Are you planning to launch your very own restaurant?

Great. All you need now is an epic digital marketing strategy to attract more customers. Everyone has an online presence now, and if you don’t join the bandwagon, you won’t get noticed. In 2016, a survey conducted by market research firm Clutch found that 46 percent of small businesses didn’t have a website. By 2016 standards, not having a site to call your own already seems foolhardy.

But today?

We’re only a few years removed from 2016, but not having an online presence before and after your launch is digital suicide. If you’re new to the digital marketing game, here are a few tips to get you started.

Why Your Digital Presence Matters

The battle for restaurant supremacy isn’t confined on an actual plate these days. According to the National Restaurant Association, 51 percent of consumers read online reviews when dining out. These customers almost always choose the restaurant that has the best reviews, and if you’re not part of the program, they won’t be able to find you.

Restaurateurs need to have an online presence and a killer digital marketing game to succeed. You need to entice customers on the digital front so they can salivate on your creations and eat with their eyes. However, simply being online isn’t enough. Your digital presence has to be relevant and engaging enough for customers to follow you.

Keys to the Digital Kingdom

Here are a few tips on how to make your digital marketing strategy count in the food business.

Tip 1: Time to Make a Decision

If you haven’t already, make sure to nail down your concept and what type of restaurant you’ll be putting up. Play to your strengths and focus on what you love doing.

Tip 2: Choose the Right Location

Choose an area that doesn’t have existing restaurants with the same concept. Competition among restaurants can be fierce, as everyone is fighting for pole position on the customer’s pallet.

Tip 3: Create Buyer Personas

A buyer persona is a researched-based representation of an ideal customer. A detailed buyer persona will tell you where to focus your time and effort, allowing you to attract the most valuable customers to your business. Metrics such as motivations, goals, demographics, and behavior patterns make up the core of a buyer persona.

There are many ways to get information, including social media, public record databases. Be sure to search the public records online to add more details to your demographics.

Use Search Engine Marketing

Your first step should always be search engine marketing. Here’s why:

  • Ninety-three percent of online experiences start with a search engine, with Google owning a huge 70 percent chunk of all searches.
  • Search is still the number one traffic driver, beating social media by a whopping 300 percent.
  • The top result on the first page of an organic search generates a 32.5 average traffic share. Everyone else on page one, share 91.5 percent.

Use tools like Ubersuggest to streamline your keywords and embed word strings that have little competition. You should also “think local.” Use frequent references, city nicknames, or anything that locals might include in a search query.

Develop a Social Media Strategy

In the food industry, nine out of ten restaurants engage their customers via social media. You’ll miss out on many opportunities if you’re not on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You have to own your name and the scope of your business sphere.

Here are a few suggestions for a solid SMM strategy:

  • Hire a professional to take exceptional photos of the food that you can post on all social media channels.
  • Ask your customers to take foodie photos they can post on social media, and reward them with a free drink or entree.
  • Use Facebook Ads and Instagram Marketing, post some YouTube videos, and run promos or competitions via Twitter.
  • Use unique hashtags.
  • Create a stunning and interactive online menu.
  • Create snackable content that on-the-go audiences can understand in less than two seconds. Use short-form video content and exciting vertical videos made for mobile to capture their interest.
  • Create passionate content that tells a story. Visual expression inspires action, so you need to use original videos and compelling images to get your message across.
  • Each social media platform has a theme that you need to use accordingly. For instance, passions thrive on Instagram, so posting something for mass media consumption on that platform won’t be as effective as doing it on Facebook.
  • Make sure your website is fast, as it is beautiful. People hate slow-loading times and won’t hesitate to ditch your brand when your pages fail to load at an acceptable speed. Either hire a pro to do it or move to a new host with more bandwidth. You can also optimize file sizes for the web by reducing their size, and limit the number of plugins your site uses.
  • Celebrate your audience by putting the community in the spotlight. Make customers feel special by giving them their time to shine, albeit momentarily. You can highlight particular customers on your social media account or blog, for instance. Do this by adding a “community member of the week/month” feature on any of your platforms.
  • Use user-generated content (UGC) for campaigns to drive more interaction within the community. There’s nothing quite like the authenticity of UGC.
  • When showing appreciation to your customers, go the extra mile, and customize their gifts. For instance, if the winner is a dog lover, send something for the pooch.

One of the keys to social media dominance is reviews and comments. Let customers post honest reviews about your restaurant. Take the time to answer as many comments as you can, and always be grateful. Reviews get indexed by search engines and can add to your organic search ranking.

Create a Stunning Website

Your website is a digital version of your restaurant and can help establish your online presence. Other than your social media pages, your customers need a central place they can go to check out your latest menu offerings or make a reservation. Having a website acts as your online calling card and addresses all these and more.

Shoot Mouthwatering Videos

People spend about an hour each day watching online videos. That’s almost an entire workday if you add it up. It’s safe to say that video is a captured market. To grab people’s attention while they’re looking for content, you need to do the following:

  • Create a virtual tour of your restaurant, complete with shots of the entrance, kitchen, and dining area.
  • Create short instructional videos on cooking, baking, plating, and more.
  • Hire a professional videographer who focuses on food. Shaky and low-quality videos don’t sell. Yours has to be professional looking, complete with audio, slow-motion effects, and transitions.
  • Work with your videographer on your best-selling dishes and if they’ll translate well on camera.
  • Use videos of varying lengths, from 10 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on where you’ll show them.
  • Viewers love a good story. Please give it to them.

Consider Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing can generate a lot of business. Invite respected restaurant critics and local bloggers who have many followers. Show them your best food ideas and ask if they can write a short piece about your business. You can even pay social media stars with thousands of local followers to talk about you.

Cross-promotion and networking work wonders in the food business. If you run a blog, invite guest bloggers to contribute to your site. Are you sourcing your stuff locally? Partner with other business owners and promote each other on social media.

Don’t Forget About Email

And text messaging for that matter because these two old-school methods still work. Comment cards are great for collecting emails and building your client list. You can even offer people a free drink or dessert if they take the time to sign up, leave a comment, or put their business card in a fishbowl.

Track the customers on your list, and target repeat customers with enticing deals if you’re anticipating a slow week. You can also set an automated email schedule so you can send regular emails on any specials or events you’re having.

In a Nutshell

To launch a restaurant, you need more than triple-A kitchen credentials to succeed. You need to have a great concept, an ideal location, and a winning digital marketing strategy to get more customers through the door. Remember, your clients are the lifeblood of your food business. Good food and excellent customer engagement will go a long way to guaranteeing your seats are always full.

Emily Andrews is the marketing communications specialist at RecordsFinder, an online public records search company. Communications specialist by day and community volunteer at night, she believes in compassion and defending the defenseless.

Outside Insights, Story