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A graphic showing how to create a restaurant marketing plan

You’ve got it all worked out. You’ve hired all the right people and have concocted a killer menu that perfectly fills the culinary void in your neighborhood. You’ve planned out the perfect restaurant grand opening and have developed all the specials you’re going to offer to get guests coming back again and again. The only thing you have left to solve is how you’re going to get those guests in the door in the first place—not just on your opening night, but over time in order to keep your rad new restaurant alive.

It’s all in your restaurant marketing plan. Making a marketing plan for your restaurant is the key to making sure your name gets out there and that your soon-to-be new customers know everything there is to know about why your restaurant is special and stands out among the crowd.

Not sure how to go about it? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Here is everything you need to know to craft a restaurant marketing plan.

restaurant marketing

What Exactly Is a Restaurant Marketing Plan?

Before you dive in, the first thing you need to understand is what exactly marketing plans are and why your restaurant needs one. If you understand the purpose of the plan, it will be much easier to figure out how your restaurant can achieve that through its own marketing plan.

As the Balance explains, “A marketing plan outlines the specific actions you intend to carry out to interest potential customers and clients in your product and/or service and persuade them to buy the product and/or services you offer.” Of course, when it comes to restaurants, often times what restaurateurs offer is both a product, in the form of food, and an experience as well as stellar service along the way. But to keep it simple, the point of a marketing plan for restaurants is to come up with a detailed plan for how you are going to pique your potential guests’ interest and how you’re going to get them to want to dine at your restaurant.

The Key Elements of Every Successful Restaurant Marketing Plan

While there is no right or wrong way to craft a marketing plan, there are a few key elements that everyone needs to at least consider, even if you don’t end up integrating them.

The first one is the role of social media in your restaurant’s marketing plan. Very few, if any, restaurants can get away with not using social media in some form or another, even if it’s just posting a picture or two here and there.

restaurant marketing strategy concept - many uses for company.

Nine out of 10 restaurants use social media to connect and engage with their guests. For restaurateurs, the idea of using social media marketing to reach guests may feel like a big time commitment, especially when you are already focused on managing your reputation via Yelp and OpenTable.

Nonetheless, think about all of the #foodstagram posts and social media check-ins your guests take part in. And what about the contests your peers are running to bring new guests in the door?

If you’re not on social media, you’re missing out on a huge revenue opportunity. Social media is ingrained in our daily lives and if you don’t integrate it into your restaurant, you’ll be left behind.

Learn how to craft the perfect shot with our Instagram Marketing Guide.

Another element is paid ads. Most restaurants use Google or Facebook for these because you can target them specifically for a very particular selection of your target audience. Think of promoted posts as friendly, non-intrusive advertisements that blend with the news feed. Whereas Facebook ads hang out on the right-hand side of your Facebook page, promoted posts are intended to integrate with the news feed in a way that reads like a note from a friend. Keep this in mind when writing what you’d like to say since aggressive sales copy doesn’t always jive with viewers.

Events are another element to consider. Even though there are always the major restaurant industry events to consider, don’t overlook local community events like softball tournaments or fundraisers—they can be a great way to get your name out and boost your reputation.

social media for restaurants

Last, there’s still good ol’ snail mail. Yes, it’s true that most businesses don’t use it anymore, but why not take that as an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, especially if you can pair your mailings with some free swag. Everyone loves a free pair of cheap sunglasses.

Get the Guide to Effective Restaurant Marketing to find out how the best restaurants market themselves and for tips on creating your own successful marketing strategy.

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How to Make Your Very Own Restaurant Marketing Plan

When it comes to crafting your restaurant’s unique marketing plan, there are a few broad steps you’ll want to follow, according to Restaurant Engine:

  1. Gather ideas.  Consider the perspectives of every stakeholder in your restaurant, from managers and owners to head chefs to the kinds of customers you want to come through the door. This step is especially important if you haven’t come up with a marketing strategy yet. If you have, figuring out how to best position and communicate your brand will have been covered already. If not, you’ll want to answer the following questions before doing anything else: What is the theme of the restaurant? Who are our ideal customers? What makes us special among the competition? What can we do better? How can we streamline our marketing costs?
  2. Learn from those who came before you. If this is your first time coming up with a marketing plan, taking a look of some restaurant marketing plan examples can seriously help you figure out what the end product should look like. This pdf of a sample restaurant marketing plan from Mplans is a great place to start.
  3. Conduct a SWOT and four P’s analysis. Don’t get freaked out by the terms—they’re just marketing lingo for figuring out what your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are as you enter the marketplace. The four P’s are Price, Product, Promotion, and Place. Getting through these exercises will help to clarify even further exactly how you should position yourself in your marketing efforts.
  4. Craft your plan. Once you’ve moved through the previous three steps, the next thing you’ll want to do is bring your answers and information together in one place. Once you see them side by side, you’ll want to finish by writing up what your marketing goals are (An increase in family dining? More referrals on social media?) and outlining key steps that you can undertake to achieve them. Your best bet is to be as specific as possible. Include a date range for how long you plan to carry out each step and give each step its own budget, too. The most important part is outlining how you’re going to evaluate whether or not you achieved your goal. If you’re looking to increase the uptake of a certain special, you might want to keep a running tally of the number of coupons used and compare that to your total sales.

facebook marketing strategies for restaurants

Measuring Restaurant Marketing Effectiveness

Here’s the question everyone always asks when it comes to marketing: What is the return on investment, or ROI?

You want to know: Is it working? Here’s the secret: Social likes and shares are a good indicator, but repeat guests are how you know.

Accurately measuring your marketing efforts is critical to understanding which promotions really build your business or which ones needlessly cost you money and distract you from your business.

In general, here is what you consider and the questions you might ask yourself when looking at the effectiveness of restaurant marketing:

  • Increase in one-time sales: You may know that your normal Tuesday night after 9 pm generates about $2,000 in sales. If you start running a trivia night or live music on Tuesday night at 9 pm and sales are now $3,000, you have increased your one-time sales by $1,000. In other words, what is the increase in sales as a direct result of the promotion?
  • Increase in repeat business: If you are successful in bringing new people into your restaurant during this promotion, you’ll want to know if any of them turned into repeat guests and how much they spent. If after 90 days, trivia night turned 10 guests into repeat guests, who made a total of 24 visits and spent $1,350, that is your increase in repeat business. After all is said and done, how much did repeat guests, that came in as a result of this promotion, spend annually?
  • Margin: Margin is how much you get to keep after paying your expenses.  For example, you wouldn’t spend $10 to earn $10 in sales because you’d also have to pay for the food, labor, etc. Most restaurants run between a 20- to 40-percent margin. After all costs involved in the promotion, what is your margin?
  • Cost to run a promotion: In the case of live music, you may have to pay the band. For trivia night, you may have pay the emcee, or you may pay to advertise the event. You need to add up all the money you pay to run the promotion.
  • Cost of discounts: In the case of happy hour, for example, you may be discounting your drinks to help attract business. Or if you participate in restaurant week, you may offer a prix fixe menu for 30 percent off; you’re not just discounting it for new people, you’re discounting it for everyone. You need to factor in how much money you’re losing on discounts when measuring the effectiveness of your promotions.

Want to begin writing a marketing plan of your own? Start here.

The Holy Grail of Restaurant Marketing Plans: Mastering Word of Mouth

This principle extends way beyond the restaurant industry. The best way to get the best business is through word of mouth. Think about it—someone who you already know and trust tells you that you’re going to love a certain bar, restaurant, or coffee shop for a number of reasons. How likely are you to at least check the place out? Pretty likely. How likely is it that you’re going to love it for all of the reasons your friend said you would? Also pretty likely. That’s a straight path to loyal, repeat business. That’s why word of mouth marketing is not only incredibly effective, but also an insanely cheap form of marketing as well—a win-win for business owners everywhere.

The tricky part, though, is figuring out how to harness the power of word of mouth and intentionally incorporate that into your restaurant’s marketing plan. As QSR magazine asks, “Everyone says word-of-mouth marketing is the best form of marketing, but how do you actually create it?”

QSR goes on to answer that it’s much less about creating a whole new marketing scheme, and more about focusing on cultivating what you already have.

Group Of Friends Enjoying Meal At Outdoor Restaurant

The first key step is figuring out who, exactly, you should be engaging in your word of mouth restaurant marketing strategy. The best place to start is with customers who are already on your loyalty or rewards program. These people already love your restaurant and choose to come back again and again to rack up points, so why not leverage their love for your spot? It can be as simple as offering a free appetizer or a discount for any referrals they bring through the door.

Next, don’t forget about your employees. A word of mouth program can function much like an employment referral program—employees get some sort of reward for getting people to come to your restaurant.

Then, there’s the wild world of social media influencers. Influencers have become so popular these days and the foodie influencers subgenre is a particularly influential subset. Most cities have at least one or two people with an Instagram account dedicated to food that everyone else follows in order to hear about what’s happening and where they should be eating and drinking.

Depending on the reach of each particular influencer, it might cost you to have them post about your restaurant, but chances are you can get away with inviting them in for a free meal or drinks and they’ll end up posting about it at some point—the cost to you is minimal, but the impact on your business will be massive.

At the end of the day though, what you have to remember is this: Fit your marketing plan to your restaurant, not the other way around. The point is to help you achieve your goals.

Check out Upserve’s Restaurant Marketing Strategies Guide!

Written by   |  
Cinnamon is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and journalist who paid a large part of her way through college and graduate school by serving. Her work has been published with outlets like National Geographic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. You can read more about her at www.cinnamon-janzer.com.
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