1. You Have to Know This First
I’m going to ask you something a bit confronting, straight away.
It’s for your own good, I promise.
Can I take a guess at what your restaurant marketing plan has been in the past?
It was probably something along the lines of “Let’s do some Facebook, and then maybe some Instagram, and we’ll do some flyers too. Oh and apparently Snapchat is great, we’ll do that as well.”
Basically, it’s kind of made up as you go along – a mish-mash of things that are meant to work. Or at least as far as you’ve heard.
And don’t worry, that’s really common with restaurants. Because let’s face it, you’ve got other things to worry about than spending weeks doing some complicated marketing plan.
Like y’know, running a good restaurant.
But the truth is, doing it this way is all backwards, and it just doesn’t work.
The reason you ask?
Well you end up just wasting time and money on marketing stuff that’s hit or miss. And even if it’s a hit, you probably won’t really know why it worked, and you’ll have trouble replicating it in the future.
After all of that, well you might start to think that all of this restaurant marketing stuff is baloney, and you should just rely on good food and service to pack your tables.
And yes, I know, good food and service is key, but relying on that alone is really just a romantic idea that won’t bring genuine growth to your restaurant business.
Without a solid restaurant marketing plan, you’re just hoping that everything will work.
So while hope is lovely, it doesn’t keep the lights on.
Now I do want you to know a few things. Doing your restaurant marketing plan will take some time. And it will hurt your brain just a little bit, as you’ll be pushed outside of your comfort zone when it comes to what you think you know about your restaurant.
But the pay off, I promise, will be much more certainty in your customer numbers and revenue.
Why? Well a restaurant marketing plan is all about letting people know about you in a repeated and coordinated way. Having a good restaurant marketing plan allows you to plan ahead, and predict revenue based on how certain marketing tactics worked in the past.
For example, you know that your free delivery promotion in September pushed revenue up 24% that month. So next year, you can expect the same or better, if you improve your message.
Basically, it provides a degree of certainty, and in an industry with razor-thin margins, that’s a wonderful thing to have.
At the end of this article, we will have figured out together how to plan out everything step by step, and then you simply follow your very own restaurant marketing plan to successfully promote your business.
And please, please, do not skip any steps. Everything I’ve laid out here is for a reason – to create the best restaurant marketing plan possible – for you.
Alright, so hopefully we agree that a scatter-gun approach isn’t going to be the best way to do things going forward.
What you need to do is take a step back and ask yourself a few questions about your restaurant, your customers, and what it is you want to achieve.
By doing this you get a true understanding of who you are, who you appeal to, your strengths, your weaknesses, and what will make you more successful.
First, we start with finding out where you’re at right now.
2. This Is the Beginning – Situation Analysis
Okay, this is the real beginning! This is where we get down the basics, to build a really solid foundation for our restaurant marketing plan.
So really all we mean by a situation analysis is sitting down with your team, and figuring out where you are right now. We’re analyzing your situation.
The reason we do this is to get a real picture of where your restaurant is within your market, which provides the context for all of our marketing decisions as we go forward.
This is about honesty as well, so be prepared to confront some truths. For example, you might think your fondue night is a complete success, while your team, or numbers, might disagree.
Be open to new ideas and challenges to your old theories. To be truly successful, we’ve gotta do this from the ground up.
Okay, let’s go.
Analyze Your Products and Services
We start off here with the most basic of all questions – “What are the products and services we offer at our restaurant?”
Now yes, you can scoff at that questions as just being silly, but each question we ask is a base to build upon with each question after that. Everything we do in our restaurant marketing plan will build and build until we have the perfect plan.
So, in more detail we follow the 4 P’s:
- What products do you sell? What are the dishes? What are the attributes of each dish? How well do they sell? What are the quality of their ingredients?
- What services do you sell? For example, if you offer office catering, what exactly does the service consist of? How often is that service purchased?
- What is the market share of your restaurant? If you look at all of the restaurants that you compete within your area, what do you think your slice of the pie would be? 10%? 50%?
- What price do you offer your products and services for? How does that compare to the prices of your competitors?
- Do you have a different pricing strategy for lunches vs dinners? Small groups vs. large groups?
- Do you offer discounts or special deals?
- What sort of ways do you currently market and promote your restaurant? Do you do newspapers? Magazines? Facebook? Or maybe you rely on word of mouth marketing?
- How do you position yourself in your promotion? That is to say, do you offer the finest dining in town? Or perhaps the best value? Most romantic? Most family friendly?
- How are you different from your competition? What makes you stand out from the restaurant the next block down?
- Where do you sell your dishes? Just at your restaurant? Or do you also have a second restaurant? Or a food truck? Do you use Uber Eats or other delivery partners?
- Where do you source your ingredients and other supplies? Perhaps you source all of your ingredients locally?
Analyze Your Target Market
Yes, this is about where exactly your target market is (your community), but there is a bit more to it than that when it comes to a restaurant marketing plan.
We’re looking at your target market as a whole.
Here are some of the things you’ll want to ask yourself and your team:
- Are you taking a broad stroke and trying to sell to everyone in your community, or even more abroad? Or are you targeting a more niche market, for example, students, or retirees?
- What are your demographics? We define this by their age, gender, income brackets, education, occupation etc.
- What are the psychographics of your target market? We define this by looking at their lifestyle, preferences and attitudes to dining out.
- How does your target market make their purchasing decisions? Are they short on time and need to take a quick dinner home once or twice a week? Or do they prefer to come in a little less often, but treat themselves to a more extravagant wine and dine experience? What is the process that goes on in their head that leads to them choosing to purchase from you?
Analyze Your Competition
I’m going to guess you already have a fair idea of who your competition is when it comes to other restaurants around you. But it’s definitely worth listing them out on paper, as you might be surprised about who pops up.
When it comes to creating a truly bulletproof restaurant marketing plan, we have to be as thorough as possible, so again, please don’t skip any steps. List every competitor you can think of.
Once you have that list, there are some questions to ask about each of your competitors:
- What sort of dining do they offer? Do they compete directly or indirectly with you here (pizza vs. pizza or pizza vs. fine dining)?
- What is their pricing strategy? Premium pricing or budget?
- What do they do for their promotions? Can you think of where you’ve seen them advertising, whether it be in the local paper or online?
- Do they offer any other services, like live music?
- What is their target market?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- How are they similar to you?
- How are they different?
All of these questions are the same questions you’re asking yourself, so it gives you a fantastic insight into your local restaurant market. The knowledge you develop here will help you build a gut instinct of what will work and what won’t work.
Analyze Your Financials
I know, I know – yuck.
But checking out your finances is like checking your bank account after a shopping spree. It’s painful, but it just has to be done to figure out where you are.
While yes, this is a tutorial on how to do a restaurant marketing plan, we want to be as thorough as possible. I want the best results for you, which means digging just a bit deeper.
Be brave, I’m here with you.
And actually it doesn’t need to be Einstein level math – something like this is just fine:
You’ll want to take a look at:
- Your profits – specifically your bottom line, but also have a look at the receipts for your expenses. What did you probably pay a bit too much for? Were all of your expenses totally necessary?
- Your sales – What were your total sales in the last year? Did they go up during any particular calendar event? Maybe there was a promotion in June that increased sales? Take note of all of it. How do you think you compared to your competition?
- Your growth – What has the trend been over the last few years. Have you grown 10%? Or maybe you’ve slowed down just a little bit?
Analyze the Other Stuff
Yup, that’s the marketing term for the things that happen, that may or may not be outside of your control.
If you can control it, great, now figure out how.
If you can’t control it, be aware that it might be a factor to consider even though there is nothing you can do about it. It won’t ruin your restaurant marketing plan, but at least you planned for it… in your plan.
We’re looking for things like:
- Economic stuff – How is the economy doing? What about confidence in your local businesses? Has there been an upswing or a downswing of late?
- Social stuff – Do you need to operate in a particular way due to something unique in your community? Maybe you have a large immigrant population? Or maybe you have two locations that require different approaches because of their markets?
- Legal stuff – Are there any legal requirements for operating in your area? Perhaps there will be changes to food safety codes?
- Technology stuff – There is a lot of change in the restaurant industry, with the likes of Uber Eats and automation making lots of noise. Can you embrace it?
Alright, so that’s how you do your situation analysis.
It doesn’t have to be any particular length, it’s more about the amount of thought you put into it.
In the end, you should have something that’s simple enough that an outsider could understand it pretty easily.
Yes, it’ll take you a while. But, it’s worth it – after all, it’s the bedrock of your restaurant marketing plan.
2. Set a Budget
Now you might be thinking it’d be better to do your budget after you know what you want to do, right?
That’s the kind of thing that gets many people in trouble when they create their restaurant marketing plan.
Doing your budget after your marketing goals is kind of like shopping for your groceries when you’re hungry. When you see all of those exciting options just laid out in front of you, you’re going to spend too much money.
So what we want to do is set out a budget beforehand, so once we have all of our amazing marketing ideas, we can be super selective about what we decide to spend our money on.
Okay, so how do you figure out how much you should budget for implementing your restaurant marketing plan? Since we’ve already taken a look at our financials (see I told you there was a reason!), we know what our monthly and yearly revenue is.
It’s generally accepted that your restaurant marketing budget should be about 3% to 6% of your total revenue. So if you’re revenue is $800,000 for the year, your restaurant marketing budget would be between $24,000 (3%) and $48,0000 (6%).
Personally, I find that 4% is a sweet spot, so that you can move up or down once you get your bearings.
Now if that sounds like a lot of money, or that you couldn’t possibly afford it, take another look at your profit margins and see if you can trim any fat.
Marketing is a crucial part of your continued success as a restaurant, so it really should be a priority to give it a decent, workable budget.
From there you’ll want to figure out how to spread out that budget throughout the year. If you’re closed over the summer, well there isn’t much point in putting the summer season in your restaurant marketing plan.
Maybe you actually make all of your money over the summer period, since you’re in a tourist town. Well, then you want to put all of your marketing into that period.
Or more simply, you have a pretty steady stream of customers throughout the year, so you might just want to have light marketing on normal months, and then increase your budget in the months where you have specific promotions or events.
Have a think about what works for you, and has the greatest chance of you getting the best return on your restaurant marketing investment.
3. Figure out Your USP
Yeah there I go with the marketing acronyms. But this is a good one, and it’s at the core of your restaurant marketing plan.
USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition (or sometimes Unique Selling Point), and we kind of touched on it in our product analysis above.
Here though I want you to go a bit deeper, and really get into the nuts and bolts of what makes your restaurant tick. It’s not necessarily looking at your operation itself, but the way in which your target market sees you.
Your USP is what makes you different from the competition. So when a customer in your target market thinks of you, they go “Oh, they’re the place that’s special because of (insert super awesome thing here).”
It’s nearly always something super simple, and easy to remember. It makes you stand out from your competition, and pretty much defines you as a brand.
So for example, pizza giant Domino’s USP is “We deliver hot, fresh pizza in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free.”
Again, super simple, clear, and effective.
Have a brainstorm with your team and think about all the things you do differently. It can be big things, and it can be small things.
For example, I once developed a whole campaign around a ribs restaurant owner being a reluctant vegetarian. The message was, that the ribs were so good, and sold so well, that every day that owner struggled with being a vegetarian.
It was a point of difference that made them completely stand out from the crowd.
That idea just came about as a result of asking questions until we found something. And because they weren’t the only ribs joint in town, we really had to dig a bit deeper until we found something.
So what I mean to say is, any idea is worthy of consideration here. The one you pick though, should identify a clear benefit to your ideal customer.
For Domino’s it’s fresh pizza within 30 minutes or it’s free.
With my ribs restaurant, it was about ribs so good, it made vegetarians want to eat them.
Remember too, you sell food. Yeah I know, duh. But food is very much intertwined with emotions.
How will your ideal customer feel after they dine with you?
With all of that in mind, here are some questions to start with:
- What are the features of your food/restaurant?
- What are the benefits of your food/restaurant/staff? For example, will they be healthier for it? Will they save time in their busy day by getting the only Greek delivery service in town?
- How does your food/restaurant/staff differ from your competition?
- What about other things that you might just think are quirks? What if you had the biggest art collection in town? What would the benefit of that be? Perhaps it would mean they could become more cultured in their art appreciation as well as receive a first class meal.
- What emotions are conjured when your ideal customer thinks about your restaurant/food/staff? Perhaps you make a turkey dish that immediately makes your customer feel content with everything in life, helping them sleep like a baby that night.
Take your time, be open-minded, and you’ll create your very own USP. This will be used at the core of everything you do in terms for your restaurant marketing plan.
Ultimately, if you only have one message to tell your customers every time you talk to them, make sure it includes your USP.
4. What Goals Do You Want to Achieve?
Okay, let’s get into your dreams and aspirations here. What do you really want to achieve for your restaurant in the next year?
Before we start brainstorming though, a quick safety announcement before you fly amongst the clouds of restaurant marketing dreams.
If this is your first restaurant marketing plan, or you’re unfamiliar with running several marketing ideas at once, I’d suggest creating just one goal for, say, the next 3 months.
I say this because I want you to have the absolute best chance of success. If you have too many goals to begin with, you most likely won’t achieve any of them.
It’s like if I throw you just one tennis ball, you’ll probably catch it. But if I throw you a bunch of tennis balls, you probably won’t catch any of them.
Keep it simple, stick with one goal, and then move onto multiple restaurant marketing goals after your first successful plan.
If however, you’re confident you and your team can pull off multiple marketing goals, then go for it!
Right, so while this is the fun bit, please don’t fall into the trap a lot of restaurants do when it comes to setting their marketing goals.
Far too often I see restaurant marketing goals like this:
- Do more newspaper ads
- Get more Facebook followers
- Post more on Instagram
Alright, what’s wrong with these goals?
Well, unfortunately, we’ve got the cart before the horse here.
If you remember right at the beginning, we talked about not going about your restaurant marketing plan backwards. Before we talk about the fun ways we’re going to do our marketing, we have to think about what business goals we want to achieve.
The business goals are served by the marketing, not the other way around.
For example, having 10,000 people in your Facebook group is pretty useless if it’s not for any actual business reason.
Once we have the goals for our business, then we can look at how we can achieve them with marketing.
The other thing is that these goals are just too vague.
Look at them again:
- Do more newspaper ads
- Get more Facebook followers
- Post more on Instagram
When will you know you’ve achieved those goals?
If you want to achieve your restaurant dreams, your goals have to be specific.
Because when they are specific, you’ll know when you’ve achieved them.
In marketing geek speak, we’re looking for KPIs, or key performance indicators. It’s what we measure ourselves against to know we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.
So let’s have another go at our goals – this time they will be more about the business, and we’re giving ourselves measurements to judge our success by.
- Increase revenue by 20% by June 1st 2020
- Increase brand awareness by getting 1,500 more social media followers by November 1st 2020
- Increase spend per table turnover by 15% by Dec 31st 2019
- Launch a new menu by September 30th 2019
Those goals are now more about the business itself, and you’ve given yourself specific numbers you want to achieve as well as a time frame to have it completed by.
Spend a good amount of time thinking about what you want to achieve.
Once you’ve come up with your goals, you’re going to want to make sure they are realistic. The last thing you want is to set yourself up for failure.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this goal ambitious but still achievable?
- Is it practical in terms of time and money?
- Have I done something similar before and gotten good results?
- Am I being naive to think this is possible?
- Maybe this goal is too small? Could I manage to make it bigger?
- Have competing restaurants achieved something similar in the past?
- Am I up for the effort and potential challenges of this goal?
At the end of the day you’ll know in your gut what you’re capable of, but it’s always good to check with a partner or someone you trust to make sure you’re on the right track.
Lastly, you’ll want to prioritize your goals. Which is most important, and which can’t be done until you’ve achieved another?
Rank them in their importance and it’ll give you a much better idea of what is most meaningful to you as a restaurant business.
Okay, onward and upward we go – you’re doing great!
5. How Are You Going to Achieve Your Goals?
So we’ve figured out what you want to achieve for your restaurant as a business, now we’re going to talk about the how part of your restaurant marketing plan.
This is where you can let your imagination go and really start to think about what is the best way to reach your customers.
Okay, so let’s use our example goal again as an example:
- Increase brand awareness by getting 1,500 more social media followers by November 1st 2020
The first thing we want to do is go back to our work on who our target market is and that way we can figure out how we’re going to achieve that goal.
What Marketing Channel Should You Use to Reach Your Target Market?
So at the moment, we’ve just decided we want to increase our social media following to increase awareness. We haven’t decided with social media to use yet, because we just don’t know which one would suit your target market.
Now though, we can figure out which form of social media is the best way to reach them by taking a look at our target market again.
- If your target market is 18-34 years old, the social media channel you’ll want to focus on is Instagram. That’s because we know that 64% of Instagram users are aged 18-34.
- If your target market is slightly older than that, then you’d probably want to use Facebook. We know this because the average age of a Facebook user is just over 40.
So what we’re doing is identifying the best marketing channel for your target audience.
Another example – if you wanted to reach students, you probably wouldn’t do any marketing with a high-end dining magazine.
Use your instincts – you know your target market. And if in doubt, Google is your friend to confirm your thinking, or help you with a different idea.
And just to send your mind whirling with options, these days there are more channels than you could shake a stick at:
- Pay per click advertising
- Search engine optimization
- Content marketing
- Social media
- Text messaging
- Review sites
- Direct Mail
- Having your own app
- Public relations (PR)
- Local partnerships
- Loyalty programs
- aaannd literally too many more to list on a single page
Your restaurant marketing plan is really only limited by the preferences of your target market, so pick the channel that will reach your market the best.
How Will You Use Your Marketing Channels to Achieve Your Goals?
Right, so we’ve just figured out what media channels we need to reach our target market. Now we need to find out how to use those marketing channels for maximum effectiveness.
So with our example of getting more Facebook followers, you might decide to do one, or a mixture of the following:
- Place ads on Facebook
- Post interesting content on your Facebook page for your followers to like and share
- Ask people to like your Facebook group in your emails
- Put your Facebook page on your menu
- Have the waitstaff ask customers to check out your Facebook page
- Put your Facebook page on all of your print advertising
Now in this case, there is one clear option that’d you’d prioritize – you’d definitely do ads on Facebook – it’s a no-brainer. You’ll be able to reach your exact target market with absolute precision.
Check out our break down of how to create a Facebook ad campaign, step by step.
I’d also recommend adding interesting content to your Facebook page, as you’ll want to give people a reason to visit.
With the other options here, (again, just in this particular case) are up to you. This will depend on the budget you decide to allocate to this goal, and how much time you have to manage it.
My general advice for every restaurant marketing plan is to execute your message everywhere you can – just make sure it’s in the right context (maybe not in the bathroom stall), and that your messaging is completely consistent.
That means the same font, same branding, same voice-over on your radio ads and videos, same everything. Consistency is key for a consistent message. Who would have thought?
What Budget Do You Assign to This Goal?
Earlier we talked about setting an overall budget for your entire restaurant marketing plan. Now we’re going to break off a wee chunk of that budget and assign it to this goal.
Again, using our example of Facebook, we can see how much we can spend when we create the ads within Facebook.
In general though, figure out how much of a priority this goal is compared to your other goals. That will help you decide how much of your total budget to spend.
7. Create a Marketing Calendar
Okay, now we get to plan things out in a pretty spreadsheet to admire our work.
You can create your marketing calendar in your favorite document editor, or use a marketing calendar templates.
Now the example above is a very busy marketing calendar, but you get the idea of what it should look like.
Remember for each box/promotion on your calendar, you should break down that promotion further so you know step by step, what you have to do to execute that promotion.
If I can give just one bit of warning for your marketing calendar, is that you’ll be late. On everything.
So please keep that in mind – make sure you give yourself a lot of wiggle room at the beginning. After that, be super strict on yourself to make sure you and your team make your deadline dates.
For each step, make sure you know who is responsible. Whether it’s you or one of your team, make sure that expectations are clear and achievable.
Check in with your team often to see if they need help. It’s always better to rally around and help, than to delay things.
I’ve seen far too many restaurants get so far as to stick their calendar on the wall, and from then on it’s just a form of decoration.
Treat this calendar like it’s a living document. Something to be checked every day to see how it’s going – it really is critical to the success of your entire restaurant marketing plan.
Be disciplined, and be dedicated. This is your master plan to achieving those goals you wanted so badly for your restaurant!
8. Measure Your Marketing
Okay, I’ll tell you a secret.
Actually, it’s more a recipe for complete marketing success. It goes like this:
- Repeat the experiment
It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s what every marketing pro does to ensure their marketing plan achieves their goals.
Let’s go through these steps to show you how you can implement your restaurant marketing just like the professionals.
So by using the word ‘experiment‘, I don’t mean throw some money at Facebook or your local radio station and see what sticks.
You saw earlier how we went through the process of identifying our target market, coming up with our unique selling proposition, and then the channels to reach our audience.
So that’s given us a very good framework to use when it comes to reaching the right people.
And now we have the right people, we just need the right message.
So our experimenting is really just having different ideas for the way we talk to our target market.
If you do a Facebook ad that has one headline, you run this ad as your first experiment.
Okay, so now we have run our restaurant marketing experiment in the form of this one Facebook ad, and it’s time to measure the results.
If it was a Facebook ad, you’d see how many people clicked on the ad.
That’s our baseline to measure against.
To modify, all we want to do is change just one element of this ad. Let’s say you do something like change the title to a different offer.
Now we have a second experiment.
4. Repeat the experiment
All we have to do now is repeat the experiment again.
And then repeat the measurement.
Then you have two experiments that you’ve measured precisely, because you know how many people clicked through for each Facebook ad.
Whichever Facebook ad had the most clicks has the more compelling offer for your target market.
You rinse and repeat as often as you like to figure out exactly what consistently works the best.
For your next experiment, you might have the same offer, but simply change the wording of the headline.
And for the experiment after that, you could use a different picture in your Facebook ad.
Every facet of your ad can be tweaked for total success. In fact, one test showed that using a red button instead of a green one in an ad created a 21% increase in clicks.
This works for all of your marketing, whether it be digital, radio, print, or anything else you can think of. The work speaks for itself, and the more you experiment and measure, the more insight you have into the perfect marketing for your restaurant.
Hey, I’m proud of us!
I just wrote the most detailed guide to making a restaurant marketing plan on the whole wide internet, and you read it all!
As I said at the beginning, this journey will be challenging. But I promise you, the rewards are just incredible.
I really want you to think about not just setting out your restaurant business goals, but achieving them too.
That really is within your reach now.
All you have to do is go through these steps, one by one. Take your time, and talk to your team. Really keep in your mind the success that’s waiting for you on the other side of this plan.
As detailed as I’ve tried to be, I bet you’ve got a lot of questions – if you do, please do let us know in the comments below.
Otherwise, let’s get started – what are you waiting for?
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