7 Creative Digital Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

7 Creative Digital Marketing Ideas for Restaurants
Vahag Aydinyan

By Vahag Aydinyan

Table of Contents

    Having an online presence that’s consistent, accessible, and engaging is one of the best ways for your restaurant to make a great first impression to prospective customers.

    Not convinced? Picture this: It’s a Sunday. You wake up, have a coffee, and decide that it’s a perfect day to go out for a nice brunch. You’re craving eggs benedict, and you want to go somewhere that’s well-reviewed, close to you, and not too busy. The first thing you’re going to do is search online for a place that meets these criteria, right?

    That’s why digital marketing is so important. Now more than ever, people are going online first and foremost when they want to find a new restaurant or learn more about one they’d like to try. And if that information isn’t there, people will go somewhere else.

    Consider the fact that 30% of 18-35 year olds will actively avoid restaurants with a weak Instagram presence. A strong online brand isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s a necessity.

    Read on to learn more about creative digital marketing ideas you can get started on today.

    1. Engage your Customers with Loyalty Programs

    Restaurant loyalty programs have come a long way from the days of the “10 stamps on a business card = 1 free beverage” system. While they now come in many forms, the basis of most loyalty programs is similar: The customer collects points, then redeems those points for free stuff. The experience you create for customers, however, is what will set you apart from the competition. There are a few things you can do to take your loyalty program to the next level.

    Go Paperless

    While paper-based loyalty programs have the benefit of giving something physical to the customer to keep, a paperless loyalty program is much more flexible for the customer, allowing them to receive updates and offers over email, a mobile app, or a loyalty card.

    A paperless loyalty program also lets you interact with the customer when you’re not top-of-mind. A mobile app in particular allows customers to create a profile, track their rewards, get exposed to the brand more frequently, and, most importantly, receive new offers.

    Integrating your mobile app with your POS takes things a step further by helping you gather more meaningful data and provide exceptional customer service. There are customer recognition POS systems that can help you adopt multiple customer engagement tools, including loyalty programs.

    Level Up with Gamification

    For bigger, multi-location restaurants, you have the option to take your loyalty program even further and implement gamification to increase customer loyalty and engagement. Gamification can come in the form of customized progress tracking, badges, surveys, and rewards.

    One (admittedly extreme) example of gamification was Domino’s “Points for Pies” program, where customers could earn points for eating pizza—any pizza, from any restaurant—and redeem their points for a free Domino’s pie.

    2. Capture Your Community with Local Ads

    Local advertisement is a powerful tool to increase both foot traffic and your online presence. It’s easy to create and run super-targeted, low-cost ads that can be optimized to be delivered to the right customer at the right time. Here are a few tips on how to advertise a restaurant online:  

    Search Ads

    Search ads are a highly effective way to deliver the right message at the right time to a potential customer who knows exactly what they want.

    Whether people are looking for a romantic spot for date night, something to satisfy their sweet tooth, or somewhere they can grab a quick lunch, creating ads based on the keywords that are specific to your business will help you stand out among competitors in Google search results and provide a custom call to action for searchers.

    Here are some examples of ad results showing in the map section while users search for your keywords + “near me”:

    Mobile Ads

    A number of online searches come from people trying to find something on the go. It’s important to get their attention during these consumer micro-moments as it increases the chance that you will win the customer.

    Mobile ads also allow you to create an exceptional experience for the customer by providing directions to your location, allowing them to make immediate reservations, and featuring relevant reviews.

    Take a look at this graph showing search trends for the keyword "dinner near me" over the last 5 years. The graph trend speaks for itself.

    Awareness Campaigns

    Awareness campaigns include social media ads such as Facebook and/or Instagram ads that reach out to a specific audience in a specific location (for example, people between 20 to 55 years old living within a 5km radius of your restaurant). It can include a photo of the facade of your restaurant and compelling copy.

    If you have the budget for an awareness campaign, it’s a great way to create a good relationship with the community your restaurant is located in. This helps build profitable relationships with members of your community, and also  gives the right recommendations to people who are new to the area.

    A Tip: Optimize Your Ads Around People’s Routines

    While running online ads for your restaurant, it’s important to optimize them for timing and location. People who plan their breakfast, lunch, or dinner do it some time before they actually walk in. Someone who wants to quickly find something for lunch will be searching between 11:00 am to 12:30 pm, so you can aggressively spend your budget between those times.

    Location targeting is another useful tool that allows you to target people who are within a 10 minute commute to your restaurant. You can easily do this with Google Ads’ radius targeting.

    3. Optimize Your Listings

    There are a number of platforms that customers use to search for restaurants. Although some of them may be may have more traffic and users than others, it’s still a good idea to be present on as many high-quality listings as possible. Most restaurant folks know about the major players like Yelp and TripAdvisor, but there are hidden gems like Google My Business and Facebook (Local Business) that can be very effective, too.

    Google My Business

    As Google My Business (GMB) is created and powered by Google Search, it’s the best type of listing when it comes to location and keyword relevance. The account allows you to add a long description, provide an option for receiving reviews and responding to them, post any blog posts you have, share restaurant and food pictures, and allow customers to share their own photos.

    Another useful GMB feature is the charts showing popular/busy times. It helps customers to plan their visits, which in turn will help you with projections and planning. It is also highly recommended to include your contact information on the listing, including your website URL or a link to your menu page, your phone number, and your restaurant’s address.

    GMB also provides a number of functional benefits, like enabling table reservations right from the listing.

    GMB is becoming the leading business listing platform because of its relevance and just-in-time approach. It helps to put your business/brand in front of potential customers when they search for it. It also rarely recommends or features a business account that is far from the customer or closed at that time.

    You can create your Google My Business account here.

    Facebook

    Opening a Facebook local business account provides you and your potential customers with many important and unique features.

    In addition to providing customers with all the information they need to learn more about and visit your business, Facebook offers the opportunity for direct communication with the customer through Facebook Messenger. Giving the customer a direct line of communication is crucial as users prefer simpler and more convenient ways of communication.

    The Messenger tool also lets you use integrations to take things to the next level. Integration can come in the form of booking a table directly within the messenger tool, offering online ordering, providing custom offers based on previous orders, and more.

    A Note: Consistency is Key

    If you update your description, contact details, and messaging in one place, remember to update your other listings as well. Consistency across the board signals to your potential customers that you’re here to make their experience exceptional.

    4. Be Responsive

    Social Media

    Your social media presence is one of the most effective ways to build a strong, long-term relationship with your customers. According to a Facebook-commissioned study by Nielsen, 56% of people surveyed would rather message a business than call customer service. It’s also becoming increasingly common for potential customers to ask questions by commenting under your Instagram posts. Overall, it’s important to be responsive within these channels.

    Being active and responsive on your social media accounts also helps these platforms prioritize your business over others, as posts that prompt more discussion and have more comments will reach more relevant people.

    Reviews

    Customers don’t like having a review be ignored, especially when it’s a negative review. If you receive a negative review, your best course of action is replying with an empathetic and well-written response. It may help to win back the customer, and show other potential customers that you care. There are a few things to keep in mind while responding to a negative review:

    • Apologize
    • Address the issue
    • Keep it short and to the point
    • Take it offline if it escalates
    • Reply as quickly as possible
    • Be polite

    While negative reviews are important to pay attention to, always remember to reply to the positive ones, too! Almost all platforms prefer to feature the most-liked and discussed reviews at the top, so why not help the platform to feature the positive ones as well?

    5. Make Online Assets Search-Friendly (Search Engine Optimization)

    After working on your restaurant’s online presence for some time, you will have several online assets that will come up when a potential customer searches online for your business, including social media accounts, listings, your website or blog, or maybe even a YouTube channel. Although search engine optimization can get very technical and sophisticated, there are still a few simple rules you can follow to optimize your online assets for search.

    Be Consistent

    Keep all your information (descriptions, business name, address, and phone number) consistent throughout all your accounts, and use simple keywords that are used by your customers while searching for the services you want to show up.

    As an example, take a look at the TripAdvisor, Yelp, and GMB pages for Momofuku Noodle Bar.

    Momofuku Noodle Bar TripAdvisor Page
    Momofuku Noodle Bar Yelp Page
    Momofuku Noodle Bar GMB Page

    Optimize Your Keywords

    Even if you don’t want to dive deep into keyword research, you can always use your industry knowledge you look into your competitors’ websites and social media accounts to understand the wording and the keywords they use.

    Create a Website

    It’s always a good idea to create a simple and informative website that gives potential customers the information they need without having to look very hard.

    Keep these things in mind when building your website:

    • What’s the most important information you want to communicate to your customers?
    • Include an FAQ section if you feel it would be useful
    • Don’t skimp on the visuals: Include photos of your best-looking, most unique meals
    • List any special hours and events that may affect the customer experience
    • Include an online menu that customers can peruse in advance of their visit
    • Provide links to your social media accounts and review platforms
    • Include information on reservations

    You don’t have to hire a developer to create a visually appealing website. All you need is a clearly-written home page, a few photos, and a template-based website development platform such as Wix, WordPress, or Squarespace.

    6. Make it Easy for Customers to Recommend You

    Customers want to talk about their experiences, both positive and negative. The easier the process is for leaving a review or posting on social media, the more your brand will receive reviews and recommendations. Here are a few tips on optimizing your review generation process:

    • Add a button on your website to direct users to your Google My Business page
    • Have a barcode on the dining table in case customers want to scan and go directly to your GMB account to leave the review.
    • Have your social media account slugs displayed on marketing material inside the restaurant to make it easier for the customer to mention you on social media.
    • Provide a unique hashtag to concentrate your online recommendations under one hashtag it’s easier to promote it later.
    • Give them an option to leave contact you through a channel where you are the most responsive. This  helps to direct the anger towards you instead of social media or reviewing platforms. It can reduce the number of negative reviews  as customers have the option to bring the problem to you, not to the public.

    7. Take Reservations to the Next Level

    Website Reservations

    Adding a reservation option on your website helps you in many ways. It creates immediate action for interested potential customers to take, creates a great experience for them, and helps you to do your labor planning and projections. But to get people to make reservations on your website, you have to effectively direct them to your website. Which brings us to…

    Google My Business Reservations

    To create an option to make a reservation directly from a web search, you need to simply connect your booking/scheduling system to Google. It’s an easy setup process which enables date and time recommendations and provides an option to select a time and make a reservation directly from the search results.

    You can go through Google’s quick guide to learn about the setup process and requirements here.

    Takeaways: Boost Your Restaurant's Online Presence with These Digital Marketing Tactics

    Employing these digital marketing tactics will make your restaurant's online presence stronger than ever, making it a no-brainer for customers to come find you (and come back again!).

    • Use a loyalty program to keep customers engaged
    • Try local ads to deliver the right message at the right time
    • Optimize your listings on platforms like Google My Business
    • Be responsive on social media and in response to reviews
    • Make online assets search friendly with SEO tactics
    • Make it easy for customers to recommend you
    • Enable reservations from anywhere

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    Vahag Aydinyan
    Vahag Aydinyan

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