Marketing your restaurant after the pandemic lockdown

Janil Jean

Building your restaurant business in Pennsylvania during the pandemic lockdown but crunched for time? Or are you preparing your restaurant to open after the pandemic lockdown? Well, first off, you may need to stop and realize that successfully growing any enterprise requires a significant investment of time and effort…

Okay, we know — of course, you know that. Anyone in the food biz knows that in this pandemic we are crunched for time and money with a sprinkle of uncertainty. Sometimes in the restaurant market such as in Pennsylvania, we put a little too much on our plate, bite off more than we can chew, or get involved in some other food-related analogy that leaves us short on time.

With that in mind, here are six things you can do to boost your restaurant’s marketability during and even after the pandemic lockdown.

1. Be easy to find

Ubiquity is a key component of effective marketing. With virtual directories and the prevalence of Google searches for anything and everything, you have ever more opportunities to make sure your brand is known even if everything is closed around you due to the pandemic.

First off, what’s your niche? If your restaurant is a fusion of traditional Costa Rican dishes and Asian options (a real place I visited recently, believe it or not) then you want your name to show up at the top of the list whenever anyone searches for Costa Rican or Asian food for takeaway or delivery in your local area in Pennsylvania.

Do a search for online directories, and enter your information into each one. A useful tool is Yext which can analyze your business’s profile over a range of websites, enabling you to make sure all your information is up to date. This may seem slightly time-consuming, but copy and paste is the best friend of a marketing guru with limited time. Other notable platforms like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Yelp also help in increasing your restaurant’s visibility when someone fancies home-delivered meals.

Around 42% of restaurant-goers find their next meal on Google. So, check into advertising on Google, too, to give your restaurant brand the highest level of visibility.

2. Get branded to relaunch

Speaking of branding, this might be a good time to take a long, hard look at your logo and other branding choices.

A good restaurant logo should inspire the viewer to want to come in and eat, or at least order online. Your logo may be aesthetically appealing without being necessarily functional, say, on a meal ordering app, on a listing, or even on your website.

Creating a logo from scratch seems like a daunting task. And it probably would, if you just did it on your own or with a graphic designer. However, with a plethora of online restaurant logo makers and software you can easily set you up with templates. Refer to a guide to design your restaurant logo using suggested fonts, curated styles, color palettes, and you can actually come up with a unique design based on your niche and preferences.

On the other hand, you could have an existing logo that you’re fairly happy with, and which just needs a tune-up. It could just be a matter of altering the color palette.

Reflecting good use of color psychology is also valuable in other branding choices, such as advertisements, your website, social media presence, and your menu. Revamping your entire branding strategy is going to take more time, it’s true, but taking a quick look at what your color choices are saying and adjusting accordingly is a good start to preparing your brand for now and when you physically open your restaurant.

3. Get involved

Involving your business in the local area is especially valuable in smaller communities around Pennsylvania, where it seems that everyone knows everyone. Start simple: reach out to the local paper, check on the upcoming events in your community on Facebook, and see where there might be an opportunity for your restaurant to get its name in front of people even if everyone is staying indoors. The Reading Terminal is a great place to start.

This can entail anything from sponsorship for online events, Zoom games, sports team clubs, or the like, to donation of services, setting up a food cart at the next local charity event. Think outside the box: whatever the event is, rest assured that there’s a way to attach your brand to it. You can check out some of the upcoming Yardley events here.

Involvement in the community often works on the reciprocity principle: if the community sees that you’re interested in it, it will probably be interested in you. You’re far more likely to get new customers if they’re already familiar with seeing your name around, especially if they’re personally invested in the event. Although this may work better after the lockdown but there is no harm in getting your brand recognized.

4. Get on social media

Effective use of social media is kind of a no-brainer, in these heady days of absolutely everything being centered on the internet. Not only is it likely that potential customers will look at reviews of your restaurant on Yelp and other venues before committing to trying it out themselves, they might very well take a look at your brand on Facebook or Instagram to get a feel for how you present yourself as a business.

What? You don’t have a Facebook or Instagram account?

If there was ever a justification for posting artistic photos of food on Instagram, it’s a restaurant account. Besides, with more presence on social media, it gives you more opportunities to market yourself and communicate with your customers in and around the state of Pennsylvania. On top of that, social media is the second most popular way by which customers find new restaurants, right after recommendations from friends.

On top of that, Instagram is such a powerful and effective marketing tool that studies suggest 72% of Instagram users make purchasing decisions based on something they saw on the app.

5. Promote user-generated content

Social media goes hand in hand with this step, too.

If you’re a busy restaurateur — and you are, because you run a restaurant — you probably don’t have a lot of time to actually update your social media accounts, leaving them to languish in obscurity for three weeks out of the month. The internet has a fix for that: user-generated content.

Depending on your clientele and the “tone” you want to set for your business, this could be anything from sharing Instagram photos from satisfied customers, to sharing stories of happy family gatherings, to sharing success stories from those local events you’ve been sponsoring. The point is that you’re sharing. Not only does it take some of the pressure of creating content off you, the busy entrepreneur, but it also gets your customers even more invested and involved, like these restaurants on Yardley’s Facebook. And if you’re able to offer a discount to those who participate in Instagram initiatives, like posting photos of themselves with your menu or their favorite dish, it’s even more of an incentive, especially if currently you’re only taking orders for takeaways, and new customers have no way of knowing about your restaurant’s offerings.

And this strategy can work beyond the pandemic. As of last year, 68% of restaurants offered Wi-Fi. When you open your establishment, remember to set up free guest Wi-Fi to facilitate user content.

6. Start a rewards or loyalty program

Finally — and speaking of incentives — if you don’t already have a rewards or loyalty program in place, why not? The concept is simple (and can easily be set up in less than an hour): reward your customers for their loyalty to your restaurant. If they eat there four times a month, give them a free appetizer on the fifth visit. If they regularly host events there, offer a discount.

Many customers like to have a physical “punch card” for their program, but it’s also a good idea to attach the program to something easy to remember, like their phone number, just in case the card is lost or forgotten. Get creative with it! Rewards don’t have to be just in discounts. A free hat or t-shirt with your logo on it is a reward too (plus it’s free marketing for you: win-win!). And while it’s wise to let your customer know what reward they’re working toward (i.e., buy ten entre dishes, get the eleventh free) it’s also exciting and motivating when you surprise them with a reward occasionally too.

Restaurant loyalty programs work on several levels: when advertised, they let your clients know that you value them, and when a customer is happy, they tend to spread the news by word of mouth.

Marketing your restaurant to a new type of customers outside of Pennsylvania like New Jersey or New York during and after the pandemic shouldn’t be difficult when you follow these tips. As you apply these, build upon them to ensure you have a solid marketing strategy in place for your restaurant brand for the long term.

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Janil Jean is Head of Overseas Operations who loves to write about graphic design, digital marketing, branding, storytelling, startups and small business management. She has been featured in Business2Community, Business News Daily, QSR Magazine, SmartBrief, etc. and owner of two blogs Motivation Matter and Yo Fit Mamas.

Yardley, PA
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