couple with phone at table

This article is a recap of a presentation given by Upserve’s SEO Manager, Seth Steinman, at the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Symposium in December 2018. 

There are over one million restaurants in the United States. How are you going to make yours stand out?

The answer: effective digital marketing. Your menu, staff, and hospitality make your restaurant special. Your online presence is what will set your restaurant apart.

Digital Marketing Statistics for Restaurants

You already know that marketing is the most important ingredient in finding and retaining customers. But did you know just how important digital marketing is to modern restaurant success?

  • 90 percent of guests research a restaurant before dining — more than any other business type.
  • 57 percent of those guests viewed restaurant websites before selecting where to dine.
  • 33 percent view other guests’ reviews prior to dining.

6 Steps to Getting Your Restaurant Found Online

If you search your restaurant’s name, what shows up? How about, “best restaurant in <your city here>” in Google? Does your restaurant show up? You might not be getting the results you hoped for, but have no fear. We have a six step plan that will help improve your website and get it to the top of those search engine rankings:

  • Website
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Reviews
  • Email & Loyalty
  • Customer Value
  • Measure Results

restaurant marketing statistics

1. Optimize Your Website

Have you visited your website in the past two weeks? Don’t worry—this is a judgement free zone. If your website is looking less than stellar, these five features will make any hungry diner want to eat at your restaurant.

  • Mobile-friendly: In 2018, 52 percent of all worldwide online traffic was generated through mobile phones, up from 50 percent in the previous year. Chances are, your potential customers will be searching for your restaurant on their mobile device. You’ll want to make sure that your website is easy to navigate on a cell phone.
  • Legible and updated menu: There’s a pretty good chance that your customers are visiting your website to see your menu. Nothing is worse than not being able to see what incredible menu items await customers when they visit your restaurant. Make sure your menu is easy to read on desktop and mobile devices, no zooming-in required. For more advanced optimization, add name and alt tags to all your images so search engines know exactly what the food is that you’re showing.
  • Calls-to-action: What do you want your customers to do when they get to your website? If you want them to call your restaurant or make a reservation online, make those buttons prominent on your website. To make it easier on your customers, make sure that no scrolling is necessary to get them to call or make a reservation for dinner.
  • Hours: If you only serve brunch on Sunday mornings, you’ll want to make sure your customers know that. Having your hours at the bottom of your homepage and on a dedicated page will ensure that no one shows up for dinner on Sunday nights.
  • Online ordering: According to the National Restaurant Association, three in five U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout at least once a week. If you don’t already offer online ordering to your customers, you have an opportunity to tap into one of the fastest growing areas of our industry.

digital marketing for restaurants

2. Invest in SEO — Search Engine Optimization

When you open a restaurant, chances are that SEO is pretty close to the bottom of the list of things that you’d consider to be important. However, there are a few quick and easy things you can do that will help validate your business on the internet and help drive more people into your doors.

  • Optimize your Google Business, Yelp Business, and Facebook Business profiles by verifying ownership and making sure your business’ name, address, and phone number are consistent.
  • Encourage your customers to leave reviews of your website. This helps validate that you are running a legitimate business. If you need some assistance driving reviews, post about it on social media or offer an incentive for customers that leave a positive review.
  • Having your website linked on other authoritative websites will help give your business a search engine boost. If your business has been featured in a city tourism guide or on a news outlet, reach out and ask if they can link back to your website if they haven’t already.

TIP: Use Google Search Console to learn what people are searching to find your website. This will help you tailor your website’s content to make sure that people are finding you online.

Find out how to round out your marketing strategy with help from our Restaurant Marketing Guide.

3. Monitor & Solicit Positive Reviews

While some restaurant owners believe that ignorance is bliss when it comes to customer reviews, they are critical to the success of a business.

  • 92 percent of consumers read reviews
  • 77 percent prefer peer reviews versus critic reviews.
  • 33 percent would never eat a restaurant with less than four stars.

The numbers don’t lie. If you want to ensure that potential customers will find and fall in love with your restaurant, there are two ways to drive and maintain reviews.

  1. Ask: Simple enough, right? If you want something, sometimes all you have to do is ask for it. Take the time at the end of your customer’s meal to ask them to leave a review on your platform of choice, or follow up on their visit with an email that thanks them for visiting and asks them to leave a review.
  2. Respond: Whether the review is good or bad, take the time to respond to the customer. If it’s a good review, thank the person for visiting and encourage them to return. If it’s a bad review, make sure you leave a proper apology: express remorse, admit responsibility, tell them what you’re doing to fix it, and offer a way to follow up with a phone call or via email.

TIP: Use an aggregator, like Upserve’s reputation management tracking, to keep reviews all in one place.

upserve reviews digital marketing

4. Drive Business via Email Marketing

If you’re already sending email, great. If you’re not, you should probably start. Contrary to popular belief, email isn’t dying and you have an opportunity to do it right.

If your email open rate is low:

Try sending the email at a different time, testing different subject lines, or including an emoji in the subject line.

If your email engagement and click-through rates are low:

Be personal, use photos, and use website analytics to determine which content on your site is most popular with your audience.

DID YOU KNOW? Loyal repeat customers account for 1/3 of revenue, but are only 15 percent of total customers in your restaurant. Email marketing is a great way to get those valuable customers to come back.

digital marketing for restaurants

5. Understand Your Customer Value

Speaking of customer value, focusing on the lifetime value of a customer is key to the success of your business. Owning your audience is key to boosting the lifetime value of a customer, and there are three ways to do it.

  • Own the search traffic in your area. Restaurants aren’t your only competition these days. Delivery services like Uber Eats and Grubhub are taking a piece of the search traffic pie, as well as reservation websites like OpenTable.
  • Collect customer information. Build your own database of customer contact information so you don’t have to rely on third parties.
  • Offer special programs. Make your customers feel like family with programs and special offers that will make your restaurant their regular spot.

SUCCESS STORY: West End, a Chicago restaurant, identified a drop in business from repeat customers by using Upserve’s New vs. Repeat report. They implemented marketing programs to focus on regulars, and increased revenue by $72,000 in just three months.

6. Measure Results

There’s no real way to know if a marketing strategy works unless you have a way to measure its success. Everything you spend time or money on should be measurable, which is why you should always track how much you’re spending on promotions. Once the promotion is complete, you will be able to measure the return on investment (ROI) and figure out how much money you actually made versus how much you spent.

digital marketing for restaurants

The best way to make goals is to make sure they’re SMART:

  • Specific: Lack of clarity around a goal can be a contributing factor to its success. Making a concrete goal is imperative, rather than vaguely saying, “I want to post more on Facebook.” You want to have a clear goal, such as “increasing Facebook engagement by 50% by the end of the year.”   
  • Measurable: It’s important to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Assessing progress will help you to stay focused, meet deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving your goal.  
  • Achievable: Being realistic is crucial to the success of a goal. If you establish a goal to increase your rating on Google from three stars to five stars but don’t take the necessary steps to ask for more reviews, then you’ll have trouble getting there. Setting a goal that’s attainable is imperative to giving yourself a chance at achieving it.
  • Relevant: If you find yourself trying to keep up with your competitors when making goals, stop right there. Your goals should be right for you, your employees, and your business. If you’re setting a goal for the wrong reasons, you’ll face an unmet goal before you know it.
  • Time-bound: Like “achievable,” the timeline of your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it. If your goal seems like too big of a leap to take, try breaking it out into smaller, more realistic steps that will help you get there. Focusing on small wins can help you make consistent, gradual progress.

digital marketing for restaurants

5 Steps to Creating a Successful Social Media Strategy

When it comes to getting found online, rising in search engine rankings is only half of the battle. With 68 percent of adults using Facebook and 35 percent using Google regularly, having a presence on social media is key to digitally validating your business. Lucky for you, we have five things that will help ensure that your restaurant gets found on social media.

1. Searchability

It’s important that your restaurant is recognizable and easy to find on Instagram and Facebook. Choose a username that is direct and include relevant keywords in your profile. Once you get to posting, be sure to use relevant hashtags so curious guests will find you.

2. Shareability

Every photo you share on social media has the potential to be reshared to hundreds of millions users. Keep this in mind when you post: Make sure your images are well composed and your captions are concise.

3. Interactivity

As with your in-house guest engagement, it’s important to remember that social media is just another way to interact with your guests. You can learn a lot about a person from what they like on Instagram. Try asking your customers for cocktail name ideas or ask them to tell you what their favorite dish is at your restaurant.

TIP: Can’t decide between two dishes for your new menu? Ask your followers in a poll.

digital marketing for restaurants

4. Desirability

Above and beyond anything else, it’s important to always make food photos desirable. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Add texture. Soups, stews, sauces, and ice creams can benefit from a little bit of added texture in the form of a garnish with a contrasting color.
  • Follow the rule of thirds. Keep the photo interesting by placing items in the lower third of the image.
  • Include some action. Taking action-oriented photos will help customers imagine what it’s like to eat with you.
  • Give a sneak peek. Your menu isn’t the only interesting thing about your restaurant. Guests will appreciate a behind-the-scenes look into your restaurant, so be sure to share photos of chefs working hard in the kitchen and bartenders mixing up some cocktails behind the bar.

5. Exclusivity

Just as you want to interact with your guests on social media, you also want to build a sense of exclusivity for those loyal followers who promote you regularly. How can you do that? Use Facebook and Instagram as a way to share promotions, coupons, contests, and secret menu items with your fans.

TIP: Our Instagram Marketing Guide is filled with tips to help establish your restaurant’s presence on the industry’s most-loved social media platform.

Bottom line: Diners use the internet to find restaurants. Your restaurant needs to be there too.

Every restaurant owner knows that consistency is key. From the meals you prepare in the kitchen to the drinks that are mixed behind the bar, the most memorable restaurants are those that deliver reliable hospitality every time a customer walks through the door. This is also true with digital marketing: Maintaining a digital presence that aligns with the overall look, feel, and values of your business is key to creating a cohesive experience that wows customers every time. From your customer emails to your social media posts, digital marketing gives your business another opportunity to set your business apart from the competition.

What does it take to be an effective restaurant marketer? The strategies you need (and everything you ever wanted to know) are in one place.

Written by   |  
Holly Everett is a five-year restaurant industry veteran turned small business marketing specialist. After working at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island throughout college, she entered the world of marketing where she led B2B marketing initiatives at companies focusing on growing small businesses. At Upserve, she integrates her passion for the restaurant industry and knowledge of the needs of small business owners to help make restaurants wildly successful.