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13 best restaurant marketing strategies and ideas for 2021

The COVID-19 crisis has transformed an already competitive restaurant industry into a “Hunger Games”: Only the most creative restaurant owners survive. Consider that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, CNBC reported that 60% of restaurants failed within the first year and 80% call it quits by the fifth anniversary. What tools can restaurants use to win and thrive?

Chief amongst your arrows are marketing strategy, fantastic food, and superior service. Before you start your marketing campaign, you want to think about your target audience. Aiming for everybody is a surefire way to attract no one in particular. Does your restaurant cater to upscale professionals, budget-friendly millennials, or young families with children? Once you decide your niche, you’re ready to use these methods to draw new customers.

1. Capture customer reviews

When looking for a new restaurant to try, over 79% of people depend on personal recommendations and online reviews, according to the payment platform Square. There are three ways to generate more online reviews from big and small customer bases alike. The first point is the easiest and often overlooked: Ask. Ask loyal customers and new ones alike in your restaurant and through email marketing, social media, and your website.

Once you receive a review, you’re off to the second step: sharing positive reviews everywhere you ask for them, including your website and social media. It’s social proof that will make reviewing even more contagious. And the last part is for when all else fails—a good, old-fashioned incentive. Could coupons, discounts, points, or specials entice your happy customers to leave a review?

2. Employ email marketing

Despite what you may have heard, email marketing is alive and well and has an ROI of $42 for every $1 spent, according to Constant Contact.

A simple email marketing plan can help you build customer loyalty and brand awareness simultaneously. Your email newsletter can offer a platform to share new menu items, special discounts, or restaurant successes. The same coupons, points, and other incentives can help you grow your subscriber list.

3. Feature foodie photography and videos

The eye is the key to the stomach and, ultimately, the wallet. Mouth-watering, hunger-inducing photos on your website and social media create a first impression that prompts restaurant visits. Taking amazing food photos can be harder than imagined, and it may be worth it to hire a food photographer.

Beautiful food photos for restaurants are quickly becoming a necessity and not a luxury. That’s where the savvy restaurateur steps up the value by shooting video. Once again, you can get professional help, but tours, classes, or fun messages from staff on your iPhone or DSLR can go a long way to engaging a socially connected public.

4. Feed food bloggers

After you’ve done everything to start a new restaurant, how do you build buzz when it’s so hard to get those first reviews? It’s a Catch-22: You can’t get people to dine in your restaurant without good reviews, and you can’t get good reviews unless people dine in your restaurant.

You can catch a break by offering a popular food blogger or local food critic a feast in exchange for an honest review. When the reviewer arrives, aim to provide the excellent dining experience you do to every customer, and hopefully, a positive feedback loop will follow—more reviews, more revenue.

5. Include Instagram marketing

Food pics have their own ecosystem on Instagram. The platform is just one part of a well-planned social media strategy, but it has outsized importance for restaurants. Restaurant owners have used it as a ground for playful experiments with brand identity. Hashtags and trends give you a way to ride existing hype, and you can check what your competition is doing for immediate ideas and #restaurantgoals.

6. Invest in influencer marketing

Influencers have an outsized power to drive others’ purchasing decisions. Their authority, experience, knowledge, position, or relationship to a niche audience helps them push buying behavior. A food blogger is one type of influencer, but you can find influencers with all kinds of specialties. Think of it as the celebrity endorsement for the digital era. For example, a green-conscious restaurant might partner with a vegan influencer.

You can start with local influencers with at least 10,000 followers. Ask about their engagement metrics, which tells you how active their followers are. A 1.5% engagement for 10,000 followers sends 150 people your way and would be better than someone with 20,000 followers and 0.5% engagement, which means only 100 people get the message. Once you find influencers to partner with, ask for their rates.

7. Lead with local SEO

“Restaurants near me” is the most popular “near me” search query on Google because people want good eats near where they live. Local search engine optimization (SEO) puts a focus on localized content and keywords for small businesses. For example, suppose a potential customer searches for “French restaurant San Francisco” or “French restaurant near me,” local SEO makes sure bistros show up right below the search bar where the small map and top restaurant choices populate.


Optimizing your local presence is the first step before agencies use paid advertising such as Google Ads in their digital marketing strategies. If you want to receive some of the traffic from local searches, you can:

  • Claim and update your Google My Business profile.
  • Ensure location info is correct on your website, including your name, address, and phone number (NAP).
  • List your restaurant in online business directories.
  • Make sure your website is mobile-friendly.
  • Set web pages for specific local keywords.

8. Leverage loyalty programs

There are several online apps just a Google search away that will let you set up a customer loyalty program. It’s one of the best marketing tools to introduce gamification into your business. How many people fly just for the points?

You can use the same idea to make people frequent your restaurant more often. Offer an incentive such as a discount or coupon for signing up and ask them to join when they:

  • Dine at your restaurant.
  • Join your email list.
  • Pick up an order.
  • Read your social media posts.
  • See your landing page pop-up.
  • Visit your website.
  • Write a review.

9. Look for local events

A restaurant that shows up in the community builds a loyal following. Perhaps you can set up a table at the farmer’s market to sell some of your most popular menu items. Maybe you should enter that fair, festival, or contest: Winning would be great local PR for your restaurant. For instance, you may sponsor a charity event or support a 5K to highlight how much you care and give your diners a chance to run off the calories.

10. Offer online reservation

Online reservation tools like Open Table let patrons book reservations without a phone call. These services can help you set expectations for both the front and back of the house.

In addition, some of these apps have a customer base who book through the platform repeatedly, which can become a source of new visitors. Online reservations can help your restaurant fill more seats, increase revenue, and grow profits for a justifiable monthly fee.

11. Say yes to Yelp

Let’s be honest. It’s not like a restaurant owner could say “no” to it. Some marketing companies have argued that Yelp pages might be more important than restaurant websites themselves. On average, 51% of Yelp reviews are five stars, and 17% are four stars, which means nearly a third of the time you can get three stars or fewer. Proactive restaurant business owners respond to both good and bad reviews to keep their fingers on the pulse of customer perception.

Flip a negative customer experience into a positive one, and you create word-of-mouth and help your service and operations. Make sure your Yelp page features your:

  • Location
  • Menu
  • Outdoor seating, parking, Wi-Fi, etc.
  • Photos...and plenty of them
  • Price range
  • Store hours

12. Supervise social media

Social media marketing efforts help you build your brand, connect with your audience, drive website traffic, and increase sales. But none of those things happen for those who simply set up an account and pray it translates to a packed house. Although sales can follow, social media marketers know it’s primarily about engagement and connection. Use social media to:

  • Advertise coupons, discounts, and special events.
  • Ask for reviews and sign-ups to your email list and loyalty programs.Broadcast customer content.
  • Give behind-the-scenes footage and sneak peeks.
  • Highlight daily, weekly, or seasonal menus.
  • Post food photos and videos.
  • Reach out to customers.
  • Share recipes.
  • Show staff in action.

Restaurants should consider accounts on these social media platforms:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

Because many restaurant owners have had success using paid campaigns such as Facebook Ads, you might go beyond your free accounts. If you can’t monitor the platforms 24/7, try social media management software to integrate accounts and schedule posts. You can also dedicate a tech-savvy employee to the task or hire a social media manager.

13. Work on Your Website

When people go to restaurant websites, they want to find the hours, location, and menu. Are there gorgeous photos of your food and pictures and videos to illustrate the dining experience? Make sure your potential customers can book online. Template websites have made it easier than ever to create a functional web presence, but you can also hire a designer for a unique layout.

The online database Statcounter posits that over 55% of searches are done on mobile devices. That percentage is likely higher for patrons looking for new restaurants. Most template websites offer mobile-friendly versions of your site. They even give you ways to test what your website looks like for iPhone and Android users.

Restaurant marketing ideas: Conclusion and summary

You are now armed with an arsenal of ways to build a successful restaurant, even while you manage inventory, deal with personnel, and navigate regulations.
Remember, buying restaurant and bar insurance can be one less task on your growing to-do list because you can get set up in about five minutes—it’s super easy and entirely online with Huckleberry.

Restaurant Marketing Plan—check. Small Business Insurance with the Restaurant Endorsement—check. May the food critics, reviews, and blogs be ever in your favor!

Here’s a quick summary of our strategies:

  1. Capture customer reviews. Ask for reviews, share them, and reward customers for giving them.
  2. Employ email marketing. Your email newsletter builds customer loyalty, increases brand awareness, and can lead to more filled seats.
  3. Feature foodie photography and videos. Hire a professional photographer or use your iPhone or DSLR to capture mouth-watering, hunger-inducing food.
  4. Feed food bloggers. A free meal could be just the way to attract a local food blogger with a significant following.
  5. Include Instagram marketing. Make the platform an integral part of your social media strategy is #winning.
  6. Invest in influencer marketing. Partner with influencers that have at least 10,000 followers and active engagement.
  7. Lead with local SEO. Make sure your restaurant shows up on Google for local searches.
  8. Leverage loyalty programs. Keep people coming back by rewarding them for every meal.
  9. Look for local events. Restaurants that become a pillar of the community thrive.
  10. Offer online reservations. Let people book online, so you can fill seats that would otherwise go empty.
  11. Say yes to Yelp. Yelp matters, and proactive restaurant owners get more four and five-star reviews.
  12. Supervise social media. Monitor your platforms yourself, use a tech-savvy employee, or hire a social media management company or digital marketing agency.
  13. Work on your website. You want your website to give the basic details and photos with desktop and mobile-friendly versions.

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Disclaimer

All content on this page is for general informational purposes only and does not apply to any specific case, is not legal, tax or insurance advice and should not be relied upon. If you have any questions about the situation for your small business or the latest information in your state, you should contact an attorney for legal advice, an insurance agent or broker, and/or your state's labor or industry agency, board, commission or department. Please note that the information provided on this page may change at any time as a result of legislative action, court decisions or rules adopted or amended by any state or the federal government.

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