients locally sourced? Your authentic family recipes? Your vegan and gluten-free menu options? There must be something, and you need to make that clear to your potential customers. Once you have been established for a while, you will get a lot of organic reviews and word-of-mouth advertising (more on that in a moment). When you are new, you need to wow the customer from the first experience they have with you.

This is often through the internet, including web photos and menu descriptions. Think of these like a product description on another website. Do your photos look appealing? Does your description sound good to you and to those who don’t know you? Follow these simple tips:

  • Make photos professional. Your iPhone can take great photos if you know how to use it, but you may need different lighting, and if you are not good at it, your photos can be a real distraction. Hire a pro if you need to. You can even take a Photoshop class to learn to do the work yourself.
  • Make descriptions thorough. People want to know what is in your food and what it might taste like. This is your elevator pitch — the same type of language you use on your menu in the restaurant, only amplified. Make your food sound as appetizing as possible.
  • Show off your restaurant decor and interior. Eating is about atmosphere too, and it is important that people understand what the experience will be like and even how they should dress. Again, professional photos, even with models to show typical dress, are a great idea.

A note here: If you take photos in your restaurant when customers are present, technically you need their permission to put those photos on your website — something like a model release form. Don’t skip this with an informal ask: It could get you into legal trouble later.

In addition, the language on your site matters too. If you are struggling, hire a writer to help or write descriptions for you. As you get more established, borrow language from reviews and social media posts.

Feed Your Feedback

So how do you get reviews when you are new? How do you get feedback from social media and other sources, and how do you develop a following? There are a number of ways to do this, but it is vital that you understand in the restaurant world, reputation is everything. Managing your reputation is up to you. Follow these steps:

  • Ask for reviews. On your receipts and through your waitstaff, ask patrons to leave a review for you on Yelp, Google, or even on your website. If you have a newsletter or membership program, ask for reviews through these subscribers, your most faithful customers.
  • Don’t respond to negative reviews except with offers to fix the problem. Offering excuses or trying to justify a poor experience can kill your reputation. Even if the reviewer is a troll, offer to make things right anyway.
  • Develop a social media following and offer specials, coupons, surveys, and other incentives for new customers to follow you and visit often.

As there are things you should do, there are also things you should not do. Don’t offer incentives for reviews other than contests. Don’t request that negative reviews be removed by Google or other review sites unless they are deliberately malicious and inaccurate. And don’t ever respond negatively to a review in public or in private. The customer could spread the word about you and literally kill your business before it gets off the ground.

Marketing a new restaurant is one of the toughest parts of the business. But done right, your establishment will get off on the right foot and survive where others before you have not.

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