7 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a New Restaurant

So, you’re starting a new restaurant. Awesome! Many seasoned restaurateurs would love to be in your shoes — starting a new restaurant with a clean slate.

Along the way, they likely made some of these seven rookie marketing mistakes. We’ve got you covered with fixes for the most common missteps. Here’s to starting a new restaurant marketing campaign off strong!

1. Relying on the “Shiny New Toy” Factor

Starting a new restaurant comes with sweet marketing perks – at first. You’ll get free press. Business will be brisk thanks to curious foodies. You’ll have four minutes of fame as the shiny new toy in town.

But as customers, we’re all 6-year-olds. The next restaurant that opens is like the latest Hatchimal. We’ve got to try it. To avoid becoming a forgotten toy (Hello, fidget spinner!), use these marketing tactics to keep guests coming back to you:

The Fix: Focus on The Second Visit       

In the early days of starting a new restaurant, most owners only focus on acquisition marketing — bringing new guests through the door. But retention marketing is just as important. After all, if you can increase guest retention by 5%, your profitability could increase up to 90%.

“I’ll turn every first-time guest into a repeat customer.” This is your mantra when starting a new restaurant.

  • Try a Limited-Time Offer (LTO)

Show guests you’re eager to see them again… soon. An LTO will do the trick. Add an element of surprise and delight. Give out sealed envelopes containing a coupon. Tell guests to bring their sealed envelope back within two weeks to reveal their offer. It could be a free appetizer, $5 off, or even $20 off.

  • Capture Emails

As you’re starting a new restaurant, email marketing can be your best friend in boosting customer retention — if you do it right. See mistake #6 and 3 easy fixes. Spoiler alert: Most statistics cite a $38-$40 return on investment (ROI) for every $1 spent on email marketing.

  • Launch a Loyalty App

If you build a customer loyalty app, they’ll come back. A 2017 study of 28,000 customers by VISA and Bond Brand Loyalty found that 81% of today’s customers agree: Loyalty programs make them more likely to continue doing business with a brand. Starting a new restaurant mobile app can be super affordable with app builders like AppInstitute and Appy Pie.

  • Make the Rounds

Starting a new restaurant is really about starting new relationships. As the owner, you’re a big shot to guests. Everyone secretly wants to say they “know the owner” of a restaurant. So, be known. Stop by every table and introduce yourself.

2. Underspending on Marketing

Starting a new restaurant is expensive. But there’s no polite way to say this: If you skimp on marketing, your restaurant could become a statistic.

The Fix: Budget Using Two Simple Formulas

The trick to marketing while starting a new restaurant is to think in percentages – not dollars. Dollars can be visually alarming, percentages are always under 100. It’s also critical to stick to those percentages, even after you’ve done your calculations.

  • The 3-6% Formula

Most restaurant gurus recommend allocating 3-6% of your budget to marketing. That’s not too bad. Except that those starting a new restaurant usually spend around 15% of their sales on marketing. The good news? It’s only for the first 3-6 months.

  • The 70/20/10 Method

Once you have the magic number for your marketing budget after starting a new restaurant, it’s time to figure out how to spend it. Many restaurants rely on the 70/20/10 method.

  • Maintain: 70% The majority of your marketing budget should go towards marketing tactics you know are delivering an ROI. Because you’re just starting a new restaurant, you’ll need to cheat a little. See what the experts say about the best restaurant marketing ideas.
  • Experiment: 10% Feeling risky? That’s what this 10% is all about. It’s like buying cryptocurrency. It just might work, but if it doesn’t – you’ll be fine.
  • Enhance: 20% Allocate this cash to boost the experimental methods that worked.

3. Being a Social Butterfly (or Socially Awkward)

Remember FourSquare? Does Pokemon Go ring a cringe-worthy bell?

Those were once the “it” social media tactics. Many restaurateurs ignored the 70/20/10 method and threw 100% of their marketing dollars at these emerging social media trends. As you’re starting a new restaurant, resist the temptation to be a social butterfly – flitting from platform to platform.  

On the flip side, don’t be a digital recluse. Even if you aren’t into social media, your customers are.

The Fix: Pick Two

Starting a new restaurant social media campaign is about moderation. Start with two social media platforms. Here’s a quick breakdown of the big four:

  • Facebook — Considering four out of every five American adults use Facebook – and 76% log on daily – it should be one of your two platforms.
  • Twitter — Twitter claims that 80% of its users are affluent millennials. Studies show it’s primarily used as a news source.
  • Instagram — It seems like this platform was made for those starting a new restaurant. Sharing food pics (with the hashtag #foodporn) is a favorite pastime of the 40% of all social media users who are on Instagram. Use these 13 Instagram tips when figuring out how to promote a new restaurant.
  • Snapchat — To snap or ‘gram, that is the question when starting a new restaurant and bringing in millennials. Snapchat skews younger than Instagram with 60% of all Americans under 34 using this photo-sharing app. Snapchat is underutilized by restaurant owners. It could be your competitive advantage.

Pro Tip: Know the audiences you’re targeting and which platform they’re most likely to use.

4. Overlooking SEO

Every move you make online can help — or hurt — your chances of showing up on search engines like Google and Bing when starting a new restaurant. That’s what search engine optimization (SEO) is all about. Helping you get found online. Don’t overlook it.

The Fix: Do These Three Things

SEO can get complicated, fast. But you’re starting a new restaurant, so start with these three basics:

  • PAN Up and Claim Your Space

PAN stands for phone, address, and the name of your business. Check the accuracy of all three on Google, Bing, and Yahoo map listings. For example, if you’re starting a new restaurant in a previous restaurant’s building, your name should be showing up – not theirs. Set up your free map listing with each search engine, starting with Google My Business.

  • Set Up a Mobile-First Website

Good news for anyone starting a new restaurant website: it costs much less than they did a decade ago. In part, that’s due to the rise in smartphones. Today, a good website is a simple website. It’s short on text and images and big on functionality. It loads fast and automatically responds to the viewer’s screen size – also known as “responsive” website design. Google prioritizes mobile-first websites in SEO rankings. Use their free mobile-friendly testing tool to see if yours makes the cut. 

  • Convert Your Menu to Text

Putting a PDF, image file, or Word document of your menu on your website? That’s an SEO no-no and a shortcut to avoid when starting a new restaurant. These three file types are slow to load and require guests to zoom in and out in search of your killer craft brew list. Plus, you miss out on the SEO advantage of keywords. You want your website to show up when a guest is searching for restaurants with a specific beer in their area. Search engines can’t “crawl” a PDF, but they can crawl text.

5. Ignoring Negative Reviews

Haters are going to hate. When starting a new restaurant, expect online criticism. In fact, you could embrace the occasional bad review since 68% of customers only trust reviews when they see both good and bad ones.

Flat out ignoring a negative review isn’t an option. Plus, it’s a missed opportunity to increase your overall rating. A study showed that if you respond well to a bad review, 34% will delete their harsh words — and 33% will replace it with a positive review.

The Fix: Respond ASAP

Respond to all reviews on Yelp, Facebook, and any other platforms within 24 hours or less. No need to compulsively check for reviews (you’re too busy starting a new restaurant), free Google Alerts will do that for you.

Ask anyone who’s starting a new restaurant: that first negative review hurts. So H.A.L.T. before responding. If you’re hungry or hurt, angry, lonely, or tired… don’t hit publish. Thanks to screenshots, your tirade could live on in infamy. Instead, use this formula:

The 7A Formula for Responding to Negative Reviews

  • Attribute — Get personal. Address guests by their first name. Sign off with your name and title.
  • Authority — Only someone with authority to make business decisions should respond.
  • Acknowledge — Even if the customer is lying about their bad experience, their feelings are real. You must acknowledge their hurt or anger.
  • Admit — If you’ve made a mistake, admit it. Fess up. Don’t be defensive.
  • Action — Show the guest you take their complaint seriously. Thank them. Since you’re starting a new restaurant, you rely on feedback.
  • Amends – Request that the guest contacts you directly for a refund.
  • Ask – Let the customer have the last word by ending with a question. “Do you have any other thoughts on how we could improve?”

6. Sending Emails From an Inbox

It’s understandable. You’re so excited about starting a new restaurant, you blast an email out to everyone you know. That’s fine. But it’s also the start of a bad habit. Formalize the process of email marketing with an email marketing service(EMS).

The Fix: Use an EMS and These Three Strategies

An EMS is a web-based software, like MailChimp or Constant Contact, that can do great things for your bottom line. Most importantly, you’ll look professional. Instead of your restaurant emails coming from john4553restaurantguy@gmail.com, they come from info@yourrestaurantwebsiteURL.com.

Plus, an EMS is easy on your budget – always a nice perk when starting a new restaurant. The latest reviews of the best email services show that most come in under $20/month. And yes, that includes access to free design templates, automation tools, and A/B testing.

Once you have your EMS, try these tactics:

  • Pull the Trigger on a Welcome Email
    Most EMSs can trigger templated emails to be sent. For example, when a guest signs up to receive your emails online, the EMS can trigger a welcome email. Shown to boost guest spending by 336%, a welcome email is hands down one of your best restaurant marketing opportunities.
  • The Best of Times
    An EMS gives you in-depth analytics when starting a new restaurant email campaign: from click-throughs to when emails are opened most. In the meantime, use this data curated for a dozen EMSs. It was found that emails sent late mornings on Tuesdays performed best. Sunday after lunch is the worst time. Maybe everyone is napping after brunch?
  • Use List Segmentation

According to HubSpot, 66% of guests said they unsubscribed because emails didn’t match their interests. When capturing emails, let guests select the “lists” they want to join. Start with: upcoming events, special offers, new menu alerts. Always ask for the guest’s birth date, then trigger a special offer inviting them to celebrate their special day at your place.

7. The Wrong Name

This one is last for a reason. You may already have a bar or restaurant name. There’s no perfect name out there.  Don’t second guess your decision.

However, if you’re in the early stages of starting a new restaurant, choose your name carefully. It can be one of your most powerful marketing tools.

The wrong name can even land you in legal trouble if it’s trademarked. Or, you could miss out on valuable search engine optimization (SEO) if you’re a sports bar – but the words “sports bar” aren’t part of your name.

The Fix: Do Your Research

Like creating a logo, starting a new restaurant list of names can be overwhelming. There are seven main types of bar and restaurant names:

  • Owner namesakes
  • Experience-based
  • Location-based
  • Product-based
  • Foreign language
  • Invented
  • Puns and wordplay

See which one best fits your concept. Then, begin brainstorming. Create a shortlist of four or five top options. Before getting your heart set on a name, work with an attorney or use a trademark search database to check for an existing trademark. 

When starting a new restaurant, think beyond the plate. Great food is just one factor in becoming the busiest business on the block. By avoiding these seven mistakes, you’ll be starting a new restaurant that will stand the test of time.

About the Author

BuzzTime Tablet Entertainment

Trusted by thousands of bars and restaurants in North America since 1984, Buzztime integrates trivia, card, sports games and live events with innovative tablet technology. While we don’t take ourselves too seriously, this is some pretty serious business.

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