Does your restaurant have a marketing strategy? Do your restaurant have a marketing plan? Do you know the difference?
In the business world, we often do not make a clear distinction between strategy and planning. They are not the same thing and confusing the two creates barriers to success. Often, this is because while we know what a plan is, we cannot articulate a strategy.
We do, however, need a solid strategy so our plans can make sense and achieve major objectives. Roger L. Martin’s writings on the subject of business strategy provide us with a solid framework to apply to restaurant marketing strategy and plans.
A strategy can be broken down into two parts, according to Roger L. Martin. First, a strategy is where-you-play, which often means a combination of the industry, the targeted customers and the product or service. It is any distinguishable marketplace. The second component is how-you-win. What advantage of your restaurant will you exploit to win business and beat the competition?

A strategy has to have a real advantage, not be your own personal preference for your restaurant. The advantage must not be temporary, but a permanent edge over the competition. Often once you identify the advantage (or develop one), you should work toward expanding and exploiting this particular advantage.

Take for example, a quick service restaurant that is 35% faster in service than the competitors. It’s marketing strategy might target the nearby lunch crowd (where-you-play) and exploit the quickest service in town (the how-you-win advantage). Notice the connection between the where-you-play and how-you-win. Also note that the marketing strategy is without plans on how to communicate the quickest service in town to customers. That is the next step.

First Strategy Then Planning

Figuring out your strategy does not involve planning. Planning all comes after you determine your strategy. It is about exploiting your individual advantage in whatever market you are targeting. While strategy is conceptual, planning involves particular steps and the usage of resources.

How does this take shape in the restaurant industry? The marketing strategy is an outgrowth of the very fundamentals of the business: the concept, the brand and the targeted customers. It is not a strategy though, without some noticeable characteristic that makes you better than a similar nearby restaurant while competing for the same customers.

Finding a Marketing Strategy

Having a larger strategy is key, but that strategy often breaks down into smaller related strategies.

Strategy can be extended into different marketing channels. Social media might be a way of reinforcing the brand and facilitating word-of-mouth amongst friends. Going one step deeper, we might use Facebook for staying in contact with regular customers in a particular demographic (where-you-play). An advantage could be tapping the potential of customer-produced content because it is more plentiful and a restaurant uses it to better effect than our nearest competitors.

Whatever your strategy is for a particular type of marketing, all the strategies need to come together in a few unified strategies. So if your main targeted customers for your overarching strategy are senior citizens, you wouldn’t have much use for Facebook strategy or plans.

All this has to be laid out before one gets into plans. Plans can quickly change as they are based on resources being used for a succinct purpose with specific goals. Strategies are not directly determined by customer behavior.

On the other hand, part of plan is knowable, but customer behavior is beyond a restaurant’s control and often plans fail to meet their goals. So the success can only be truly determined by testing a plan out. A strategy, on the other hand, may stay constant even when plans fail to produce desired results. If a strategy doesn’t work after experimenting with several approaches and plans, you might question if your “where-to-play” and “how-to-win” connect with your restaurant brand, concept or customers.

To build a complete and comprehensive strategy, here are some questions you might ask:


  • Who are my targeted customers? Where do they live?
  • What is my restaurant’s market? To figure that out, ask: Who is competing with my restaurant for customers?
  • What am I offering? What customer behavior am I hoping for?


  • What advantage does my restaurant have? Is it tangible, permanent and exploitable?
  • Does my advantage connect with my targeted customers and service/product offerings?
  • Do I have a special technique to reach customers that my competitors can’t copy?

Of course, larger strategies have to be modified for specific types of marketing types. In the digital realm, that can be social media, online advertising, website design and email marketing. In traditional marketing, that can be print advertising, public relations, direct mailings, menu marketing and signage.

To give you an abbreviated example of how this works, the newest web design of one of our clients, a wine bar, has a slideshow of fantastic photographs on the homepage along with the text “Romantic, Elegant, Delicious.” In fact, those three adjectives hint at the three main strategies with their own set of customers (where-to-play). The strategy based on romance targets couples, often going out on dates. The elegant aspect focuses on urban women, who often come to the wine bar in groups. The delicious part draws attention to its cuisine, in particular its offering of decadent chocolates. This brings in chocolate lovers. Each of these advantages are integral parts of the business and will not disappear overnight.

Each strategy has marketing plans underneath them, with particular promotions, marketing content, campaigns and budgets. Going back to the web design, the slideshow itself features photos that correspond with the three adjectives and highlight the core marketing strategies.

Developing Marketing Plans

After you establish an overarching marketing strategy or strategies (don’t try to balance too many strategies), you will flesh them out with more limited strategies and specific plans. As mentioned above, plan success is determined by customer behavior and response and is partially beyond a restaurant’s control. It involves resources and specific steps. It always should be done with a strategy in mind.

Assessing the strategy’s importance to revenue and profit gives us a good groundwork to decide on budgets for a restaurant’s marketing. The strategy might hint at the appropriate marketing channels. Different social media platforms, for example, attract different age groups. Different geographic areas respond differently to direct mailings. Your plans should always be a realistic reflection of your strategies and therefore, you should disregard marketing formats that do not help your strategies. Plans, of course, also depend a lot of what options are available to you.

The presence of a clear, realistic strategy and of well-executed and related plans are fundamental to restaurant marketing success. After you formulate your strategy and plans, and write them out, you can begin executing them. From developing a strategy and related plans, not only will your marketing decisions become better, those decisions also will be easier to make.