This article talks about if, when and where a restaurant should advertise. I cover how advertisements should be devised in our upcoming book.

For the last 40 years or so, advertising has been like bad hypnosis. Most of the time, it’s not working, especially in mass media. Almost always, the ads irritates us and the message In mass media with rare exception, it, is an interruption to what you desire. Besides, you want to watch your television program or listen to the radio, not check out what a company is offering.

Unfortunately, many restaurant owners have been seduced by putting his or her restaurant on television, in the newspaper or on the radio. It has rarely paid off for independent restaurants, especially in trying to acquire new customers. Unless there is a specific need going through the customers mind that the restaurant may satisfy or already like the restaurant, customers could care less. Of course, there are the very very rare exceptions but no one bets on the lottery.

Along with being disruptive, advertisements lack credibility. This spreads to the area of newspaper classifieds (a place which traditionally doesn’t offer restaurants much business) . There is really no debate: advertisements can never compete with the power of public relations where your restaurant gets positive newspaper coverage. A restaurant therefore should invest more time in devising something compelling that newspapers or television may pick up. Still, hundreds of ordinary press releases go across an editors desk so if it doesn’t turn people’s head, don’t waste your time. Certainly, an experienced PR company with good contacts may give you an advantage but nothing is guaranteed.

YET, restaurant advertising is not entirely a lost cause, because something has changed. I am referring to online advertising especially through search engines and geo-location social media like Foursquare and Facebook Places (although it may sometime become effective in conventional Facebook, and Twitter). Besides, the majority of Americans research restaurants online and many search for new ones.

Let’s concentrate on search engines. To me, Google AdWords started off as not the right forum for restaurants (in contrast to big companies) to spend their marketing dollars. Of course, Google AdWords only charges you by click, so with the right promotions restaurant might get some increased traffic. Google, of course, sets the minimum bid based on the desirability of the keyword from past customer behavior, so restaurants in more competitive markets may incur higher costs but typically the keywords that restaurants want are between $1 and $5. Certainly, it is hard to track results, but restaurants that are starting out or the online market fits their demographic should not write Google off.

What makes AdWords effective is that Google allows restaurants to control what location the search is in and what time the ad appears. Certainly, the inclusion of a Yelp rating has let restaurants partially overcome the issue of credibility as a chunk of searchers are still conscious of it being an ad. I’d like to emphasize however that Google AdWords (the online classifieds) is not as productive as search engine optimization (organic search results) and local search (Google Places page) as both of those are the online equivalent of public relations at this point. For restaurants that are starting out (with low traffic to their website) and ones that have fantastic Yelp ratings, Google Adwords is definitely an option to investigate. Here restaurants put themselves in front of customers desires, but restaurants must monitor the results as best they can. I will talk about promotions through geo-location promotions in the social media section.

Advertising has never been what it has been touted to be, even online. Restaurants then need to make sure it fits with their goals and consistently track if its working (which is hard online but you can get some idea with checking Google Analytics). It is one of the less important marketing strategies for restaurants, but it is not without some potential.