AJ Sharp, Founder of Food and Drink PR Agency Sharp Relations (www.sharprelations.com), shares her top seven things you must do to promote your restaurant locally.
1. Know Your Customers. It’s hard to be specific about customers but these details will improve your activities immeasurably. Note down the sort of customers you’re getting at different times of the day and on different days of the week. For example, you might get a younger crowd in the evening, but more tourists at the weekend. Find out where they’re from as it could be a key market for you.
2. Encourage word of mouth (WOM). As people are leaving your restaurant ask your front of house to say;“If you enjoyed your visit, please tell your friends”. Maybe 1 in 10 actually will tell a friend, and of those recommendations c.50% actually will try the recommended restaurant.That’s 5 new customers, for every 100 through the door. Even better, give out a wallet-sized promo card offering an incentive.
3. Special Events. Interesting experiences are the perfect way to encourage footfall and bookings.You can create anything from wine tastings, meet the producer, menu offers, live music, magicians, comedy, karaoke and open mic nights. Do think carefully about your customers, who is it you are trying to attract? Karaoke is going to draw a very different crowd to Moules Mariniere and Muscadet Mondays! (Feel free to use that last one!)
4. What’s the Strategy? This is key, I would have put it at number one, but often considering who you want to promote to helps with the why are you promoting to them at all.Your strategy is your plan for reaching the goal. So, this is where you to decide what the perfect world looks like to you in 12-months or 36-months. Is it a packed restaurant every night of the year? Is it increasing spend per head so you can shut on Mondays and have a break? Is it to open a second or third outlet? Is it a Michelin Star or AA rosette? Is it lots of press coverage? Is it finding a head chef and FOH so you can take a step back from the day-to-day? Whatever it is, set the goal and work out the strategy, what needs to happen? Don’t get hung up on the detail, just write what you are aiming for.Take the emotions out of the goal setting and break it down into steps, suddenly it seems easy.
5. Pictures. You cannot promote a restaurant without quality images. My top tip, find a local photographer and hire them for half a day 4 times a year – or every time you make significant menu changes.We have often opted for wedding photographers, although not the obvious choice, they’re great at shooting people, places and details like food and place settings and capturing the venue’s atmosphere. Images don’t necessarily have to be taken professionally, but they do have to look professional, so use a good quality camera, shoot everything in high res, use extra lights for every shot and edit them individually in Photoshop afterwards.
6. Social Media. Think carefully about the platform and why you’re using it. Here’s a very broad-brush overview of the top two platforms for each generation. Baby Boomers and above, the ones that are using social media, are on Facebook.They watch, they don’t tend to contribute much content. Gen X are tricky, they are on Facebook and have access to many social platforms, but they aren’t really contributing much content, they are highly sceptical of social media. Millennials are all over all of it, but their favoured platform is Instagram, Insta reels and increasingly Tik Tok. Gen Z are on Tik Tok, watching reels and Instagram.The Alpha Generation is very keen on You Tube, as well as Tik Tok.
7. In the Press. There’s no doubt that good press coverage will encourage people through the door. It generates WOM which is incredibly influential.The easiest way to achieve this is to ask a local freelance PR, specialising in consumer food or travel, to help you to promote your special events and invite local publications to review dinners. Can you do this yourself? Absolutely! Striking up a relationship with the regional press around your establishment is a great idea. However, it is time consuming, and you might get caught in a loop of being asked to pay to place your restaurant between the pages.A PR professional will help you to find your news and tell the stories people really want to read about locally, not to mention getting you listed in the what’s on and events pages each week, without paying for advertising.