You have great food, an attentive staff, and a great reputation with guests, but you just aren’t getting the repeat visits you want. What can you do?
We tapped restaurant owners and operators for their top restaurant marketing strategies that have helped turn a first time visitor into a lifelong guest.
Be Kid- and Pet-Friendly
It behooves your restaurant to have relaxed policies involving children and pets.
“Being kid-friendly during the day is just being business smart,” says Sam Pasalis, manager of Toronto’s Rally Sports Bar & Smokehouse. “It invites families to come to your restaurant during the day and before 8 pm. [It] opens a new audience to target effectively.”
Being kid-friendly doesn’t simply mean having an endless supply of crayons on hand at all times.
“Southerleigh offers fun, kid-friendly eats on the menu like allowing children to craft their own pretzel,” says the Texas restaurant’s chef/owner Jeff Balfour. “The team brings the dough to the table, kids roll their pretzel however they please. The kids love getting creative with their pretzel and the parents especially enjoy this since it keeps the kids occupied with an activity during dinner.”
Extending this concept and creating a dog-friendly atmosphere can also engender goodwill, gratitude, and loyalty in guests with pets.
“Southerleigh has a large patio and allows for (and encourages!) dogs to accompany customers while they have a bite and beer,” Balfour says. “Complimentary water bowls are placed outside to make sure pups don’t exhaust in the Texas heat.”
People Love Local Everything (Especially Beer)
Kim Carstens of fine dining destination Marlene’s at Sevastopol Station in Des Moines, Iowa, makes sourcing local products a priority.
“We are big on using locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible, and with our new chef, that percentage has increased,” she says. “As soon as we started offering local craft beer on tap, it definitely made a difference because there is a huge craft beer community here.”
Email and social media posting are vital in today’s marketplace.
“Brewing beer in-house is really what people love most about the restaurant; knowing they can always get a beer that was literally just brewed on premise,” Balfour says. “Customers are eager to try all the unique brews offered on draft, which are seasonal and change year round, so that certainly helps encourage local craft beer fans to return.”
Don’t Ignore Social Media
While the issue of phones at the table still ignites heated debates, there is no question that social media can help your restaurant. But should you design your restaurant based on what makes for a good photo for Instagram?
“Creating a fun, upbeat and lively atmosphere usually improves the odds that your customer is going to remember their experience at your place,” says Nick Moretti, owner of Chicago restaurant and deli Chop Shop and 1st Ward Events. “We’ve updated the decor on our patio by adding two huge black & white murals from artists Lefty and Lauren Asta. These murals are constantly used as great backdrops for our guests to Instagram their dinner or cocktails. The black and white designs instantly make anyone or anything posing in front of it pop with color and Instagram-worthy shots.”
Of course, the food still has to look great.
“I think the food and presentation is something unique to the culinary scene in Des Moines and it’s definitely attracted more foodies,” says Carstens. “We have invited our local artists to take over our wall space to add to the decor, which I think gives it a little more charm. Plus, it’s all about supporting local.”
Instagram not your thing? When properly executed, email marketing is also effective.
“Email and social media posting are vital in today’s marketplace,” says J Stephen Sadler of Texas’ Crumbzz International Bistro. “You must stay in front of your clientele to register with them when they think of dining out. But you need to be careful to not overdo it! We email our clientele only when we have something special to tell them. An excellent example is when we are offering a special dish. Too many emails will cause your clientele to block the source.”
Keep an Open Mind and Kitchen
“If you have businesses close to your restaurant, offering take-out at lunch is a great idea,” says Pasalis. “Not many people have very long for their lunch break so sitting at a restaurant and ordering is tricky to do. And let’s be honest, no one can, or at least should, eat fast food for lunch every day.”
Widening your menu to accommodate dietary restrictions will also widen your appeal to more diners.
“Not having vegetarian options or gluten-free options limits group parties,” says Pasalis. “If a group of 10 friends wants to go out to eat, but one is a vegetarian, that will affect the restaurant they choose to go to. You don’t only lose the business of the individual but of the entire group. That adds up at the end of the month.”