Cooking Up Creativity

Innovative marketing tactics for full-service restaurants

Marketing is an ever-changing landscape—the same email and social media strategies that revolutionized outreach a few years ago have now become commonplace. To engage existing customers and draw the attention of new guests, full-service restaurants must approach marketing with a dash of creativity, finding exciting new ways to get in front of audiences. However, while chain restaurants have dedicated teams devoted to marketing, family-owned full-service restaurants face the constant challenge of amplifying their strategies while directing the bulk of their attention where it matters most—the kitchen.

Though I’ve been in the point of sale (POS) industry since 2010, first as the founder of Ambur POS and currently as business development manager at ShopKeep, I’m no stranger to restaurants. Aside from working closely with restaurant owners, my family opened its own full-service restaurant, Kabab & Curry, 16 years ago. As the first halal restaurant in Buffalo, New York, we faced our fair share of peaks and valleys, affirming that whether you’re a seasoned restaurateur or new to the business, it’s essential for restaurant owners to think outside the box when devising new marketing strategies. Here are some ways full-service restaurants can add a splash of originality into their marketing toolbox.

Aggregators Drive Eyes

In order to attract customers, restaurants must think like customers. In search of their next favorite restaurant, consumers turn to aggregator sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, MenuPages, and Zomato to sift through potential dining options. Full-service restaurants should moonlight these sites, providing up-to-date menus, locations, and photos, and interacting with reviewers when permitted. Once your profiles are up and running, offer incentives to encourage audiences to share their experience. Yelp Check-in Offers are a great way to boost your signals; when a customer “checks in” using Yelp’s mobile app, their visit is broadcasted to their Facebook and Twitter networks, amplifying a restaurant’s reach. Restaurants can then reward check-ins with customized discounts. At Kabab & Curry, we treated participants to a free rice pudding dessert, a $3 value. When it comes down to it, each pudding only took 50 cents to make, but brought incredible value to our business by driving up our number of positive reviews and online awareness.

Paid search is also an effective way to woo new customers, but restaurants must be mindful about how they’re allocating marketing dollars, especially when it comes to Google Adwords. If the average meal costs $20, it’s difficult to see ROI on pricey search terms. Since Kabab & Curry’s catering business brings in more money, related campaigns showed higher return and ultimately benefit the business.

Keep Guests Returning Throughout the Week

Just because a restaurant is packed during the weekend doesn’t mean it’s successful. In fact, sluggish weekday sales often drag businesses down. Restaurant owners should use POS analytics reports to pinpoint slower shifts and devise creative ways to drive new and existing customers in-store.

Restaurants are only limited by their ability to innovate, so don’t be afraid to tap into your imaginative side. To amplify Thursday traffic, Kabab & Curry began hosting Henna Nights, promoting them across Facebook and in monthly newsletters. People ended up reserving tables in advance. Midweek buffets are another traffic driver, enabling customers to sample multiple dishes at a set price, expanding their palate and inspiring repeat visits. Reluctant to host an event? To get customers’ stomachs growling, post a few upcoming specials on Facebook and ask fans to vote on a fourth option. Participating in polls keeps customers in the loop and gives them a sense of ownership—don’t be surprised if some familiar faces drop by for dinner!

Make it a Community Affair

Whether you’re located in a bustling city, snowy mountain, or along the coastline, the bulk of a full-service restaurant's traffic comes from its local community. To foster stronger relationships and amplify reach, restaurants should find ways to further insert themselves in their communities. Whether donating food to a charitable events or participating in food festivals, these opportunities grant restaurants quick exposure and allow them to engage with potential customers face-to-face rather than behind a screen. Food festivals and chamber events are a safe—and fun!—bet for local restaurants. As guests sample dishes, invite them to Instagram a photo of their first bite using a designated hashtag for a chance to be featured on your social media channels. Restaurants can usually take part in community affairs without spending too much money, but those with a bigger budget should consider becoming a sponsor for extra exposure.

Trust Your Gut

While there are many great marketing tools available to restaurateurs, no solution is foolproof. Despite their offerings, many services only provide middle-funnel metrics, accounting for how many consumers downloaded an app or clicked on an offer, but not demonstrating how many leads came to fruition. In many circumstances, restaurant owners must rely on their gut to measure marketing tactics. While events and offer redemptions are easier to measure, strategies that are being done on an on-going basis are more challenging. As tech improves, measurement will advance alongside it. In the meantime, it’s important for full-service restaurants, both big and small, to test different creative strategies to see which are most effective in respect to their budget and overarching goals.  

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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