There are over 100,000 restaurants in the U.S., from dive bars to Michelin five stars, fast food to fusion, sandwiches to steakhouses; I could go on for days.
This large number shows that many people are interested to establish a business in the culinary industry in the USA. Plus, proving how the restaurant business in the USA is such a prospecting sector as the demand is also big.
In other words, competition among restaurants in the USA is fierce, so you need a bulletproof restaurant marketing plan. Well, my friend, you’re in the right place because this all-in-one restaurant marketing guide is going to provide all of the creative, strategic, and competitive inspiration you need to attract, gratify, and keep customers coming back.
How to Market a Restaurant in the USA
There is no one “best way” to market a restaurant, as it all depends on your category, audience, location, and more, but these are the foundational steps any food-friendly establishment should take:
1. Develop Your Restaurant’s Brand Identity
Your brand identity is more than just your brand colors. It represents your business’s personality, the tone of your content, the emotions you want to inspire in your customers. “Happy” is not enough. Think about the most popular restaurants:
- Taco Bell: humor and wit
- Cheesecake Factory: indulgence and extravagance
- Panera: health and freshness
- Olive Garden: family and comfort
So first and foremost, understand your target audience, then further segment that audience into individual buyer personas with interests and lifestyles you cater to. Establish a theme and feel that works well with all your personas, and then consistently express that in every piece of content you create and every action you take.
Four different taquerias with four different looks and feels.
For more help with developing your identity, use our tips on how to brand your business.
2. Get a Website
This is non-negotiable in a restaurant marketing plan. You need a homepage, about us, menu, and contact page at the bare minimum. But ideally, you’ll want a reviews page, photo gallery, blog, and even a FAQ page. We’ll talk more about optimizing your site later, but the important thing to note here is that your website is the go-to for current and potential diners, and it needs to be professional—first impressions matter!
3. Establish Your Mission Statement
This goes along with your brand identity and should be a documented statement expressing the purpose of your business. Is it to make healthy food more affordable? Is it to encourage family bonding? Promote sustainability? Your mission statement should state what you provide, where/to whom, why you do it, and how. You can gain inspiration from these mission statement examples.
4. Set Up Your Socials
Next on the list for building your online presence is your social profiles. The most popular social media platforms for restaurants are Facebook and Instagram, but TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and even LinkedIn have their place for many brands. You can use our complete guide to social media marketing to get your profiles and strategy going.
5. Get Listed on Restaurant Apps
Dining and restaurant apps are among the best free restaurant marketing tools, as getting found on one of these means getting found by people with high intent. Dining apps allow users to filter very specifically, so the key to these is adding as many details as possible, including:
- Category (There are far more than the eight in the Thrillist chart above.)
- Address and phone
- Store hours
- Price Range
- Photos, and lots of ‘em
- Attributes: wifi, outdoor seating, parking, special diets, etc.
As for which app for restaurants to get listed on, these include:
- Yelp (check our Complete Guide to Yelp)
- Zomato (formerly Urbanspoon)
- Open Table
6. Set up Your Google Business Profile for Your Restaurant
Setting up your restaurant’s Google Business Profile for your restaurant is as important as heck, maybe even more important than your Yelp account. This listing allows you to appear in Google Maps, local search results, and the right-side Knowledge Panel in regular search results.
But setting up your profile isn’t enough. You need to optimize your Google Business Profile if you want it to appear in the Local 3-pack, rank higher on Google Maps, and actually attract customers from your listing. You can see that a Google listing contains a wealth of information, including:
- Contact information
- Questions and answers (you can populate these yourself!)
- Popular times
- Google reviews (How to get more Google reviews here)
- Reviews from elsewhere on the web
- From the business (not shown in above image)
- Posts (also not shown) (Guide to Google posting here)
It also means keeping this information accurate and up-to-date. Eaters love to do research online – in fact, 89% of consumers research a restaurant online before dining.
This is why it’s vital that all your restaurant details are online and up to date, including address, phone number, hours, current menu, etc. The stronger and more accurate your online details are, the better.
7. Have a Sleek, Functional Online Menu
Don’t make users scramble to find your menu or squint to see it. Provide a high-quality, easy-to-read menu that is up-to-date and accurate. Not sure how? Some delivery sites like those mentioned below offer to publish your menu online for free.
Still, you’ll want to make sure to have your menu published on your website since that’s often the #1 piece of information users are looking for when visiting your site (along with hours, location, and contact info).
If you don’t have a good menu online available for customers, most of your other marketing strategies for restaurants are basically useless! In this day and age customers need to have access to an online menu, otherwise, they’ll simply look elsewhere. And speaking of restaurant marketing strategies…
Restaurant Marketing Strategies in the USA
Now that you have established your basic foundation, it’s time to get into the strategies that will help you attract customers to your restaurant and keep them coming back.
1. Ask for Reviews
The power of online reviews is undeniable, and customers are almost always happy to leave them. But the thing is, they still need a little prompting. This means that asking for reviews should be a part of your restaurant marketing strategy.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Have an artistic and framed sign near the mints with an easy-to-remember link or QR code.
- Include a request and link on your website, menus, coupons, punch cards, and receipts.
- Ask for them in person
- Occasionally ask in social posts
2. Respond to Reviews
Whether and how you respond to your customers’ reviews shapes the public’s perception of your restaurant. Here are some tips:
- Respond to positive reviews to show that you value your customers’ input and to encourage more of them.
- Thank customers for their reviews, both positive and negative.
- Respond to negative reviews promptly, publicly, politely, and professionally, then offer to take the resolution offline.
I’ve seen this work in favor of many businesses, as reviewers are often flattered at the consideration shown and are more generous in their critique, knowing the restaurant owner values their opinion and is working hard to improve.
3. Send Out an Email Newsletter
Your restaurant’s newsletter can include new menu items, upcoming events, coupons, customer stories, and more. And it doesn’t have to be weekly. In fact, users will probably appreciate a less flooded inbox if you simply send them a newsletter every month or so. Some quick tips:
- Here are our tips to get more newsletter signups
- Get inspiration from these creative email signup call-to-action examples
- Choose from these email newsletter ideas
4. Turn your Facebook Business Page Into a Community
Businesses with a strong social media presence are the ones that fare the best, and in the competitive food industry, ignoring social media is a death sentence. We already mentioned creating a Facebook page above, but not about leveraging its power to do your restaurant marketing. Here’s how to do it:
- Treat your page like a listing: Facebook is a business directory! Fill out all fields, encourage reviews, and keep it updated.
- Post regularly: customer photos, upcoming events, special offers, hours updates, etc.
- Engage with your followers: Inspire discussions, respond to comments, follow them back.
- Change out your cover photos seasonally.
5. Loyalty Programs
Partnering with online apps encourages visitors to check out your restaurant through gamification and customer loyalty programs, which offer visitors a free purchase or discount for visiting a certain number of times.
You could also kick it old school and hand out punch cards. They aren’t quite as cool as apps, but they still show that you value customers and appreciate their loyalty.
6. Local SEO
While Google can infer your location based on your online information and a searcher’s location based on their IP address, that doesn’t mean you’ll rank in local results for every relevant search. In other words, you need to do SEO for restaurants, especially local SEO:
- Get listed on the top local listing sites (we’ve touched on this already).
- Embed a Google Map of your location on your Contact Us page.
- Publish content specific to your location regularly.
- Get online reviews (the number one ranking factor in local SEO)
- Ensure your information is as identical as possible across all your online assets. Google doesn’t like inconsistencies!
7. Invest in Paid Ads
Running paid ads on platforms like Google and Facebook will get your restaurant in front of large volumes of qualified eyes. For help incorporating paid media into your restaurant marketing plan:
- Use location targeting to ensure only users in certain cities or within a specific radius see your ads (eliminating non-relevant clicks, which can cost you big ad bucks).
- Follow these Facebook ad tips for restaurants to get the most out of the platform.
- Check out our guide to Google local advertising to make sure you’re optimizing your account for the highest ROI.
- Have a mobile PPC strategy.
8. Start a Blog
Starting your own blog is a great way to build community and engage with your customers. Blogs offer the chance to experiment with your restaurant’s voice and personality. Share your successes and struggles, funny stories, recipes, and anything else you think might interest your customers.
A blog can be a huge project, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep your blog as simple or complex as you’d like. You don’t have to constantly post (quality over quantity), but it’s good to have your restaurant blog set up for when you have an announcement or news you want to get out to the world. If you’re serious about taking over the world, check out more blogging tips here.
9. Offline Marketing Strategies
Don’t forget about the physical world in your restaurant marketing plan! These marketing strategies for restaurants are still effective, especially if you’re a local restaurant.
- Care packages
- Free samples
- Local newspaper, radio, and TV
Restaurant Marketing Ideas in the USA
Let’s take these strategies one step further with some easy and creative restaurant marketing ideas.
10. Foodie Photos
If you’ve ever logged onto Instagram, you’ll understand that food porn is alive and well.
Arguably, the best way to do restaurant marketing online is with high-quality, drool-inducing photos. Visual content is in high demand online these days, and having delicious-looking photos on your website and across various social media outlets is essential for drawing hungry eyes.
Be warned though – taking really great food photos can be tougher than it looks, as lighting is often a key factor. Consider hiring a pro to take some top-notch photographs, or try it DIY style with your smartphone (you can use our product photography tips!).
11. Offer Coupons & Discounts
Providing coupons and discounts for your restaurant is always a surefire way to bring customers running. Offer a free dish to your new email newsletter subscribers (we can show you how to get more of those too).
Alternatively, you can try advertising a discount through Groupon or Living Social – if you go that route, you’ll get a TONS of exposure, but you’ll end up paying a hefty portion of sales to the deal website, so keep that in mind.
12. Share Your Reviews
Not only do the quantity and quality of reviews impact how high you rank in results and whether customers click on your result, but also, the content of those reviews makes for excellent restaurant marketing material. Sync them to appear on your website, share them on social, and even incorporate reviews on specific dishes into your menu.
13. Be an Insta-ham
Instagram marketing for restaurants is a no-brainer.
Show off your storefront, get up close with your top dishes, and use this social media main stage as a place to play around with your brand identity. For example, an all-natural health food store might try snapping pics of people kayaking, cooking, farming, or other activities you think your fan base will enjoy.
Also, be sure to have some fun with hashtags – whether jumping on the hype of existing popular Twitter hashtags like #ThrowbackThursday or inventing your own, hashtags are a great way to have some fun with fans.
Instagram is a no-brainer for those in the food business – learn even more about restaurant marketing with Instagram here.
14. Food Blogger Outreach
You may find it difficult to generate reviews and hype about your business when you’re a new restaurant. One great way to get reviews and press on the web is to invite food bloggers to your restaurant to give you a try and consider offering a free meal or appetizer to get them in the door. Politely ask if they’d be willing to review your restaurant and share their experience online.
You can’t outright ask for a positive review, as that would be dishonest, but it’s fine to ask them for an objective restaurant review simply. Some bloggers might decline your offer, but the more you ask, the better your chances are of getting some positive feedback and generating more interest online.
Some food bloggers have big followings, and getting their attention can hugely influence your restaurant. Even just one write up or mention from a major foodie can be huge for restaurant marketing efforts.
15. Show Off Your Staff
In an age of robotic customer service reps and soon-to-be self-driving cars, the human element is severely lacking. Show off your 5-star staff doing what they do best! Seeing happy, smiling employees does wonders for your reputation, as customers long to be served by joyful workers.
Showing off your pleasant employees also provides major reputation points – happy workers say a lot about a business, and fans are sure to take notice.
16. Share Positive Press
Another major restaurant marketing tip – when you’re mentioned in a news outlet or magazine, be sure to show off your good publicity on your website and via social media. Fans will spread the word, and newcomers will be encouraged to visit in person when they see trusted sources celebrating your restaurant.
17. Social Media Contests
The key to Facebook and Instagram giveaways is to have an appealing prize. Don’t do a boring gift card. Offer something specific like free sides, an extra pizza, dinner for two, swag, free delivery for a month, and more. Have people enter by posting about and tagging your business and/or using your hashtag on Instagram. This is a great way to increase your followers and bring in your local audience. More local social media marketing tips are here.
18. Source Local Ingredients
Customers love to hear that they’re eating local, and sourcing local ingredients from nearby can do a lot to boost your fan base and give you a positive reputation in the community. If it’s not out of your budget, definitely consider this option!
19. Partner Up with Delivery Services
In today’s online-driven environment, ease of use is the name of the game. Many online delivery services streamline the ordering process, and internet-savvy patrons often love taking advantage of such delivery services.
Consider partnering with services like:
Some customers may even discover you for the first time through services such as these!
20. Trivia Nights
Weekly or monthly trivia nights are always a hit with restaurants. Offer great prizes to the winners, good in-between music, and promote it on social media and your newsletters to spread the word.
21. Get Creative with National Days
There are dozens of awareness causes and observance days throughout each month of the year that are restaurant-friendly. Here are some, just to name a few:
- National Food Safety Month in September
- National Pizza Day in February
- International Beer Day in August
- National Baked Scallops Day in March
- National Picnic Day in April
Picture this: It’s a weeknight, and your restaurant is jam-packed with hungry patrons. They’re chatting, passing plates around, and ordering lots of food. To top it off, your reservation list is booked solid for a month.
The scenario above is a restaurant owner’s dream – one that many don’t get to realize. However, don’t believe the urban legend that most restaurants fail in their first year – data from a BLS survey suggests that only about 17% of independent restaurants failed in their first year.
Restaurant management is no easy feat. It definitely takes a lot of hard work for a restaurant to make it past its first five years, but in this article, we’ll focus on arguably the most essential piece: marketing.
You won’t find common sense items like claiming your Google page or purchasing ads in this list. Those are given. You’ll get seven hard-hitting, creative ideas that are guaranteed to bring life to your business. Let’s jump in:
22. Promote Your Top-Selling Items
Let’s start with an easy one. Pull a report from your Point Of Sale system (POS) and determine your top-selling items. Then, take that list and start promoting them like crazy.
Don’t promote what you like or what has the lowest food cost margin. Promote what people love. People keep coming back for your “greatest hits,” so why waste advertising dollars on promoting anything else?
Having high-quality photos of your best-selling items will help tremendously here. Invest in a professional photographer who knows about angles, lighting, and editing. Pay a premium here and see premium returns on your marketing efforts.
You can use these photos on your menu, Instagram page, TripAdvisor page, website – you name it. These photos will last you years and have some of the best ROI of anything you do.
2. Create a Talk Trigger
Word-of-mouth reach is invaluable. It’s the most effective marketing technique; the best part is that it’s completely free. When your customers are as passionate as you are about bringing people in the door, great things happen.
One of the best ways to spread the word about your restaurant is through a talk trigger, which at its core, just means something unique people will tell their friends about. A shining example of a talk trigger in action is Skip’s Kitchen.
At the counter, the cashier fans out a 54-card deck (including jokers) face down and asks customers to select one. Most cards simply act as table markers, so the servers know where to bring food. However, pulling out a joker means you win a free meal. Skip’s Kitchen is packed most days because people love the excitement and the chance to score from free food.
23. Leverage Content Marketing & SEO
Think again if you’re thinking about spending a bucket of cash on your website. Keep it to no more than $1,500-2,000. Why? Because when people are looking for somewhere to eat, they type what they want into Google.
These days, Google has everything they need, ranging from your hours to your phone number to your menu. It even provides neatly organized customer reviews.
Save your money and spend it on the next best thing: content marketing. If you run a steakhouse in a big city, then you want to show up at the top of the SERPs when people type in “best steakhouse in Dallas.” The only way to do that is through SEO-optimized content and lots of it. If you’re new to search marketing, it’s worth investing in professional help.
24. Invite Food Critics & Bloggers to Your Door
It isn’t just about the food anymore. People want a fun dining experience – something they can enjoy, brag to their friends about, and post on social media. One of the best ways to find great food and experiences is by following various food critics and foodie influencers or checking food reviews in local publications.
In Lexington, Texas, Snow’s BBQ had a respectable customer base that kept them busy most weekends, but it was nothing to brag about. That all changed when they won Texas Monthly’s Best BBQ award in 2008. Practically overnight, they had dozens – if not hundreds – of people lined up outside their door.
Your restaurant could be the next Snow’s BBQ. Start by figuring out where people find food recommendations in your city and extend offers for a complimentary dining experience to various influencer types.
25. Give Away Free Meals for Special Occasions
Chances are that you have a go-to spot for anniversaries, birthdays, or graduations – we all do. People create special bonds with the restaurants where they celebrate life events. You want a piece of that action.
Free meals on birthdays are a must for every restaurant. Or a free dessert, at least. It’s pretty rare that people dine alone on their birthday, so you’ll recoup lost revenue and potentially have new regulars. If you run ads on Facebook, you can even specifically target people with upcoming birthdays.
Make it a point to ask people if they’re celebrating anything when they reserve tables with large parties. If they are, then do what you can to make it as memorable as possible.
Decorate the table and bring complimentary appetizers or desserts. Have the chef come speak with them about the menu personally. Get creative; they’ll keep returning and bringing their friends and family.
26. Create a YouTube Cooking Show
Millennial food lovers are a loyal bunch – one that’s fueled an astonishing 280% growth in food channel subscriptions year-over-year. The best part? The barrier to entry to creating your own show is incredibly low these days, and it has the potential to drive serious traffic.
Make videos showing how you make your favorite dishes, how you source your ingredients, and showcase different events that your restaurant hosts. Give behind-the-scenes access, and your customers will keep coming back for more.
27. Build a Food Challenge
People love food challenges. The Hot Ones YouTube Channel, where celebrities eat a range of the hottest chicken wings during interviews, has over nine million subscribers. That’s greater than the population of New York City.
Get your staff together to start coming up with some fun or crazy food challenges. Whip up an extra-tall stack of pumpkin spice pancakes with a half-gallon of Pumpkin Spice Latte and call it “The Pumpkin Spice Challenge.” Anyone who finishes every bit gets a free entree on their next visit.
Create extra spicy tacos and invite local politicians to debate while they tear up from ingesting ghost pepper sauce. The potential for creativity knows no bounds here.
As we wrap up, it’s crucial that you keep your online reputation management for restaurants top of mind. It’s your business’s lifeblood and will often make or break you. Incentivize your customers to leave good reviews, and make sure that you respond to every single review you get across all platforms.
Even if you receive a negative review, be sure to respond calmly, and consider offering a discount for their next visit. Highly rated restaurants will get more business and likely spend less money on marketing. It’s truly a win-win.
Final Restaurant Marketing and SEO Tips
We’ll leave you with some final tips to help you save time, maintain a positive reputation, and make the most of every penny and minute you spend marketing your restaurant in the USA.
One of the most important things to know in restaurant marketing in the USA is that there are countless places online where customers can review and talk about you—even if you didn’t set up a listing on that platform!