Ok, you opened your restaurant. You have customers who love you but your seats are still not full. How do you reach more diners? This past week, Yelp Reservations hosted an event at Yelp HQ in San Francisco—More Butts, Same Seats: Marketing Your Restaurant. We invited restaurateurs in the community to discuss ways they’ve been able to maintain and expand their customer base. The panel included Benson Wang, Owner & Operator at Palm House and The Dorian, David Norris, Hospitality Manager for Future Bars (think Bourbon & Branch, Pagan Idol and Swig, to name just a few) and Maura Feingold, Founder, Marketing & Creative Director at Wednesday Seven. Here are the top three takeaways from the event.
Branding Your Restaurant
Great food and hospitality are a must but what can set your restaurant apart from the rest? A strong brand and identity. When you think strong brand and identity, places like Pagan Idol and Bourbon & Branch often come to mind. Developing the concept is just the beginning but maintaining that brand is the next step. According to Norris, “Hiring the right people who can carry the brand is very important. Building the staff is not easy but you have to be sure it carries through in all aspects including their uniforms and vernacular. You want to create escapism.”
How does this translate into marketing? Your brand helps guide a consistent message across all channels—both offline and online—and leaves a lasting impression on your guests. While having a strong brand offline and in your restaurant is important, you must be sure to turn your brand into a powerful marketing tool online as well, where 92% of consumers (81% on mobile) are looking for restaurants to dine at.
When asked what the top three things every restaurateur should focus on for their online branding and marketing efforts, Feingold said, “Have a strong website, collect contact information for email marketing and manage Yelp reviews.” Focusing on these three things is just as important as the food you serve and the staff you hire. A few easy places to start are BentoBox for website design, curated just for restaurants, and MailChimp for email marketing. We promise, these tools are very low-cost and easy to use!
Another way to ensure your tables are always full (and turning) is to create a loyal customer base. This ties into marketing efforts as well. Offline, there are some cheap, creative ways to create your own loyalty program. Wang, of Palm House and The Dorian, went old-school—he created a bounce-back program. Guests would be given a card at the end of their meal and told they can’t open it until their next visit, where a manager would then open the card. The card contained a discount off their next meal. “The program worked great! We had an 8% return rate within a month.” Other simple things you can do include rewarding guests who make a reservation online with an amuse bouche or appetizer, or maybe even a seat at the chef’s table.
Don’t forget your online efforts! This is where social media can play a huge role. Remember, social media is free and your followers are your loyal customer base. Set up a contest where you can reward your followers and engage in your community. Feingold is currently running a ticket giveaway to Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco, a highly-coveted reward that Feingold is already seeing a lot of social media engagement for.
Last, but not least, there are loyalty programs gaining traction. Thanx is an easy-to-use loyalty and marketing platform that Feingold has used, and with success but, she emphasizes, “if you’re going to spend the money, you have to put the time in.”
There has been a boom in online ordering over the last few years but many restaurants are still unsure if this is something they should invest in. The short answer? If it makes sense for your business and you can support it, do it. By signing up for an online ordering system such as Eat24, you can reach customers outside of your direct neighborhood that may not have known about you. Wang uses online ordering at Palm House and says, “It’s a great marketing tool. I can reach people from across the city who order.” If you’re considering signing up for online ordering, be sure your kitchen can support it and to explore your options!
We know keeping your restaurant full and tables turning is the biggest challenge you face. We’re here to help you put more butts in seats by providing an online reservations platform and other tools to reach millions of consumers. Making it easy for guests to find and make a reservation at your restaurant (and return) is crucial. Once you get customers through the door, your food, service and the experience you provide is what matters most.