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  • M. Villarreal

Top 5 things to do to boost your restaurant marketing reach during the pandemic.

Establishing an amazing business is hard, even when times are great and right now times are difficult. To interest customers enough to attract them to your restaurant or services requires marketing at a level you may not have before.

Marketing takes many forms, from business cards to websites to even television advertising, and everything in between. Even word-of-mouth, which many small businesses rely on, is itself a form of marketing.

Here’s the good news though, you don’t have to spend a lot or be a professional to get out there and communicate your brand and services.

Here are 5 tips to help you boost your restaurant marketing during the pandemic and help carry you through to the other side!

1. Over-Communicate to EVERYONE.

Tell your family, friends, customers, neighbors, babysitter, lawn guy, random strangers at the store – even your dog’s sister’s cousin’s brother’s owner twice removed (on your mom’s side) – tell them that YOU’RE OPEN FOR TAKEOUT AND DELIVERY or whatever you do… but you MUST over communicate.

So where and how? You have to do it EVERYWHERE! Even if you’re not comfortable with it, you need to get on it – like YESTERDAY! There are the obvious, social media, email campaigns, through and on your website (anywhere customers might look!), grass roots such as flyers, but you can also step out of the box and try anything that you feel can help. Maybe -co-branding/selling with competitors if you are in a central area and create a “food night”, or “taste of XXX” event. Everyone is hurting and everyone is looking to boost sales. Some of a little is better than a lot of nothing. It is about getting your name and service known again and getting that traffic regardless of what it looks like and where it comes from. Make sure as you are over-communicating, you are sharing everything about what you’re able to do and when you are able to do it. CLEARLY state your hours, open location(s), are you mobile and able to meet the customer where they are, special offerings and deals, delivery platforms, safety measures, etc. That said, you also have to tell YOUR STORY and WHY IT MATTERS! Show how every order is helping you keep your doors open and business running and what it can mean for your employees and the community. OPENLY discuss how every dollar coming in impacts keeping and paying employees – even show pics of them and their families. Discuss the impact to community moral, keeping your dream alive (the small business owner), keeping some normalcy during difficult times and how it all helps us build past this into what is coming next.

2. Give the People What They Want.

This is NOT the time to try and be everything to everyone (not that there is really a good time to do it). Look at and pay attention to trends. Research the most searched for dishes in your area to make sure you’re cooking all the dishes that your customers are craving. Keep your menu simple. Look at your own numbers to see what is being ordered and find the trends there. You can even check out the Grub Hub “Year in Food” Report to see what’s popular in your area. In times like these, comfort food is king and knowing what has been the traditional “go-to” can make a huge difference. If there are similarities and overlap, use that to better target your offerings.

3. Take Audiences Behind-the-Scenes in all that you do.

This goes back to YOUR STORY that I talked about earlier. You have to create a relationship between you and your customers. You’re the expert and should also be the storyteller. Connect with your customers by showing them how to make one of your dishes and how it happens behind the scenes. Maybe it’s a dish you no longer server… or maybe it’s the bread you bring out to the tables. Create a following on Instagram and Facebook by holding a weekly live cooking show or demo and create that relationship where the customer feels drawn to you. It also allows you to collect email addresses for upcoming shows and future marketing.

4. Spotlight your Customers on Social Media.

Many customers are already posting about their dinner (whether in your location or at home) so why not have a contest to feature and praise their efforts. Use something simple like this to build community around your brand and increase business by reposting some of what they share on your own channels (everyone – including your customers – are looking for more “likes”). Once that community is going (even if only a little) ask your social media audience what they want to see via FB, tweets and Instagram Story polls so that you can proactively create the recipes they’re hungry for and can promote who may be your next photo contest dinner winner.

5. Reach out to Both Commercial and Non-Commercial Delivery Partners.

See if they are already offering support and promos for small businesses. Some delivery platforms (such as DoorDash, or PostMates for example) are already offering free delivery. You can opt in and promote this perk on your website and social media channels. Some also have a “first time free” program, which allows customers to try your restaurant with free delivery. That said, you may be able to avoid commercial delivery partners all-together and work with locals to get the deliveries done. There are a lot of people looking for work or extra money right now and delivery can be an easy way to make quick money through tips. Teenagers and retirees are always looking to make a little money and this could be a great way to keep it local and also have another voice for your business. Also think beyond your restaurant doors. Branding can happen everywhere and in many different ways. Use this as a chance to extend your marketing with little money by also building your brand through delivery. I know you don’t want to spend money if you don’t have to, but branded delivery is key for top of mind. The larger paper, handled bags that to-go food orders are often delivered in are a keeper for many families. They squirrel them away to use at another time and BOOM – there’s your brand staring at them in the face reminding them to order again. This could be as simple as getting a large stamp with your brand on it and stamping every bag that goes out the door or even getting pre-branded/printed bags from a printer. If you do go to a printer, they are hurting also. Look for a co-branding opportunity on your bags such as your logo and slogan and at the bottom of the bag it could say “printed locally at XXX”. It’s always worth a shot to ask.

As an example, we co-market with companies we do business with. Every time we complete a cleaning, we not only give a huge thanks to that company for working with us ( a locally owned small business), but we also give a shout out for their business and what they do all over our social media. It's the right thing to do and any easy way to promote each other.

So, let me wrap up with this… no matter what you do, do more of it and do it in different ways and don’t stop! Involve friends, family and customers (possibly even a local marketing company) to help you get beyond what you are doing today. Have marketing “brainstorming sessions’ to look for new ways of getting noticed. Ask customers in your location or when you are delivering food to tell you how you could better communicate with them. Look for new and inventive ways to over-communicate with (not to) your customers and look for inspiration everywhere. Just because the clothing store sharing a parking lot with you isn’t in the same business, doesn’t mean they may not have good ideas on how to communicate or market. Look everywhere for ideas. Talk to other business owners – especially those outside your industry. All too often we get caught up in what we “think” is going to work and ignore other industries or ideas outside our own. Marketing is an ever-evolving animal and what worked last month may not work this month. So, never stop looking, trying and inventing.

Stay safe, stay open and keep marketing!

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