If You Promote It, Will They Come? A Marketing Guide

(Photo by: Weyo / Bigstock.com)

With restrictions easing across the country, many bars and restaurants are looking at revamping their overall marketing strategy and adapting new tactics to adjust to the new normal, especially as they move past survival mode. But what should industry businesses focus on first?

We asked a bevy of marketing leaders and experts – all of whom work with bars and restaurants in some capacity – to offer their best tips for 2021. Here’s what that had to say for our informative guide, which covers four key categories:

1) Overall Strategy
2) Digital / SEO / Social
3) Traditional Marketing
4) Tech / Solutions

OVERALL STRATEGY:

André Moraes
Senior Director, Marketing

PepsiCo
“In 2021, consumers will continue to look for three key elements from restaurants and bars: options, information and overall enjoyable experiences. When it comes to options, consumers will search online and on social media, so having a website with SEO and SEM done properly will be the key to being discoverable. The same goes for making sure your business is listed on delivery apps and directories. Being informative means sharing more than just directions and hours of operation – consumers want to know more about your business – make it personable and give insight into the business’ look and feel, its history and variety of offerings (catering, at-home-kits, etc.). Lastly, give consumers an enjoyable experience regardless of where they are. There’s so much focus always on the on-premise experience, but with consumers continuing to turn to online-ordering and delivery, it’s important for you to be able to give them a unique at-home experience as well. Think about unboxing, setting the table, and enjoying as an experience you can own at your establishment, as well as at the consumer’s home.”

Amber Theinert
Marketing Manager

Ted's Café Escondido and
Ted's Tacos and Cantina
“Take the time to build out a strategy around your marketing efforts. Spending some quality time identifying your goals, building measurable objectives, and determining what strategies and tactics will help you achieve your goals can create a true roadmap for success. It's easy to get pulled in several different directions in marketing, especially if you wear several different hats in your business. A marketing plan built with your restaurant or bar's goals in mind allows you to stay focused and say no to tactics that don't fit within your strategy or budget.”

Mary Mickel
Partners and Co-Founder

Resplendent Hospitality
“Ensure all restaurant and bar [businesses] know about and can access every piece of government money they can their hands on. The Independent Restaurant Coalition turned restaurant pain into emotion to lobby Congress and insert the provision for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund into the American Rescue Plan, which is huge. $28.6 billion huge. Stay up-to-date on government happenings and put that to work for your business… Customer experience is just as big now as it ever was. Whether you’re offering dine-in or takeout, there are a few key things you can do to make the guest experience as smooth as possible. Ensure that your website is up-to-date with hours – as they’re ever-changing these days – current menus for both dine-in and carryout and that the reservation and walk-in process is simple and easy to understand. For takeout orders, make sure that your team gives the guest clear and specific instructions for picking up and your COVID-19 guidance in the restaurant.”

Dakota Connell-Ledwon
Marketing Specialist

Skykit
“My first tip is to hop on that local SEO train and make sure you've claimed every single online profile available to you – Google My Business being the most important. Update your hours of operation, specify whether you provide dine-in service, curbside pickup, takeout or delivery, and so on. Building out your online presence can take as little as a few minutes, but it can benefit you massively when you rise in the page rankings. Just think of all the people searching ‘pizza near me’ from their mobile phones. They're not going to venture too far down the rabbit hole of search engine results when they're hungry, so you'll want to give your restaurant the best chance of appearing at the very top of the page. Moving from the digital sphere into the real world, tip No. 2 is to think visually. From bright banners to digital menu boards to silly window clings, anything that draws the eye – and lets customers know you're open – is a chance to attract another diner.”

Vahag Aydinyan
Content Marketing Manager

7shifts
“One of the best marketing strategies heading through 2021 will be to focus on providing an amazing digital-first experience. Why? The pandemic has changed how consumers will first interact with restaurants. Menus, reviews and social media channels all come into play when consumers try and choose where to eat. Building an SEO-optimized website and having a strong presence on a social media platform like Instagram or TikTok can be two solid steps to building a digital marketing presence to meet customers first.”

Jessica Wise
Creative Marketing Manager

HelpSquad
“As a marketer by day and a bartender by night, I can tell you firsthand that many customers are still extremely cautious about going into a busy bar or restaurant post-pandemic. Right now is the best time to make affordable health and safety changes and then incorporating those updates into your advertising and social media posts. For example, QR code menu access is very up and coming. Instead of handing out physical menus that will be touched by hundreds of hands, you can place a QR code plaque at each table. Then, customers can easily and quickly pull up the menu on their smartphone. Its easy on the marketing budget and customers will love it.”

DIGITAL / SEO / SOCIAL:

Kristin Dyak
Digital Marketing Director

The Cyphers Agency
“A strong social media presence is the best way to showcase a restaurant's culture and set an expectation for both the food and environment. Restaurants are turning to Instagram Reels and Live events to stay top-of-mind with their current and new customers. As these establishments are gearing up to reopen for in-person dining, cooking demonstrations of new menu items, live music that would typically be slated for a Friday night and staff features provide engaging video/live content.”

Brandon Forschino
President and CEO

Out of Dust Marketing and Communication
“Restaurants should make their content more human through photo and video production. It is important to really showcase the heart of the hospitality industry and real customers enjoying their food and environment. Don't use stock photos or isolated food pictures. Leave that to the customers. Restaurants should also make sure to show more ‘service in action.’ Engage with customers on social media, share their posts, story highlights, and thank them in real-time for their reviews and recommendations. Staying engaged in the feed keeps conversations alive. Guests love when their favorite restaurant or bar responds and shows them love.”

Sarah Blocksidge
Marketing Manager

Sixth City Marketing
“Something super vital that bars and restaurants need to do for their marketing in 2021 is to treat their Google My Business [GMB] listing as a 2nd website. So often, people use Google to look for ‘Italian restaurant near me’ or ‘Mexican take out in [city]’ – and if you haven't properly optimized your listing, or aren't doing your part to keep it as up to date as other businesses, you could be missing out on business. From using posts feature to publish promos or specials, adding in details on indoor dining, pick-up or alike, there are plenty of things you can add into your GMB profile to help your marketing in 2021.”

Amanda Kostro Miller
Marketing Copywriter

Amanda Copy
“Instagram-worthy signage: To appeal to the younger crowd, revamp your storefront, dining room, bathroom or logo. Make it something that shows off your name but is also a great photo-op for Millennials and Gen Z. Your restaurant gets interest on the street, with diners and online.”

Jay Ong
Senior SEO Specialist

Vine Digital
“Create a strong online presence by setting up Google My Business, Facebook and Instagram. Yelp is the foundation of connecting to your customer online. Customer engagement – such as actively posting on social media, getting positive reviews, addressing negative reviews – are some of the ongoing activities that a bar and restaurant should be doing.”

Kyle Dulay
Director / Co-Founder

Collabstr
“Since a lot of restaurants don't have a marketing budget, especially after what they've gone through the last year, here's a free marketing channel they should hit – TikTok! Everybody loves food content, and TikTok is extremely good at showing content to people in your local area, ensuring that viewers can actually convert to real paying customers. Highly recommend that restaurant owners begin showing off new menu items and food prep to their audience. If you need some inspiration, search the #food, #chef, #cooking or #recipe hashtags on TikTok. My girlfriend is always sending me new restaurants in our area that she exclusively finds on TikTok, so it's working.”

Emmett Florence
Digital Marketing Specialist

PitchFunnel
“Virtually everyone who comes into your business has a smartphone and a social media account with hundreds of friends and followers who are potential customers. They're micro-influencers with direct access to your target audience. This is a golden opportunity, and all you have to do to take advantage of it is find ways to encourage more posts. For example, experiment with offering a discount for customers who post a picture with their food and tag your account.”

Simonas Steponaitis
Marketing Manager

Hosting Wiki
“Collaborate with micro-Influencers. Influencer marketing is a proven tactic that uses endorsements and mentions from influencers who have a dedicated social following and are viewed as experts within their niche. Micro-influencers is a better option than a famous influencer or celebrity endorsement because, for the cost of partnering with a single celebrity, you can have dozens of micro-influencers generating content for your brand. Find niche micro-influencers from Facebook or Instagram and ask them to write and share your food reviews on their social media accounts. They have thousands of followers, and you will have a couple of leads from followers. Run a social media contest. Whether you are running a small or large business, the contest is a fantastic way to market your business, grow your audience and build awareness. Running a contest is one of the fastest ways to get more leads and build a community. You can run a Facebook or Instagram contest – ask your existing subscribers to tag their friends or relatives to win a free dinner or some amazing prizes. This technique will work because people are spending the most time on social media due to COVID-19.”

Kollin Lephart
Founder and CEO

Destination M+PR
“One of the best marketing tips I have for restaurants and bars is to bring video and user-generated content to social. People love seeing other people in the bars and restaurants, and especially if it's in real-time via stories. Have people tag the restaurant, share it on social and watch your following and customers flood in.”

Laura Rike
Pinterest Strategist

LauraRike.com
“While many people think of Pinterest for recipes or makeup inspiration, that is selling a very robust platform very short. Pinterest is actually an incredible search engine, and with Pinterest ads, you can even target by geographical location.”

Francesca Nicasio
Content Marketer

Payment Depot
“People have a lot of pent-up desire to get out of the house and eat and drink out. Pictures are more effective than words, so use them to show your great food and drinks, the lovely interior of your establishment, and happy customers enjoying themselves at your place. People are more than ready to come out of their homes, it’s your job to convince them that when they do it should be to your business.”

Steven Clayton
Founder and CEO

NetBlaze
“Ensure your menu and specials are posted clearly on your website, to your review pages and on your social pages so more customers can access it. Make sure your site has all the most up-to-date business information, such as COVID-19 safety protocols, so Google recognizes you as a credible referral when people are searching online. Incorporate customer relationship management tools, such as sending e-blasts targeted at previous customers around your specials and promotions. Showcase the reviews your restaurant has received from past customers prominently on your website and social media channels for other future customers to peruse.”

Saleem Khatri
CEO

Lavu
“Offer digital coupons which, considering their cost-effectiveness, have one of the highest ROIs of any marketing effort and have the added advantage of being very trackable. And don't forget to promote your specials and feature your menu and food photos on social media. Then boost your organic social posts to a geographically and demographically targeted audience of your prospects to start generating more conversions right away.”

Golda Criddle
Marketing Manager

ReviewInc
“My tip is to use reviews as marketing content on social media, brochures, etc. and on restaurant websites. One of the best things a restaurant can do in terms of online marketing is to make a Google My Business profile and a link that employees can share with customers asking for reviews. It's a good idea to post signs on tables or registers with the link so that customers are encouraged to leave reviews as they are leaving the restaurant. You could also include the link on the receipt. This makes asking for reviews easy. With reputation management software such as ReviewInc, the process of asking for reviews can be automated so that customers are automatically sent requests to review after leaving the restaurant.”

Darren Easton
VP and Creative Director

The Cyphers Agency
“Now that things are opening up, diners are not just searching for carryout but again searching for sit-down restaurants and bars as well. With this in mind, it’s essential to get back on track with your online presence – this means not just updating your Google My Business listing with your hours and COVID-related policies, but also monitoring and paying close attention to your reviews. What your customers are telling you in reviews will be an important source of information and feedback while taking steps to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ and positive reviews may help your brand identify then implement new best practices. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s also important to show your staff masked when interacting with customers, cooking, and cleaning.”

Ted Liu
Founder and CEO

Just SEO
“Have plenty of online reviews. Now, more than ever, people trust other people’s opinions about a product and even a place by reading reviews. Take advantage of this trend by making sure to highlight reviews on your website by placing them on your landing page, above the ‘fold’ so that customers won’t have to swipe down before they get to see that valuable information… Get yourself in the ‘Near Me’ results through local SEO. Literally put yourself on the map by paying attention to your local SEO. List your business in Google Maps and online directories to make sure that you can tap the market that’s near you. Dominate the market where your restaurant is located first, and then target a larger area after that.”

Timothy Woods
Owner, Director and Editor

Carnivore Style
“One marketing tip for restaurants is to host a dinner for 10 to 20 local celebrities or influencers in your area. If you make it special and fun, they will likely post about it tagging your restaurant on social, and immediately their followers in the area will see it as a must-go place, and you'll now have free social real estate on the top posts section of Instagram and more visibility in your area.”

Devansh Trivedi
Content Marketing Writer

Orderhive
“In the post-pandemic world, restaurants around the world have had to cut down on their marketing costs. However, there are still a lot of marketing avenues available to them virtually free of cost, provided they're willing to think slightly out of the box. We see many of our clients at Orderhive who are into the restaurant business use gamification extensively when it comes to marketing. Bars and restaurants can gamify daily orders by offering incentives to those who come in daily. A socially vocal brand can provide a small discount once every week to those who wear masks. Another marketing idea that never fails is to make ambassadors out of your customers. Ask your daily visitors to go live from your restaurant or bar and offer them a discount proportional to the number of viewers. It is authentic and organic, something that always works.”

TRADITIONAL MARKETING:

Aidan Sowa
CEO

Sowa Marketing Agency
“The best marketing tip for restaurants and bars in 2021 is to get media exposure through press releases. When customers are looking up restaurants and bars, they want to be sure you are in business and offers a good experience Through a press release, it shows your company is active and controls your companies' reputation.”

Amanda Clark
Consultant

Amanda Clark Marketing & Consulting
“Now is the time to lean into email marketing. Having a large social media following is great, however, if the platform changes or an algorithm limits your reach, your business could be in trouble. With email marketing, you can reach your customers anytime on your own terms. If you don't have an email list, start one right away. Use it to message your customers about new offerings, specialty cocktails of the month or weekly promotions. As long as you are offering value and not being too spammy, people will enjoy receiving your emails and look forward to coupons and surprises that are inside.”

Danche Azmanova
Content Marketing Manager

EmbedSocial
“If you are a restaurant owner, you probably understand how important it is to make your customers feel valued and appreciated. And asking for their opinion is one way of showing appreciation. You can do this by running a restaurant survey. These surveys are quick and easy tools that can help you gather feedback and valuable data that you can later use to improve your menu, service, food, or delivery. They will also show how much effort you put into boosting your customer satisfaction and improving the overall dining experience. Nobody is experiencing the foodservice or the general atmosphere of the restaurant as your customers do. This, their point of view, is super important. If you are thriving to become No. 1 in the restaurant industry, their satisfaction is your priority. That’s why you should create an online restaurant feedback form and ask for your customer’s opinion today.”

Martina Cooper
Main Writer & Reviewer, Digital Marketing

Brutally Honest Marketing Reviews
“Create a quiz that asks the participant, ‘What meal is right for you?’ or ‘Which drink is right for you?’ Ask general questions about their personality, which have tick boxes, and make sure to ask for their contact info – email or phone – at the end of the quiz. When they answer all five to seven questions, prompt them with a meal and an incentive to get that meal or drink from your restaurant/bar. This is usually the most effective with a time-restricted coupon code.”

TECH / SOLUTIONS:

Elizabeth Kelly
Marketing Specialist

SpeedLine Solutions Inc.
“In 2021, every little bit counts for restaurants that are trying to overcome the pandemic and lockdowns. A marketing tool that we offer within our POS system is the ability to program prompts to appear to remind staff to upsell during the order-taking process. When an employee enters an order for a pepperoni pizza, for instance, a prompt will appear on the terminal screen that asks if the customer would like to add extra cheese. The employee has to answer yes or no to the prompt, ensuring that they ask the customer for that upsell. The prompts are programmed to offer a logical upsell that pairs with each menu item, such as a larger size, extra toppings, or other add-ons. We surveyed our customer base last December and found that more than half of the pizzerias surveyed earned at least an extra $1,000 in revenue a month from upselling, some earning as much as $5,000.”

James Hughes
Digital Marketing Consultant

Digital Marketing 4 Leads
“Make your menu digital. Use a QR code on tables. When visitors scan the code with their phones, take them to a landing page (before they see the menu). Offer them 5 percent off in exchange for their email. Serve them amazing food and drink and make the experience amazing. The following day, email your customers and ask for a review. In the future, use the email to share offers and events.”

Kieran Driver
Co-Founder, Director

MONOGIC
“We're currently helping restaurants and F&B businesses to construct self-owned online ordering platforms to help them to serve customers remotely, reducing dependency on foot traffic to the stores in times we're seeing forced closures due to the pandemic. Online ordering platforms are effectively allowing us to ‘digitise’ restaurants' products and allowing us to get a much better insight into customer behaviors and determine how people are finding our clients. It's allowing us to track the whole customer journey, and determine which of our marketing initiatives is bringing the restaurants the most revenue, and allowing us to cut unnecessary marketing spend and maximize our budgets for the best results. We're also helping businesses to enact this same concept in-venues. We have developed a POS system that serves as an integral data capture system to quantify restaurants' marketing efforts. The system helps restaurants to track which online marketing initiatives are directly driving people to the physical locations. From there, we can attribute customer orders and spend to distinct marketing channels. For example, a restaurant launches an ad with a $20 budget, and this brings one customer to the physical store, who spends $40 on food. We can see this and directly quantify the return on ad spend for the campaign (ROAS). Then, perhaps the customer comes three or four times, and each time brings a friend. Your ROAS increases eightfold. And you will be able to quantify this. To sum up, my greatest marketing tip for restaurants would be to make sure that your returns on all marketing efforts is quantifiable, so that you can be sure that your spend is not going to waste.  The F&B Industry is enormously "soft" in their marketing approaches, in that they typically rely on PR or Influencer marketing, and while these are important areas to market, these channels will not be able to provide a conclusive return, and so should only be a part of a marketing strategy, not make up the entirety of one.”