Devising strategies for restaurant marketing should come from the business plan and setting SMART objectives is a good place to start.

But before you do anything, it’s always a good idea to look at budgets! It’s all very well having good intentions to tell the world, but you need to be realistic about this will cost.

Here’s a helpful post I wrote recently about the cost of PR. It contains some points for you to consider.

The following process is for you to determine what you need to do to have a successful restaurant marketing strategy and have an idea of the time you need to dedicate and funding for activity.

#1 Setting objectives

Before you start thinking about restaurant marketing tactics, you should note your objectives. I’ve drafted some for a fake restaurant marketing strategy, launching a restaurant in Glasgow:

Specific – to successfully launch the restaurant with maximum awareness in Glasgow

Measurable – to gather data, achieve press coverage, engage through social media

Attainable – and getting reviews from the opening week

Relevant – reaching diners in Glasgow

Timely – within the first month of opening

As this is centered round a launch, we assume there is no awareness currently and there are no perceptions about the restaurant. If you’re doing PR and marketing for an existing restaurant, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • Current turnover
  • Current staff turnover
  • Current menu and customer feedback
  • Current effectiveness of advertising, social media etc
  • Where are your customers from
  • How has your business changed from year to year
  • Who are your competitors and is the local area changing
  • What have recent reviews said

Once you have this nailed the objectives/and or identified recent trading conditions, you can get on with the first phase:

#2 Research and planning

What you’ll need to do:

  • Who are your competitors
  • What specific market are you targeting e.g. pre-theatre, corporate lunch, ladies of leisure
  • Who do your competitors target and are they successful
  • Define your audience – know how they are, where they hang out, what they talk about. Know as much as you can about who you are targeting
  • Is the location of your restaurant an issue? Is there parking nearby?
  • Do a SWOT analysis of your restaurant and your competitors (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)

So you’ve done some market research, how about your brand.

#3 Developing your brand

When you’re devising a restaurant marketing plan, you need to know what your brand is, does, how it acts and talks. Think of it as a person.

  • What is unique about your brand?
  • Define its vision, mission and purpose
  • What words would you use to describe it
  • What values does the brand have?
  • What is its personality? If you were to email someone and didn’t have your name or logo on it, how would someone clearly know it was your brand?

Developing a brand is important. It’s what will set you apart from the competition and will speak to people when they come into contact with it, whether it be online, an advert or even when calling the restaurant to book.

How will your brand translate from an identity, to staff, to the way staff serve customers, to the menu all the way through to specific phrases or standards you may develop which are unique to your restaurant?

A relevant restaurant marketing strategy is essential. The word to focus on is relevant! If you have similar values to your customer then you’re onto a winner. The key is to identify how you can make your restaurant unique and make it everything your customer wants.

#4 Activate – develop a strategy

So we’ve now done research, developed the outlines of what the brand is we now need to think of how we can actually make it all come alive and do the job.

Here’s a list of things to consider adding to your workplan:

  1. We know the audience and where they hang out and what they talk about. So where do they engage with their friends online? Think about social platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Now go and experience what they do and say on those platforms. You’ll learn a lot!
  2. Write a brief for a designer to get your brand identity developed and ensure you list all the things you’ll need along the way – website, menus, business cards, adverts, loyalty card etc
  3. Think about your website from a customer point of view – what do they want to know when they arrive on your site? Probably opening times, menus, booking online and contact details. What else? We’d highly recommend working with someone who can write copy for online, to ensure it’s well written, search engine optimised and can do all ‘things’ it needs to do
  4. What are the timelines for the launch? Who is doing what and when? The restaurant marketing plan will need to incorporate timings for various different stages including pre-opening, opening and post-opening

Earlier we identified SMART objectives which kick of the restaurant marketing strategy. Now we need to think about how we will achieve the objectives.

  1. Positive awareness
  2. Data
  3. Press coverage
  4. Social media engagement
  5. Reviews

First we need strategy, then we need tactics and then we need to monitor and evaluate activity at key milestones.

The strategy may be very simple to begin with – keep it local. Local advertising, local participation in festivals, local data collection. Then it can scale up, once you’ve got the reputation you need to attract people from further-a-field. Or, you might soley focus on developing relationships with influencers, such as food bloggers.

Key messages

Communicating ‘why’ someone should dine in your restaurant is important. Again, think of it from their point of view. If you’ve had any previous reviews and endorsements, you should be using them to reinforce why other people enjoyed the experience.

Key messages should be developed which will be used across all your activity, for consistency in message, but also to let the brand speak for itself. In your brand development you’ll have identified it’s own personality.

Activity

Let’s take awareness. We want to generate positive awareness across Glasgow. Well, the other points are going to help us get there!

  • Data – collecting customer data is going to help you engage with them via email. Consider email marketing a key part of the restaurant marketing strategy. We need to start doing this before the restaurant opens! Make sure you use a platform such as MailChimp to gather customer names, emails, numbers etc and so that you can turn the data into a channel to engage with them. You can email out recipes, offers, new menus etc
  • Press coverage – what press do you want to know about the restaurant and what are you going to tell them? Think of all the things that the press cover in print and online – news, features, competitions, reviews etc. Aura regularly works with the press so have tailored lists. We’d recommend of course that when dealing with the press, you engage a PR consultant who know who, where, what and how to engage them
  • Social media engagement – the biggest opportunity of our time. Social media has opened a can of worms and everyone is now a reporter. Not only can you reach people on social media platforms, but you can also expect them to share their experiences. Coming back to the research you did earlier, think of all the things you could do to engage your customers – ensuring it’s all relevant and tailored to them and you. You also need to think of crisis plans – what happens when someone claims on Trip Advisor that they got food poisoning last night from your restaurant? Again, Aura can help develop policies for this type of scenario. It should all be part of the planning process. To help build awareness of the opening or to help get the right people along to the launch event, social media should be used as early as possible.

Tip: Use Facebook ad planner to help you target the right audience. People can be targeted by location, age, interest, sex etc. It’s highly useful and you don’t have to buy an ad to use it!

Don’t forget influencers! Influencer marketing is a huge part of the food scene. Who are the bloggers who are relevant to your brand? If you invite them to a preview event for bloggers, will they come? What will do you for them that’s special? Bloggers love an ‘experience’ – consider creating something for them to get involved in, like a cook off.

Reviews. One thing Aura has learned is never to invite a ‘big name’ reviewer to review your restaurant. Once they’ve heard about it, they’ll make their own mind up. You can however include them in press releases, images and videos etc so they are kept in the loop. Remember though, through social media, everyone is a reviewer! Think of the impact Trip Advisor can have on a business.

What now?

An official launch is important. It creates an opportunity to engage. Some restaurants like soft launches, so their new staff can be trained and get to know the restaurant better. It also allows customers to give feedback before going to town on promoting the opening. Maybe consider a friends and family event for this?

If you’ve already launched and your restaurant marketing strategy is to give your business a boost, then you’ll need to think about all the points at the start and go through the same process. Once you’ve worked everything out and redefined your brand and strategy, then you can get on with developing your activity. Your previous experience should count for a lot. If something didn’t work, why? Turn it on its head and make it into an opportunity.

Tip: There’s no point in carrying out any PR or marketing activity if you’re not monitoring and evaluating it. The best part of the modern online marketing tools is you can stop and start when you want. If you find something isn’t working, then stop it, tweak it and try again.

How to measure?

The new AMEC evaluation framework is what we use. We use it from the very start of planning through to the end evaluation. It’s a great tool, which is being developed, and it is worth spending time using.

We also use the CIPR’s measurement and evaluation toolkit. It’s a free toolkit for members.

Maintaining momentum

Once you’ve launched, it’s important to maintain the positive vibes.

Aura worked on a project for a restaurant opening and did a huge amount of work for four months. We smashed the KPIs and achieved a massive amount of social engagement and following, data (we beat by 350%!), the launch events were full and there was a huge buzz. The restaurant was full for weeks after.

In the opening week we had managed to secure 4 major reviews!

Aura finished the project with the client and then the buzz died. The quality had gone down in the content. There was no follow through on the hugely successful launch. It was disappointing. I hope you can learn from this.

One thing to remember. Customers are people. Human beings, just like you and me.

Now if you’re not a PR or marketing guru this is a lot to take in! There are also many other skills you need to be able to use a lot of data, analytics and translate that into actions which turn into business. I’m not here to turn you into a guru but the above processes and tips will help you get a relevant, bespoke strategy developed for your restaurant.

How does Aura know all this?

Laura Sutherland was not only trained in hospitality, but she worked in-house for City Inn, Bouzy Rouge Group and Restaurant Rococo and has led on client accounts for Urban Bar & Brasserie, Gamba, The Partners Restaurant Group (now disbanded) and most recently the launch of Miller & Carter in Glasgow.

It’s fair to say all aspects of hospitality run through Laura’s veins! She’s also a keen cook and entertains a lot.

If you’d like to chat over how Aura can help you make your restaurant a success, please get in touch with Laura. Aura has no conflicting clients at present.