Marketing Your Restaurant Online In 2019

Marketing Your Restaurant Online In 2019

It doesn't matter if you're a hip nightclub or a local brewpub, a feature on Eater or just a local greasy spoon – if you want customers to walk through your doors you need to promote your business online. The Interactive Dept. has had the pleasure of working with some of the best restaurants and bars in the US including Mama’s Fish House (“2nd Most Popular Restaurant in the US” by OpenTable), Multnomah Whiskey Library (voted one of “Top 21 Whiskey Bars In The US” by, Songbyrd Music House (voted “Best Place to see Live Music and Eat” Best Of Washington DC). In this article we discuss all the possible spots your brand might engage with potential customers online and how you can optimize those experiences to keep your seats filled.

Your Website Is Your Hub

While it might be the last thing a customer sees before making a reservation – your website is still the hub of your online marketing efforts and so we'll start there. Your website really helps define the brand of your restaurant or bar. You can't control the way things will look on Yelp or Maps – but your website can present a distinct feel to your potential customer and reinforce whatever reputation you've developed. To achieve this, quality photography is a must! Great photos are going to be key to everything you do online, so invest in hiring a professional to take great shots of your space. There are really only 3 things a person wants to know when visiting your restaurant website – what is the vibe, what do they serve, and what does it cost. Photography can answer a lot of those questions.

In addition to photography, the other must have element of a restaurant website are menus.  Having worked with many restaurants and bars over the years I've heard the arguments from owners against posting menus and prices online. I get it – menus change regularly… putting pricing online might turn off some customers….  At the end of the day, the purpose of the website is to provide folks with the information they want – and they want menus, so give it to them! 

Finally, your website should make it very clear how to make a reservation. This is your call to action and the website should drive folks towards this decision, whether you decide to integrate an OpenTable widget or just make it very clear what the hours and seating policy is.

A great example of all these details is the website we built for Mama's Fish House in Maui, Hawaii. Even though Mama's is regularly ranked as one of the top 5 US Restaurants on OpenTable, they still need an engaging website to share their story and entice future customers. The combination of great photography and unique design elements incorporated from the restaurant itself helps define their brand – while the regularly updated menu lets customers anticipate the spectacular meal to come. Finally, integration with OpenTable and a gentle reminder that reservations are a MUST at Mama's, helps set expectations.

Strategic Social Media

For many business owners social media sometimes feels like a necessary evil – and one that yields minimal returns for their efforts. Often this is because they use the type of organic social media techniques one might use for their personal Instagram account, rather than developing a social media strategy. Social media should be treated like any other form of marketing ­– you should have a clear audience in mind and a clear message you're trying to get across to them. Too often social media is managed on the fly, rather than developing an editorial calendar that plans out what you're going to say, when you'll say it, and most importantly – WHY you're saying it.

In addition, restaurants and bars need to make sure their message is getting in front of potential new customers and that they're not just repeating the same content to an existing following that already knows who they are. This is where a paid social media campaign can be extremely valuable. Facebook allows you to not only target people who live in a geographical area, but also people currently visiting that area.  The cost to promote your business within a 5-mile radius of your location is pretty minimal, and something every restaurant owner should be investing at least $10/day into. In addition – re-marketing techniques can allow you to reach out to folks who have either engaged with your social media content or have visited your website in the past. Occasional reminding folks who have engaged with your content previously that you have a new special going, or a fun happy hour message is a great way to bring folks back. There is no cheaper way to build brand awareness than geo-targeted paid social media campaign via Facebook and Instagram.

Another thing to keep in mind is social media was meant to be “social”. In other words, if someone takes the time to say something positive about your restaurant online, you should engage with that individual and thank them. Looking to see who has checked in at your business and shared photos or posts is extremely valuable and can turn a one-time customer into a regular. Engaging with “Influencers” – folks with a large online following - can be particularly rewarding.

Managing Yelp And Other 3rd Party Websites

I get it – you hate Yelp. I've never met a restauranteur that liked Yelp. Be that as it may, consumers do like Yelp – in fact, quite a lot! And more often than not, Yelp is going to be a source of information about your restaurant or bar. Google Maps shows it… iPhone Maps shows it… Google search results show it…. People are going to look for restaurants on Yelp. So you need to have a strategy for dealing with it.

First off – this is where we return to the topic of photography. Making sure your business has quality photos that show up on Yelp, Google Business, Google Maps and any other major public review sites is important. If you're an Italian Restaurant in Washington DC, you need to be searching for that on Google Maps and on your iPhone to see what comes up, how you rank, and what the experience is like for someone if they do find you. Are they seeing quality photos and good reviews, or did one customer have a bad experience and posted a horrible picture that is everyone's first impression of your spot?

The solution to negative reviews is not arguing with that customer online. The key to bad reviews are good reviews. Folks who regularly use Yelp are accustomed to the occasional 1-star review. If the majority of reviews are positive, then the occasional negative review hardly matters. Look for ways to encourage loyal customers to review your business online. One strategy that has worked for our customers is Direct Messaging folks who say nice things on Instagram and offering them a discount or free drink if they'll take a moment to write a positive review online.

Track and Measure

Finally – as with all forms of digital marketing, the key is to track and measure everything and then improve over time. Once you have your audiences and ads dialed in, there is a good deal of “wash and repeat” that can happen, but you'll always want to keep an eye on your numbers to make sure things are working as intended.  If managing all of this in-house is too much to handle, then we recommend hiring a digital marketing agency like ours that can put together the strategy and execute as needed to implement it. The more strategic you can make your digital marketing efforts, the more you can plan things out and create workflows for managing your campaigns, rather than just creating content on the fly when you realize it's been awhile since you made your last post. With a solid plan and consistent engagement, your digital marketing efforts will make certain your restaurant or bar is showing up where it counts online.

Work With Us

The Interactive Dept. is a digital marketing agency that helps businesses create engaging brand experiences that connect with customers. We’re always looking for new customers to get creative with – contact us today to learn more.