Restaurant Websites, Marketing, & User Experience Best Practices

Sep 24, 2019

Restaurant marketing strategies have significantly changed in the past ten years as technology, mobile device, and social media adoption has exploded. No longer can restaurants be in a great location, provide great food and dining experiences with fantastic service, and hope patrons will return night after night. Now, restaurant owners have so much more on their plate (sorry for the pun) with running their business and coming up with marketing and website strategies to keep people coming in every day and night. 

That is why Stout Heart is here to lend a helping hand. We are here to walk you through all of the restaurant website, technology, and marketing best practices. We will show you how to leverage all of the new and emerging tactics to meet patron expectations and drive new and returning customers to your restaurant(s). 

Define Your Unique Selling Position

As always, before investing in a website, marketing programs, or optimizing your user experience, it would be best to define your unique selling proposition (USP). If you do not have this well established, your marketing will land flat on your target audience, and ROI for any campaigns will most likely be very low. Potential patrons might not understand your dining concept and might not understand the food and drink options will be available to them when they visit.

Once you have the USP established, it should be used as the cornerstone for all future marketing, advertising campaigns, and messaging. Our friends at Hubspot has a great post on how to define your position in your market – 

Great Restaurant Website

As we mentioned in the intro, restaurant customers have adopted technology in ways most never thought they would. With the high adoption of mobile devises and convenience services like food delivery and online ordering, users have more digital experience expectations than ever before. If your restaurant does not offer the majority of these website best practices, customers can easily look for alternative dining options.

Not only does your restaurant website need to be well designed and feature great usability while communicating the USP, but it should have specific content and site architecture frameworks to allow 3rd party sites like Google My Business and Yelp to scrape content. This content will significantly help to drive new patrons and keep current customers coming back.

Here are the core website recommendations: 

  1. A great branded site design detailing your concept, locations, menu, dining offerings, and atmosphere using high-res imagery; 
  2. Have individual pages for the restaurant’s team, menu, reservations (36% of all dinners expect to be able to reserve a table online), functions/outings, event calendar, directions and contact info, and online ordering functionality; 
  3. Stand-alone sleek, functional online menu page that is not a PDF so these 3rd party sites can scrape the content. PDFs do not allow these sites to view its content (73% of customers look up menu information online before dining at a restaurant); 
  4. Feature online ordering functionality with delivery or a partnership with Grubhub, Uber Eats, or the like (19% fo customers expect online ordering and 51% of customers use take-out or delivery services like Grubhub or Uber Eats); 
  5. Have a mobile-optimized or responsive design website that looks great on all mobile devices (83% of customers use a mobile phone to look up restaurant menus, hours, and directions). 

Search Engine Optimization & Local Search

Once you have a well-designed website, you will need to optimize it for search engines and local search. Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and digital marketing for restaurants is an essential practice to attract new customers. When a potential patron uses a search engine like Google to find a restaurant, you should be a top result based on location. An overwhelming majority of people use Google to look for food and drink in their local area, and smart search optimization can capitalize on this. 

According to Google, approximately 80% of users search online for local restaurants and bars. A significant factor in the search results for local restaurants is local listings. Banks should maintain their Google My Business accounts to assure all locations, and contact information is up to date to ensure patrons looking for excellent dining see accurate data like menus and reservation options. 

Online Reservation Tools  

We discussed earlier that you could provide an excellent patron experience by offering reservation functionality on your website. If that is not an option due to technical limitations, you may consider leveraging a 3rd party solution like Open Table to accept reservations. These services allow customers to book reservations for your restaurant online. Patrons appreciate the ease of set a reservation, and you will be able to utilize the 3rd party app’s base of loyal customers. 

Once you have the site design and SEO strategy in-place, you will need to start advertising and promoting your restaurant. The next few items will outline where to start.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a powerful way to keep your loyal customers engaged and a great way to attract new patrons to your restaurant. Great email marketing campaigns not only provide reminders about the restaurant to keep it top of mind but also give details on the latest happenings. These campaigns are also great ways to showcase the restaurant brand, story, unique happenings as well as coupons and loyalty programs.

Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing has become a necessity for restaurants to stay relevant and top of mind in their target markets. More and more social users are leveraging these networks to find new restaurants and or determine what their dining experience will be that day or night. Social Media usage is just below “friends” on what influences people to find new restaurants. As such, Social Media needs to be a focal point in restaurant marketing strategies. 

When using Social Media, restaurants should always use high-quality food images when presenting their food and drink. While this doesn’t mean you need to have a post-production company working on every post you put up like McDonald’s, it does mean you should invest in a nice camera or use a high-res phone camera to take photos of your food and drink. It’s also very important to be mindful of the lighting in the space as well. Once you have content (like food images or fliers for promotions and events), it is important to schedule the posts at times where users will be considering their lunch, dinner, and post-dinner activities for the day/weekend. Use a social scheduling tool like Sprout Social (our preferred social tool) to publish posts throughout the day before lunch, between 3 and 4 PM, and around 6 PM. 

Advanced Social Media marketing strategies could include paid advertising to specific demographics, running specials and promotions, and paid network building campaigns. These non-organic efforts can help spark an immediate interest in audiences that might not have found your restaurant on their own. 

Online Paid Advertising

Restaurants may also leverage paid advertising to place ads where potential customers will see them throughout the internet. Levering paid ads can help target users who might not know about your restaurant. That means restaurants can use paid search ads in search engines to help overcome poor/non-existent SEO results for search engines. They can also use video and display ads to reach audiences watching and reading content about the area where your restaurant is so you can influence them to eat and drink with you when they come to town.

Use Mobile Ads

As we noted earlier, 83% of customers use a mobile phone to look up restaurant menus, hours, and directions. That data point tells us that restaurants need to leverage mobile ad networks to reach potential patrons who are on the go and ready to eat. Since mobile users are typically searching for real-time answers to their queries like “pizza near me” or “best burger in town.” 

That usage factor is why restaurants are one the best industries for mobile ads, as users are often looking for nearby dining options while on the move. Plus, mobile ads tend to be less expensive compared to desktop ads and commonly feature better conversion rates than desktops. Moreover, there all kinds of mobile customization and targeting options that let you get the most out of your bids. 

Geo-Targeted & IP Location Advertising

The best restaurant owners understand that advertising locally is the name of the game. While the majority of your patrons live near your locations, tourists are looking to uncover excellent dining experience when they travel. Therefore you’ll get the most value out of your online marketing efforts by investing in geo-targeted or IP location advertising programs and campaigns. 

Geo-targeting or IP location ads provide considerable cost-savings by helping to ensure that only users in specific locations or within a precisely defined radius see your ads. By doing so, this will help to eliminate non-relevant clicks creating high ROI. Many online advertising agencies offer geo-targeting and IP location advertising options that can leverage to get your ads to the right viewers. 

Now let’s discuss different ways to generate buzz and provide restaurants value-added content to share to stay top of mind.

Promotions & Events Strategies

Restaurants, unless world-renowned, need to have promotions and events to create return visitors. While we do not want to tell you how to create promotions or events since we don’t know your business, we will show some examples of how you can leverage these strategies to generate buzz and bring in customers. The goal of promotions and events is to provide unique experiences for your patrons to enjoy something different above and beyond your great food and service. 

These promotions or events can range from leveraging standing relationships with liquor and beer distributors to feature release parties, providing your event space for local networking groups, holding trivia nights, and or daily/weekly/monthly food specials. Another way to leverage these promotions and events is to provide additional gifts or discounts to patrons who share a social post with your location and hashtag. 

Promote User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to expand the reach of your restaurant while developing personal and intimate engagements with patrons. Helping to curate UGC through signage on the table and menus will go a long way to drive the social posts. Alternatively, you could sponsor a photo contest by asking customers to share their favorite meal at your establishment and give away a prize for the winner who has the most likes. 

Curating all of the best posts via a social widget on the website is another excellent way to help shape your brand story. Hosting and promoting user-generated content shows customers that you appreciate them, turning occasional visitors into die-hard devotees. Try a seasonal contest to get started and then host UGC contests on an annual or ongoing basis to keep your restaurant brand top of mind.

Local Food Bloggers And Influencers

Connecting with local food bloggers and social media influencers to help promote the restaurant and can drive many impressions. While some of these partnerships can come at a cost, they could be a great way to reach new networks of diners who might not consider your restaurant otherwise. Offering a discount or free meal for some social posts could be an easy way to engage with these network leaders.

Now that your website is in a great place, promotions and events are driving customers, and social media is bringing awareness and consideration to the masses, its time to leverage 3rd party tools and websites while managing your online reputation. 

Online Reputation Management 

Today more than ever, restaurants can be made or destroyed by online reviews. All the restaurant’s efforts creating a tremendous dining experience could go to waste if you don’t have an excellent online reputation management strategy in place. When you have 92% of consumers reading online reviews, and more than half of the population in the age bracket 18-34 giving priority to online reviews over the opinions of friends and family, the importance of online reviews cannot be overstated.

Online reputation management for restaurants involves defining a process for responding to customer queries and reviews promptly and responding to both negative and positive comments in a way that would portray how your restaurant would deal with in-person comments and concerns. If you have no experience managing comments and reviews on Yelp, Google My Business, Zomato, GrubHub, among others, we advise that you employ an expert to tackle your online reputation management.

Partner Up With Delivery Services

A new solution that has entered the restaurant world in the past few years is delivery services from 3rd party providers. These new service offerings provide convenience services that restaurants can leverage. Many of the online delivery services help streamline the ordering process creating exceptional experiences for internet-savvy patrons. Restaurants can offer this as a service while losing very little in the way profit. Consider partnering with services like:

  • Uber Eats
  • Foodler
  • GrubHub

Get Listed On Food Apps

Recently, new food apps have sprung up over the years. No longer do consumers have to go through boring directories or surf the web for long minutes to find a suitable place to eat. All patrons have to do these days is to install a food app, and it will point them to the nearest restaurant. Owners can take advantage of this wave of mobile technology by paying for listings within these food apps. Getting listed on these food apps ensures that you do not lose potential customers. Look into some of these options: 

  • Yelp
  • Foursquare
  • OpenTable
  • Zomato
  • Zagat
  • HappyCow

Loyalty Programs

Creating loyalty programs that are not just punch tickets should be a consideration as part of your restaurant marketing plan. Partnering with digital service or even an app encourages visitors to check out your restaurant through gamification and customer loyalty programs. These programs and rewards offer visitors free items or discount for visiting a certain number of times or reaching a certain purchase threshold. These programs can help keep customers back again and again. Here are few of the top programs to consider;

Wi-Fi Marketing

One of the last strategies that can help all aspects of well-rounded marketing and advertising strategy is Wi-Fi marketing. You can leverage this service not only to provide your patrons with access to fast internet but also it allows you to collect contact information for email marketing as well as obtain data on customer behavior. There are some great services out there that can use –

Wrap Up

There is plenty of great programs and campaigns strategies you can deploy to help create awareness and consideration for your restaurant. While you might not be able to get to all of them while running your restaurant, keep these main points in mind: 

  •  The success of your restaurant is highly connected to its online reputation and reviews. Make sure you take time out of your day to address and engage with reviews and comments.
  • You cannot do it all, and you are not an expert in these strategies and practices so take the stress out of your life and partner with experts who can run these programs for you. 
  • The wider the net you cast, the more likely potential patrons will walk through your door but be smart about how you spend your ad budget to make sure you get the best ROI possible. 
  • Think outside the box from time to time to create unique promotions or events. Your patrons will appreciate you for trying to offer new and exciting experiences. 

If you are looking to engage with an agency that can help, let’s talk and define a plan to strategize, deploy, and manage your restaurant website, marketing, and user experience needs. Drop us a line at [email protected] or send us a message via our contact page.