To make a budget, you must have priorities. Likewise, you also must establish necessities and separate them from riskier opportunities. A restaurant marketing budget should take all this into account, along with determining the level of investment. To some degree, what priorities a restaurant focuses on depends on that restaurant. This is more true with riskier marketing strategies than the most basic ones, as restaurants share certain marketing elements (signage, website, Facebook Page, etc.). Additionally, costs will alter the balance of the budget as will business objectives and past marketing investments.
The best way to start is going from the inside out. Start inside the restaurant as the customers in your restaurant have already committed to eating at your establishment. As you know, making a customer come the second time is much cheaper than motivating a customer to come the first time. Even though I am starting inside out, I firmly believe that in-house, local store and online marketing are three pillars that are crucial to having a successful marketing plan. Media is more of crap shoot, however. With even those three, you can go in and try to get a passing grade, or you outclass your competition.
It is disconcerting how many restaurant owners who do not market effectively when customers are in their establishment. When they visit your restaurant, you have their attention like no other time.
Here are some things we normally see. The menu is haphazard and doesn’t incorporate a marketing strategy. Signage is missing. Customers aren’t informed of the specials or events.There is no newsletter or anything to occupy customers as they wait for a table. The walls are blank; there is nothing on the table. These give nothing to the wandering eye of customers. Instead, they have inexperienced waiters try to clumsily up-sell to customers.
Your restaurant is not a bulletin board. But information (text with images) should be strategically placed throughout your restaurant. It increases interaction and generates additional curiosity. I am aghast at how many restaurants have street chalkboards with not menus in the window, or menus in the window without a case for events (fitting one event..at most two).
Customers should know that you host private events. Customers should know that Thursday is Jazz Night. You don’t have to come on too strong, but you must let them find the information.
The best in-house owners are finding ways to coordinate their online marketing with their in-house marketing. They are finding ways for customers to become Facebook Fans, become email list subscribers or visit their website. This has to be done subtly in most places, but it is doable.
Much of this takes little investment after you get the basics up. Yes, you will need a designer and choose a printer, but making a couple posters won’t set you back too much. Your menus have to be made with care. Your signage has to be visible (and for many restaurants, classy). With a strong enough brand, you may be selling merchandise, such as T-shirts or throws.
Local Store Marketing: Community
By and large, unless you are a tourist hangout, your restaurant brings in a lot of local customers. Most rely on them. Local marketing is frequently neglected and that is a major mistake. One reason is regulars who make up a disproportionate percentage of the regulars. Your most loyal customers (perhaps 20%) bring in significantly more than 50% of sales and are key to word-of-mouth marketing.
Reaching out into the community is a cost-effective way of bringing the community into your restaurant. It is all about finding the right partnerships. There are numerous ways to do this. You can earn good-will by supporting local charities or popular causes. By donating food to local charitable gatherings, you show off your food while showing your affection for the community. You can reach out to hotel staff to help direct tourists into your restaurant. You can sponsor events or work with other local businesses. Some restaurants can get away with a contest for those who leave their business cards. Remember to send emails to the others, as you can build a relationship. Even welcoming customers when they arrive at your restaurant and introducing yourself will create good will.
People like being treated like people and that means the more you build a personal relationship the more loyal your customers will be to your business. Promotions and loyalty programs will never be as strong as remembering someone’s name and giving them a handshake.
Of the main three pillars, you have the most flexibility and the most potential creativity online. The internet is a great marketing leveler (especially for restaurants) is one sense as you don’t need tons of resources to reach a lot of customers. But restaurant online marketing can be passive or aggressive.
Before I explain the difference, I want to emphasize that not being online is no longer an option. Often, customers think that you are closed without a website. If you don’t check up, Google Places or Yelp might list you as closed. Just as important is giving customers access to your menus and your brand. If you give a customer no information when they search online, you encourage them to be hesitant and direct them to third-parties like Yelp. You are throwing away business without any online marketing.
A passive approach requires certain things. With this approach, you have a decent website that provides all the information to customers, such as up-to-date menus, directions and anything else customers would normally be looking for. Next, you claim your Facebook Page (or start one) and set up a Twitter account. Although you may start off slow with Twitter, you cannot leave your Facebook Page blank nowadays. Not answering a customer’s question is really bothersome to others who might come to your restaurant. Don’t forget you need to build an email list. Email marketing is highly effective. You will collect emails in-house, on your website and (for the more tech savvy) on your Facebook Page. You need text about your restaurant, but you also need high quality pictures. Professional photos would be best. However, a really talented amateur will normally suffice for most restaurant except fine dining ones.
In essence, you haven’t created any real value with your online presence but you also haven’t created a vacuum. Most of these costs are not month to month but year to year (that is if you can manage updating the website). To give you a rough idea of the ball-park figures. Only a website can range from $500 (which is almost always a uncustomized WordPress template) to $10,000 (capable of numerous functions and fully customized. Hiring someone for a WordPress template is probably a bigger waste of money as you won’t get much more than if you downloaded one yourself. Professional photos can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand. Email marketing (with more than a few hundred subscribers) normally demands a service. Try out Mail Chimp for free and see if you need to fork over the $25 to 75 a month to get all the features.
An active approach is much more dynamic and creative. The most basic step is tying promotions into your online marketing whether it is on Facebook, Twitter or your website. But it doesn’t stop there. You have an attractive, easy to use website and a customized Facebook Page. You get the most out of Twitter and Foursquare. You also pay attention to your website’s organic search results (for your name and related descriptive terms) on Google as search engines send you new customers. You provide content through many different outlets, such as sharing outside links on Twitter, putting up engaging posts on Facebook or enriching the Internet with original non-promotional material. Your email campaigns are fully fleshed out in HTML and offer all kinds of content to users. You should be using analytics to track customer response. You can even consider online ads (which are much more effective than cable TV). At this point, it gets very difficult to price each of these parts. Also, the interactions between the different elements is not as straight forward. When done right, this makes back your money, but it involves managing your expenses effectively.
I am grouping public relations and mass media ads together. Although public relations can be free, it isn’t easy to get press coverage. Sending out a press release that cannot make a compelling story is a waste of time. However, if you put a lot of creativity into your restaurant, public relations might put your restaurant in the spotlight. You should not always aim for the big boys (major newspapers, network TV) as smaller media can be effective and sometimes, can reach the right customers better than big media.
Mass media advertisements are an even bigger long shot. Normally, as they are quite expensive (the slot, the commercial filming and editing) and can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, an independent restaurant owner is the exception if they make back their money. Normally, pride plays a role in why a restaurant owner makes an ad. Most times, it would be better developing creative and compelling Youtube videos.