Being in the restaurant business is tough. It is hard for owners to thrive in this economy, and with such low profits. After all, you must be passionate about food because there is not much money left over after you pay all the necessary expenses like wages, produce, maintenance and upkeep, etc. More so than ever, restaurant marketing is essential.
Some restaurateurs improve their profit margin by leasing their business model and likeness to others, forming a franchise and spreading their name and creating future passive income. Others decide to focus on their flagship restaurant, believing that quality over quantity is more important to drumming up future business.
The Tale of Two Restaurants:
While both approaches can work on their own, it may be better to combine these strategies when growing your mom-and-pop restaurant. Few restaurateurs do this, and you do not need to be involved in the industry to see the effects of this. Growing up in Canada, there were two Chinese food restaurants my family went to all the time: Lee Garden Restaurant on Spadina Ave. in the heart of downtown Toronto, and Mandarin Restaurant, a Chinese-style buffet franchise located throughout the country.
Their business sand restaurant marketing strategies could not be more different. Lee Garden Restaurant has one location. It is small for a well-known restaurant and every time I went, there was always a line that extended out the door (and sometimes even beyond that). While the operators cannot obviously do anything about customer demand beyond expanding their premises, whether opening another location or operating a food truck, the food in their one location more than made up for any wait time. It has been years since I have gone to Lee Garden but it still remains some of the best Chinese food I have ever tasted.
Mandarin Restaurant, also known as Mandarin Court, is a buffet-style restaurant franchise where patrons can eat as much Chinese food as they want for a flat rate. They serve hundreds of different options of food and drinks. However, just because Mandarin Court is buffet-style and operates many locations does not mean its food is lacking. I have been to many Chinese-style buffet restaurants over the years and Mandarin Courts still tops the list. Franchising has not deteriorated the quality of the food whatsoever. Their lines, however, are not out the door and each franchise essentially competes with each other. Customers know the quality of food at each franchise is the same, so they go to the one nearest to them.
While Mandarin Restaurant is more well-known to more people, Lee Garden’s customers have been frequenting their restaurant for years, if not decades. They may not have as many restaurants or as much floor space, but they have a more loyal customer base than Mandarin Restaurant. It is a strategy of prioritizing absolute numbers versus regular numbers of your customer base. Both strategies work, but Lee Garden has a more stable customer base than any one Mandarin Restaurant location, even if Mandarin hosts more customers.
So how does this apply to you? You could be running a small ice cream parlor, breakfast eatery, pizza joint, or soda shack. Lee Garden and Mandarin Restaurant show two popular business strategies to create value for customers and keep them coming back. Online restaurant marketing works the same way. By creating interest and value over a long period of time, you can persuade customers to visit your restaurant, regardless of the time and expense. Every time my family went to eat at Lee Garden or Mandarin, it took at least thirty to forty-five minutes to drive there, find parking, wait in line, and get our food. And yet we still went because we realized the value provided by these restaurants.
Like Lee Garden, maintaining one website and only a handful of relevant social media profiles will be much more beneficial to creating a dedicated customer base than joining as many social media platforms as possible and advertising to as many people as possible. Restaurant marketing is unique to each restaurant and it is important for you to truly learn how your customers think and interact with your establishment.
How Can a Restaurant Provide Value Online?
The main, and often most important, way a restaurant can provide value online is by creating and maintaining one main website, with a limited amount of linked social media accounts specific to their industry and demographic. Yet most restaurateurs do not even do this. Inc.com reports that the majority of small businesses do not have a website and Marketingtechblog.com state that most companies do not establish their social media presence beyond platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. These important restaurant marketing tools are essential in today’s digital world.
The social media sites you market your business on must be related to your audience. To more effectively reach your audience, you need to know where they congregate online. If you are the owner of a sports bar where you show UFC fights or rugby games on a regular basis, your clientele might consist of more single men than women. If so, Pinterest will not be very helpful because almost seventy percent of its users are women. You need to choose social media platforms that match your customer demographics, and market and advertise directly to them. It is a waste of your time if you do not.
In the context of running a restaurant, this means promoting your online website directly to your customer demographic. You can do this by posting information regularly, like informing customers of new staff members or enticing dishes, and promotions like military discounts and holiday deals, etc. Your customers will appreciate learning more about their favorite restaurant, and they will have an increased interest in you, your restaurant, and your personal story. You need to personalize your business so your customers can humanize your business, rather than perceive you as just another restaurant.
Returning to the Lee Garden – Mandarin Restaurant comparison, while it may seem like franchising out your business may result in lots of passive income, it will most likely just cause you to compete with yourself, for lesser profits. After all, customers may find a location nearer to their home, rather than drive out to see you. You also will not have as much control over your franchisees who, at the end of the day, are still competing business owners and operators, even if they use your brand. As a restaurateur, you need to protect your investment. For maximum effectiveness in retaining customers and ensuring good service, you should follow Lee Garden’s lead. The same is true online.
It is far more worthwhile to run one well-coordinated and aesthetically-pleasing website with social media accounts that actually pertain to your customer demographic, rather than trying to play the numbers game and join every social media platform that comes out. According to marketer and blogger Jeff Bullas, sharing information online with images gets 94% more views than content without images. Webdam.com states 78% of content marketers believe “custom content is the future of marketing.”
This does not mean you need to write elaborate blog posts every day on every single state of affairs in your restaurant or share countless photos online of the same dish. A single, well-photographed dish with a short blurb will peak customer’s interests. To enhance the effect your original content will have on your social following, you can share these dishes online approximately an hour before each mealtime so that, when lunchtime or dinnertime arrive, trying your new dish are all customers can think about.
I’m Running a Restaurant. I Don’t Have Time to Be Online Every Day.
This is understandable. Many restaurateurs and their families are required to work 100+ hours a week each to ensure their restaurant is profitable. You need as much help as you can get, whether it is in the kitchen or front-of-house. While creating a website and updating it once per week can be manageable, especially if you have a family member who is tech-savvy to do this for you, posting original content and managing your social profile online can seem like a daunting task. To grow a social following you have to personalize your message, appeal to online consumers, share original material, respond to their concerns and questions, and handle your PR like a pro. You cannot afford to make mistakes because, once information is posted online, it has the potential to stay online forever.
That is where we come in. At Write On, we offer services like SEO content writing, editing and proofreading, and blogging, to small business owners like yourself to ensure your business thrives. Running a restaurant is a full-time job. You should not have to worry about online restaurant marketing or the online success of your business. Contact us through our website for more information on how you can grow your business online, and increase your customer base. The key to successful restaurant marketing is to develop a loyal customer base that will advertise your restaurant for you.
Follow Lee Garden’s example and you can create an online following and customer base that lasts for decades.