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Navigating Online Marketing for Restaurants

By Joe Gabriel, Fishbowl Marketing

Restaurant operators have a fantastic new opportunity and corresponding challenge on their plates today; engaging new and existing guests online. An incredible number of restaurant consumers are interacting with their favorite eateries, bars and coffee shops online using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and email. To understand the value this presents to restaurants, we must first evaluate the importance of the online space to the consumer. The marketing landscape has shifted, putting the power of interaction into the hands of the consumer:  now, consumers can use the web to inform their next dining experience, and more importantly, they can choose which restaurants will have the opportunity to engage them, now and in the future. Here are some key tips to help maximize your online marketing strategy and increase your restaurant’s reach to the dining community.

Email Is Still the King

Almost 180 million American adults currently use email, and almost 120 million use email as part of their daily activities1. 57% will provide their email address to a local retailer2. Email provides direct access to your restaurant’s loyal guests. Email is now also portable, providing you with the opportunity to communicate your upcoming promotions and events right into the palm of your guests’ hands. Building a viable email database is the key here, making sure to offer incentives and promotions that the consumer would not be able to receive through other sources. Think “VIP experience.” Acknowledge special events in your relationship with your guest, such as their birthday or email club anniversary, to create further loyalty.

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare… Oh My

There are tons of social media sites popping up out of the woodwork. Understanding their relevance to your business is the key. Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare are the big three, offering up a tremendous opportunity to engage your guests in a way that has not been available before. Don’t use these sites to just promote offers and discounts. The power of these tools is to listen, respond and engage. Your audience will let you know what they are thinking about your brand, and they will share their thoughts with their network of friends. There are over 400 million active users on Facebook and Twitter, and sharing content is the most common use of these sites. A recent study showed that over 50% of Facebook fans are more likely to buy from the business they “like” and over 60% will recommend that brand to a friend3.

To Group-on or Not To Group-on

The recent buzz of the past year has been the increasing popularity of flash‐buying deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. In fact, several key restaurant‐centric companies such as OpenTable, Zagat and Yelp have joined the fray recently. New guest acquisition is the goal here, and it will be up to you to determine whether offering a flash deal at 50% off or so will be worth gaining the new customer. Factors to consider are that there will be some cannibalization and abuse, which comes naturally with couponing of any kind. (There are options for controlling this, including Fishbowl’s Offer Manager.) But the key thing to embrace here is the potential for gaining new, loyal customers.  Consider how to track if the new guest returns for that second or third visit: encourage the guest who redeems the flash‐buy offer to sign up for your email club, so you can track if they engage your restaurant through your email offers.

Most Importantly… Be Social!

There is a lot to navigate through when it comes to the online marketing world. The main thing to remember here is to go back to the roots of the hospitality industry, by being social. The industry was founded on engaging your customers — at the table, bar or counter — by having a dialogue to verify that your business is providing the best guest experience possible. The same rules apply now; it’s just that the dialogue has extended outside of the four walls of your restaurant, into the online world. Make the time to listen to, respond to, and engage your guest online: it will pay off for your restaurant.


1 Based on 2011 US Census data, Pew Internet research showing 85% of all American adults online in 2012, and the trends reported by Pew Internet, showing 92% of online adults use email (61%, daily):