Word of mouth would typically keep your regulars around and a sign out front might help you attract some new customers, but you didn’t need to actively participate in outreach. Things changed when websites became commonplace, then with Yelp and Google Reviews, you had to start monitoring what people were saying about your restaurant. Just like the appetite of your patrons, marketing has evolved and in order to continue to keep your regulars — and bring in new customers — you have to keep up with the times.
Maintain your presence on review sites.
We’ve all heard the infamous stories about one sour review being the downfall of a restaurant. Unfortunately, even during COVID-19, the keyboard warriors haven’t let up. Google Reviews and Yelp are two of the most prolific places where people go to see what’s being said about your business.
These review sites are directly tied to your online identity. Not necessarily marketing, but still related to branding, you should ensure you’re monitoring reviews and responding in a timely manner when applicable. Always try to come to a positive conclusion on the public profile so the issue is clearly resolved for future patrons researching your restaurant before visiting.
Optimize your website and overall brand for Google search.
Today, 77% of customers look up a restaurant’s website before visiting. Make sure your online presence is a positive representation of your brand and gives your potential patrons all the information they need.
Google My Business is a very important tool to use. It can take a little bit to set up and you’ll have to confirm your address and contact information, but it ensures the correct information shows up when someone Googles you. Update this with your address, phone number, and hours so it is easy for people to find.
Bing has a similar tool called Bing Places for Business. While Bing isn’t used as readily as Google, it’s still a worthwhile decision to make sure your business’ presence is up to par here as well.
While Google My Business and Facebook are great options for establishing your restaurant’s brand presence in your community, it is a worthwhile decision to create a website to grow your brand and reach more potential patrons. If you do decide to create a website, there are some non-negotiables. To avoid customer disappointment, your website should always be up-to-date with your:
Correct address (bonus for an easy to link to Google Maps)
Open/close status for dine-in, carry-out, and delivery
Appetizing photos of your specialty entrees
Your menu should also be posted either as its own page or as a PDF. One benefit to deciding to create a website is that it doesn’t need to be overly complicated as long as it’s easy to use and the information is accurate.
Socially-distant social media.
Listen, we probably aren’t the first ones to tell you that social media usage has been increasingly on the rise year-after-year. But, now that people are spending even more time at home browsing the internet during the pandemic, it’s a perfect opportunity to focus more on your online persona.
The number one platform for your restaurant to be on is Facebook. Utilize this free channel to promote your specials, share pictures of your customers, and push menu items.
Take the time to showcase the efforts that your restaurant is taking to safeguard both their patrons and your staff members. Consider highlighting any of the updated safety protocols that have been implemented.
Have you installed sneeze guards? Are you limiting capacity? What additional precautions are being taken whilst handling food? Are you instituting mask rules and social distancing markers?
If you’re transparent about what you’re doing behind the scenes, diners will feel more comfortable about choosing to visit your restaurant compared to others.
Additionally, you should create more “light-hearted” posts that your audience will want to engage with. Ask questions; How do they feel about the newest lunch special? What’s their go-to order? Who are they rooting for in the game this weekend? Does ranch belong on pizza?
Ensure all your posts have at least one high-quality image or video and include gifs or emojis where appropriate. Text-only posts are not engaging and should be avoided. Pro-tip: Facebook’s feed algorithm favors posts with images or videos, giving you a better chance of reaching a larger audience.
Once you’re comfortable with Facebook, feel free to toss Instagram into the mix as well. For the most part, these strategies can be similar. For Instagram, you will want to add 10–15 hashtags to your post (add these as a comment right after you post to maintain a clean appearance). Utilizing the story function is also beneficial.
Post on your story about daily happenings and make sure to include a location tag. Try to post on Instagram a few hours before either lunch or dinner to get your audience thinking about you by the time they’re ready to eat! Get your dinner special in-front of people around 2 pm, so they’re looking forward to ordering from you all day. Pro-tip: Tagging your location helps you to show up in the local story, allowing you to get more exposure.
It can be difficult to know what hashtags to use at first, but it’s easy once you start exploring. Start with #food and #foodstagram as well as the kind of food you’re sharing. Explore what your competitors use as well as what other people in those hashtags are using. This will help you grow your audience outside of your local region which is beneficial for branding and engagement.
Facebook and Instagram are the main platforms to invest effort in for a restaurant or bar. There can be benefits to maintaining a Snapchat for your bar, but it typically requires more effort and little-to-no return. LinkedIn and Twitter are similar and would likely be the most beneficial if you were operating a chain of restaurants.
Encourage user-generated content.
Give people a reason to document their orders from your establishment. You want them to brag about grabbing brunch (or dinner) from you. Including a hashtag on your menus, social, and packaging is an easy reminder for people.
Go out of your way to make packaging exciting. If your takeout boxes are a certain color, they’ll be easy to spot in social posts. If you can, throw in something extra like a sticker with your name on it or even custom glasses with drink kits.
With the rise of many restaurants limiting orders to take-out only, consider the possibility of launching a photo contest around who has the most scenic atmosphere while enjoying your prepared meals.
Allow your business to thrive during COVID-19.
Eating a meal from a restaurant has changed dramatically in the past few months. Your advertising efforts have to keep pace with the market, especially while consumers have less money to spend on eating out. Find your niche and differentiate yourself from other local restaurants. Most importantly, make it incredibly easy for your customers to be brand advocates.
Need help developing a marketing strategy that brings in customers during COVID-19? We understand the difficult situation this global pandemic has put many small businesses in and we’re here to help. Schedule a free (no strings attached) consultation with our team of experts to discuss strategies your restaurant can implement to thrive right now.