Online videos interact with customers better than text, better than audio and better than graphics or photos. Almost always, when we refer to something going “viral” online, we are talking about videos. As you may guess, videos, whether through YouTube or your website, have lots of marketing potential for restaurants, although developing an effective video takes creativity and time.

Why it’s Difficult

There is a catch. Customers have high expectations from videos having grown up on movies and television where creative professionals from many fields work together. Secondly, people spend much more time watching entertaining material than education/informational (though how-tos are big) and even less, purely commercial content. Customers don’t want to hear your sales pitch just as they don’t choose to watch ads (unless they are funny, etc.). Still, many restaurant videos are just that, thinking wrongly that customers will get into their restaurant through a sales pitch. Actually, restaurant video marketing works best when it gets customers excited about a brand through indirect means. Generally, when you put a transaction at the center of the video, you have handicapped it.

*Before we go on, there are two major exceptions in restaurant marketing videos. First, when customers are planning an event (party, meeting, and marriage), videos that tour the facilities and let customers visualize an event can encourage them to investigate further. Restaurants that do a lot of private events or can accommodate many different types of events should think about creating a video specifically for event planning. A visually impressive space matters more with events than with dining out on a Thursday.

Another exception is restaurants with a story. By a story, I mean the restaurant that has been around for 100 years or roasts its own coffee beans or was visited by Ernest Hemingway. This restaurant is exceptionally unique (almost like a landmark) and, for better or worse, they aren’t entirely dependent on the quality of their service and product. People go there partially for the same reason they go to a museum (of course normally they get there through good food and drink).

Levels of Effectiveness

As I mentioned before, all videos are not created equal. A truly entertaining video is more valuable than a informational one and an informational one beats out a commercial one.

Along with that, although the video should be professional or near professional, how it looks is not as important as what happens. A video in High Definition (beware most computers have trouble with HD) that tours the restaurant may look stunning, but I’d rather see the staff reenact a funny scenario in standard video. A few actors and a film student may be a better formula than some overpriced professional. In my opinion, throwing money at a video company that doesn’t write the script helps little.

Video Content

In general, people are suspicious of cosmetic parts of a restaurant (such as how beautiful the food and interior looks) but listen to people who aren’t actively trying to sell their restaurant. Let’s be clear: online videos don’t work subconsciously like TV ads (which are mostly subtle reminders) and TV ads normally don’t have a particularly enviable return on investment. Your content shouldn’t list “features” but communicate your brand and how your brand relates to customers. Video works best because it becomes very human with the least effort. Focusing on things negates that.

Some successful videos are very creative, but that is not necessary. If you are stumped, you can always provide information (like doing a little cooking show or providing behind-the-scenes access). To get the same effect, however, you need many more informational videos than a really entertaining video. Notice how this funny Zagat Buzz video got more views than all the other Zagat videos combined, no matter how informational it is. The Zagat video also relates to their business in a very direct way and still is fascinating. Obviously, you need to figure out exactly who your customers are and what they like.

Less over more

Broadcasting a powerful video over YouTube and your website can rally people around your business. Take Alphabet Photography, which adapted the flash mob idea to promote their restaurant. They didn’t do anything particularly fancy, but it worked for their business. Some major corporations realize this, such as this absurdly simple (and funny) but clever video. Of course, your restaurant cannot afford a Phil Collins song, but “viral” videos and even effective videos tend to be less than more.

Lastly, I wouldn’t rush making the infectious, creative video that showcases your brand right away. Start small with content (informational) that you can build on. Setting reasonable objectives will make you more patient and keep with it until your video marketing campaign gains momentum. But remember, the right video (it doesn’t have to go viral) can do wonders for your  business and your brand.