At TRA Marketplace 2019, marketing gurus Kamal Heikal of Ben E. Keith, Linda Veatch of Fuzzy’s Taco, Rachel Lewis of Hometown Social, and Thomas Nguyen of Peli Peli got together to have a discussion about successful marketing tactics for restaurants. They recommended a few key pieces of advice for restaurateurs looking to step up their marketing game.
By now, social media is practically old news. And yet, some restaurateurs aren’t sure how to use it to their full advantage. If you’re just getting started on social media, or merely looking to gain new followers, there’s one simple piece of advice from the panelists: keep it simple.
While numerous social media platforms exist, and new ones are continuously popping up, you don’t need to be a part of all of them. Pick one platform (maybe two) and get really good at it. The two most common, and best, platforms for restaurants are: Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook is a great restaurant platform because it provides customers with information. On Facebook, you can: list hours, offer specials, feature customer reviews, advertise events, and start conversations with customers. Facebook is a great tool for restaurants that don’t want to build a website but desire an online presence to provide legitimacy to their business.
If you’ve got a product that looks drool-worthy in a photo, Instagram is the social media tool for you. Many restaurants use Instagram because food is such a visual medium. Instagram is all about eye-candy and selling your restaurant with images.
Facebook and Instagram pair well together because one is informative, while the other provides visual advertising. Once you’ve built up a base of followers on Facebook and/or Instagram, then you can think about adding other social media platforms.
Don’t forget: keep it simple. Having an account on a social media platform doesn’t get you anything. You have to invest the time and effort to find followers, and turn those followers into profit for your restaurant.
While you might hate review websites such as Yelp, they’re not going anywhere. Hate them all you want, you’re going to have to live with them. The sooner you recognize that, the sooner you can use this tool to improve your business and take control of the customer conversation surrounding your restaurant.
Certainly, some comments that come through on Yelp and other review sites are impossibly unhappy customers. But, in every negative comment, there’s also a nugget of truth. It’s important to monitor review sites to look for constructive criticism and ways to continuously improve your service, food, and restaurant. Swallow that ego and search for the potential to improve.
Always remember: customers have a choice. If you think they’re not using review sites, you’re wrong. A TripAdvisor survey from 2018 shows that 94% of diners will choose a restaurant based on online reviews. If they have a choice between a 3 and 4-star restaurant, which do you think they’ll choose?
The best advice from the panelists when it came to online review sites was two-fold:
- Always respond constructively to negative reviews. (e.g.: Thank you for your feedback.)
- Take the conversation offline.
When you respond to negative reviews on review sites, offer publicly to discuss the matter further with the person to get more information, and to better inform how you’ll work towards fixing the problem in the future.
This demonstrates to the commenter that you’re listening to their feedback, and shows other people looking at the review site that you’re actively taking steps to engage with your community and striving to always improve your business. That’s a win-win!
While some companies have moved away from email marketing in the age of social media, it’s still a valid marketing technique.
While social media is a space for customers interested in trying your restaurant for the first time, email marketing is reserved for your most loyal customers. Emails to these customers can be used to provide them with insider information, such as menu changes or seasonal discounts.
Two tips for upping your email marketing game from the panelists include:
- Craft strong, relevant subject lines.
- Use emotional words. (Example: “5 reasons you can’t miss our event” instead of “5 reasons to come to our event.”
A newer type of marketing is influencer marketing. The way this works is your restaurant hires someone with a large social media following to craft a post reviewing your restaurant. If successful, their post will drive new people to your business.
As a newer type of marketing, there’s a lot of misconceptions about influencer marketing. Yes, Kim Kardashian is a highly-sought-after, successful influencer, but you don’t need her (nor can you likely afford her rates) to review your restaurant.
A new trend, called nano-influencers, is something to consider. These influences have follower counts than range from 1k to 10k. These influencers should be local to your area.
According to the panelists, when looking for nano-influencers with whom to work, you’ll want to look not only at their follower count, but also investigate their interactions with followers and overall aesthetic. Follower engagement is more important than follower count because some influencers buy followers, or are followed by a number of bots. Look to engagement and comments to ensure you’re choosing an influencer with an authentic following.
Influencers work in different ways. Some seek payment for writing reviews, while others are interested in diversifying their content for their followers and are happy to review a restaurant that they genuinely like; all you have to do is ask.
No matter the financial arrangement between you and the influencer, it’s important to discuss expectations. Make sure you know what type of post they intend to make and what they expect in return.
Marketing is growing increasingly personalized each year. Often, it can feel like you funnel marketing dollars into techniques that have very little visible return. Focus on covering the basics, providing potential customers with information about your business, drool-worthy images of your food, and a positive brand tone on review websites and you’re well on your way to remarkable marketing.
Didn't get a chance to see this session live at 2019 TRA Marketplace? Check it out on our YouTube channel below.