The challenges facing bar and restaurant owners/operators today can seem endless. From supply chain issues and finding and retaining talent, to rising costs and more, bar and restaurant owners find themselves – more than ever – needing to put more butts in seats. And if there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that we as owners must hone in on efficiencies and maximize any investment that we make – and this includes one of the most important expense lines of all: marketing.
Of all the marketing channels available today, social media seems to be where bar and restaurant owners and operators choose to focus the majority of their budget on – and for a good reason. A 2019 study by MGH, a full-service restaurant marketing agency, revealed that nearly half of U.S. diners said they have tried a restaurant for the first time because of a social media post made by that restaurant. A total of 74 percent said they are more likely to order food from or return to those establishments.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Our bars and restaurants are social gathering places, similar to those found online. Our ideal guests can be found and engaged easily online, often for a fraction of the cost and to a far greater magnitude in most cases than traditional marketing. There are literally thousands of social media marketing firms globally that affirm the overwhelming need to facilitate services for businesses of all kinds.
But here’s the rub: When I speak with fellow bar and restaurant owners and operators, I often find that they’re apprehensive about the real ROI they’re getting for spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on marketing agency fees, Facebook, other social media ads, and popular review platforms like Yelp.
Sure, we may be seeing the percentage of new followers, likes and comments go up, but does that really translate into revenue? This part can be very confusing and even overwhelming for many owners. So, what can be done to ensure that all of the effort and ad spend is having an impact?
Here are three foundational things your bar or restaurant’s social media campaigns need that will dramatically improve results over time.
1. Quality, Consistent Content
While it is tempting to hire a marketing agency and depend on them completely to get the message out, it’s imperative to have a steady stream of relevant, engaging content being produced at the venue level almost daily. Where many operators fail is to assume that the agency is going to magically engage our audience and have them running into our stores to buy based on their algorithms and expertise alone. Sadly, many agencies promise this and simply cannot and do not deliver.A quality agency will stress the importance of creating content that our guests care about, something relatable and organic that they will respond to as a means to gain their trust.
Nicky Sarkisian of Oscar’s Brewing Company, Temecula, Calif., shared his experience:
“We appoint someone on our team to head up social media content and deliver it to our marketing team to be pushed out to all channels. This person takes photos and short videos of popular food items, guests having fun, and highlighting team members to keep our audience in tune with what we are offering and creating an invitation of sorts for anyone who may be wanting to experience what we have to offer. We create content daily. Some of that content is turned into ads and some goes out as social awareness. People are letting us know that they saw us on Facebook or Insta, so we know it works.”
2. A Growing Database
The main purpose of any marketing plan or campaign should be to attain vital information to be used again for remarketing and nurturing. Whether guests are asked to sign up for a loyalty program, give an email for a special gift or discount or reveal a birthday to receive a gift on that day, we should include the element of attaining information to continue the relationship far beyond the initial contact.
Too many operators spend a ton of money to put out content without acquiring names, contact info, birthdays and other data that is vital to staying in touch with our guests. This is like asking someone out on a date and never getting their number. Sounds ridiculous, right? Yet this is exactly how many of us are running our digital marketing campaigns.
Matt Plapp, CEO of America’s Best Restaurants and Restaurant Marketing That Works, shares this advice:
“With most marketing, you are renting your audience. Every dollar or effort should be spent to build a database and not sell food. If you focus on this, THEN you can use your customers’ information to sell them food.”
And here’s a tip: Train the team to curate connections. When teams are trained to ask guests if they would like to join a loyalty program or VIP list or to give a review, each of those leads are high quality and based on a now very personal relationship, increasing the likelihood that they will return.
3. A Compelling Offer
There’s a saying that goes something like: “Social media likes don’t pay the rent.” It’s fine to be liked, but what we need is for people to take action and actually visit our store. A compelling offer is one that can rise above sea of coupons that are out there and introduce someone to our brand in a compelling enough way to get them to give us a try.
Some examples of compelling offers might be access to a VIP club, a free appetizer (Free French Fry Friday’s anyone?) a family package deal, or a $10 gift card for every 10th guest to order on a special day.
The idea is to differentiate the offer so it stands out from the crowd and gets people talking about your brand and, even better, walking in to order your great food and drinks!
The Bottom Line
There are many nuances and details that make up a successful social media marketing program. Partnering with the right marketing firm can make a huge difference, but regardless of who is running the campaigns, the elements above are a must. Bar and restaurant owners and operators who see the best results understand that these basic principles are a strong platform to build upon.
Greg Provance is the owner of GP Hospitality Partners LLC, a full-service restaurant and hospitality consulting firm, and the author of Butts in Seats: How to Create Raving Fans Who Come Back Again and Again. In addition to being a consulting partner for Everbowl, Southern California’s fastest growing fast casual chain, Provance owns several restaurants in the San Diego area and serves as a principal consultant and advisor for restaurants across the country. His career has taken him from short-order cook to hosting parties and events for celebrities like Janet Jackson, Madonna, Tom Cruise, Eve, Stevie Wonder and DL Hughley, to name a select few. He’s served food and beverages in atmospheres that range from dive bars to the Oscars, from Suffolk, Virginia, to Beverly Hills, and pretty much everything in between. He lives in San Marcos, Calif. with his wife, two strapping young lads and a cat. And he’s committed his career to serving the bar and restaurant community and businesses of San Diego and beyond. Visit GPHospitalityPartners.com to learn more.
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