As a restaurant owner, you work in the field of hospitality. Well, you and millions of others. With the restaurant industry as cutthroat as it is, you need some marketing strategies to stand out and get ahead. What are the best strategies to utilize?
Here are 10 hospitality marketing strategies:
- Optimize your website
- Use chatbots
- Grow with email marketing
- Start a loyalty program
- Incorporate storytelling
- Use social media marketing
- Find brand ambassadors
- Use SEO
- Encourage reviews
- Broaden your content marketing
The tactics and strategies we’ll cover in this article will help you create a winning hospitality marketing strategy or grow your existing strategy so it covers more ground and achieves your goals. You won’t want to miss it!
1. Build and Optimize Your Website
In the 2020s, having a business website has long since drifted from optional territory. If you can’t be found online, then don’t be surprised when very few people come into your restaurant.
Some restaurant owners get harried at the thought of creating a website. There’s a lot that goes into it, like a server, a domain name, and web design, but there’s good news too!
Everything about designing a website today has been streamlined and mainstreamed to make it as easy and effortless as possible for anyone to do. You don’t have to know how to write a lick of code, even HTML, to make a professional-looking website.
Free website builders are a dime a dozen, but it’s worth funneling some money into your site design. That doesn’t mean you need to hire third-party pros unless you want to go above and beyond with the graphics or the coding.
You should move away from cookie-cutter templates that 5,000 other hospitality websites like yours already use. Pay for quality website features and your site will take you further.
That said, your restaurant website’s success depends on how well-optimized it is.
How do you optimize your site? Here are some areas to work on:
- Create a mobile-friendly version of your website for smartphone and tablet users. According to DataReportal, over 90 percent of people will use their phones to browse the Internet “at least some of the time.” Many website-building services include mobile optimization.
- Select a high-quality host so your site stays online more often.
- Reduce the size of your images for a faster site loading speed.
- Cut down on the number of plugins you’re using, which will also help with site loading speed.
- Check for and remove dead links and fix broken links.
- Use Gzip Compression to shrink files and improve your server response time.
2. Use Chatbots
Customer service is a pillar of hospitality, but you can’t always be there for your customers 24/7. We mean you literally can’t be there.
You have the responsibility of running a restaurant, which is all-encompassing enough. Then, on top of that, you also have to eke out some time for yourself to spend with your family and friends.
You likewise cannot expect your restaurant staff to always be available. Yet customers may have questions or concerns at odd hours, including when you’re not open. What do you do in such a situation?
That’s simple – use chatbots!
Chatbots and AI technology was once a daunting prospect but has since assimilated into everyday life quite nicely. Companies use chatbots all the time to bridge the gap between when their offices are open and closed.
The chatbot will appear on your website and greet visitors each time they log on. If a customer doesn’t have a question, they can always choose to ignore the chatbot or close it out, but for those that do have a question, this is where chatbots really shine.
The bot will provide basic information to your customers, such as what time your restaurant opens, what’s on the menu, if a certain menu item contains peanuts or gluten, and what your daily special is.
If a customer has a question or concern that’s a little too advanced for the chatbot to assist with, then the bot will redirect the customer, recommending they email or call your restaurant when you’re open for business.
Video chat software ServiceBell reports that 68 percent of consumers appreciate how quickly a chatbot answers their questions, so these bots will certainly improve customer service!
3. Grow with Email Marketing
Did you know that four billion people log into email daily, comb through their inboxes, and send emails and replies? That’s according to marketing giant HubSpot.
As a restaurant owner focusing on hospitality, you may only want to reach a fraction of those people, but nevertheless, email is an excellent vehicle to do it.
The first question is, how do you get people on your email list in the first place? That comes back to your website, which is why it’s great that you freshly designed and optimized it (you did freshly design and optimize it, right?).
On your website, you’ll want to institute pop-ups known as opt-ins. An opt-in will request a website visitor’s contact information such as their name and email address.
In exchange for their contact information, you have to give the website visitor something as well.
You have all sorts of options, such as a few eBook chapters, a checklist, or even an exclusive discount code to dine at your restaurant.
Once you have an email list, you need to engage with it. Your restaurant customers will travel through a sales funnel from the lead to the customer stage, with a sales funnel referring to the steps they take to convert.
Depending on which stage a customer is in the sales funnel, you’ll approach them differently. A new customer should not receive the same types of emails as a more established, loyal customer.
So what kind of content should you send? Well, you want to issue nurturing email content to get leads through the sales funnel and convert them into customers.
You also have to engage with your long-term customers. We recommend monthly or quarterly newsletters, exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpses of your restaurant, and discount codes.
Personalizing email content is important too. For example, you can send a personalized birthday message to your customers on their birthdays with a dining discount just for them.
As your email list grows, you’ll probably wonder how in the world you’re going to manage it. Email automation is your friend.
You can create workflows for issuing emails to new leads versus newly converted customers so that whether you need to send an email on the weekend, in the middle of the night, or on a holiday, your messages never skip a beat.
4. Start a Loyalty Program
As your restaurant uses hospitality marketing strategies long enough, you’ll realize that it’s not all about converting leads into customers. That’s important, but you also have to maintain the interest of your most frequent customers.
One of the best ways to do that is with a loyalty program.
As the name suggests, a loyalty program rewards the customers who have stuck with you the longest, offering them exclusive incentives.
As an example, for every third time a customer dines at your restaurant or for every fourth carryout meal they order, they’ll receive a discount towards their next order.
You can also throw in other incentives, such as a free appetizer, dessert, or even a free meal if your restaurant can afford that.
People love free stuff, and almost as good as freebies are discounts. When your customers wonder what they’ll do for dinner that night, they’ll remember that they’re one order away from a freebie or discount code at your restaurant and choose your establishment.
The rewards tier should get increasingly better to motivate your customers to keep coming back and see how far the rewards program will take them.
5. Incorporate Storytelling
Every restaurant has a story worth telling.
As one of the founders, or perhaps the only founder, what inspired you to create the restaurant? Has the hospitality industry always been something your family has been involved in, and you’re continuing that lineage?
Is cooking something you’re very passionate about, and after spreading the joy of cooking to your family and friends, you decided to expand to the masses?
Whatever your story is, it’s unique, and you need to find ways to weave it into your marketing campaign.
You can highlight your story on your website (especially the about section), share pieces of it on your social media, or incorporate it into your email newsletters.
Storytelling is one of the backbones of building a strong brand. It makes you more than just another name and bricks-and-mortar location around town. It gives you a personality and a special edge.
6. Use Social Media Marketing
If you thought the number of people using email is significant, wait until you hear about all the people on social media.
According to marketing expert Neal Schaffer, it’s 4.62 billion people! That’s approximately 93.4 percent of all the people connected to the Internet.
Social media marketing is your chance to connect with your larger audience. As with email marketing, even if you only want to target your neighborhood and the adjoining city or town for now, you should still use social media marketing.
You don’t know if everyone has seen your billboard or your mailed fliers. The thing about those forms of marketing is that you can never be sure if the media you sent was received or ended up in the trash.
You know your audience is on social media, as everyone is on social media. Now it’s just a matter of connecting with them.
How do you do that? Well, you have to use the platforms they do. Ideally, your restaurant should have an active presence on every major social media platform, but you at least want to start with the ones you’re sure the biggest portion of your audience uses.
Then it’s time to get posting.
If your restaurant only promotes content from your blog (more on that to come), you’re using social media wrong. If you only post salesy content, you’re also using social media wrong.
When a person follows someone on social media–be it a friend, family member, brand, or personality–they expect to see valuable content.
You need to post valuable content. That’s not exclusively discounts, and it’s not all your content.
When you find engaging hospitality or restaurant news or statistics, you can share those on your social media accounts. You can also post photos and videos of your own establishment to increase interest.
As much as you can, engage with your audience on social media. When you get comments, respond to them. If your customers reach out to you through direct message, try to respond within 24 hours if possible.
7. Find Brand Ambassadors
Here’s another great hospitality marketing strategy: work with brand ambassadors.
What is a brand ambassador, you ask? They’re a representative of your restaurant who’s truly, deeply passionate about your food and brand and wants to share that with everyone.
A brand ambassador can boost your brand awareness, help you convert more leads, and increase your sales.
How do you find brand ambassadors? Think of who your restaurant’s most loyal customers are and start there. You can also comb through your email list.
Although brand ambassadors aren’t paid, they receive exclusive perks and benefits such as free food and possibly free restaurant merch.
You only need one brand ambassador to start, especially if you’re just beginning your hospitality marketing endeavors.
As your restaurant grows and/or as your marketing campaigns do, you can expand and work with even more ambassadors!
8. Harness the Power of SEO
Search engine optimization or SEO is one of the most critical components of any successful marketing campaign regardless of industry.
The reason? SEO is how your website gets found.
When someone searches for “pizzerias in Chicago” or “ice cream in Boston,” they’re going to get hundreds of results, right? It’s absolutely pages and pages of results.
The algorithm that displays these results does so strategically, not randomly. It all depends on how good a site’s SEO is.
We’d suggest focusing more on local SEO for your restaurant. With local SEO, you’d use local keywords such as those above so that when a local customer searches for you, you’re likelier to show up higher in the results.
Here are some other local SEO tactics:
- Optimize your website if you haven’t already, as this will greatly boost your SEO standing.
- When optimizing, consider using keywords in the style of Google Voice Search. Voice searches are on the rise, so you’ll want to come up with keywords in the same way someone would speak aloud when searching through Google Voice.
- Complete your Google Business profile, which was formerly known as Google My Business. A Google Business profile includes your restaurant name, location, phone number, hours, reviews, and photos. You can also claim your listing.
- Get on business listings near you.
9. Encourage Reviews
Reviews are another excellent SEO strategy and can help your restaurant’s reputation management, which is critical to a successful hospitality marketing campaign.
Even if your customers have a fine dining experience at your establishment, you can’t always count on them to leave reviews, so it helps to encourage them.
You might send a follow-up email asking customers to leave a review or post a sign on the door reminding them.
If these efforts are proving fruitless, don’t despair. You can always sweeten the deal. For example, every customer who leaves a review can get 20 percent off their next meal. That ought to increase your number of reviews fast!
As much as you can guide a customer to leave a review, you can’t control the content of the review. Hopefully, most of your reviews will be glowing testimonials, but you have to expect that there will be some rotten eggs in the bunch.
Your first inclination will be to delete negative reviews. As tempting as that is, sweeping the issue under the rug does nothing to fix it.
Instead, you should leave the review up and respond to it. Ask the customer if you can do anything to ameliorate the situation and hopefully inspire their repeat business.
The customer may respond, or they may not, but either way, you look better for having attempted to patch over the matter.
There’s no need to sweat a couple of bad reviews. They’re inevitable, even if you have otherwise awesome customer service.
The issue is when you have more bad reviews than good ones. Then you can stand to improve.
10. Broaden Your Content Marketing
We said we would, so let’s wrap up by discussing content marketing, another viable part of your hospitality marketing strategy.
Content is and will likely always be king. Most people think of only blog posts when content marketing is mentioned. While blog content is handy, it’s far from the only type of content you should explore.
You can also create video content. There’s the aforementioned behind-the-scenes glimpses that customers always appreciate, as transparency is a highly-valued trait in today’s brands. Try creating educational videos such as cooking tutorials as well.
Photographic content that can be pinned on Pinterest or otherwise shared like wildfire across the web is also highly valuable. You can post photos of your dishes or make custom infographics based on a blog post that performs exceptionally well.
The hospitality industry, including restaurants, can utilize a variety of marketing tactics and strategies to generate more leads, convert leads into customers, drive customer loyalty, and increase sales.
We hope this guide motivates you to shoot for the stars and always put the customer first!