How to market your restaurant, bar or café: 5 marketing tools and services everyone in the food & drink services industry should be using

Do you find that competition among bars, cafes and restaurants is fierce?

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant Competition

In comparison to other SME’s, the food and drink service sector is recognised as having significant failure rates. We’ll cover the reasons for business failure and more importantly how you can help avoid the causes in a later blog post, but for now we’re going to focus on restaurant marketing ideas and how to attract customers to your bar, café or restaurant. This is not just fundamental for basic revenue, but also to help overcome charges like the new ‘sunshine tax’; centralised charges for streetside catering…ughh…

It was once the case that you could open a bar, café or restaurant and have plenty of time to find your feet, try out new dishes and feel your way forward. Then along came the internet and social media to change everything. Now websites like jar or menupages provide reviews and ratings of your business 24/7 at the fingertips of your prospective customers. You’re only one bad review away from oblivion, but you also need to understand that in many ways these sites are the new word of mouth, and their benefits have the potential to supercharge your business. The best restaurant marketing ideas can make a significant difference to your footfall and revenue. Communicating with customers to get them through the door is the first stage, maximising their spend after they walk in is obviously also crucial. In the hot beverage sector, there is currently a gap of 100% between the average spend of consumers in large coffee outlets (€10) compared to smaller speciality premises (€5).

So here’s some marketing tools, services and ideas to help your restaurant, bar or café attract more customers and get them spending money once they arrive:

Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media;
Bar Social Media

In the UK 51% of ‘Generation C’ millennials spend their disposable income socialising and they spend more money socialising than other consumers. 86% use social media daily, with the majority using social media to decide where to go out. But just as importantly, 3 out of every 4 adults have smart phones, and all ages are increasingly using social media. So you can see that social media is critical to successfully marketing your bar, café or restaurant.

Choose a few social media channels that you are going to focus on, usually up to 4 to start, so you don’t become overwhelmed and abandon the effort. These should be suitable for the people you want to reach. Later if you decide to increase your social media channels, you can ease the burden by using a social media management tool.

The timing of posts is critical, with late afternoon being a good time for photos of drinks or a mouth-watering dinner photo if you want to attract people knocking-off for the day. Mid-morning is good if you want to attract people for lunch. Instagram is good for easy but powerful picture sharing, while sites like Facebook can also be used for video promo’s and you can easily add a ‘Book Now’ button or specify ‘services’ you provide, such as ‘Sports Bar’ or ‘Good for Parties’. Remember that social engagement is not about bluntly selling, it’s about engaging your audience and building your brand. Getting a fun, positive message out there will be beneficial, but be careful not to get the wrong message out, which would harm your business.

Strike a balance between photos of customers enjoying themselves, and photos of your food and drink. People like to see others enjoying themselves. But don’t forget that photos are the distant face of your business, so only post pictures of food or drink which make your mouth water and don’t look bland or unappetising. Good photos are great; research shows that tweets with photos are much more effective, but no photo is better than a bad food photo!

Food image

Post photos of events, birthdays and gatherings that get people imagining themselves in your premises. Posting photo’s lets people who couldn’t make it, see what a great time out their friends had, and they’ll want to pay a visit or come next time. This is based on the psychology of loss aversion, or to the non-psychologists amongst us; FOMO…Fear Of Missing Out. The tendency of people to want to avoid losses or missing out is twice as strong as simply wanting to gain a benefit. Make sure to publicise the great time your customers will be having next weekend or next week, so they don’t want to miss out!

Use sites like twitter to let people retweet comments about your premises. Don’t forget to reply to comments on your social media profiles and create a dialogue, engaging with customers in a friendly and upbeat way is more likely to turn them into repeat visitors. It’s also the new channel for customer service!

Yelp, Google My Business and other local search marketing channels;
Search marketing is important to promote your business to increasing numbers of customers, who examine reviews before making their decision on places to socialise.
Search Marketing

Creating your business pages on sites such as Google My Business or Yelp only takes a few minutes for each channel. There is also much made of potential organic search benefits on Google if you engage with their other offerings and capabilities. Be sure your profile information is complete and correct, or you will lose customers to competitors who let patrons know better what to expect on their visit.

On Yelp you can send private messages to customers who have reviewed your business. It’s nice to say thanks to people for a positive review, but it’s more important to engage with people who post a negative review. Far too many businesses engage with people who post a negative review from the perspective that the reviewer is a problem, but in most cases the customer will feel they have a legitimate reason to be negative and your priority needs to be trying to turn the situation around, solving the problem for damage limitation and so that it doesn’t happen for another customer. The conversation should not open with “Could you please remove your negative review…”. Try genuine empathy such as “We are very sorry to see you had a bad experience, please tell us what happened and how we can improve things?”. Remember, for every customer who actually complains about something there are others who feel the same but didn’t say anything. This applies to everything from an active complaint, to others such as general disappointment that a favourite dish is no longer available. Listen to your customers and it will pay off in sales. Yelp has a useful guide on how to respond to reviews. Yelp and many other sites also offer the ability to share your special offers and promotions, you should include these channels when you share your offers across social media.

Internet of Things
In layman’s terms, the Internet of Things is the ever growing networks of physical items that are connected to the internet. The ways that this growth in ‘Smart’ objects is already changing the world is significant, and will become profound over coming years.

IoT Advertising

But the Internet of Things offers huge potential in the food and drink services sector, for businesses who embrace it. We already see almost every customer carrying a mobile phone, the first iteration of the connected generation, and you can have a custom app created at reasonable cost. Or use 3rd party apps which will let you track when customers come and go from your store; what they order; and link into loyalty schemes along with many more functionalities. 3rd party ordering app’s will never replace your EPOS or cater for every customer who walks through the door, app overload is making it increasingly difficult to get people to engage with these downloads. But they can be a complement for the premises if you’re willing to take the revenue hit that many scrape off the top of orders.

But the mobile phone revolution has already come and gone, now we are seeing the emergence of wearables, beacon advertising, augmented reality and real-time ads through new Internet of Things networks with devices like the PromoPad®. The recent Pokemon Go craze demonstrated the benefits if you could have located an augmented reality character or point in your premises! In the very near future, we will reach a stage where it will be unusual for any electronic device ‘not to be connected to the internet.

So for the enthusiastic business owner who is willing to spend a bit of time on Google, there are huge opportunities to offer innovative value to customers in your premises, and reach them in new ways and new environments to attract them. Some of these emerging channels also allow you to gain significant data insights which will help you improve your business even more. In summer 2017 Europe’s first custom tabletop ordering system will be launching in Dublin, Ireland. This system allows you to interactively display special offers and promotions to customers while they are in your premises, offering you significant value by generating sales and recording data on customer habits or preferences which otherwise would have been missed, thereby directly increasing your revenue. As the capabilities expand over coming years, you will be able to attract customers from your local area in real time, through a wide variety of devices in various locations and environments, while also offering unique customer engagement through cutting edge and emerging technologies. Being early to engage with these will give you a unique advantage over your less interesting competitors. It is important to think of your marketing in a broad sense, reaching potential customers at relevant times in a variety of appropriate ways.

Targeting and Retargeting Ads;
Facebook lets you create targeted advertising to reach people in your local area, and can be an effective channel to influence them. With 1.28Bn daily active users as of March 2017, its highly likely that if you are in a developed English speaking country, your customers are on Facebook at least once per day. If you create Facebook ads to target local customers, it’s a good idea to use the Facebook Power Editor and not simply the regular Ads Manager. The Power Editor gives you additional functionalities to decide how you reach the right audience.

Ad retargeting

Retargeting essentially gives you a second chance to reach your customers after they have visited and then left your website. You can setup retargeted ads with reputable services such as AdRoll. There is a certain etiquette involved in online targeting and retargeting consumers, simply bombarding them with ads will achieve little, other than motivating them to download an Ad Blocker so they can never be targeted by anyone again. Online advertising has perfected the art of alienating your audience over the past decade, resulting in ad fade, meaning that even if your ad is on a person’s screen, their brain may not actively register it. It’s like a form of tunnel vision, where the brain is trained to block out information. So limit the quantity of ads you serve to each consumer. You should also stick to more well known online networks. While even this does not guarantee protection from paying for ad’s that are never displayed or which are consumed by bots, paid online ads can be of benefit as part of a larger more complete marketing strategy. You will shortly be able to find more information about advertising in our Advertising Blog.

Create your brand identity
One of the most common ways that consumers discover new bars and cafes is still the storefront. Make your storefront stand out and match your unique brand.
Bar, Cafe, Rastaurant Marketing

If your storefront is unique, visually appealing and eye-catching, it’s more likely to catch attention and cause customers to walk through your door instead of going to a competitor across the road from you. It doesn’t have to be expensive and complicated, some fresh paint and signage can make all the difference. Don’t forget traditional signage in the local area directing foot and road traffic to your premises. This is especially important if your unique premises is tucked away down a small road or alleyway. Don’t forget to promote your special offers outside your premises, not just inside, to attract people through the door. Once you create your brand and have customers flocking to buy your beer, food or coffee, the customer experience is key. Give your customers a friendly positive experience and word of mouth, both traditional and online, will start to generate more traction for you.

Remember the options for ways to attract customers and maximise your sales are almost limitless, but you need to stand out from the crowd…so be UNIQUE! If thinking up innovative ideas isn’t your thing, pick up the phone to a local university and look for a marketing intern to work with you for a summer or a few weeks. You just have to get the word out there!

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