How to Create a Restaurant Marketing Plan That Actually Works

“You can have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, what good is it?” – Phil Knight, Chairman of Nike

So you have great food and great service? Congratulations, so do most restaurants. Welcome to the cult of average. Let’s make this very clear up front…being average sucks. If you want to stand out from the crowd and drive traffic to your business, you’re going to need to market hard and market smart.

Creating an effective restaurant marketing plan isn’t easy, but by taking the right steps you can make it a reality. Just remember these five tenets to successful restaurant marketing:

1. Marketing is a yearly commitment.

The number one tragic mistake for the majority of restaurant owners is that they only throw money or energy into marketing when business is slow. Big mistake! All businesses have peaks and valleys in sales. That is a natural effect. You cannot have sunshine everyday; there have to be a few rainy days. Without a consistent marketing plan, your business cycle might resemble the extreme highs and lows of a roller coaster. With a solid, well implemented plan, it’ll be more like the gentle rolling hills of Kentucky.

Also, understand that most marketing has a “lag-time effect.” If you do some marketing today, you might see little response tomorrow. Marketing effectively takes time and you need to be committed for the long game. Approach marketing like going to the gym. You wouldn’t visit the gym one time and think, “That’s it. I’m in shape now.”

If you own a business, marketing is your new BFF.

2. Marketing is multi-platform.

Think of marketing like a chess game. Each chess piece plays a different role. You marketing strategy should be set up the same way. Social media platforms are very niche specific, kind of like TV channels. Some people like NBC, some like CNN, some like FX, and others like Showtime. Social media is like that. Some people love Facebook, while some avoid it. Twitter has a certain demographic that it draws in, as does Instagram. Millennials crave the expressive format of Snapchat.

So which ones should you be on? As many as you can! At the bare minimum you need to be on The Big 3: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Those three will give your marketing some depth that will keep your brand out front in your market.

3. Marketing is your duty.

Most restaurants approach marketing with what can be called The Field of Dreams Approach: If you build it, they will come. Well, not necessarily. Sure when you first open there will be talk and hype about the “new restaurant.” Then six months later the honeymoon phase is over as the crowd has moved on to the next new restaurant. Markets are fickle. The best way to solve this is to keep your brand “top of mind.” To do that you have to start marketing your brand with a sense of obligation and duty.

If you don’t, your brand will never thrive. Sure, you might survive. You probably will break even. But did you open a restaurant to just get by and break even? Marketing tips the scales in your favor.

4. Marketing is affordable (if done correctly).

Marketing can eat into a budget pretty quickly if you don’t stick to a plan. You probably get weekly calls or emails asking if you want to advertise in a local newspaper or magazine. You might even get solicitations for TV, radio, or billboard ads. While all these mediums do have a time and place, the best bang for your buck is the social media arena. Here your find a few well placed marketing dollars can really pay off.

Most social media platforms today have some kind of marketing offer. Facebook ads is a classic example of how for a few dollars per day, you can extend the reach of your page to more people in your market. Facebook lead ads are a new option to gather leads (names and emails) of people looking for more information on a service you might offer. The great thing is that all of these marketing ads can be seen from a person’s smartphone! No need to wait and hope that someone sees your print ad in that local paper. No need to see if that radio ad will really drive any new guests to your door.

Done right, social media marketing is a low cost and extremely effective way to get your message out onto the Internet. Oh, and don’t forget the analytical element that comes with social media marketing. You be able to see which ads are effective and which are not. You start controlling your marketing instead of being held hostage by it.

5. Marketing gives you a competitive edge.

Sadly, a lot of restaurants do not take advantage of the power of social media. Most have an excuse or belief system (in coaching that’s called BS) that it’s too much work or too complicated. An excuse is just an alteration of reality. Nothing about it will improve your situation. Restaurants that are surviving and not thriving seem to have a lot of excuses of why they cannot be successful. An excuse is just a BS story you keep telling yourself. Advice? Divorce the story and marry the truth.

Truth: Social media marketing is an affordable and approachable way to communicate your brand to the world. The power of the Internet cannot be ignored. (Well, actually you can ignore it; however, it will ignore you back). It gives you the power to market against the big chains.

Most restaurants in your market do very little marketing. If they do, it’s not consistent. That is your edge! Make a solid marketing plan to keep your brand top of mind in your market. If you still think it’s too much or too complex, then hire a firm to manage it for you! There are a few standouts in the market like Gourmet Marketing, Eateria, and Restaurant Social+. So, now what is your excuse? If sales is the blood to keep your restaurant going, then marketing is the air. You might be able to live on low oxygen levels, however you’ll never reach your potential.

Now if your business is great now and you think you don’t need to market. Watch out! Complacency is a deadly trap to get caught in. It’s one your competition is hoping you fall into.

For more restaurant advice from Donald Burns, click here.