UPDATE June 29th, 2013:
I've added a quick update to the top of this post, about one of the most recent and important low or no cost marketing ideas for restaurants. This article (though still valuable) was originally written in 2009, and a lot has changed. So, I wanted to give you some fresh ideas and info specially about the new image carousel in Google Search Results:
Google has been trying to focus on Local Search for a long time and are making a big push, now. If you haven't already, you need to sign up for Free Google+ Local and Google+ Business pages. If you signed up in the past, for Google Places, check your account, as you may need to make some adjustments to your page.
Some of you are already seeing the new Image Carousel – if you haven't seen it, check out the image above, showing the results page for Boulder Restaurants. WordTracker wrote a post about it, called The Pros and Cons of Google Local carousel search and below is one of the most important things Julie McNamee (who wrote the article) mentions:
Make sure Google gets to see your images
You'll definitely need to claim your Google+ Local and Google+ Business pages and you'll also have to populate it with some stand-out images.
Images have always been important, but now you are really competing with other area restaurants based on who has the best visuals of their food, the people who visit their restaurants, and the atmosphere. Make sure you have good photos included on your Google related profiles!
The rest of my article was written in 2009, but still offers useful and unique ideas for restaurants:
Two of my favorite things are food and marketing, so a blog post about how restaurants can cost-effectively market themselves was bound to happen. Here are a couple of quick ideas that have either been percolating in my head or I've noted area restaurants doing:
- Today's Specials – I don't know about you, but if I was following twitter posts and I saw that my favorite restaurant was tweeting their daily specials, my mouth would be watering and I'd be calling up everyone I could think of to find someone to join me for a meal! There are tools that will allow your twitter posts to appear on your site/blog, too! So, without having to write them in multiple places, folks coming directly to your site/blog, can see these specials, as well.
- Last Minute Event Associated Twitter Discounts: So, you just remembered that today is Bike to Work week and your staff thinks it would be a fun promotion to offer anyone on their bike or using an EcoPass to get a 20% discount. SpudsBros, on the Pearl Street Mall just did this recently. Though I don't know if it was last min or planned, but they accomplished it without advertising costs, by simply mentioning it on their Twitter page. It's that simple to do last min promotions!
- Wine List additions, or any additions/changes to the menu – if you are a restaurant and you have new items, why not share that news with the local twitter community? You could also write a blog post (provided you have one set up on your site – and you should), describing the new item and the positive response it's already received. After blogging about it, tweet your post's url. This not only allows folks already visiting your site to see these insights, but also gets your twitter followers over to your site and… hopefully… making a reservation!
- Chef's Tips – again, this would be a great use of your blog, and after you write a tip, go over and share the link with Twitter. If you can't think of any tips, you can always contact UniqueThink for a free one hour consultation, to get you started.
Who would want to be on the email list for your restaurant? Well, I would if you were my favorite establishment. I am currently on a few, ranging in price from low-budget to high-end. So, don't think your dining facility is above this idea or below it, for that matter. The email lists I am on all do things differently, but below are some of my ideas – by the way, I recommend Constant Contact for cost-effective, high quality do-it-yourself email newsletters. And, below offers quick ways to gather content:
- Using Existing Content: Those blog posts you have been writing (Remember, the Additions to the Menu and the Chef's Tips, to name a few), are all great content to share with your email list. Once a month, pick a few existing posts and summarize them in your newsletter. Or do it the opposite way, write items for the newsletter and then post it online, too. So, everyone benefits. Some folks won't come back to your blog to hear what you have to say, they want the newsletters in their inbox. Others won't sign up for the emails, so this lets you share the same great content with both types of folks.
- Featured Recipes: OK, so some kitchens aren't going to give away their recipes no matter what I say, but I say give it all away. Just because you profile a recipe, doesn't mean folks are going to stop coming in. After all, there will always be folks like me, who as hard as I try (and I don't try very hard), will never be able to duplicate the taste of your staff preparing and presenting it to me. I'd rather have you cook and clean up and just enjoy the experience. But, if you are not going to give away that award-winning dish of yours, at least offer last weeks or last month's special that you won't be putting back on the menu anytime soon, so we can enjoy it again, until you tweet to us that it's available as part of your specials.
3. Offline options:
These two actually both came from one of my favorite restaurants – Leaf. If you are in Boulder, CO, and are a veghead – or even if you aren't – and want vegetarian global cuisine using the finest organic, seasonal ingredients, this is the place to go. I have taken many meat eaters who have loved this spot. But, this is not about how great their food is, though it is. This post is about some unique marketing ideas I've seen them do recently:
- Discount on Receipt – Studies show that it is easier to sell to an existing customer than to obtain a new one. Plus, if someone is loyal to you, why not give them a perk. Too many times establishments give discounts to new folks, with promotions geared to first time visitors, but why not award the true fans. On the bottom of the receipt, you can give them a 10% off their next meal. Some chain restaurants do something similar, but make you call in and take a survey. Though the survey info might be worth the cost and expense to a large chain, it is probably too costly for the independent establishments to benefit from the insights. So, why not just get the folks who like you back into your restaurant without the hassle of doing an extra step. I know, when the Leaf, in Boulder, did this a few months back (for a limited time, their receipts offered 10% off the next meal) they not only got me to come back, but it stayed ‘top of mind' as I carried it in my wallet, to pull it out when we were trying to decide where to go for a meal. In the case of Leaf, they happen to be owned by the same group as some of my other area favorites, and each one had the same note on their receipts, to try the Leaf. Maybe it was because the Leaf was the newest or least known of the 4. But think about it, this promotion didn't cost them to advertise. They were either marketing to existing clients from the other restaurants or, in the case of the Leaf itself, who also included the discount on their receipt, it offered a perk to loyal customers. I know I appreciated the loyalty discount. Chances are, if you were a fan of one of the other 3 restaurants, you'd liked the menu selections at the Leaf and be open to trying it, even if you weren't an exclusive veghead (because you knew the food would be high-quality).
- Cost-effective Branded Take Out Boxes – OK, I admit, I love left overs! Nothing better than getting to re-enjoy more of the delicious meal I hadn't gotten enough of the night before. Plus, maybe it's my grandmother's voice in my head, but I can't throw food away, so if there is any of my meal left over, it's coming home with me. Recently, when I asked Leaf for a To-Go box for my sweet potato fries (which are too good to end up in the trash), they came back with an effective, yet low-cost branded box. On it, in pencil, the staff had written the words Leaf 6/26/09, drew a quick image of a leaf and wrote Fries underneath. I thought this was brilliant, and as you can see from the image I took, it didn't take them more than an extra 15 seconds, but it made a big impression on me, because:
- It is always good to know how long somethings been in my fridge
- It showed they were paying attention and gave me the correct leftovers, as well as giving me the reminder later which to-go box is which (remember, I take my left-overs home from everywhere)
- It looks pretty, even if it only took a few seconds to do it
- And, this is the brilliance of it, if I worked in an office with other folks, and I brought my leftovers to work, it would become a talking point. My co-workers would be saying, “Oh, you went to the Leaf? How was it?” And we all know word of mouth is the best marketing there is…
- In addition to a Doggy-bag, this works great for any TAKE-OUT orders, too!
So, hopefully some restaurants are reading this and taking the advice to heart. If you own a food establishment or know someone who does, definitely contact me for a 1-hr free consultation, to find unique ways for you to use online and offline marketing ideas. Or, if you have some ideas to share, we encourage you to post them below, because we'd all love to hear them!