Some first-time restaurateurs have grandiose ideas of what opening their restaurant will be like. They’ll cut the big, red ribbon on the doors, and guests will rush in a moment later, filling cash registers to the brim. But when launching any kind of new start-up endeavor, getting people interested in, enticed about, or even just knowing about your restaurant is not “Build it and they will come.”
Every restaurant owner — new or experienced — needs to be proactive when it comes to marketing their business. To do that, let’s count down the top five ways to market a restaurant right out of the gate.
5. Word of Mouth
If you are shy or otherwise not a sharer, this one may be the most difficult of all — but it’s really quite simple: talk. Talk about your restaurant start-up to your friends. To your neighbors. To surrounding businesses. Bring it up at church, at your kid’s softball game, at the chamber of commerce networking event. Do not keep this incredible news about a brand new restaurant to yourself!
This is an exciting time for you, and it’s worth showing everyone you know (and maybe even a few strangers) how much this new endeavor means to you. Your excitement can translate into theirs — and an early flock of supporters when you open your doors.
4. Traditional Ads
What used to be a no-brainer in restaurant marketing (or any other kind, in fact) has become much less popular in the last decade. That being said, don’t completely count traditional print marketing out yet. This style of marketing might not have the power it did in the age before the internet, but traditional print ads, billboards, and radio ads should at least be researched and priced out in your area. And at the very least, a one-sheet flyer or direct mail postcard could be a great way to get some viral interest in your launch.
A lot of the potential behind print advertising depends on your community and your specific target consumer base. For instance, if you cater to older guests who might not search online for restaurants, you might be able to use this style of marketing to your advantage. Look at what your competition is already doing in terms of these kinds of ads, and improve on their strategies, but make sure the target demographics you’re going after fit the venue. You don’t want to advertise in the Penny Saver if your primary goal is to attract single people in their early 20s.
Some of this can be part of your community-building; if you sponsor a community event or local kids soccer team, make sure you pay for a spot in their program book or a t-shirt sponsorship that guarantees your logo ends up on players’ backs. It’s powerful advertising targeted in your community, but is also about building those connections in your area — and showing good will and trust to your neighbors.
Ideally, every restaurant should have its own website. A website is an easy way to keep your contact information and menu in one place, while also sharing a little bit of your brand with potential diners. Web domain names get bought all the time, so if you’re looking to get one as close to your business name as possible (which is highly recommended), then buying the domain name as soon as possible is advisable. There are website designers out there if you want to go that route, as well as programs that help you do-it-yourself.
2. Social Media
Social media is an appealing option for newer marketing strategies, especially because it’s usually free to sign up and use (with the option of paid social media ads on most platforms). However, you need to think of social media as a long game. If you’re a company just starting out, you’re probably not going to get dozens of followers on any of your social media accounts the week you open them. You might not have a huge number of followers weeks or months later.
The trick is deciding what will be the most effective use of your time on social media. You’re busy as an owner, and getting bogged down posting on social media constantly won’t give you a strong return on the work you’re putting in. Getting distracted by the internet can actually keep you away from your more pressing responsibilities in the restaurant. That being said, it’s important to keep an eye on your social media and engage with your customers, especially when they’ve engaged with you (whether that’s a question, compliment, or criticism).
It might seem contrarian in a time of Google and smartphones. But make no mistake, truly one of the best, time-tested ways to market your restaurant is getting a big, bold sign placed in clear view from the street and walking traffic. Too many restaurants overlook this detail and then potential customers don’t even know they’re there. This doesn’t just affect foot traffic, either. Even if hungry would-be customers looked you up online, they could just give up and find the next best thing in your neighborhood if they can’t figure out which building is yours when they arrive. Make it easy for people to see that your restaurant is here and is serving great food.
When it comes to signs, simple is usually better, but it should still include your restaurant’s name and a sense of your brand and food. Just by nailing that tone and information, you can entice walk-in guests to … well, walk in. Just make sure to check with your local ordinances to ensure you’re following any size or lighting restrictions your zoning area has in place.
Want some more thoughts on how to prepare your restaurant start-up for everyday business? Look no further: