Restaurant Marketing Strategies: 9 Ways to Stay Booked and Busy

As a restaurant owner, you’re always contending with a never-ending list of responsibilities. Some tasks, like restaurant marketing, can fall to the wayside because they’re less time-sensitive. 

But without a restaurant marketing plan, your restaurant’s bottom line might be suffering! Whether you’re starting a new restaurant or trying to attract more customers to your already bustling establishment, prospective customers need to know what kind of dining experience you can offer them. Marketing is the key to reaching your target customer. 

But where do you start?If you’re overwhelmed by developing your restaurant’s marketing strategy from scratch, you’re in the right place. We break the process down step by step so you can create your own marketing strategy with the confidence of a seasoned marketing professional.

Why market your restaurant?

Once upon a time, flashing neon signs were all it took to entice customers to visit restaurants. For better or worse, modern consumers need a little more convincing!

Today’s customers are spoiled for choice, and they want to spend their hard-earned dollars on a great meal and a fantastic meal experience. When these savvy consumers are looking for a dynamic dish, they usually start with an online search. 

But with over 750,000 restaurants to compete with, keeping your restaurant afloat means more than simply showing up in a Google search. And while mouth-watering food and a friendly and capable team can go a long way, the long-term success of your restaurant relies on consistently attracting and retaining customers.

That’s where your restaurant marketing strategy comes in. A restaurant marketing plan can include anything from printed advertisements and limited-time offers to how you interact with customers on social media.

Like many other managerial responsibilities, marketing has traditionally been assigned to overworked managers who don’t have time to give any real thought to long-term strategy. But today, 34% of restaurants have a dedicated marketing employee

Why the shift? Because restaurant owners are learning that effective marketing helps businesses:

  • Boost their brand identity
  • Increase visibility
  • Engage with customers
  • Promote offers and events
  • Enhance online presence
  • Build community relationships
  • Stay competitive
  • Increase revenue

Marketing really is that powerful. Here’s our take on the latest restaurant marketing ideas and trends so you can create a restaurant marketing strategy that delivers all those juicy benefits.

Effective restaurant marketing trends to boost your business.

While tried-and-true methods like email marketing and loyalty programs will always have their place, embracing new marketing trends can amplify your results. So, let’s take a look at what’s trending this year to help you prioritize your efforts.

TikTok: With a staggering 65 million monthly active users in the U.S. alone, TikTok has much more to offer than just viral dance routines. The platform is a potential goldmine for attracting new customers: up to 36% of users visit or order from a restaurant after watching a video about it on the app.

User-Generated Content (UGC): If you’re familiar with influencer marketing, UGC is a sort of spiritual successor. User-generated content is essentially any media, be it photos, videos, or testimonials, created by your customers that promotes your restaurant.

Recent studies have shown that 79% of purchasing decisions are influenced by UGC. The best part? It comes at a fraction of the cost, offering some of the best value for your marketing efforts.

AI Chatbots: Another rising trend? Implementing AI chatbots to take customer orders, provide recommendations, and address customer inquiries. Admittedly, this investment can be significant. However, if your small business doesn’t have a dedicated customer service team, a chatbot can bridge the gap while saving you up to 30% on customer support costs.

How to create a restaurant marketing plan.

Don’t get turned around in the web marketing whirlwind! We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to market your restaurant into its next dinner rush.

Step 1: Define your marketing objectives.

Ask yourself: What do you hope to result from your restaurant marketing plan? Goals could include increasing foot traffic, boosting online orders, or improving brand awareness ahead of your grand opening. 

Make sure your goals are specific and measurable so success is in your grasp. For instance, if your objective is to boost online orders, your goal could be to increase orders by 15% at the end of two months. With specific goals in mind, it’s easier to come up with the strategies and promotions that will help you get there. It’s also a great way to see when your marketing plan is reaping results.

Step 2: Focus on what makes your restaurant unique.

Making your restaurant stand out in a sea of options means highlighting what makes your establishment unique. 

Maybe you’re a farm-to-table restaurant that sources local produce or a Mexican restaurant whipping up authentic recipes passed down through generations. No matter your speciality, lean into what makes your restaurant special. That’s what’s going to draw in customers and keep them coming back for more.

Step 3: Identify your ideal customer.

Though all restaurants should be thrilled to fill any table, most have an ideal customer in mind. While developing your marketing plan, get as specific as you can about your target market. 

If you’re having trouble nailing down the details, grab a few members of your team and create a couple of customer personas with detailed backstories. It may seem unnecessary, but creating messaging that resonates with your audience will be much easier if you’re marketing to Marcia instead of the masses! 

Step 4: Conduct a competitive analysis.

Next, you’ll want to conduct a comprehensive analysis of your restaurant and how it compares to your biggest competitors. Start by identifying the top-performing restaurants in your area and answer the following questions:

  • What are they doing well? What are they not doing well?
  • How is your restaurant different from theirs? 
  • Which of their strategies can you adopt to be more successful? 

With your competition in mind, perform a SWOT analysis to determine your restaurant’s key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This will help you figure out where you stand out in the market.

Step 5: Develop your messaging.

Now comes the fun part: coming up with a message that will convince your target market to walk through your front doors. 

When you’re constructing your message, focus on authenticity and consistency. That means that your customers should be getting the same vibe when they’re perusing your lunch menu, scrolling through your socials, or walking through the front door. 

It can also be helpful to identify the media platforms where your target demographic is most active so you can craft a distribution game plan. For example, a casual and affordable tapas restaurant targeting millennials and Gen Z might have more success reaching their audience on Instagram or TikTok than advertising on a local radio station.  

Step 6: Set your marketing budget.

If you’re new to setting a marketing budget, start small before expanding. Start by reviewing your past marketing expenditures to understand where your money has been spent most effectively. 

Then, drawing on your goals, available resources, and expected ROI, allocate your funds across different channels and campaigns. We’ll talk a little bit more about return on investment in a second to help you with this process.

Step 7: Build out your marketing calendar.

Once you’ve established your strategy and budget, it’s time to build out your marketing calendar.

  • Create a detailed timeline of marketing activities, campaigns, promotions, and holidays.
  • Set aside several content creation days. “Content batching” will allow you to pump out multiple marketing campaigns in one go, which is much more efficient than producing content weekly.
  • Schedule publication dates for social media posts, email marketing, and any other channels that are part of your restaurant marketing strategy. Even though you (hopefully) made your content in advance, spread your campaigns out over time.

Step 8: Put your plan into action.

With all the prep work out of the way, all that’s left to do for your marketing plan is… well, to do it! Follow your marketing calendar for the most part, but be open to changes—unexpected events are inevitable. If another local business wants to do a pop-up shop exchange, make it happen!  It’s more important to have marketing material in the tank than it is to follow your plan to the letter.

Step 9: Monitor, review, and revise.

Tracking key performance indicators (like sales and foot traffic) as you implement different parts of your marketing plan. Take careful notes: what’s working? What’s not generating any results? How is the campaign helping you meet your goals—or not? 

This information will be critical for your next marketing campaign. Remember, marketing isn’t just one and done. You’ll want to keep new customers always rolling in, and that means reaching new markets all the time!

Restaurant marketing strategies: 9 ways to bring in the customers.

Looking for inspiration to kickstart your marketing efforts? Here are some of the latest restaurant marketing ideas and trends to spark your creativity.

1. Make mouthwatering social media posts.

With younger generations flocking to visual social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, mouthwatering photo and video content has never been more important. In fact, 55% of 701 surveyed TikTok users visited a restaurant because the food looked appetizing on TikTok, and another 20% traveled from another city for the same reason.

2. Encourage user-generated content.

Create branded hashtags, host photo contests, or feature customer posts on your restaurant’s social media accounts to encourage more customers to share their dining experiences. Not getting the Instagram buzz you’ve been craving? Offer incentives like discounts or freebies for customers who tag your restaurant in their posts.

3. Host exclusive events.

Create buzz and attract food enthusiasts by hosting exclusive events such as chef’s tasting menus, wine pairing dinners, or cooking classes. To amplify your reach and generate even more excitement, offer local food bloggers or influencers complimentary meals or exclusive experiences in exchange for social media coverage, reviews, or sponsored posts.

4. Partner with online ordering and delivery platforms.

Although you will have to sacrifice a portion of your profits, partnering with popular food delivery apps will help you reach more customers who prefer the convenience of dining at home. 

Not a fan of splitting your profits? Develop your own online ordering system and offer special discounts or free delivery promotions to incentivize customers to order directly from your website.

5. Implement a customer loyalty program.

Create a loyalty program that rewards your customers for their continued support. This can be as simple as a punch card that provides a free item after a certain number of purchases or a points system that allows customers to save up for discounts, freebies, or exclusive perks. 

If you opt for the latter, you’ll have the added benefit of collecting more email addresses—which can support future email marketing initiatives.

6. Engage with the local community

Become an integral part of your local community by partnering with neighboring businesses to cross-promote each other’s offerings and attract customers. Or sponsor a local kids’ sports team and offer a discount for all those post-game celebratory dinners.

7. Build out your email list for email marketing campaigns.

Whether your customers use their email to book reservations online or to sign up for your loyalty program, you probably have a larger audience than you think. Make the most of it by sending out regular newsletters with menu updates, promotions, and exclusive offers to drive repeat business.

If you really want to hone in on target markets, segment your email list based on customer preferences and behavior to deliver targeted content that resonates with each audience segment.

8. Create buzz with limited-time offers.

Not only have limited-time offers (LTOs) been shown to boost sales by as much as 20%, but customers are 81% more likely to visit a restaurant during a limited-time offer. That makes it one of the best marketing strategies to attract new customers. Promote these offers through email marketing, social media posts, and targeted advertising to maximize visibility and drive foot traffic. 

Don’t forget to track which specials do well, as this can provide valuable insights into customer preferences for future LTOs.

9. Track your online reviews.

Our last tip? Stay on top of your online reviews—the good and the bad. Positive reviews are a great source of social proof that can be used in your marketing. Even negative ones can offer an opportunity:  posting a polite response can minimize damage and even show customers that you appreciate their feedback. 

Leverage these 6 restaurant marketing tools for a stellar campaign.

Whether you’re your own marketing department or you have a dedicated team, these restaurant marketing tools can help streamline your marketing efforts and reach your ideal customer:

  • Google My Business: Connected to Google Maps, optimizing your Google My Business Profile makes it easy for customers to find accurate info (like your location and hours of operation), enticing food and restaurant photos, and positive reviews. 
  • Hootsuite: This social media management tool makes managing and scheduling posts easier and more efficient across platforms. With features like content calendars and analytics, stay on top of your posts, track engagement, and ensure your next marketing campaigns are even more successful than the last. 
  • OpenTable: This online reservation platform simplifies the table booking process, reduces no-shows, optimizes table availability, and eases pressure on your front-of-house staff.
  • Mailchimp: Automate messaging, segment your email list, and optimize your email marketing strategy with real-time reporting with this dynamic, template-ready app. 
  • Toast: This platform seamlessly merges POS and CRM functionalities to help you track customer preferences, personalize marketing efforts, manage loyalty programs, and generate detailed metrics reports. 
  • Google Analytics: This tool provides real-time data on website traffic, user behavior, and online marketing effectiveness, making it easier to stay on top of your goals.

Hot restaurant marketing campaigns from successful businesses. 

Your restaurant’s marketing budget may never match up to the fast food big guns, but there’s no cost to learning from the best in the business! Think about how these success stories can help inspire your next restaurant marketing campaign.

Social media superstar: McDonald’s

What they did: McDonald’s “Raise Your Arches” campaign ingeniously captured the enthusiasm customers feel when thinking about enjoying a Big Mac or a McFlurry. By playing off the similarity between their iconic golden arches and an enthusiastic eyebrow raise, they encouraged customers to share their own eyebrow-raising videos in appreciation of their favorite McDonald’s items.

The results: With more than 5 million views on TikTok and over 1,000 posts on Instagram, this campaign was a hit—and showed why McDonald’s continues to be one of the best in the business. 

Wondering how to emulate this strategy without a globally known symbol like McDonald’s golden arches? Start by zeroing in on your customers’ experience. Odds are that your customers think there’s something iconic about your restaurant. Maybe your ‘golden arches’ move is to invite customers to playfully battle for the last bite of your strawberry cheesecake, or host a hot wings eating competition where the winner gets one free plate of wings a month.

Whatever makes your restaurant unique, don’t just use it to create unique campaigns or offerings—though that’s a good start. Leverage social media to showcase customer stories and encourage user-generated content! UGC organically amplifies your message and fosters a stronger connection with your community.

Email marketing expert: Chipotle

What they did: Knowing that many of their loyal members take pride in their unique orders, Chipotle introduced the Chipotle Doppelgänger campaign. The goal? To show that no matter how unique customers think their orders are, others are ordering the exact same thing.

The results: Within the first month, Chipotle sent out 466,000 Doppelgänger emails, achieving a click rate 176% higher than usual. The results? An impressive $4.8 million in revenue and the Gold award in Creative Data at the 2023 Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity.

The best part about this success story is that it can be easily (and affordably) recreated on a smaller scale. Start by collecting customer data through loyalty program sign-ups or purchases. Then use an email marketing platform like Mailchimp to send targeted messages to your audience based on their interests or behavior. Offer exclusive discounts or promotions to encourage engagement and track metrics (like open and click-through rates) to measure your campaign’s success.

Don’t have a mailing list? No problem! Start with a campaign to encourage your customers to sign up, for example by offering a discount to all new members of your mailing list.

How to measure the ROI of your marketing efforts. 

To determine whether your restaurant marketing plan was successful, it’s important to understand how to calculate return on investment (ROI). Here’s how:

  1. Calculate total sales during the promotion period.
  2. Deduct the cost of goods sold (COGS) to find the gross profit.
  3. Add up all marketing costs, including email marketing, paid ads, and physical materials.
  4. Divide the gross profit by total marketing expenses to get your campaign’s ROI percentage. 

What does your ROI percentage actually mean? Well, if your ROI percentage is 500%, that means for every $1.00 you spent on marketing, you made $5 in profit—showing you exactly how successful your marketing campaign was. 

If your ROI is less than 100%… well, that’s why they call it trial and error. By the definition of business success, you don’t want to be spending more than you’re taking in! 

Calculate the effectiveness of each individual marketing measure to identify what worked about your campaign, what didn’t, and how you can refine your marketing efforts going forward.

Mastering your restaurant marketing plan could be the difference between empty seats and a mile-long waitlist. Don’t have the time to focus on marketing with all your other duties? Let Homebase handle scheduling and time tracking, so you can spend more time growing your business—and less time sweating the small stuff.

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