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Restaurant marketing 101: an overview

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By Tock Staff

In today’s highly competitive dining industry, having a robust restaurant marketing plan is essential for any establishment to thrive. Whether you’re just starting out or aiming to boost your existing business, understanding the fundamentals of marketing can significantly impact your success. 

This restaurant marketing 101 guide will walk you through the essential steps to creating a comprehensive restaurant marketing plan, featuring real-life examples to help you visualize the process. You’ll have a clear marketing blueprint for crafting an effective plan that drives traffic and boosts your restaurant’s visibility.


Step 1: Define your restaurant branding

An effective restaurant marketing plan should start with your restaurant branding. 

Focus on your brand personality, or the set of qualities and values that define your brand. This can differentiate your restaurant, create emotional connections with guests, and influence guest perception and behavior. 

One way to define your brand’s personality is to personify your restaurant, assigning it emotional traits. Consider these brand personality archetypes as a starting point:

  • Welcoming and friendly: Creates a comfortable and inviting atmosphere through warm hospitality and community focus.
  • Sophisticated and elegant: Offers refined experiences with high attention to detail.
  • Innovative and trendy: Attracts a younger, adventurous demographic with cutting-edge experiences.
  • Authentic and cultural: Provides genuine, culturally-rooted experiences for diners seeking tradition.
  • Casual and fun: Delivers a relaxed and enjoyable dining atmosphere, ideal for families and groups.

Visual design elements such as logos, color schemes, fonts, photography, menu design, and even uniforms can play a crucial role in reinforcing your brand identity. Your logo is the face of your brand and sets the tone for your visual language. 

Your restaurant’s voice is another defining element of brand personality, and can include style, tone, and language. It’s important to develop a voice that’s authentic and consistent across channels. It should also appeal to your target audience or ideal guest. Sometimes, finding the right voice can take several iterations.

What do you bring to the table?

To effectively market your restaurant, it is helpful to start with a clear sense of purpose for your business. This means clearly articulating a vision and mission for your restaurant as well as a unique value proposition for your guests. 

Tock Tip: You can also utilize these elements in your employee handbook to ensure your staff understands the goals of your business.

Who are your guests?

When you understand who you’re speaking to, you can communicate effectively and authentically. Try answering the following questions:

  • Who is your ideal guest?
  • What motivates your guests to dine with you?
  • What gets your guests to come back?


Step 2: Build (or refresh) your website

Your restaurant’s website is a virtual representation of your physical space and your brand personality. What you choose to include (or omit) helps to define your brand. A unique website can intrigue guests while giving them a preview of what to expect when they come to dine. No matter how you design it, aim for a clean, fast-loading site consistent with your brand identity, and be sure your restaurant’s information is up-to-date and easy to find. 

Here are a few ways to optimize your website for search engines:

  • Utilize strategic keywords
  • Customize meta titles and descriptions for your website
  • Ensure your site is mobile-responsive

Try paid search engine marketing

Paid search campaigns are a form of online marketing where businesses pay to rank higher on search engine result pages (SERPs), primarily via pay-per-click (PPC) models like Google Ads.

To give it a try, choose a keyword you want your website to rank for and start a campaign. For optimal outcomes, focus on long-tail keywords as they have clearer search intent and less competition. For example, opt for “top nigiri spot in Manhattan” instead of “best sushi in NYC”. The higher the competition, the more you’ll pay for each click.


Step 3: Set up your Google Business Profile

Your Google Business Profile is how your restaurant shows up in search results on Google and Google Maps. These are two of the first places people turn to looking for restaurants. 

Google recommends restaurants to searchers based on signals like rating, review count, proximity, and keywords, as well as potential customer demographics, interests, and behavior. When guests search using the term “restaurants near me”, the goal is for them to find your business. Optimizing your Google Business Profile is how you make that happen.

How to Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Consider the following content when optimizing your Profile:

    • Description: Emphasize your restaurant’s value and differentiators with relevant keywords. 
    • Attributes: Add characteristics about your restaurant to help guests make an informed choice.
    • Hours: List up-to-date hours of operation.
    • Photos: Showcase popular dishes, atmosphere, and people.
    • Menu: Display your latest menu.
    • Reservations: Integrate with Reserve with Google through Tock so guests can book a table from your profile.
    • Online ordering: Link your online ordering platforms.


Step 4: Extend your reach through social media

Social media is an essential part of your digital marketing strategy. Think of social media as an opportunity to connect with new audiences, build a community of loyal followers, and get to know your guests better.

Regularly posting organic content to your social media profile is a great way to build and nurture a community of followers through authentic content and genuine interactions without paid social media advertisements.

Use these best practices to help guide your organic content strategy:

  • Spark conversations: Asking questions that invite your audience to share their opinions or experiences is a great way to initiate conversations. 
  • Respond to comments and questions: Similar to your Google Business Profile, your audience will feel valued if you take the time to respond. 
  • Be consistent: One of the most important factors that impact social media growth is consistency. If you post quality content consistently, your followers will grow. 

Try boosting engagement rates by asking questions and using interactive features like Instagram Story stickers and polls. 

High engagement rates tell the social platform algorithms that people like your content, which results in your content getting pushed to more users. The algorithm will show your post to users similar to those who already engaged with it. That’s what makes authentic engagement from your target audience so important. If you get various likes and comments from people outside your target audience, the algorithm will push your post to the wrong audience.

Try paid social media content

​​Paid advertising is a great way to generate awareness and drive additional covers. Try running a campaign next time you promote a time-sensitive offer, seasonal special, or event. Use paid ads to reach new audiences or retarget people who have interacted with your restaurant before, such as website visitors or social media engagers.


Step 5: Experiment with email marketing

Email marketing is a highly effective method for fostering relationships with loyal guests, driving restaurant reservations, and boosting sales. Here are some steps you can take to implement email outreach into your restaurant marketing strategy:

  • Define your campaign goal: Choose a goal for your email campaign, like increasing reservations or highlighting an upcoming event.
  • Grow your audience: Collect emails from your website, reservation platform, POS, or other sources.
  • Choose an email marketing platform: Streamline your outreach by organizing your email list, campaigns, and analytics.
  • Write your email: Choose an engaging subject line that prompts guests to open your email, then follow up with engaging content that aligns with your campaign goal.


Step 6: Set up your online review platforms

Online reviews heavily influence purchasing decisions. Proactive restaurants safeguard their online reputation by monitoring reviews as they come.

Claim your business and fill out profiles on all major review sites.

The right reservation platform can increase ROI, streamline restaurant operations, and elevate the guest experience. Here are some tips for effective reservation platform management:

  • Keep your information up-to-date
  • Optimize availability
  • Manage your waitlist
  • Send confirmation and reminders
  • Set a cancellation policy


Step 7: Choose your out-of-home marketing channels

Traditional marketing can complement digital marketing strategies by reaching potential guests in different channels and locations. Consider giving the following traditional marketing channels a try:

  • Print ads: Run print ads in local magazines and newspapers
  • Sponsorships: Sponsor local sports teams or events
  • Partnerships: Collaborate with neighboring businesses on charity initiatives
  • Signage: Invest in signage that is not just clearly visible, but also reflects your brand


Step 8: Set your budget

Your marketing budget plays a significant role in dictating what you include in your strategy. Consider industry benchmarks to inform your budget allocation. Factor in the marketing channels you plan to use, seasonal trends, and potential ROI projections. Maintain flexibility to adjust the budget as needed based on campaign performance and evolving market conditions.


Step 9: Define your strategy

Your restaurant marketing strategy doesn’t have to include every marketing channel mentioned above to be successful. The goal is to create an integrated marketing strategy to reach your audience where they are, and that can only happen if your team has the resources and necessary bandwidth.


Step 10: Make your content calendar

A content calendar will help you stay organized and consistent with your messaging across all marketing channels. Try structuring the calendar by mapping out key dates, events, and promotions. The more you review and update your content calendar, the more agile and responsive you can be as trends and guest preferences evolve.


Ready to taste the next course?

Crafting an effective restaurant marketing plan is a multifaceted process that involves understanding your brand, defining your goals, and utilizing both digital and traditional marketing channels. Download the full 33-page Restaurant Marketing 101 guide complete with restaurant marketing plan examples for a deep dive on how to execute your restaurant marketing plan—it’s free!

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