Restaurants: How to beat the competition and stay ahead
The hospitality sector is jam-packed with establishments trying to sell their product to an ever-changing market. Customers can be fickle, and even well-established businesses need to keep their menus fresh to keep up with trends such as veganism and low-waste.
Promoting your business to the right people at the right time is essential. You need to be able to stand out on the street enough that walk-ins will choose your door, and let “planners” know that they should be planning on booking a table with you in the near future.
The core aspect of restaurant marketing is getting your branding right. It needs to appeal to the right audience segment, and it needs to be consistent across all marketing media. Consistency helps the customer identify you in a sea of different providers and ensures that their whole experience is seamless.
The most important task you can undertake is to visit your restaurant with the eyes of an outsider. Walk down the street and see how easy it is to spot your signage. Is it lost in a flurry of other signs from your competition? Is it clear what sort of food you sell and what price point you’re aiming?
A quick and easy way to distinguish your doorway is to use a Light Box Display. Clearly visible in the dark they make reading a copy of the menu easy so patrons can decide if what you’re offering is what they want to eat. Available in many different colours to match the rest of your branding an Outdoor Light Box could equally well be used to highlight special offers or dish of the day, and light boxes can also be used inside to draw diners attention to the information you want to display.
The rest of your signage needs to be inviting as well. A pavement sign is a great way to literally stand out from the crowd and can be extremely useful if your business is down an alleyway or not on the ground floor. Takeaways especially can benefit from leaflet holders which allow passers-by to take a copy of the menu for ordering when they feel peckish.
Your street signage is only part of the story. A lightbox display will catch the eye of someone walking down the street, but more and more often people are researching where they want to eat before they head out and that’s where online marketing becomes vitally important.
Your website needs to follow the same branding as your street signs. If your logo online is red and yellow, then customers will be looking for red and yellow when searching for your entrance – if your street sign is blue and white then it will take them longer to find you!
Websites need to appear up-to-date. While you can get decent results using DIY tools the best results will always come from choosing a website designer who can show you previous work in the hospitality industry. Consider adding features such as table booking, pre-ordering and takeaway ordering to your website. If you add a menu (and many patrons like to check what's on offer before heading out), then make sure it's up-to-date and doesn't require a download to access.
The hardest work, but ultimately the best ROI is social media. Instagram is a good place for restaurants as you are easy to follow, and you can share daily photographs of specials as well as running competitions and inviting comments. Twitter is another medium which invites frequent, short, posts. Facebook is beginning to wane somewhat in popularity as teens find new social networks to frequent but can be an excellent place to connect with local communities.
Again, across whatever platforms you choose to use, you need to keep your branding consistent. Use the same logo and colour-schemes as far as possible. Try to find a username that is free on the main social networks that you intend to target so that @myrestaurant connects to you regardless of whether it’s used on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or elsewhere.
Social media needs you to put effort into it. If you allow direct messaging, then you need to respond to messages as quickly as possible, and you need to moderate your news feeds to check for any questions posed by followers on a regular basis. If you can't or won't spend time running your social media accounts, you may need to hire a social media manager (who will manage your account alongside many others) or refrain from jumping on the bandwagon until such time as you can devote enough energy to the task.
All businesses need excellent marketing skills. Always consider your business actions from the customer's point of view and consider how they will be perceived. Social media disasters occur when companies try to cover up their mistakes. Social media triumphs occur when savvy social media managers find a way to fix the error and gain "brownie points". A bad review on its own can be written off as someone who simply didn't like what you were offering, but a bad review with a good response, acknowledging and validating the author and attempting to make recompense shows you care about your customer experience. A bad review that's deleted will come back to bite you.
Knowing your customer base is essential to good marketing. What do they like to eat? Are they more likely to be walk-ins who will be attracted by a pavement sign and lightbox display or are they more likely to be booking in advance for a special occasion? Will offering a vegan alternative encourage more families to try your restaurant or are you at risk of losing your more carnivorous customers who are looking for somewhere with traditional values? In the ever-changing restaurant sector, your market research needs to be ongoing, and your marketing skills need to be honed to perfection.
Read more: Why branding matters more than ever