Marketing errors that put restaurants out of business

Marketing a restaurant is a challenge. Restaurateurs have scores of marketing options from which to choose, and most require a fair amount of knowledge and time to execute properly. To help plan your strategy, here are 10 marketing errors that almost every restaurant should avoid. Think of them as “table stakes” for being in the restaurant business.

  1. A website that's not responsive. Responsive website design allows your site to be viewed optimally on a desktop monitor, tablet, or smartphone. Few things frustrate a user as much as trying to work with a site that doesn’t display well on a small screen. This kind of frustration is the kiss of death for a restaurant, because so many people use smaller devices to check out where to dine.

  2. An outdated, poorly constructed website. If your site hasn’t been updated in a few years, it probably looks old-fashioned—a vibe that won’t attract diners. Many restaurant sites also have other serious user shortcomings, including poor navigation, clumsy PDF menus, and complex image files that slow down page-loading time.

  3. No local search engine optimization (SEO). A restaurant must be highly visible on Google Plus and Google Maps, and should maintain a presence on major directory/review sites such as Urbanspoon, Yellow Pages, and Yelp. The restaurant's website (and its page on each review site) must contain certain information such as a local phone number, relevant keywords, and its location displayed in a Google Map. Implementing SEO without professional help is hard, but well worth the investment. (For more information on SEO services, visit

  4. No hours posted on your building, or hours that aren't easily visible. People driving by your location shouldn’t have to get out of the car to find out when you’re open. Few will make that extra effort, and every drive-by that keeps driving is a lost customer.

  5. No brand identity. What is your restaurant known for—a great atmosphere, superb food, a wide selection, low prices, low-calorie choices? To make your restaurant memorable, focus your brand message on a small number of things—and then follow through and deliver to the hilt. Some of the most common branding mistakes made by restaurants are the refusal to focus on anything, or the attempt to focus on everything.

  6. No social media presence. People love to talk about food on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus. Restaurants with an active presence on these networks expose their brands to hundreds (or even thousands) of new people, and create platforms for customers to talk about their dining experience and obtain “social-media-only” special offers.

  7. No loyalty programs. Everybody loves a deal. A customer rewards program, whether it's rooted in social media, emailed coupons, or something else, gives customers a reason to come back again and again. Keep in mind that attracting a new customer is much harder than keeping a current one.

  8. Not adapting to changing tastes and competition. Décor and menus need updating as fashions change. People have also become fairly sophisticated in their dietary practices. Does your restaurant offer gluten-free, low-carb, and organic options? If not, you may be missing opportunities to attract new types of customers, or potentially alienating the ones you have.

  9. No feedback solicited from customers. To know how to adapt, you must understand your clientele. Surveys can be tremendously helpful, but there’s no substitute for talking to diners (without overdoing it) before, during, and after a meal. I’ve noticed that certain restaurateurs have a knack for asking the right questions and extracting useful information from their guests—information that inspires improvements in menus, pricing, ambience, and more.

  10. Dabbling. Restaurants must realistically assess their budgets and available time before launching any marketing campaign. People almost always underestimate how much of both are needed to be successful. Rather than attempting to do email marketing, social media marketing, directory advertising, and five other things, pick just one or two of the most promising activities and put everything you have into those.   

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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