The restaurant business is one of the most competitive industries there is and it can be really difficult to drive awareness and get people through the door. We spoke with Lisa Nourse, founder of Lisa Nourse Public Relations & Strategy, a San Francisco-based company that’s highly respected in the hospitality community, to find out what she thinks are the most important aspects when it comes to promoting your restaurant.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Nourse does recommend first and foremost hiring a publicist if you can afford it. “I believe in outsourcing to the experts,” she says. “You don’t try to become a chef if you don’t know how to cook. There are so many things that need to be done to run a successful restaurant operation. Restaurateurs should focus on their business operations and perfect what they know best while leaning on support from other people who are experts in their field.”
Still, she understands that not everyone can afford to hire a publicist, in which case, her biggest piece of advice is to be authentic. “When food reflects a chef’s character and soul, it translates. That sense of honesty reaches the guests and the guests can’t help but talk about it.”
What else does she recommend? Read on to find out.
- Be a good neighbor
Nourse says one of the most important things you can do is be an active member of your community. “Look outside your four walls,” she says. “Join your neighborhood association, organize a community event, or rally support for a local family or business that needs a little love.” Residents and people who work in the neighborhood are your best bet for regular patronage, especially during slower times. She adds, “By keeping your neighbors close, you’ll have a better chance of hearing any negative feedback first-hand, instead of through a one-star Yelp review.” It’s a chance to really be in tune with what the community is saying and adjust accordingly.
- Tell a story
“It’s not just about the food on the plate,” Nourse says. “More often, the most interesting aspect of a dish or drink is the story and inspiration behind its inception.”After all, marketing is storytelling. She suggests restaurateurs focus on these stories. What makes your burger special? Did your chef log 50 hours to perfect the mix of meat? Was it inspired by your line cook’s favorite diner burger in the Midwest? Definitely share photos of the burger on social media, but be sure to include these types of anecdotes along with it and make sure your servers are telling the story to their tables. It helps build an identity for the restaurant and it’s a genuine way to connect with customers.
- Give VIPs a sneak peek
People love to feel like they’re a VIP. Nourse suggests you leverage that and invite regulars, friends and family, community leaders, investors, press, social media marketing influencers, and industry friends to be among the first to see, taste, and experience something new. “Invite them in to taste a new dish and hear the story behind it,” she says. “Let them know you value their opinion and that you’re excited to have their input and support.” Those genuine connections will result in great buzz in your neighborhood, within the industry, in the news, and on social media.
- Form strategic partnerships
Nourse says creating alliances with like-minded brands and services that mesh well with your restaurant can result in powerful cross-marketing that reaches demographics and communities you haven’t fed yet. Once you’ve figured out with whom you’d like to partner, Nourse suggests you invite a representative from the company to dine with you at your restaurant and brainstorm ideas about creative and compelling ways to collaborate. Preparing to launch patio service? Connect with that high-profile blanket company you’ve seen popping up around town and see if they’d be willing to team up and provide product in exchange for valuable exposure and the opportunity to showcase their goods in a fun format that they can share with their social media followers. It can also just be as simple as getting an awesome lifestyle blogger or food stylist with a major following to come in and style a shoot at one of the tables and then have them share the gorgeous tablescape. The biggest challenge with this one? Thinking outside the box and dreaming big.
- Embrace social media
Social media allows restaurants to tell their own stories instead of relying on relationships with journalists or publicists. Nourse suggests you participate and engage in social media. “It’s your opportunity to speak directly with the public using your authentic voice,” she says. “Your followers are just waiting to be enticed by an appealing photo of tonight’s special or to be romanced into weekend brunch by a heart-warming story about your fantastic egg farm.” She also recommends you print your social media handles, particularly Instagram, as well as any hashtags you want people to use on your menu, so they don’t have to work hard to share. From there, Nourse says, “Enjoy the results you’ll see on your social feeds, in real-life connections, and on the bottom line.”
For more ways to get more customers through your door, check out Yelp SeatMe’s online restaurant reservation system.