Whether it’s for a grand opening, long-awaited re-opening, or you’re simply looking to get the creative juices flowing, these restaurant marketing ideas will give you plenty of food for thought when it comes to planning your next campaign.
From food photography and social media to branded games, SEO, and special promotions, we’ve collated a long list of ingredients to help put customer spending back on the menu.
UK consumer spending in 2021
After a challenging year for those in the hospitality industry, we’re finally allowed back out to our favourite eateries and dining establishments. For restaurant businesses, there’s a huge opportunity to bounce back and make the most of a post-lockdown surge in consumer spending.
It is estimated that British households plan to spend more than a quarter – £50bn in total – of their lockdown savings over the course of 2021. You’d better believe that a significant chunk of this will end up in the hands of their favourite pubs, bars, and restaurants.
With that in mind, let’s dive into our guide to ideas, tips, and tricks to make the most of your marketing efforts.
Our top restaurant marketing ideas for 2021 and beyond
- Brand and story
- Social media
- Facebook groups
- Branded games
- Food photography
- Google My Business
- Online menu
- Local SEO
- Email marketing
- Online reviews
- Delivery services
- Support other businesses
- Influencer marketing
- Seasonal marketing
- Customer rewards
- Live chat and automated responses
Refine your brand and story
First things first, you’ll want to think about the subject of your restaurant marketing efforts. The food itself is important, but developing a consistent and cohesive brand will pay dividends for your business in the long run.
Are you a pub offering hearty, traditional fare? Your target customers may see you as a home away from home, so create an identity that makes them feel welcome, comfortable, and cosy. Maybe you specialise in some form of hot or spicy cuisine? Colourful imagery involving heat, chilli, and spice may be the way to go in your marketing.
If your business came about through your love for home-cooked food, with recipes passed down through several generations of your family, don’t be afraid to weave this narrative into everything you do. Just be genuine and you’ll soon have a base of loyal, loving customers who spread the word for you.
Once you have a good understanding of your brand and story, be consistent with it. Whether it’s for social media, in promotional materials, or at the physical restaurant location, there should be a common thread running through everything you do.
Use social media to promote your restaurant
If you have a restaurant business in 2021, social media is a must. From showing off your food to promoting events, offers, or discounts, it gives you the opportunity to inform and entertain your audience while building meaningful connections with them.
And while you may not see it reflected in post likes and shares, people will regularly visit your social media pages to find out important information such as the latest menus, opening times, and availability. These phantom visitors are just as important – if not more important – than the ones liking everything you post online, so be sure to keep those pages updated.
Also, don’t forget that businesses are all about people. From loyal customers to staff and suppliers, social media lets you show the personal side of what you do. If you’re happy getting in front of camera, you can even share stories or live video updates about what’s new and what customers can expect that day or week – us humans respond well to happy, smiling faces in marketing!
An area often overlooked by businesses is Facebook groups. These thriving online communities are full of engaged people looking for new ideas and businesses to support, and nothing will pique their interest quite like a drool-worthy picture of the star dish on your menu.
With brick-and-mortar businesses, it always makes sense to look at groups with a connection to your specific geographic location. Have you just opened up a new pizza restaurant that you know the locals would love? Find relevant Facebook groups in your town or city and spread the word.
The most important thing in all this is to first get permission from the group owner. You’ll usually find these details in the group’s ‘About’ section, so introduce yourself with a friendly message (private message or email, not a public post) and be clear about what you’d like to share within their group.
In many cases, they’ll be more than happy to let you promote your business. If that’s not the case, they might already make it clear in the group information. Either way, treat these groups with respect and you can’t go far wrong. Just remember – the group owner always has the final say on what is and isn’t allowed.
The big challenge for hospitality businesses is to generate revenue while ensuring they have happy customers who want to come back time and time again.
Branded games offer restaurants a cost-effective way to stand out from the crowd. Not only are games fun – they’re great for building engagement and developing meaningful connections with customers.
By tailoring the game environments, you’ll raise brand awareness while delivering ROI for your business. You can offer exclusive discounts, vouchers, or prizes for in-game achievements to keep tables full while growing customer loyalty.
Just look at this example from Farmhouse Inns, who used online games to support their marketing goals. If you’re unsure about whether games are a good fit for your business, read more about whether branded games are right for you.
Let’s face it – food is at the heart of most restaurant businesses. It’s a powerful selling and promotional tool and should therefore play a central role in your restaurant marketing plan. Whether it’s for social media, your website, or print items such as menus, you’re going to want to show it off in the best way possible.
For platforms like Facebook and Instagram in particular, photos of delicious-looking food are the key to drumming up interest and encouraging people to make those all-important bookings. If the dishes look just as good in real life, you’ll inspire restaurant-goers to take their own photos and share them with the world – a great example of user-generated content (UGC).
Lighting and arrangement are key factors when it comes to food photography, and it can take quite a bit of practice before you feel confident taking good pictures yourself. If you’re new to it all and want to learn more, check out these food photography tips for restaurants.
If you don’t feel confident with a camera and editing software, it can be well worth the investment to have a professional take high-quality photos of your food. They’ll have a good sense of arrangement and lighting, and will be able to bring it all to life using photo-editing tools.
Set up Google My Business
If you haven’t done it already, getting yourself set up on Google My Business is an absolute must for your basic restaurant marketing.
This is how you can tell Google about all of the key information relating to your business, such as address, opening hours, contact details, and a link to your website. You can also post your top food photos to appear alongside your listing, as well as specific links to place orders, reserve tables, and view menus.
To learn more about the impact this online profile can have on your business, check out Google’s own post on increasing foot traffic.
Update your restaurant website
If you don’t have a website for your restaurant business in 2021, this is something you should seriously consider. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated – it just gives you an online presence that will increase your digital footprint and help you to appear in search engine results.
What’s more, you have full control over your website’s appearance. Unlike social media platforms – which will present a similar layout for every single business – you have the opportunity to share your restaurant’s atmosphere and brand identity in a unique way.
There are lots of CMS (content management system) platforms out there to choose from, ranging from easy and intuitive website builders to more customisable options such as WordPress. For smaller restaurant businesses, it probably makes sense to keep it simple and go for an option that requires less maintenance.
Once you’re up and running, you’ll want to include important information such as contact details, opening times, and up-to-date menus (see section below). You can also manage bookings and availability through an online reservation system.
Your menu is one of the key things potential visitors want to know about your restaurant, with an OpenTable survey finding that 93% of people will check this before eating out. It should therefore be easy to find and feature prominently on your website, with clear links to it from your social media accounts.
You’ll want an online menu that is high-quality, easy to read, and most importantly up to date. This can be done as a page on your website, or through a range of third-party platforms.
At the very least, you can post a weekly photo of an up-to-date menu across your social media platforms so that it’s easy for visitors to find. But this is a shortcut that means you’ll miss out on some of the SEO benefits of an online menu.
Local SEO for restaurants
Search engine optimisation – or SEO – is the key to appearing in online search results.
With as many as 46% of all Google searches estimated to be local, you want to make sure you’re appearing in the results for your specific geographic location. One survey found that 49% of people perform local searches without a specific place in mind, meaning a lot of business is there for the taking in the online realm.
An example of this would be someone picking up their phone and searching for ‘pizza in Sheffield’. If you happen to have a pizza restaurant in that fine city, it could be you that gets suggested to them first. This in turn can have an enormous impact on your real-world business.
Here are some basic SEO strategies that are easy to implement:
- Add location and contact info to your site
- Make sure keywords are included in on-page content (‘pizza’, ‘Sheffield’ etc.)
- Use location keywords in your site’s URL structure
- Apply schema markup
- Set up Google My Business (see earlier section)
- Ask customers to leave online reviews (see section below)
Check out this handy guide to learn more about local SEO for restaurants.
Email marketing (newsletters)
Restaurant businesses often underestimate the power of email marketing, but it’s been around this long for a good reason. Unlike social media platforms – which tend to offer poor organic reach – email offers a direct line to your subscribers to notify them about a new menu, special discount, or upcoming event.
Building a mailing list certainly takes some effort, but there’s no substitute for getting your news straight into someone’s inbox. You can then play around with designs and interactive ideas to really stand out from the crowd.
And remember those branded games we mentioned earlier? Turns out they’re great for helping businesses to grow their mailing list, with marketing opt-in rates as high as 60% of all those who play the game.
Encourage online reviews
A survey by Square found that 35% of respondents relied on online reviews when looking for a new restaurant to try out. That’s a lot of potential footfall!
From Google and Facebook to Yelp, Tripadvisor, and more niche platforms like Happy Cow, there’s a seemingly endless list of opportunities to get people talking about your business. If customers have had a positive experience at your restaurant, you can simply ask them to leave an online review and explain that it would really help you out.
Alternatively, you can incentivise them to do so with rewards, vouchers, or entry into a prize draw. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for reviews and respond to these, as positive interactions and relationships can only be a good thing for your business.
Use delivery services for your restaurant business
When it comes to talking about restaurant marketing ideas in 2021, it doesn’t get much more relevant than food delivery services. Unless you’ve been living beneath a rock for the past year (and let’s face it, we wouldn’t blame you), you will no doubt have noticed the explosion in popularity of these services.
Unsurprisingly, 2020 marked their best year ever, with a staggering 24.8 million people using delivery apps in the UK alone. But the truth is this trend was already on the rise.
Delivery apps have long been popular with food businesses looking to maximise their offering. For physical restaurants restricted in terms of size and number of tables, delivery services offer a way to expand beyond those limitations.
Here’s a roundup of some of the UK’s most popular food delivery apps for you to partner with.
Work with other businesses (and shout about it)
On the subject of teaming up with other companies, don’t forget about those enterprises on your very doorstep. From produce growers to suppliers and other small food businesses, it’s likely that you’re part of an exciting local ecosystem.
Customers love to know they’re supporting more than just one business when they make a purchase – something that has only been bolstered by the events of 2020-21. Don’t be afraid to shout about these partnerships on social media, and you’ll likely benefit from some love in return. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that.
Influencer marketing (blogger outreach)
If you’re trying to generate some hype around your restaurant business, influencers offer a great way to get the word out to a relevant and receptive audience.
Whether you’ve recently opened, are launching a new menu, or just want to generate a bit more buzz about the place, you can invite these influencers for a free dining experience that they can then share with their online community.
Maybe you have a new children’s menu you want to promote? Search for local parenting bloggers with a decent-sized following, then reach out via private message to see if they and their family would be interested in reviewing a few dishes on the house.
You obviously can’t force them to give you a great review – and some influencers may simply decline or ignore your request – but if you wow them with the experience it’s very likely they’ll want to shout about it on social media. Just make sure the food is looking particularly photo-worthy that day!
Get seasonal with your restaurant marketing
From Easter and Mother’s Day to major sporting competitions such as the Olympics or Euros, there are numerous seasonal events for restaurants to take advantage of. Traditional promotion methods include themed dishes, set menus, two-for-one offers, or special food-and-drink combos to get bums on seats during these events.
Alternatively, you can get more creative with things like branded games to promote your deals around Valentine’s Day, Halloween, or Christmas. A great example comes from Greene King, who used a Jingle Jetpack game to bring their festive menu to life with experiences and prize giveaways for customers.
Once you know what you’re wanting to promote, use the power of email and social media to get the word out and start generating interest.
Reward your customers
In the highly competitive restaurant industry, repeat business is the name of the game. Of course, you’re always going to want to welcome new customers through the door. But patrons who keep coming back over and over again? That’s your bread and butter.
In addition to creating a welcoming environment and serving good food (which tend to be basic objectives of any restaurant), you can find other ways to reward customers and make them feel special.
Popular ideas include points-based schemes, refer-a-friend discounts, punch-card rewards, and digital loyalty programmes. If you want to make it even more personal, try offering customers free samples of a new dish the chef has been working on in the kitchen.
Live chat and automated responses
Live chat tools have become a popular way for businesses to communicate with customers online, but restaurants are a bit late to this particular party. This means there’s a great opportunity for you to stand out from competitors who aren’t doing the same.
By using a live chat feature on your website, staff can respond to questions and take bookings from customers. Not only does this add a nice human touch and experience for users – it also makes your business more efficient.
You can do the same and be responsive on your social media channels, where potential customers might be trying to find out more about your restaurant. If you’re not always going to be available, you can set up auto responses to offer assistance or let people know you’ll get back to them shortly.
Bringing these restaurant marketing ideas together
As is often the case in marketing, your best bet is to apply several of the strategies mentioned above. If you’re consistent, patient, and not afraid to get a little bit creative, you’re sure to have a recipe for success.
Good luck to you and your restaurant business!