When it comes to the restaurant industry, marketing requires more than just advertising in the local newspaper and hoping that local consumers will respond. Since eating is something that people have to do every day, this is one industry that has a tremendous potential for repeat business. Restaurant owners need to use every tool at their disposal to attract and keep loyal customers, which on average, comprise around 1/3 of annual revenue. Here are some helpful marketing ideas to keep the customers coming back.
1. Keep your menu fresh. Hold on to your customer favorites, but don’t be afraid to try new flavors. This will keep things interesting for your regulars and give them something new to try out every so often. It will also give you something to promote, advertise and offer specials around. Make sure your menu is posted (and updated) on your website and local business directories.
2. Promote daily specials. Post your Today’s Special on your Facebook page, tweet it on Twitter, send it via email and text messaging. Always post it everywhere in a timely manner, so your customers will see it just when they’re starting to think about what to have for lunch or dinner — or happy hour.
3. Foster repeat business. Implement a loyalty rewards program, with free items or discounts after so many visits. Or try printing a discount coupon for future visits on the back of customer receipts. Encourage customers to fill out surveys around menu item selections, so they’ll feel as though they have ownership in your success. Host holiday parties or VIP events and invite your regulars.
4. Use Email and SMS marketing. Encourage your customers to sign up for emails and/or text messages, to receive notice of discounts and specials in a timely manner. Emphasize the exclusive nature of the messaging and the “insider” specials they’ll be privy to.
5. Leverage social media. Use Facebook and Twitter, at a minimum, to announce new menu items, discounts, and more. Post lots of pictures of select menu items, of the venue and of the staff, as a way of connecting with your customers on a personal level. Solicit lots of comments and reviews.
6. Offer live music or entertainment. Even if you don’t have an entertainment budget, try hosting an open mike night at select intervals to give local talent a place to perform. Just be sure to keep it organized so it doesn’t end up driving customers away instead. Don’t forget to promote your entertainment events through social media, emails and text messages.
7. Host a charity fundraiser. Announce that a portion of your profits on a specified day or evening will go to a local charity, and be sure to promote it vigorously through social media, emails and text messaging, as well as with local news stations and event listings.
8. Put on contests. Whether it’s coming up with a name for a new menu item, guessing a secret ingredient or the ever popular, “eat it all and it’s free” contest, people love a challenge, and contests are a fun way to interact with your customers and make them feel like part of your family. As always, promote your contests vigorously and make a big spectacle around the winner.
9. Market take-out and delivery services. Offering take-out and delivery services, or at least curbside pickup, can greatly increase a restaurant’s revenue. Be sure to market these services through emails, text messaging and social media, as well as through table and countertop promotional materials. Send a fresh take-out menu along with every order, and consider giving out refrigerator magnets with your logo and phone number.
10. Network with other local businesses. Leave menus with all the local businesses in your area, and encourage retailers to keep a stack of menus or business cards on their counter. Offer to reciprocate by featuring some of their promotional materials in your establishment as well.
Follow these practices and you’ll give your restaurant a fighting chance of success in even the toughest market. Of course, once you get customers in, you’ll still need to provide good value and stellar customer service, or all the marketing tips in the world won’t bring them back!