Word of mouth goes a long way when promoting your restaurant, but it’s not the only way to fill seats. Promoting your restaurant online is one of the best ways to build your customer base, and best yet, it doesn’t have to cost you very much.
Online searches, and your restaurant, are all about local
Local is more than a buzzword for Google and search engines – it’s just about Gospel. And among the top of all things that people search for locally is restaurants:
- Best “fill in your type of food here” restaurant
- Restaurants in “fill in your location here”
These types of terms have a high search volume in almost every local market, making it all but mandatory that your restaurant increase its presence online.
- It begins with a website – With sites such as Yelp around, many restaurants assume they don’t need a website. They already have an online presence, without having to do any work. But this is a huge mistake. You want to have complete control over what your online profile looks like, and having a website will make that happen. You don’t need to pay a designer thousands of dollars to create a site, either. There are free restaurant-themed templates that you can use that make you look your best, and make it easy for your customers to find you.
- Make sure to add these features to your website – There are some key features you should make to include in your restaurant website. These are based on studies that prove that people look at restaurant websites for three main reasons: to book a table, know when you’re open, and to see your menu. The key features your website should include are:
- A menu – Don’t just make this a list of items, either. Many restaurants choose to upload their menu as a PDF, so that they can capture the true beauty of the design.
- Online reservation tool – True, this may not apply to you, but if you take reservations, offer an online reservation tool. You can build a tool within your site, or use a third-party tool such as OpenTable. You can also designate a section for reservations, but simply post your contact information for people to call.
- Your hours – Don’t just post your hours (so that they’re easy to find) but post when you serve lunch, dinner, weekend brunches, and anything else that pertains to your restaurant.
- Start a food blog – This, of course can be added to your website. The purpose of the blog is to help boost your search rankings, but also to add to your restaurant’s branding. You need a voice in order to connect with customers. Your blog can be that voice. If you’re not much of a writer, enlist the help of a local food blogger.
- Get social – Your website is a pivotal part of your online marketing, but you can’t ignore the social media aspect as well. Through Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Pinterest, and other platforms, you can increase your reach and connect with customers in a variety of ways. Highlight your menu with gripping images on Pinterest. Offer on-the-spot limited-time specials to your Foursquare and Twitter followers (such as “Today, from 3 – 5 p.m., come in and say the word Tsetse Fly and get 10% off your bill”). Run contests with your Facebook followers. Promote loyalty and give your customers a chance to win great prizes, which encourages them to come back to you (virtually, and in real life). TouchBistro created an outstanding guide for restaurants social media. It should make your life a bit easier.
- Register with Google Places – Remember how we said that local searches are abound with restaurant-based themes? Google a phrase like “Italian Restaurants in (Your Location). Before you even get to the search results, there’s a banner atop the page listing restaurants that match your search. This is a result of Google Places. By adding your restaurant to Google Places you increase your likelihood of ranking high, add Google maps into your search equation, and allow people to easily rate you and give comments.
- Speaking of reviews – Be vigilant about monitoring your reviews. You live and die by your reputation, and your reviews are some of the biggest contributors to your online and offline rep. Thank people who have given you positive feedback, and address any negative comments so you at least can contribute your side of the story.
Online restaurant marketing is a must
There used to be a series of commercials for a phone company that suggested it was always worth your while to “call ahead” before going anywhere. While that’s a bit outdated, the overall message is not. People don’t just drop by restaurants any longer. They want to know what they’re getting themselves into, and your online presence and reputation will give them a glimpse into what’s in store. Be sure you put forth the first impression you want to make by having as much control over your online profile as possible.