A Restaurateur’s Guide to Successful Digital Marketing

22nd May 2013

NB: This is an article written By :Emily Ditman the Account Supervisor at HeBS Digital

Restaurant industry sales in 2013 will total more than $660.5 billion, a 3.8 percent increase from 2012 (National Restaurant Association). As restaurant-industry sales continue to climb yearly, it is crucial that a restaurant maintain an online presence in order to communicate with current diners, attract new customers, and build loyalty among patrons.

According to AIS Media, 89 percent of diners research restaurants online before visiting in person. A study conducted by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration found that approximately 50 percent of respondents stated they make restaurant reservations online, and about 40 percent of those completed the reservation on the restaurant’s own website.

In other words, the restaurant website, its online presence and corresponding digital marketing efforts have become the main point of contact with would-be patrons. And yet, many restaurateurs who willingly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on décor and furnishings suddenly become cost-conscientious when the restaurant website is concerned. They also completely ignore digital marketing to prospective patrons. Many restaurateurs are mistakenly led to believe that not investing in their restaurant website redesign or optimization will save money. Wrong! Not investing in your website will lead to serious damage to the restaurant’s bottom line. The restaurant website – its design, content, SEO, functionality and interactivity – should be the logical first step for any restaurant marketer.

Outlined below are ten website functionality and action steps for successful website design and the marketing of your restaurant website.

1.  Invest in Your Restaurant Website: First and foremost, your restaurant website must be “in excellent health” in order to comply with 2013 best practices and new website technology requirements.

A restaurant website should evoke the atmosphere of the establishment before the guest steps foot in the restaurant. Matching the website’s style and scheme with that of the restaurant ensures diners come in with proper expectations. Also, when creating an online presence for a restaurant, it is important to understand the unique attributes that make restaurant websites effective and user-friendly.

Restaurateurs need to upgrade their website technology to the next generation of Content Management System (CMS) to enable management of desktop, mobile and tablet website content within the framework of Responsive Design on Server Side (RESS) and via a single dashboard. For example, HeBS Digital’s CMS Premium is one such fully RESS-enabled content management system.

Today’s restaurant website needs fresh content, rich media and current promotions. Post Restaurant Specials and Upcoming Events: In addition to viewing the restaurant’s menu and location, a potential diner should easily be able to locate restaurant specials and upcoming events. Happy Hours, Trivia Nights and special dinner menus are great potential draws for individuals deciding on a restaurant.

The restaurant’s daily and weekly specials and promotions need to be marketed across the three screens – desktop, mobile and tablet – and social media profiles.

2. Invest in Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Strategy: Being well positioned in organic search engine rankings is vital to capturing new and returning visitors to the website. According to Forrester Research, potential diners predominately click on the first four listings. It is extremely important to rank high in organic search for the keywords most relevant for the restaurant. Best practices state a restaurant’s goal should be to appear in searches with geographic terms. For example, ‘Times Square restaurant’ or ‘Times Square Italian restaurant’.

The ongoing Google Panda algorithm updates have made many old restaurant websites completely obsolete and have generally raised the bar for new restaurant websites, demanding a new type of website technology and architecture, faster download speeds, and website copy that is not only deep and relevant, but also fresh, unique and engaging.

All of the fresh content in the form of descriptive copy, photos, specials, promotions, events and happenings, updated menus, wine lists, cocktails, photos, etc. is an essential requirement of the latest Google “Freshness” algorithm update, which punishes websites with stale content.

Restaurants should claim and optimize their local listings, including Google + Local, Yahoo! Local and Bing Local. In addition, a restaurant should claim its listings on Yelp, Urbanspoon, Citysearch and other local dining and business directories.

3.  Clearly Place Restaurant Location, Hours and Menus:
Although the ability to make a reservation is important, the main focus of a restaurant website should be the restaurant’s location, hours and menus. Making this information highly visible to visitors is key.

4.  Add a Reservation Widget: In order to capture the 40 percent of diners who make reservations online via a restaurant’s own website, implement a reservation widget that is easily accessible on the restaurant’s homepage. A variety of reservation services – including OpenTable, RezBook, SeatMe, UReserv and more – are available.

5.  Showcase Professional Photography: By displaying professional photographs of the décor and dishes, a website allows potential guests to get a taste for the restaurant. This allows visitors to experience the restaurant’s ambiance and explore the cuisine. Professional photography ensures dishes will be presented in an appealing fashion. Additionally, food photography is a great way to generate buzz and create social engagement.

6.  Incorporate Reviews on the Website: According to an AngelSmith study, 22.8 percent of diners looking for a new restaurant consult consumer generated website reviews on sites such as Yelp, Zagat and Urbanspoon. These sites provide great platforms for diners to post restaurant reviews, but these sites can potentially result in a potential guest being led away from your restaurant profile to that of a competitor. To avoid this risk, include user-generated reviews on the restaurant website. In addition to providing valuable information for potential guests, updating this content regularly will trigger search engines to crawl the website and improve its organic search ranking.

7.  Add a Blog to Your Website: In addition to keeping diners up-to-date with the latest restaurant specials, a blog provides the opportunity to display current news and happenings. This is a great place to highlight the following:

o   New menus
o   Awards
o   Signature dishes and recipes
o   Special events
o   Staff Profiles

A blog also helps to boost a website’s organic ranking through Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google’s ongoing Panda and Freshness updates dictate that a website should showcase unique, engaging and continually updated content. That said, once a blog is established on the website, it is important to keep it updated with new and interesting content. A stale and stagnant blog could deter potential diners.

8.  Engage on Social Media: Dining out at a restaurant is a social experience. Therefore, social media is an excellent platform to create buzz and generate interaction while connecting with guests.

  • Build a Local Following: Since a majority of restaurant-goers are locals, it is important for restaurants to reach out to individuals that can easily convert to restaurant diners.
  • Post Photos: In addition to posting professional photos of the cuisine and restaurant’s dining room, guests should be encouraged to post their own photos of their experience at the restaurant. As a general rule, Facebook posts that include photos receive a higher amount of interaction than those posted without images.
  • Offer Specials: Offering social media-only specials motivates current and potential guests to interact with the restaurant via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. By updating the special offers frequently, guests will be encouraged to continually engage across the various channels.
  • Host Contests: Similar to offering specials, hosting a contest and awarding prizes is a great way to actively engage users. Restaurants should encourage guests to post reviews or upload pictures in order to receive rewards.
  • Stay Active: Although new social media platforms are emerging all the time (e.g. Foursquare, FoodSpotting, etc.), it is important to pick a manageable amount of channels in which to become involved. Similar to a blog, once a restaurant establishes a Facebook page or Twitter account, it is essential to stay active and update frequently. A stale account could turn off potential guests.
  • Link to the Website: Most importantly, after creating buzz and interaction, it is crucial to direct potential diners from Facebook, Twitter, etc. to the restaurant’s website.

9.  Build loyalty with SMS Marketing: SMS Marketing is a relatively inexpensive way to reach a very targeted and qualified market. Mobile phones are a highly personal form of communication and individuals only give their numbers to a restaurant or brand to which they are loyal. Accordingly, SMS marketing tends to lead to very high conversion rates. Below are a few tips to follow when planning an SMS marketing campaign:

  • Give a Reason to Sign Up: Encourage customers to sign up by promoting various mobile-only offers, deals and discounts. Alternatively, a restaurant could offer a reward (e.g. a free glass of wine) for opting into the mobile list.
  • Time Your Texts: Since diners generally have their mobile phones on them or near them at all times, it is important to time the text message around the information being presented. For example, if promoting a lunch special the text message should be sent around 10am, or when individuals would be planning their lunches.
  • Send Exciting Information: Send information that will encourage potential diners to visit the restaurant such as coupons for 50 percent off an entrée with the purchase of a full-price dinner.

10.  Launch a mobile site: In addition to capturing potential diners searching via desktops, it is necessary to launch a mobile website in order to attain individuals via this platform. Mobile usage is increasing exponentially and in Q1 2013 nearly 40% of website visitors across HeBS Digital’s client portfolio came from mobile and tablet devices, an increase of 133% compared to Q1 2012. Is your restaurant website mobile- and tablet-ready? For restaurants specifically, mobile search is particularly important. According to Google, during Valentine’s Day weekend, 64 percent of consumers searched for restaurants from their mobile phone.

When launching a mobile site it is essential to follow the same best practices as your desktop site, including clearly placing the restaurant’s location, hours and menus. According to Google’s Mobile Search Moments study, 45 percent of searcher’s are ‘goal-oriented’.  It is therefore important for a user to be able to complete a reservation on the site via a reservation widget or click-to-call phone number.

As overall restaurant sales and online reservations continue to increase year-over-year, it is vital for a restaurant to have an optimized and user-friendly desktop and mobile website following the industry best practices outlined above. Once the restaurant’s website is live, it is critical to market it. Since potential diners interact with a variety of different channels and devices (desktop computer, mobile phones, social media, tablet devices, etc.) on a daily basis, utilizing all available digital marketing tools will yield greater results. By creating a presence on these multiple channels, a potential guest will have a greater chance of being exposed to the restaurant and deciding to visit.

To get started, partner with an agency that is experienced in restaurant website design and digital marketing.