You love food and you love people. And you want your restaurant business to grow. You know you need a good marketing plan but it sounds overwhelming to create and execute. Where do you start?
You may not have a marketing degree or even understand all of the social media channels and what they can offer you. But a great restaurant marketing plan is relatively simple and straightforward when your objectives are distilled and clearly stated.
In this post, we’re going to break down the key essentials of a highly effective restaurant marketing plan. We’re also going to leave you with some tips you can use to get your promotional engine up and running.
But first, let’s take a quick look at the basic definition of a restaurant marketing plan.
What Is a Restaurant Marketing Plan?
A restaurant marketing plan is a strategic document that outlines a restaurant’s strategy to promote a brand, acquire new customers, and enhance the guest experience.
It’s focused on a specific period of business and highlights a variety of marketing-related action steps, such as goal creation, budgeting, and content planning.
Learning how to craft a marketing plan forces you to think about your existing promotions and what you can do to gain a competitive edge.
While some restaurants integrate their marketing vision into their overall business plan, because marketing is critical to customer acquisition and engagement, having a well-researched marketing plan on its own is advisable.
A good idea is to create a working document that you’re continuously accessing and building upon and can attach as an appendix to the restaurant business plan.
Why do restaurant owners need a marketing plan?
Restaurant owners or operators often struggle to get their message across to guests. They want to attract new guests and retain existing ones, but they don’t always know where to start.
And in 2023, there's no time to waste figuring out a way to get through to your potential guests. In fact, the restaurant industry has seen significant growth over the last decade. In 2016 alone, the global food service sector grew by 3% to $1.3 trillion, with a forecast to reach an estimated $4.1 Trillion USD by 2026. This means that there are now more restaurants around the globe than ever before.
Restaurant owners, therefore, have a lot of competition. There are many restaurants out there and they are constantly trying to attract new guests. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to develop an effective marketing strategy.
Here are a few effective ways that restaurant owners can improve their marketing strategy and help increase their revenue:
How to Create an Effective Restaurant Marketing Plan
Restaurant owners spend a lot of time thinking about their marketing strategy. And we understand why. As mentioned above, a marketing plan is crucial to a restaurant's success. It helps keep your restaurant top of mind, acquire new guests, and most importantly, keep your revenue from declining.
To help you get started, follow these steps covering all the moving parts of restaurant marketing to set up your new plan and start the process of meeting your new vision with ease.
1. Set measurable goals
The first step to creating a restaurant marketing plan is to establish some goals. What objectives do you plan to accomplish? Are there specific targets you want your team to meet?
If you’re really going to make your restaurant marketing strategies work, it’s going to happen because you’ve got a vision of what you want to achieve during the first year and subsequent years ahead.
Depending on your current ambitions and manpower, goals can range from smaller, bite-sized ambitions (like getting 10 new shares every week on your restaurant’s Facebook page) to bigger, grandiose objectives (such as doubling restaurant sales each quarter). Get started by establishing a few goals that make sense for your specific case.
As an example, a few goals for your restaurant could be to:
- Grow per table profit by 12%
- Grow drink revenue by 10%
- Grow lunch hour revenue by $3,000
Also, quantify your overall objectives with numbers and dates. You could set the goal completion date at three months, and measure your growth daily. Create a simple wall chart to post in your office so you can make your goals visual and track your progress.
Use the SMART template created by Filestage for listing each goal.
You may also want to take your revenue goals and create more specific goals for wait staff so that they can work on their individual objectives.
Some wait staff objectives could be as follows:
- Get at least 10 guests to order an appetizer
- Get 5 takeout orders per shift
- Get 1 order per 2 tasting plates
2. Identify potential problems
Once you've figured out your goals and you've come to an agreement, you now have to identify the potential problems you and your team might face. These could include competition, lack of capital, or poor management. Make sure you address these issues before you start your marketing strategy.
It's also good to keep an eye on your restaurant's performance, and what part of your restaurant's operations needs to be added to the marketing plan. For example, you've noticed that Wednesdays are a lot quieter compared to other days at your restaurant. You then need to consider a plan to help increase revenue on these slower days. But, most importantly how will you manage to have an overview of these types of potential problems?
Eat App's Advanced Reports, will play a key role here. The performance tracking tool for restaurants is considered a powerful feature to help operators keep tabs on how their establishment is performing and where potential problems might arise.
The analytic system automatically collects valuable bookings and guest data to help you keep track of your restaurant's growth and overall performance. Reports are also fully customizable to give you full control over what you would like to track and have an overview when shared with your team.
The advanced reports allow you to:
- Review reservation and guest data
- Customize daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly reports
- A breakdown of covers or bookings
- Export CSV files or even a graph of any time period
3. Determine your target customers
If you interview any successful restaurateur and ask them their secret, they’ll all tell you the same thing: know your ideal customer.
While it’s tempting to visualize that everyone is interested in dining at your restaurant, focusing on a narrowly defined ideal customer will save you months of wandering in the dark trying to be everything for everyone.
That’s where an ideal restaurant customer profile comes in handy.
An ideal customer profile is a fictional representation of your ideal customer that helps personalize your sales and marketing efforts.
It lists out demographic information like age, gender, and income, as well as some qualitative details like what they enjoy in certain places, and what their preferences are when it comes time to pick a restaurant for lunch or dinner.
Below is an example by strategy leader Janice Chow.
To build one for your restaurant, think of the ways you can gather meaningful data on the type of people you aim to serve. Tried-and-tested methods include:
- Conduct a survey on your restaurant website, Facebook page, or email message. Use SurveyMonkey or another similar tool to automate the entire process.
- Placing comment cards on your tables. Don’t end the card with “Would you refer us to a friend or relative?” – Go one step further and ask why or why not.
- Researching online communities. Quora, Reddit, and others have targeted communities and subgroups. For researching and gaining insight into your ideal customer personas, the information posted by and exchanged between the members is as good as gold.
Whether it’s families, college students, or both, it’s imperative that you take steps to understand your ideal customer. The great thing about creating customer profiles is that they can be used to inform many different parts of your branding, product, and marketing strategy.
Learn how to find your target market.
4. Evaluate Your Current Standing using SWOT
The importance of self-evaluation can’t be overstated, especially when you’re creating a marketing plan from scratch.
Restaurants need to be evaluated for both strengths and weaknesses specific to your business; the essence is to discover what you do well, and where you pale in comparison with similar businesses.
After speaking with some of your guests, or just sitting down and writing it out, choose three strengths of your restaurant and three weaknesses.
Be clear with yourself and ask your servers and other management to write them down as well. Then, compile them and have a good look at what’s going great and what needs improvement.
These could be:
- The food is always hot because you have hired a plate runner.
- The amount of food is always filling and satisfying.
- The ambiance is always inviting and engaging.
- The floor is always greasy.
- The kitchen banter is always loud.
- The chairs are hard.
Make sure your customers know about what you do best!
Focus on one of your strengths that raises you above the competition and spread the word – widely.
As for the weaknesses, make gradual improvements by going back to square one and reassessing where you went wrong with the approach, decision, or product that turned into a disadvantage.
Note: You can also keep tabs on the potential opportunities and threats facing your business by conducting a restaurant SWOT analysis. Doing so may direct you towards a previously uncaptured market or help you identify issues that might affect your restaurant’s profitability.
4. Identify your restaurant's marketing objectives
You've decided on measurable goals for your restaurant, now it's important to put together a solid list of objectives that will help you determine your restaurant's marketing goals. To help, we've put together three important pillars you need to consider before finalizing your marketing strategy:
- Creating Brand Awareness
This is essentially the way you present yourself to your guests and what they see when it comes to your restaurant. This type of marketing is generally paid social media posts, billboards, an ad on the radio, television, or even in the local papers.
- Guest Acquisition
Once your guests know who you are and what your restaurant is about, you can start by getting them to come through your doors. Ask yourself, what will excite them to come to you? Is it the food, great service, or that you offer special offers on certain days of the week? Whatever you choose to be your unique selling point, make sure you add it to your marketing strategy.
>>> Download our free Guest Acquisition Strategy today.
- Repeat Guests
This is where things really get interesting. Loyal guests are the best. Why? They're one of the main reasons why you continue to get more customers coming through your door. They enjoy telling their friends about one of their favorite places to eat, and they also post images of your dishes on social media. But, the question is, what are you doing as a restaurant owner to get them coming back for more? This is where a powerful CRM tool comes in.
With Eat App's revolutionary software, you can automatically collect valuable guest data and create robust guest profiles from the moment they make an online booking. Then to take it a step further, you can segment and filter your guest profiles to help identify your VIP guests and high-spenders so you can create personalized marketing campaigns. Here you can also take the opportunity to send guests, who haven't been at your restaurant in a while, a special offer to get them to come back. More on this topic of "Email Marketing" below.
5. Develop your marketing strategy
You’ve laid the foundation. Now it’s time to build your restaurant marketing strategy. You’ll want to consider what methods of promotion you will use, and for how long you’ll run each promotion before giving it a revamp.
Based on your goals, customer profiles, and strengths, pick a few of these strategies to implement first:
Also, consider implementing a restaurant marketing framework.
a. Social Media Marketing
While you can run a campaign on nearly every social media network out there, we recommend you narrow your focus to the following:
Instagram is the easiest place to showcase your food, your ambiance, and everything visual about your customer experience. Everything is in the photos on Instagram so be sure to post some appealing images of food plates, happy customers, attentive servers, and management. It’s your opportunity to show them what they can expect at your restaurant.
With your photos, be sure to add relevant #hashtags about the meals you make, the service you provide, and the location you serve.
If you’ve already set up a campaign, we’ve got some tips to help you break through the noise and upgrade your restaurant Instagram marketing for higher engagement and conversions.
You can also add a "reserve" button on your Instagram page to drive reservations directly through your page. This long-awaited feature helps restaurants turn their followers into customers without added effort.
Learn how you can add a reserve button on your Instagram page here
A platform with more than 2 billion monthly active users can provide great exposure to your restaurant.
Get started by creating a restaurant business page and posting high-quality images of your food with some enticing captions that induce your audience to visit your restaurant. To accommodate for spikes in weekly traffic, schedule posts to go out even when you’re not available.
Spending an hour or two every week on this will mean you have a consistent stream of enticing content for your followers.
But perhaps the most effective way to get your business in front of audiences is by running Facebook ads.
The platform has a highly effective and intuitive ad manager that can help you reach massive amounts of potential diners. The best part? You don’t need to spend thousands in order to achieve success; a budget of $100-$500 is enough to reach a good-sized local audience.
Like Instagram, Facebook also offers a "reserve" button that allows people to book a table at your restaurant through your page. Learn how you can start getting bookings directly through your Facebook page here.
Whenever you search for a restaurant or a business you've probably noticed their Google My Business Listing before anything else. This page is essentially considered a card that features important details about your restaurant. What time you open, where you're based, what time you close, guest reviews and images of your restaurant, etc.
All the more reason you should add a "reserve button" to give guests a seamless option to book online. Revolutionary reservation platforms like Eat App have partnered with Google to bring this feature to various restaurants around the world.
>>>Download a free guide on how to set up your Google reservations.
b. Email Marketing
72% of consumers prefer businesses to contact them through email, and restaurant customers are no exception.
Sending regular emails to people who’ve subscribed to your email list helps foster loyalty; when customers see your restaurant logo often and receive your event updates, menu specials, coupons, etc. they begin to feel they’re part of your exclusive community.
You can further encourage that feeling by including a quick note from your executive chef, or other personnel who is known as the face of your business.
Personalization and segmentation will also help your email campaigns gain more traction by categorizing your subscribers into specific groups for more targeted promotions. Consider employing an automation system like Eat App to create an automated marketing flow that delivers tailored and personalized messaging to your customers based on guest data like the number of visits, days since the last visit, spend amount, special events, etc. (for eg: If today is the guests anniversary, send them an anniversary message, If a guest reached `100` visits, then they should be tagged as `VIP` and messaged a congrats message) without you having to lift a finger.
c. Loyalty Programs
In times where customer acquisition costs can be burdensome for new – and even established – restaurants, loyalty programs can help to secure brand value in the form of repeat business from people who’re already delighted to be dining with you.
These programs include restaurants offering membership to regular guests, and in turn presenting them with reward points that can be exchanged for perks like free desserts, 50% discount, and more.
Starting a restaurant loyalty program is simple. You’ll just need to order a batch of punch cards and hand them out to your regulars. When a member orders a menu item, you put a stamp on their punch card.
Once they’ve received a specific number of stamps, they get a free perk. Restaurant loyalty tools, however, have made it possible for restaurateurs to assign points and rewards digitally.
6. Determine Your Restaurant Marketing Budget
Since every business has its priorities, there’s no set formula for determining a restaurant marketing budget. However, there are a few considerations that can be applied to any restaurant for determining the amount of money you should invest in marketing.
If you’re a brand-new restaurant, you’ll have to spend more on marketing to get the word out. Plan to spend 25-35% of revenue on marketing. Use more if you need more traction, and less if you have a good roster.
When your restaurant is established and has a steady business, you can scale back your marketing spending to 12-18%, considering your competition and profit margins.
If your revenues are declining due to an economic crisis or competition, it’s best to increase your percentage by 3-10% to generate more new clientele.
Choose to invest in the channels that are bringing in the most return.
Unfortunately, when a budget gets smaller marketing can be the first to go out the door when the exact opposite needs to happen. Resist the urge to cut back on marketing because you need to generate market buzz to drive business.
For example, companies that spent 16.5% or budget on marketing grew 1 - 15% year over year, those that spent 22% grew 16-30%, and those that spent 50% grew 31-100% more. You can see how crucial marketing is in creating growth as per these findings from Small Business Marketing Tools.
There you have it, a step-by-step guide to building your own killer restaurant marketing plan.
Marketing is the trumpet call of your business and it's an important element to success. No matter how great your cuisine or ambiance is, if no one knows about your restaurant in the first place, you’re not filling any tables.
Guests don’t magically turn up out of nowhere, you have to take your business to them.
This might take you anywhere from one day to a whole month of doing nothing except constantly crafting your plan and marketing calendar.
But rest assured, once it’s complete you’ll know exactly which route to take and how to tap into the full potential of your marketing to drive better revenue.
Ready to get started with creating your restaurant's marketing plan? Download our free template to guide you through the process!