Restaurant owners and operators wear a lot of hats. They're people leaders, customer service providers, line cooks, inventory managers, occasional bartenders, public relations reps, number crunchers, and even marketers.
We live in a world where diners are inundated with choices. There are more options for eating out than ever before. Delivery and takeout options are endlessly accessible for most. And the big restaurant brands are only getting bigger, making it even harder to stand out.
So, what sets you apart from the pack? You need to put yourself in front of diners, get them in your door, and turn them into ambassadors of your restaurant that come back and tell their friends about you.
It all starts with a great marketing plan.
Your marketing plan is the cornerstone of your restaurant's success and business plan. It is your roadmap to attracting and retaining customers. Your plan should be comprehensive, well thought out, achievable, and consistent.
This guide covers everything you need to put together your first marketing plan, from the strategy behind it to the tactics and channels to use. We've also included a template for a marketing calendar to organize it all.
What is a restaurant marketing plan, and why do you need one?
You may think you don't need a marketing plan and have never created one in the past—so why start now?
Many local restaurants have never touched advertising or social media; they've been the neighborhood's go-to spot for decades. Their business grows by word of mouth—one of the best marketing tools in the book. While these local favorites are great at attracting their neighbors to visit again and again, to out-of-towners, they're just another restaurant that looks like it could do with some renovations.
Word of mouth is fantastic, but when scaling a restaurant or reopening after months of closure, you need to rely on more than just the possibility of a customer loving your food and telling their friends about it.
You need a marketing plan.
Your marketing plan is a central place that outlines and informs your marketing strategy. It covers topics like your ideal customers, how you're going to reach them, and who your competition is.
So, where do you start? Before you get any ideas for a cheesy radio spot, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. See where your restaurant is currently and where it needs to go.
Restaurant Marketing Plan Template
Start creating you restaurant marketing plan with our free PDF template
1. Establish your brand strategy
When you step into a Hard Rock Cafe, there's no question where you are—whether it's a Hard Rock Cafe in Boston or Bangkok.
But would a first-time customer know what your restaurant is made of by sitting at a table? Does the concept and interior play off the brand, and vice-versa? What do your furniture, artwork, and glassware say about your restaurant?
They should all work together to create a smooth customer journey, from their initial search on your website to when they sit down with their meal. Make all touchpoints of your restaurant feel like the cool, casual, fusion, or fine dining establishment it is. A great marketing plan starts with a deep knowledge of what makes your business your business and not anyone else's. Here are a few things to get right:
Create a mission statement
Your marketing plan can't begin without a solid mission statement. Your mission statement is the 'why' of your restaurant. Why you create the food you do, why your service is different, and why customers should come and be a part of your story. Your mission statement should be
- Brief. It should be brief but comprehensive and no more than four sentences.
- Transparent. The best statements avoid business jargon and clichés. Write it as if you were writing for a close friend.
- Achievable. We've all heard companies claiming to offer the best service, the most delicious food, or the highest quality products. How often is this the case?
- Unique. What makes you different from your competition? If your mission statement sounds like it could be written by any company, revise it.
- Actionable. Strong statements don't just list goals but define how to achieve them.
Work on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
What's that one thing about your business that makes customers excited? Maybe it's how you cook or serve the food, like at Benihana. Maybe it's the decor and ambiance, like Rainforest Cafe. Or maybe it's unique to your area—like being the only fine dining spot in town. Whatever it may be, make sure you can explain it in one sentence. How do you want diners, competitors, and your team to describe your business?
Photo by hiurich granja on Unsplash
2. Identify your target customer
Knowing your market is critical. The better you know, the more targeted your marketing can be. You'll also want to be aware of your demographics. This would likely be defined in a business plan but it is just as important for marketing.
Researching your audience can be as simple as creating personas for everyone who walks through your door.
- Are your customers different during the day than at night?
- Do they prefer takeout or dine-in?
- Where are they going after?
- What are their dietary preferences?
- What social media platforms do they use?
You can answer many great questions for each customer, and as your insights form, your target market becomes clear.
For example, your ideal customers could be:
- Young families that want a kid's menu, great drinks, and to get home before 8.
- Local office workers who need healthy, quick lunch—and vegan options.
- College students who come to you after a night out.
Clear answers to these abstract questions will help you create highly targeted marketing campaigns that will bring a better return on investment.
3. Complete a SWOT analysis for your competition
Who are your main competitors? List three to five of them and perform a SWOT analysis. It may sound complicated, but it's a simple way to outline how to approach your competition. A SWOT analysis is broken down as follows:
- Strengths: What are they doing right? Maybe it's great food, a good happy hour, or an attractive atmosphere.
- Weaknesses: What can they do better? Maybe they're too expensive or don't have great marketing.
- Opportunities: What can you do better than your competition? Can you undercut their prices, or out-market them?
- Threats: What can they do better than you? Maybe it's something you can't change, like a prime location.
Tip: Your competitor analysis needs to include the digital space too. See how they're branding themselves online and across social media and what kind of promotions they're running throughout the week. Knowing they have a lunch special on Wednesdays is invaluable knowledge and can inform your decision-making.
4. Define your objectives: What are your marketing goals?
Before you can start putting together a plan, you need to know what your goals are. Chip Klose, restaurant marketer and founder of Restaurant Strategy, defines restaurant marketing in 3 steps:
This is where you're putting yourself in front of customers, to show them that you exist. This could be as simple as paid social advertising, great signage, an ad in the local paper, or a television appearance.
Getting New Customers (Acquisition)
Once customers know who you are, you can work to get them in the door. What will entice them to choose you? This could be exciting drinks, a great happy hour, family-friendly promotions, or a fantastic menu that people can't help but try. Whatever your unique selling proposition is, make sure you highlight it in your marketing.
This is where things get fun. Your best customers are the ones who bring more customers in. They tell their friends, they post their food, they sing your praises far and wide. But what are you doing to get them back in your restaurant? This is where special offers, newsletters, and SMS marketing can come in handy.
Recommended Podcast: The Restaurant Marketing Flywheel with Chip Klose
5. Put together your marketing calendar
With an understanding of your target customers and goals, you can begin to put together a marketing calendar. This is best when it includes as much information as possible—plan ahead on social posts, events, direct mail campaigns, holiday promotions, and other marketing campaigns so you always know what's coming next. You don't have to fill it out a year at a time, but working to plan out your marketing a month or quarter ahead of time helps keep everything in sync.
Restaurant Marketing Plan Template
Start creating you restaurant marketing plan with our free PDF template
Restaurant Marketing Strategies
Now that you have a clear marketing plan and target audience, it's time to dive in to the marketic tactics that you're going to use.
No new or established restaurateur can expect to grow their business without a solid digital presence and engaged audience.
Your website and social media channels provide a sneak peek into your restaurant experience, so it's essential your online presence is inviting and builds excitement to encourage people to visit.
Social media marketing
Did you know that over 35% of restaurant customers in the U.S. actively follow their favorite restaurants on social media?
Social media is arguably one of the best things to happen to small and independent businesses in recent years. It can put your restaurant in front of thousands of potential customers, and growth can be exponential. But how you navigate the different channels and build an engaged audience is easier said than done. It all comes down to creating new content that keeps your audience engaged and leads to a steady stream of new likes and followers that turn into customers.
Vertical short-form video has quickly become a popular way to consume content, and TikTok is likely to blame. The platform has joined the ranks of sites like YouTube and Pinterest, where users not only socialize with others but also search and discover. This discoverability makes reaching a wider audience easier when you don't already have a following (compared to other platforms like Instagram or Facebook).
While TikTok is no longer home to just Gen Z, it certainly has its own culture. TikTok users know when they're being sold to. They want realistic, relatable content from real people. It's great news for small businesses and those who don't have a lot of resources.
Recommended Reading: The Beginner’s Guide to TikTok Marketing for Restaurants
What to use it for: Any and everything: showcasing your food, behind-the-scenes looks at your kitchen, highlighting your hardworking team, or even recruiting staff.
Here are a few factors to consider before posting to TikTok:
- Sound: If you scroll TikTok for 10 minutes, you'll start to hear the same sounds. Using trending sounds is an excellent way to be discovered. These include lip-syncs, popular songs, and trending themes. Bookmark relevant sounds to use later.
- Voiceovers: You can record a voiceover on top of your video to add a personal touch.
- On-screen text: Add text at the beginning of the video to create a “title screen.” There's also a text-to-speech feature if you prefer an AI voice to your own.
- Editing: Get the audience hooked in the first 3 seconds. If the algorithm sees users stick around on your video instead of scrolling past, it's more likely to show it to other users. “Hook” them with an exciting clip, voiceover, or title text teasing what will happen in the video.
- Video Effects: We're all familiar with face filters, but what about green-screen video? Take some time to play with different video effects. You can also bookmark effects from other videos to use later.
- Posting Cadence: Many experts suggest posting multiple videos daily to grow your audience on TikTok. Due to its discoverability nature, posting multiple times won't annoy your audience as it may on Instagram or Facebook. Since videos don't play on a user's feed by order of post date, you can share many videos about the same topic or using the same trend.
If you already have great video content on Instagram or YouTube, try posting that to TikTok as well. Or do the reverse - repost your TikToks to Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.
Use these factors as guidelines, not rules. The platform changes all the time, so be creative. TikTok is a weird place - don't be scared to experiment!
There isn't a platform that has changed restaurants more than Instagram. How we consume food, how menus are engineered, and even how restaurants are designed all owe a hat tip to IG.
What to use it for: Showing off your food and drink, promoting events and specials, and engaging with your audience.
As well as providing the best platform to showcase your drinks and dishes creatively, Instagram now has built-in business tools such as online ordering, maps, and messenger.
When diving into Instagram, keep the following best practices in mind:
Post good-looking photos: With the quality of cameras on phones, there is no excuse for ugly food photos. Pretty food and natural lighting will do most of the work for you. Here are some restaurant food photography tips and tricks.
Engage with your audience: If people comment, write them back! Like comments, respond to them, and comment when people post photos of your food.
Repost your diners' photos: If someone posts a photo of your food or restaurant, share it with your audience and make them feel special.
Don't forget about stories: Don't neglect the story function. Anything that would go on the feed can go on the story. Stories only show for 24 hours, so you can post teasers, behind-the-scenes looks, and live events. If you want to save them, add them to a highlight that lives on your profile.
Run Ads: You can always boost your profile's likes with promoted posts. They're highly targeted, so your ads will be viewed by local people who are more likely to visit your restaurant, giving you a better return on investment.
There are a few things to remember when running Instagram ads for restaurants. First, make sure your ad copy is clear and concise. Secondly, ensure your ad image is relevant and catches viewers' attention. Lastly, make sure your ad targeting is on point, so you're reaching your target audience.
Recommended Reading: Restaurant Instagram Marketing: Creating a Strategy for Your Restaurant
The original social network (sorry, MySpace) may be losing some appeal, but a Facebook page is still a great place to get in front of new and existing customers.
What to use it for: Communicating with existing customers, event promotion, and acquiring new customers.
As it stands right now, just posting organically to Facebook is proving to be less and less effective than in the past. The most effective way to use Facebook for your restaurant is to run Facebook Ads. They're targeted, reliable, and will help you reach the right people.
Running Facebook Ads
Like on Instagram, you can always boost your page's likes with Facebook Ads. They're highly targeted, meaning they'll be viewed by local people who are more likely to visit your restaurant, giving you a better return on investment.
There are a few things to remember when running Facebook ads for restaurants. First, make sure your ad copy is clear and concise. Secondly, ensure your ad image is relevant and catches viewers' attention. Lastly, make sure your ad targeting is on point, so you're reaching your target audience.
Creating an SEO-optimized website
Anyone can create a sleek, multifunctional website these days. Dozens of companies provide high-quality drag-and-drop templates with all the tools you need to take reservations and online orders.
Below are some things to keep in mind when building your website:
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Is my menu accessible and legible?
- Do my hyperlinks work?
- Are my pictures (food, drinks & venue) appealing?
One key aspect of your restaurant website is search engine optimization (SEO). A website that ticks all the right SEO boxes allows Google and other search engines to work to their full potential.
Let's say you own a burger restaurant in Manhattan's Lower East Side. When potential customers crave burgers, they'll search 'burger takeout near me.' Google then collects all the info on nearby restaurants and their websites, serving up the most relevant search based on this person's location.
Your SEO score is like a ranking for potential customers. The higher your SEO score, the more likely your restaurant will appear at the top of Google searches and the more likely people are to come and visit or place an online order.
While SEO can get highly technical, there are a few best practices to ensure your website sees the most possible eyeballs:
- Include your full address to localize searches. This lets Google know where you're based and, more importantly, gives customers all the info they need to find your restaurant when they're on the hunt for food.
- Add page titles and meta descriptions. Customers see this when they search on Google, which provides a window into what to expect at your restaurant. Most website editors have fields for this. “Title tags are important for user experience, SEO, and social sharing, so display your restaurant name here. And they don't require too much effort to make,” says Nick Chernets of DataForSEO. These are his recommendations for page titles:
Make sure each title tag is unique and descriptive while keeping it brief (under 70 characters) Check the final result here.
Create a blog on your website. “It will bring more visitors to your website and keep your content fresh, which is another bonus for a better SEO score. The blog could include recipes, cooking tutorials, upcoming events, or menu updates.”
- Use high-performing keywords (keywords are the terms people enter into search engines like Google)
- Include primary and secondary keywords if the space allows
- Put the most important words in your title at the front of it to ensure it will be displayed
- Mention the name of your restaurant
“Creating an SEO-ready website can certainly be done in-house, but if you're unsure or don't have the time, hire a marketing agency or SEO freelancer to boost your online traffic—and in turn—restaurant traffic,” says Chernets.
Recommended Reading: 15 Beautiful Restaurant Website Templates
Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools for restaurants. It allows you to reach a large audience with your marketing message and can be very cost effective. Email marketing can help you build relationships with your customers, promote new menu items or specials, and drive customers to your restaurant. It's also incredibly cost effective: according to research by WebFX, every dollar spent on restaurant email marketing generates forty-four dollars in revenue.
How do I get my guests email addresses?
Before you can start sending emails, you have to build up an email list. There are a number of ways to do this.
You can use a sign-up form on your website, have waitstaff drop cards or forms at the end of a meal, or use your POS system to get emails when guests check out in a quick-service setting. You can also use events as a way to capture new emails via a sign-up form.
Once you have a small list built, look to tools like Mailchimp, HubSpot, or ConstantContact to start sending emails to your list.
Types of Restaurant Email Marketing
- Newsletters: Let customers know what's going on in your restaurant. A restaurant email newsletter can include menu updates, event promotion, announcing new locations, or include content like recipes or interviews with staff. A monthly newsletter is a great way to engage with customers and keep your restaurant top of mind when they're deciding where to go eat.
- Promotions: Send out enticing, seasonal promotions to get customers in the door. Extended happy hours, special tasting menus, game day promotions, or any special deals or limited time offers would work here.
- Special offers: You know that annual birthday email from the brand you bought 1 pair of shoes from five years ago? Many email list tools and customer relationship management tools (CRMs) allow you to store information about your customers (with their consent, of course), such as birthdays or anniversaries. You can use this information to automate a birthday email to your customers to wish them a happy birthday. Better yet, send it a week or two early with a special offer or invitation to spend their special day with you.
A note on spam
Email spam laws vary, but some general principles apply in most jurisdictions. Generally speaking, sending unsolicited commercial emails, or "spam," is illegal without the recipient's consent. It is also generally illegal to use false or misleading information in email headers or to distribute email addresses without the consent of the people involved.
For example, businesses must typically provide a way for recipients to opt-out of future emails and clarify that the email is a marketing message.
Violating email spam laws can result in significant penalties. In some cases, companies that are found to be in violation of spam laws may also be required to pay damages to the people who received the spam emails.
There's nothing more likely to make someone come back than the promise of a reward. Reward loyal customers with discounts. Customer loyalty programs can be simple cards, or you can take the gamification aspect further with digital 'point scoring' for every dollar spent. Many POS providers have this built in.
While the loyalty card is simple and effective, taking your loyalty program digital allows you to collect your customers' data and continuously advertise to them through email or your app.
Social media and technology have opened up a whole new world of marketing opportunities for restaurants, and they're just waiting to be leveraged.
Recommended Podcast: The new customer loyalty with Phil Crawford of CKE Restaurant
They may seem old-school, but press releases should be an essential part of a restaurant's marketing strategy. A press release is a formal message that communicates the information you want to provide about your business to a desired audience. Whether you're looking to promote your restaurant's grand opening, or draw attention to a new tasting menu, the press release will produce the media coverage you need to get noticed.
When drafting a press release, consider the following:
- Your desired audience
- A catchy headline
- A striking first paragraph to draw attention
- Detailed 2-3 paragraphs to follow answering the who, what, where, when, how
- A boilerplate / “about” section
- After the press release is crafted and carefully reviewed, begin your outreach! Sites like eReleases and NewsWire are great tools to get started. Better yet, dig for your local newspaper or magazine contacts and send it to them directly!
Recommended Reading: 11 Restaurant Marketing Strategies That Work in 2023
Traditional Restaurant Marketing
While you should certainly focus energy on your digital marketing efforts, you can't ignore the more traditional forms of marketing.
You can't go wrong with events—they can be hosted at your restaurant, by you, or they can be local fairs and tasting events that you attend as an exhibitor. Regardless, events are a great way to get in front of potential guests and reinforce relationships with existing customers.
Direct Mail Marketing
The mailbox is still alive and well. And as digital marketing has taken over, it can be a great way to break through the noise. A few ways to utilize direct mail are:
- Sending flyers or coupons to homes in your target market—this works well for a grand opening
- Dropping offers into takeout orders, like a 10% discount or free dessert on their next order
- Sending menus to apartment buildings and offices in your area
Make sure your direct mail looks good and is printed on quality paper. In a world with so much digital noise, a simple flyer can help your restaurant break through the feedback.
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