Written by ManyChat Contributor

February 27, 2021

If you’re a restaurant owner, you might be wondering how you’re going to rebuild your livelihood post-pandemic. Even after the chaos subsides, experts predict that daily habits will not return to “normal” and changes to routine will occur for everyone across the globe, especially for restaurant go-ers. And we can bet that a lot of restaurant owners are feeling pretty stressed out right now.

Alternatively, the tech industry is booming. Online retail grew 44% in 2020, according to a forecast from Digital Commerce 360, and online sales, as a percentage of total retail sales, grew 15.9%.

So in order to survive the current situation, and ready ourselves for what comes next, restaurants should think outside the box and “reinvent” themselves to participate  in this growing digital ecosystem. 

Here are eight marketing strategies for food purveyors  to try, especially if you’re researching ideas to take your business in a new, sustainable direction.

Digital marketing basics for restaurants

Digital marketing is all about building and strengthening human relationships through screens. So if you’re launching a marketing campaign, it’s valuable to think about the reason why. Who are you trying to reach? How can you help that person?

Good food is something people will always love. Not only does digital marketing make it possible for people all over the world to learn about your food product, but it also creates a pathway for new lines of revenue for your business.

While times of struggle can be scary, it also is an opportunity for reinvention. So, why not take your business online? 

Successful online marketing tips for restaurants

Online marketing is about capturing people’s attention. One way to do this is to offer something of tangible, material value. 

Here are some ideas that you can try, with resources that you likely already have.

1. Publish your public health policies in everyday language

Of course, eating at a restaurant isn’t only about food — it’s about creating a fun ambiance and memorable experience too. And while we certainly can’t eat out like we used to, keep in mind that the current situation is not permanent.

Eventually, you’ll be able to open up your restaurant again, and when you do, you need to make sure that your patrons feel comfortable. Since health and safety protocols are major considerations for people right now, start planning out your public health protocols and keep your customers in the loop by publishing your policies on your website and social media profiles.

2. Launch a blog

A blog is a great online tool to share ideas, and is a more casual and conversational form of communication than a media publication. 

To build your readership, share recipes, cooking ideas, and food photos all while promoting your food and restaurant. You can also send blog articles to people who subscribe to your newsletter.

An example of a creative blogging concept is this collection of stories from Diesel Cafe, an eatery in Somerville, Massachusetts. Customers submit their favorite stories about Diesel and the cafe publishes them on its blog; so far it’s collected more than 70 stories.

If you need a resource to help launch your website, you can use a website builder like Squarespace or Wix.

3. Create a newsletter

As a small business owner, one way to stay in touch with your customers is to send a regular e-newsletter. People probably love your food and would love to hear regular updates, especially during such an uncertain time.

People are always looking for something good to eat. Stay top of mind by curating a thoughtful newsletter with interesting content 

(you can also share offers, promotions, and specials), but keep it short and sweet as readers tend to have shorter attention spans.

If you’re interested in starting your own newsletter, check out this resource to take your email list from 0 to 1. When building your email list keep in mind:

  • Laws, privacy frameworks, and regulations.
  • Marketing automation techniques.
  • Onboarding flows.
  • List-building.
  • Software integrations.

After building out your newsletter email list, you can focus on the more creative (and enjoyable) aspects of your email marketing program, such as content, storytelling, and visual design. These low-cost templates will help you get up and running, and here are a few common mistakes to avoid.

4. Build a following on Instagram

Right now, a lot of people have extra time to spend on social media. In addition to sheltering in place, there’s also widespread unemployment and escapism due to being stuck at home or dissatisfied at work. On the other side of the spectrum, plenty of people scroll through Instagram to find visual inspiration and discover interesting people, places, and things — and food photography is no exception.

So if your restaurant doesn’t have an Instagram account, you should definitely consider creating one. 

To build a presence, post regularly, use hashtags, and engage with other restaurant posts. Instagram is about exploration, so have fun sharing and discovering interesting content.

5. Create an online course 

People come to your restaurant for the food, but why not teach customers how to cook their favorite recipes at home? 

Create an online course using a platform like Teachable or Thinkific, and/or upload a cooking show on YouTube.

An online course allows you to connect with people all over the world, who may not otherwise be able to try your great food.  You don’t have to give away all your recipes — although you could always create new dishes for your menu — but curating special food courses provides unique and added value to customers.

6. Make sure your business is visible on online directories

When people are hungry, it’s common practice to go on an online food hunt for new restaurants to try, often browsing local directories.

Keep your online presence up-to-date, especially your menu and delivery options, for optimal visibility and searchability. To find relevant directories, start with a Google search specific to your geographic region. Examples include travel and tourism websites, in addition to local community organizations.

You can also start by creating profiles on websites such as Yelp, Kayak, TripAdvisor, Zomato, or Google. It takes just a few minutes to sign up and start using these platforms. 

7. Create a Facebook Group

Your best customers most likely love your restaurant (they are your best customers after all). So why not create a Facebook Group just for them?

Online communities were gaining popularity even before the pandemic, and are still a great way to bring people together around a common interest. Use Facebook Groups to connect people most interested in what you have to offer — your food.

If you’re looking to build your Facebook Group strategy, take a look at this collection of tips.

8. Build a chatbot

The biggest challenge of online marketing is that people’s attention spans are fleeting. That’s why it’s important to connect people with relevant content.

Take a look at this story about La Catrina, a Florida-based taqueria that’s become a community hotspot. When the pandemic hit, La Catrina  shut down its services and pivoted to a mobile marketing strategy using a chatbot. Here’s a snippet of what happened next:

La Catrina teamed up with Danny Monzon, founder of DM Digital, to carry out a mobile ordering and customer loyalty campaign to generate sales and reward the restaurant’s growing customer base. To reach more potential customers for the restaurant, Danny ran an organic opt-in campaign featuring lead nurturing and a loyalty program, which resulted in 245 new members and an additional $27,000+ in sales.

La Catrina put out local magazines with a QR code, so people could easily scan a barcode and engage in a Facebook Messenger conversation with the business. Using ManyChat, the restaurant created a loyalty program to tailor special offers to loyal customers. The purpose of the offer was to connect restaurant go-ers with a relevant offer — which in turn, created a boost in sales.

Last but not least

It’s tough, when you’re facing business challenges, to focus on the silver lining. Instead, start taking small steps. The tips above will help you navigate the right next steps.

Remember that the foundation of your business is strong. People love your food and are rooting for your success. The key to long-term survival is keeping this perspective close to heart. Struggle is an opportunity for reinvention — and all the tools exist to help you take your next steps.

Level up your brand communications with a chatbot. Sign up for a free trial with ManyChat.

The contents of this blog were independently prepared and are for informational purposes only. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ManyChat or any other party. Individual results may vary.