An Insider’s Guide On Digital Marketing for Restaurants

Luke Januschka

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May 29, 2024
digital marketing for restaurants
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Remember those menus collecting dust in forgotten corners of your takeout drawer? Yeah, print is so last decade. Today, hungry patrons are scrolling through feeds, not flipping through flyers.

In fact, with 89% of diners searching online before choosing where to eat, digital marketing for restaurants is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity.

But with endless options at their fingertips, how do you make your restaurant stand out from the crowd?

Our comprehensive guide with insider tips and tricks straight from the playbook of successful restaurant owners and marketers is here to help. 

From optimizing your website to formulating drool-worthy social media posts, you’ll learn how to:

So, let’s dive in and explore how you can use the power of the internet to put your restaurant on the map and keep those tables filled.

Laying the Foundation: Understanding Your Restaurant's USP

Your restaurant’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) sets you apart. It is the compelling reason – a unique value – that tells your diners why they should choose your establishment over others.

It informs everything from your branding and messaging to your menu offerings and customer experience. 

Without a clear USP, your marketing efforts can fall flat. What happens next? You fail to resonate with your target audience.

How Do You Create ‘THE’ USP For Your Restaurant?

Now, how do you create a clear and compelling USP for your restaurant?

First and foremost, think about your cuisine. What sets your menu apart from the competition? 

Maybe you specialize in farm-to-table ingredients, or perhaps you’re known for your innovative fusion dishes. Whatever it is, make sure it’s front and center in your USP.

Of course, you can’t forget about service. In the hospitality industry, exceptional service can be a major differentiator. 

If you’re known for your friendly, attentive staff or your sommelier’s encyclopedic knowledge of wine pairings, make sure to highlight that in your USP.

Here are some other key elements you can consider when creating a USP for your partners:

1. The ambiance and atmosphere of the dining room – are they cozy and intimate or sleek and trendy?

2. The unique story and heritage – perhaps they have a rich family history or an interesting origin story that adds character.

The most successful restaurant USPs are specific, memorable, and emotionally resonant. 

Examples of Restaurant USPs That Work

Twitter post OF Chick-fil-A

Need some inspiration? Check out these examples of successful restaurant USPs we personally like:

1. "Food As It Should Be"

Panera Bread’s USP focuses on offering clean, wholesome ingredients in its menu items, with a commitment to transparency and removing artificial additives

2. "We Didn't Invent the Chicken, Just the Chicken Sandwich"

Chick-fil-A’s USP centers around its signature chicken sandwich, made with a breaded chicken breast and served on a bun with pickles.

3. "Building Healthier Communities by Connecting People to Real Food"  

We love Sweetgreen’s USP as it offers fresh, healthy, and sustainably sourced salads and bowls, focusing on seasonal ingredients and customization. 

See how each of these USPs tells a story and paints a vivid picture of the restaurant’s unique identity? That’s exactly what you want to aim for with your own USP.

Now, crafting a compelling USP is easier said than done. 

Our team of industry experts specializes in helping restaurateurs define and refine their USPs. 

Through in-depth strategy sessions, competitive analysis, and customer persona development, we guide you to distill the essence of what makes your restaurant one-of-a-kind.

The result? A cohesive, compelling brand story that cuts through the noise and brings hungry diners through your doors.

Building Your Restaurant's Digital Marketing Strategy

Let’s start from the beginning and help you understand where you can get started:

Setting SMART Goals

Setting SMART Goals

First things first, let’s talk about setting goals. And not just any goals – we’re talking SMART goals. 

These are goal-setting frameworks that help ensure the items on your list are achievable, practical, and relevant. 

What Does S.M.A.R.T Stand For?

Specific goals provide clarity and focus for the entire team.

Restaurants generate a wealth of data, from sales figures to inventory levels to customer feedback. By setting measurable goals, restaurants can track their progress, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions. 

Setting achievable goals helps to keep staff motivated and engaged. For instance, aiming to reduce food waste by 25% in a month might be unrealistic, but a 5-10% reduction could be achievable with proper training and monitoring.

Goals should align with the overall mission and vision of the restaurant. 

Restaurants operate on tight timelines, from daily service to seasonal menu changes. Setting time-bound goals creates a sense of urgency and helps to prioritize tasks. 

Why is this so important? Because without clear objectives, your digital marketing efforts will be about as effective as a fork in a bowl of soup.

For example, instead of a vague goal like “get more online reservations,” a SMART goal might be “increase online reservations by 25% in the next 6 months.” This gives you a specific target to aim for, a way to measure your progress, and a deadline to keep you on track.

With Restaurant Growth’s data-driven approach, we can analyze your past performance and industry benchmarks to ensure that your goals are ambitious yet achievable.

Identifying Your Target Audience

Identifying target audience for restaurant online marketing

Next up, let’s talk about your target audience. 

Who are they? What do they like? What motivates them to choose one restaurant over another? 

Creating detailed customer personas is key to answering these questions and tailoring your marketing messages accordingly.

Think about factors like age, income, location, dining preferences, and lifestyle habits. 

Maybe your ideal customer is a millennial foodie who loves trying new cuisines and is always on the lookout for Instagrammable dishes. 

Or perhaps it’s a busy family looking for a quick, affordable meal on the go.

Once you’ve got a clear picture of your target audience, you can start crafting marketing messages that speak directly to their needs and desires.

Choosing the Right Digital Marketing Channels

Now that you know who you’re talking to, it’s time to figure out where to reach them. There are a ton of digital marketing channels out there – from your website and social media to email marketing and online advertising. 

The key is to choose the ones that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Factors to consider include your target audience (where do they spend their time online?), your budget (some channels are more expensive than others), and your resources (do you have the time and skills to manage multiple channels effectively?).

Our team of experts specializes in creating a multi-channel digital marketing plan for restaurants that is tailored to their unique needs and goals. 

We help you identify the most effective channels for your business and create a plan to optimize your presence on each one.

So if you’re ready to take your restaurant’s marketing to the next level, let’s talk.

Optimizing Your Restaurant's Online Presence

Your potential customers are searching for dining options online, and if they can’t find you or aren’t impressed by what they see, they’ll quickly move on to your competitors.

But don’t worry, optimizing your online presence doesn’t have to be a daunting task. 

With a few key strategies and the right tools, you can create a digital footprint that will have hungry diners flocking to your restaurant in no time.

Creating a User-Friendly Website

First impressions are the last impressions in the restaurant industry. 

Your website is often the first point of contact between your restaurant and potential customers, so it’s important to make a great first impression. 

A successful restaurant website should include all the essential information that diners are looking for, such as your menu, location, contact details, and online ordering options (if available).

But it’s not just about the content – the design and navigation of your website are equally important. Your site should be visually appealing, easy to navigate, and optimized for mobile devices. 

With more and more people using their smartphones to search for restaurants on the go, a mobile-responsive website is a must-have.

Leveraging the Power of Social Media

online marketing for restaurants using social media

Social media is like the cool kid’s table in the cafeteria. You want to be there, and you want to be noticed. The most popular platforms for restaurants are Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Here’s how to make them work for you:

Showcase your mouthwatering creations with high-quality, drool-inducing photos. Make your followers want to lick their screens.

Give your customers a peek behind the curtain. Show off your chefs, your kitchen, and your team. People love a good story and emotional connections go a long way.

Encourage your customers to post photos of their meals and tag your restaurant. It’s like free advertising, and it builds trust and loyalty.

Using Email Marketing To Build Brand Awareness

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways for restaurants to nail down internet marketing. It can keep your regulars coming back with targeted promotions and exclusive offers. 

By collecting email addresses from your diners (with their permission, of course), you can stay in touch, share updates, and offer targeted promotions that drive repeat business.

To build your email list, you can offer incentives like a free appetizer or a discount code. You can also have your staff leverage in-store signups. 

Have your staff charm those email addresses out of your customers.

Segmentation Is Key

When creating your email campaigns, segment your list so you’re sending the right message to the right people. No one wants to receive a steakhouse promo if they’re a vegetarian. 

Timing Matters

Timing is everything. Take lunch special emails, for example. You don’t just fire them off willy-nilly and hope for the best. 

The idea is to strategically time them to hit inboxes right before the midday hunger pangs kick in. 

To do the same, you can set up automated schedules. These ensure that every email hits the inbox at the optimal time for maximum impact.

It’s all about being in the right place at the right time with the right message – and that’s exactly what you need to be good at.

Driving Traffic and Engagement with Content Marketing

By creating valuable content that resonates with your target audience, you can establish your brand as an industry leader in the realm of Internet marketing for restaurants.

Below we’ll explore the power of content marketing and reveal strategies to help you drive results through 

Developing a Content Strategy

The first step in any successful content marketing campaign is to develop a clear strategy. 

This means understanding your target audience and what types of content they’re most likely to engage with.

For example, when we partnered with a local farm-to-table restaurant, we knew their target audience was passionate about local, sustainable food. 

So we developed a content series that showcased their relationships with local farmers, complete with behind-the-scenes videos, farmer profiles, and seasonal recipe guides. 

The result? An increase in website traffic within 3 months and 3X order value.

Once you’ve identified the types of content you want to create, it’s time to start planning your content calendar.

Tools like Trello or Asana can help you stay organized and ensure that you’re consistently publishing fresh, relevant content.

Mastering the Art of Food Photography

Learning food photography for restaurant digital marketing

High-quality images can make your dishes look irresistible, enticing potential customers to visit your establishment and try them for themselves.

Here are some tricks you can use for taking mouth-watering food photos:

1. Use natural light whenever possible, and avoid harsh overhead lighting that can cast unflattering shadows.

2. Play with composition by using the rule of thirds, negative space, and interesting angles.

3. Style your dishes with complementary colors, textures, and garnishes to make them look as appealing as possible.

4. Edit your photos to enhance colors, brightness, and contrast, but be careful not to over-edit and make the food look unnatural.

When optimizing your images for the web, be sure to use descriptive file names and alt tags to improve your SEO.

Tools like Adobe Lightroom, Midjourney, or Canva can help you edit and resize your photos for different platforms.

Collaborating with Food Bloggers and Influencers

Working with food bloggers and influencers can help you reach new customers. They have loyal followers who trust their recommendations and are eager to try new restaurants.

To identify relevant influencers in your niche, start by searching for local food bloggers on Instagram or Google.

Look for individuals whose content aligns with your brand and who have engaged followings in your target demographic.

When reaching out to potential partners, be sure to personalize your pitch and explain why you think they would be a good fit for your brand.

Offer them something of value in exchange for their content, such as a complimentary meal or an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience.

For instance, when we worked with a vegan cafe, we reached out to a handful of popular plant-based bloggers and invited them to experience the cafe and share their honest reviews. 

We also coordinated an Instagram giveaway with each blogger, offering their followers a chance to win a meal at the cafe. 

The campaign generated a flood of user-generated content, thousands of new followers, and a significant uptick in foot traffic.

Maximizing Your Restaurant's Online Reputation

Your restaurant’s online reputation is just as important as the food you serve.

Here’s everything you need to know about actively monitoring and managing your online presence:

Monitoring and Responding to Reviews

Online reviews on platforms like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor can make or break your restaurant’s reputation. 

In fact, a Harvard Business School study found that a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating can lead to a 5-9% increase in revenue

But it’s not just about the star rating – the way you respond to reviews, both positive and negative, also speaks volumes about your business. 

How To Manage Your Restaurant’s Online Reputation?

To stay on top of your online reputation, set up Google Alerts for your restaurant’s name to be notified of new reviews. 

Respond to all reviews within 24-48 hours, thanking customers for positive feedback and addressing specific issues in negative reviews. 

You should also apologize for subpar experiences, invite customers to resolve situations directly, and always keep responses professional, empathetic, and solution-oriented.

Once you’ve accumulated a collection of glowing reviews, don’t let them just sit there – leverage them in your marketing efforts! 

User-Generated Content for Real Reviews

User-generated content (UGC) – think Instagram posts, TikTok videos, and blog reviews – is the ultimate form of social proof. It’s authentic, relatable, and incredibly influential.

79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions.

How to Create and Share UGC for Your Restaurant?

1. Create a branded hashtag and promote it on your menus, receipts, and in-store signage. 

2. Run a photo contest on Instagram, offering a prize for the best customer photo showcasing your food or atmosphere.

3. Repost customer UGC on your own social media profiles (with permission and proper credit).

4. Reach out to local food bloggers and invite them to come in for a complimentary meal in exchange for an honest review.

5. Once you’ve started collecting UGC, showcase it prominently on your website and social media channels.

6. Create a dedicated “Reviews” or “Our Customers” page on your site, and regularly share UGC in your Instagram Stories and Facebook posts.

7. To take your UGC strategy to the next level, consider partnering with influencers in your niche.

Utilizing the Power of Local SEO

To truly stand out in your local market, you need to harness the power of local SEO. 

Here’s how you can incorporate it as a robust digital marketing plan for your restaurant:

Optimize Your Google Business Profile Listing

Google Business Profile (GBP) listing is essentially your restaurant’s digital storefront on Google, and it’s crucial for local SEO.

A complete and accurate GBP listing can help your restaurant show up in local search results, Google Maps, and the coveted “local pack”.

Now what’s that? The top three listings that appear below the map in a local search.

So what goes into optimizing your GBP listing?

It’s all about the details.

Make sure your restaurant’s name, address, phone number, website, and hours of operation are all correct and consistent across the web.

Choose the right categories that describe your restaurant, and add mouthwatering photos of your dishes, interior, and exterior.

But the real deal? Reviews. Encourage your happy customers to leave reviews on your GBP listing. The more positive reviews you have, the higher you’ll rank in local search results.

Restaurant Growth’s local SEO experts conduct a comprehensive audit of your GBP listing, identifying areas for improvement. We make sure you’re putting your best foot forward on Google.

Building Local Citations

A local citation is when your restaurant’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) are mentioned online. Think directories, review sites, and business listings.

The more high-quality, consistent citations you have, the more credible your restaurant appears to Google.

But not all citations are created equal. 

If your restaurant’s NAP information is inconsistent across different platforms, it can actually hurt your local SEO.

This is why it is important to identify the most important local directories and ensure your information is accurate and up-to-date across the board.

Building Backlinks

Building backlinks as a digital marketing plan for restaurant

Backlinks are links from other websites to your restaurant’s website. These are also crucial for SEO.

Think of them as digital “votes of confidence” in your restaurant. The more high-quality, relevant backlinks you have, the more authority your website will have in Google’s eyes.

To nurture backlinks, identify local partnership opportunities, like teaming up with a local charity or sponsoring a community event.

You can also create compelling content that other local websites will want to link to. This could be a roundup of the best dishes in your cities or a guide to local food festivals.

Measuring and Refining Your Digital Marketing Efforts

Picture this: you’ve poured your heart and soul into crafting the perfect digital marketing strategy for your restaurant.

But how do you know if all that effort is actually paying off? That’s where measuring and refining your digital marketing efforts comes in.

Key Metrics To Track

To gauge the success of your restaurant’s digital marketing efforts, it’s crucial to track the right metrics. Here are some of the most important ones to keep an eye on:

1. Website Traffic

This metric tells you how many people are visiting your website. Tools like Google Analytics can provide detailed insights into your website traffic, including the number of unique visitors, page views, and bounce rates.

By monitoring these numbers, you can identify which marketing channels are driving the most traffic to your site.

2. Engagement Rates

Engagement rates measure how actively your audience interacts with your content on social media platforms. This includes likes, comments, shares, and clicks.

High engagement rates indicate that your content resonates with your audience, while low rates suggest that you may need to adjust your strategy.

Most social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, have built-in analytics tools to help you track engagement.

3. Conversion Rates

Conversion rates show how many of your website visitors or social media followers are taking desired actions, such as making a reservation or placing an online order.

To calculate your conversion rate, divide the number of conversions by the total number of visitors or followers and multiply by 100.

Tracking conversion rates helps you understand the effectiveness of your calls-to-action and identify potential barriers in your booking or ordering process.

Restaurant Growth’s In-House Dashboard

Regular reporting and analysis of the above-given metrics are essential for making data-driven decisions and optimizing the digital marketing strategy for restaurants.

Restaurant Growth’s advanced analytics dashboard simplifies this process by providing restaurateurs with real-time insights into their marketing performance.

This allows them to identify trends and areas for improvement quickly.

Continuously Optimizing Your Strategy

Once you’ve got a handle on your metrics, it’s time to start experimenting and optimizing your strategy.

A/B testing is your friend here – try out different versions of your website, social media posts, and email campaigns to see what resonates best with your audience.

For instance, Chipotle used insights from social media listening to inform their “For Real” campaign, which highlighted their commitment to using fresh, high-quality ingredients.

By tapping into what mattered most to their audience, they crafted a message that resonated and drove engagement.

The point is to not be afraid to mix things up and try new tactics. 

The digital marketing world is always evolving, and staying on top of the latest trends and best practices is key to staying ahead of the game.

How To Utilize Technology for Effective Restaurant Online Marketing?

A solid digital marketing plan for a restaurant goes beyond typing out promotional messages manually and sending each one to your customers. It involves leveraging technology to reach a wider audience and increase customer engagement.

Here are some ways to effectively use technology for restaurant online marketing:

Use AI for Personalization

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way restaurants approach marketing. 

You can use AI-powered tools like Mailchimp and Salesforce Marketing Cloud to create personalized email campaigns, recommending menu items based on past orders and preferences.

You can also use platforms like Persado to generate tailored ad copy and social media content, and chatbots like MobileMonkey and ManyChat to engage customers in personalized conversations, offering promotions and answering queries.

For example, Starbucks uses its Deep Brew AI technology to send personalized offers to customers via their mobile app, based on factors like purchase history and location.

McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield, an AI-powered personalization platform, to display customized menu items on their drive-thru screens based on time of day, weather, and trending items.

Use Voice Search

Using voice search for digital marketing for restaurants

With the rise of smart speakers and virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, voice search is becoming increasingly important for restaurants.

In fact, 76% of smart speaker owners conduct local searches at least weekly.

Now, restaurants can get creative and really make the most of voice assistants to enhance the dining experience.

Just take a look at this awesome example from Domino’s using Alexa to order pizza.

Similarly, TGI Fridays uses Google Assistant to provide wait times and booking reservations.

Denny’s has a skill on Alexa that lets users play a choose-your-own-adventure game, engaging customers while subtly promoting the brand.

To optimize for voice search, restaurants should focus on conversational, long-tail keywords that match how people speak.

For instance, instead of targeting “best pizza NYC,” aim for “Where can I find the best thin-crust pizza in Manhattan?”

Remember that for voice search to be a success for your business, your restaurant’s information (e.g., hours, address, menu) has to be up-to-date and consistent across platforms like Google My Business, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.

Acing Digital Marketing For Restaurants

Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the essential strategies and tactics that can help you master digital marketing for the restaurants’ industry. 

But let’s be real – as a busy restaurant owner, you’ve got a lot on your plate (pun intended). 

Between managing your staff, perfecting your menu, and keeping your customers happy, who has time to become an expert in online marketing for restaurants?

That’s where you can seek the help of restaurant marketing companies like Restaurant Growth

By taking measurable actions, such companies help you drive measurable ROI without you having to do the hard work. 

This way, you can focus on what you do best – managing your restaurant and providing exceptional service to your customers.

FAQs

How digital marketing can help restaurants?

Digital marketing helps restaurants reach a wider audience, increase brand awareness, and drive sales. Through social media, email marketing, and online advertising, restaurants can showcase their menu, promotions, and unique offerings.

What type of marketing do restaurants use?

Restaurants employ various marketing strategies, including social media marketing, email marketing, and online advertising. They also use traditional methods such as print ads, flyers, and billboards.

Many restaurants partner with food delivery apps and offer loyalty programs to attract and retain customers. 

What is the best marketing for restaurants?

The best marketing strategy for restaurants depends on their target audience, budget, and goals. However, a combination of digital and traditional marketing techniques is often the most effective.

Social media marketing, email campaigns, and online advertising help restaurants reach a broader audience, while local events, partnerships, and community involvement build brand loyalty and drive word-of-mouth referrals.

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Luke Januschka
Luke Januschka is a pivotal partner at Restaurant Growth, where he spearheads strategies that have generated over 30 million dollars in tracked sales for our valued restaurant clients.
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