For many restaurant owners, marketing can be a scary element of restaurant operations marked by subjectivity and a lot of grey area, but aren’t all new things scary at first?
By the end of this restaurant marketing guide, you’ll be equipped with the tools and tactics needed to create a following of loyal and loving guests.
What Is Restaurant Marketing?
Alright, let’s get into it. First thing’s first – what even is restaurant marketing?
What is restaurant marketing?
Restaurant marketing is the act of showcasing your restaurant or food service concept and offering your services to the general public with the aim to win their business.
Why should I market my restaurant?
There’s not a lot of elbow room in the restaurant industry in the U.S. Currently, the market is growing at 2x the rate of the population, and with more than 660,000 restaurants already dotting the map, restaurant marketing has gone from nice-to-have to necessary as business owners from coast to coast try to stand out from the field.
Though best thought of as a tool to drive your business forward, restaurant marketing is all about connecting with your customers wherever they are and fostering strong relationships. As a restaurant owner, you know full well of the transformative power of hospitality; restaurant marketing gives you the opportunity to show genuine hospitality to your guests when they’re not within the four walls of your concept.
The most obvious benefit of restaurant marketing is that it grows revenue by increasing both foot and online traffic to your business. Other benefits of restaurant marketing include:
It gets the word out about your restaurant’s mission, vision, and purpose.
It increases brand awareness.
It introduces you to new audiences and markets.
It attracts new staff members.
It supports your customer retention and customer acquisition strategies.
It helps you build connections within your local restaurant community.
It opens you to new business partnerships and collaborations.
It creates new opportunities with distributors and vendors.
How much should I spend on restaurant marketing?
As with many of the facets involved in restaurant operations, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to restaurant marketing, nor is there a magic number when it comes to how much you should spend on restaurant marketing.
The range for spend on restaurant marketing typically spans anywhere from 3–10% of sales. On the subject of establishing a marketing budget for your business, here’s what The U.S Small Business Administration recommends:
Many businesses allocate a percentage of actual or projected gross revenues – usually between 2-3% for run-rate marketing and up to 3-5% for start-up marketing. But the allocation actually depends on several factors: the industry you’re in, the size of your business, and its growth stage. For example, during the early brand-building years, retail businesses spend much more than other businesses on marketing — up to 20% of sales. As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8% of their revenues to marketing. This budget should be split between 1) brand development costs (which includes all the channels you use to promote your brand, such as your website, sales collateral, etc.), and 2) the costs of promoting your business (campaigns, advertising, events, etc.). This percentage also assumes you have margins in the range of 10-12% (after you’ve covered your other expenses, including marketing).
Let’s apply these insights to calculate restaurant marketing spend on a macro and micro level.
Macro: How much did the restaurant industry spend on marketing last year?
As an industry, The U.S restaurant space is recognized as an $8 billion market. By allocating 7.5% of gross revenue toward marketing, we approximate the U.S restaurant industry spent around $600 million on restaurant marketing in 2018.
Micro: How do I calculate the right restaurant marketing budget for my concept?
Before we get started calculating the proper restaurant marketing budget for your concept, you’ll need to pull the following metrics:
Revenue by month
Your restaurant’s profit margin. To calculate your restaurant’s profit margin, simply subtract your annual operating costs from gross revenue. Per the above advice, if your restaurant is not operating with a 10–12% profit margin, consider spending time evaluating your menu, inventory purchasing decisions, and how you’re maximizing product usage to decrease sitting inventory.
Related Resource More: How to Calculate Inventory Turnover Ratio in Your Restaurant
And compile the following stats about your business:
Your restaurant’s age
Your restaurant’s market share. To calculate your restaurant’s market share, divide your restaurant’s sales by your local restaurant market’s sales within a given fiscal period. Reach out to your state’s restaurant association for granular market insights about sales, demographics represented, churn, and more.
Related Resource: How to Write Your Restaurant Marketing Budget
Now that you’ve settled on how much budget you can allocate to cover your restaurant marketing initiatives, it’s time to develop a well-rounded restaurant marketing strategy to help you accomplish your restaurant marketing goals.
What Is a Restaurant Marketing Strategy?
A restaurant marketing strategy refers to the collective marketing efforts or activities — also known as marketing campaigns — made by a restaurant over the course of a year, typically organized and tracked in a restaurant marketing plan.
The first step in creating a restaurant marketing strategy is identifying your restaurant’s target customer or target market, a subset or cohort of the general population whose business you hope to earn because their behaviors, preferences, and values align with your business’ brand, mission, vision, and purpose. Next, you'll want to develop buyer personas: A buyer persona is a model of who you think your most common customer is. Businesses often have more than one buyer persona.
How to create a buyer persona.
To create buyer personas of your customer base, you’ll first need to identify and outline your most frequent clusters of guests. Here are a few different strategies you can use:
Have the manager-on-duty record a daily summary of the types of guests they saw come in during their shift; do this each day for a month in your manager logbook.
If you host a restaurant loyalty/rewards program for guests, try sending out a survey to participants via your restaurant's CRM solution. Offer a promotional discount to everyone who participates as well as the chance to win a gift card to your restaurant.
Pull rich sales reporting from your restaurant point-of-sale system. One of the benefits of Toast’s point-of-sale technology is the robust customer report feature: Restaurant owners and operators can isolate customers who visited during a given time period then drill-down and learn more about each customer’s unique behavior while in your restaurant. Here is an example of a customer profile from Toast’s point-of-sale reporting and analytics:
When it comes to developing buyer personas around common customer types, the frequent visitors report from Toast will undoubtedly be your strongest source of data. This report isolates (as the name suggests) your most frequent visitors and compiles valuable data about their preferences and behavior all in one place. Analyzing and finding commonalities amongst this set — from popular menu items, time of visit, total spend, and valuable demographic data like age, gender, and address — will set your buyer persona development off on the right foot.
After you’ve zeroed in on your customer clusters, it’s time to turn them into buyer personas. For each cluster of customers you’ve identified who share 5+ commonalities, you’ll want to create a persona. As previously stated, it’s common for businesses to have multiple buyer personas. When building out a profile for a buyer persona, you’ll want to:
Give each buyer persona a name and a photo — For the visual learners on your team, this will help them memorize each persona’s qualities and how to spot them. Use a site like UnSplash to find great free images.
Outline high level identifiers — Examples include: age, gender identity, generation, etc.
Highlight average spend
Number of visits per [insert time period here]
Include a buying behavior summary — This section should outline the analysis you did into what this type of buyer likes to order, how much, favorite wine/beer brands, etc.
Outline their likes — This doesn’t just apply to preferences within your restaurant. A customer is first and foremost a person and they have a life outside the hour or two they’re visiting your restaurant. By understanding their whole personality, not just as it pertains to your restaurant, you’ll find it easier to entice and engage them to enter your restaurant.
Outline their dislikes — Same approach as likes section, but, like, negative.
What marketing channels to use to reach this persona — If you’re targeting Gen Z, snapchat or Instagram will be your go-to, whereas a Boomer is more likely to read a magazine or engage with your brand on Facebook.
Here's an example of buyer persona Penny Professional:
Restaurant Concept: Southern-inspired tapas and cocktail bar downtown
Persona A: Penny Professional
Gender Identity: Woman, She/Her pronouns
Profession: Manager-level professional, industry non-specific.
Average Spend: $35 or less
Number of Visits: 1 per week, 4-5 per month
Buying Behavior: Typically comes in with her co-workers or meets up with friends after work for a round of drinks. Visits for large group birthdays, engagements, going-away parties, and other special occasions. Tends to stick to happy hour menu, house wine selection, or a craft beer.
Best Channels to Use to Reach Them: Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, VSCO, Facebook just for school friends and family.
Once you’ve created your restaurant buyer personas, print them out and hang them in your server break area, on a wall in your kitchen, or anywhere that your staff frequents away from the watchful gaze of customers. This will help with memorization, identification, and bettering your staff’s chances of delivering an exceptional dining experience tailored to this guest’s preferences.
Buyer personas aren't just helpful for marketing your business, they're also an incredibly useful sales tool for your restaurant staff. Train your front-of-house staff how to recognize and sell to each individual buyer persona you identify. For example, Penny Professional would likely not be too interested in your top-shelf bourbon, but she'd definitely be interested in a sweet, very Instagrammable cocktail.
The buyer persona exercise can also be used to improve your staff recruiting strategy. Using the above steps, develop an employee persona for front-of-house and back-of-house positions; this will help you easily identify the candidates you want as you sift through resumes and applications.
Once you have identified who you're marketing to, the next step is to decide how you're going to entice them to visit your business and what promotion, discount, or incentive you are going to use.
Together, the how and the what combine to make a restaurant marketing plan.
What Are the Characteristics of an Effective Restaurant Marketing Plan?
A restaurant marketing plan is a chronological timeline of a restaurant’s intended marketing activities, across all marketing channels, for the upcoming calendar year.
An effective restaurant marketing plan will provide an at-a-glance view of past, present, and upcoming marketing campaigns with important marketing campaign data included, like:
Campaign goals: What you are trying to accomplish by conducting this campaign? Are you trying to increase your social follower count? Sell more of a certain menu item? Drive sign ups to your loyalty program? It’s vital to the success of your campaign to have a goal outlined from its inception.
Campaign duration: How long will this campaign be live for? E.g. a discount that is redeemable for the next two weeks or a radio ad that will air once a day for the next 10 days.
Intended marketing channel: Where will you be conducting this campaign? E.g. on social media, via your loyalty/rewards program, on a discount/promotion site like Groupon, etc.
Budget and spend: How much money will you devote to this campaign? For example, if you’re planning to sponsor a local little league team (and get your name on their jerseys) it may cost you a few hundred dollars, whereas an ad on YouTube will cost you per click.
Key performance indicators (KPIs): KPIs are metrics used to gauge the success of a marketing campaign. Examples of marketing performance metrics include sales/revenue increase/decrease, total tickets, loyalty/rewards sign ups, or social follower increase.
What Are the Best Marketing Channels for Restaurants?
The most common restaurant marketing channels are:
Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
Search Engine Ads
Review Sites (Yelp, TripAdvisor)
Sponsorship and Events
Discount and Promotion Sites (Groupon, RetailMeNot)
Video (Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook Live, Instagram Live)
Radio and TV Ads
Food Festivals, Farmers Markets, and Food Halls with rotating vendors
Here are some lesser-known restaurant marketing channels and restaurant promotion ideas worth exploring:
Third-party delivery sites with a discovery tool (UberEats, Doordash, Grubhub, ToastTakeout)
A loyalty/rewards program
One-time-use ride share codes (Uber, Lyft, Bird, Lime)
Cars, buses, trains, pedi-cabs, etc.
Over-head ad space on public transit
Mall and shopping center directories
‘Welcome to the Neighborhood!’ coupon books for new residents
Light-Up/neon host stands
Low-cost wearables, like sunglasses, hats, coozies, croakies, etc.
Entering a cooking competition
Transforming your staff into brand advocates
Phew, that was a long list. So, how do you decide which of these restaurant marketing channels are right to reach your target customers? Lean on the research and analysis you and your team put toward developing your restaurant’s buyer personas. As we said at the beginning of this guide, restaurant marketing is all about meeting your customers where they are.
For example, if you own or operate a sports bar and want to attract the younger game-day crowd, your target demographic is likely men between the ages of 25 and 45 who follow blogs (and social media accounts) like Barstool Sports or Bleacher Report, participate in fantasy leagues, send their friends funny memes on Instagram, and love beer — both craft and domestic.
Connect with your distributor and run a Sunday game-day promotion with a well-known beer brand — like Bud Light or Coors Light — where guests are given freebies and swag. Advertise this promotion on your Instagram account, as well as via Instagram ads using the logo and beer's branding.
After tracking your collective restaurant marketing initiatives in your restaurant marketing plan, you need to analyze the success of your campaigns
Calculating the ROI of Your Restaurant Marketing Efforts
Driving attention and foot traffic to your business through restaurant marketing is essential to the survival of your concept, but you want to be sure that your restaurant marketing campaigns and activities are earning you money, not costing you money.
At the completion of one of your restaurant’s marketing campaigns, it’s important that you calculate the ROI (return on investment) of said campaign using this formula:
The insights you gain from understanding what worked about your restaurant marketing campaign from a revenue perspective will influence how you approach restaurant marketing in the future.
Ready to add some restaurant marketing campaigns to the calendar? Keep reading for some restaurant marketing ideas that will boost brand recognition and drive foot traffic to your concept.
Restaurant Marketing Ideas Worth Trying
Below are a 11 creative restaurant marketing ideas from real restaurants, restaurant consultants, and restaurant industry experts:
1.Make the most of your grand opening
Restaurant Marketing Resource: 7 Restaurant Grand Opening Ideas that Actually Work
2.Provide a discount or promotional code
Restaurant Marketing Resource: 10 Restaurant Promotions You Wish You Had Thought of Earlier
3.Run an LTO (limited-time offer)
Restaurant Marketing Resource: Restaurant Specials Ideas: Discounts and Promotions You Can Offer
4.Host events and create an ongoing events calendar
Restaurant Marketing Resource: And We’re Live: How to Host Events in a Restaurant or Bar
5.Run ads on your target customers’ preferred social media platform
Restaurant Marketing Resource: 10 Examples of Awesome Restaurant Social Media Marketing
6.Host a loyalty/rewards program for your guests
Restaurant Marketing Resource: The Magic of Credit Card Linked Restaurant Loyalty Programs
7.Do contests and giveaways
Restaurant Marketing Resource: 7 Effective Restaurant Contest Ideas Your Guests Will Love
8.Make gift cards available for purchase (or give a pre-loaded gift cards to a loyal customer!)
Restaurant Marketing Resource: Restaurant Gift Cards: Statistics, Charts, and Tips [Infographic]
9.Give a customer a shoutout on your social media page
Restaurant Marketing Resource: 20 Customer Appreciation Ideas For Your Restaurant
10.Celebrate national food and drink holidays
Restaurant Marketing Resource: National Food Holidays For Restaurants
Advertise your restaurant in local magazines, weeklies, circulars, or on local TV/Radio stations
Restaurant Marketing Resource: Restaurant Advertising: 10 Creative Ideas for Your Restaurant Ads
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