Running a successful restaurant takes time and labor—a lot of it. You have books to keep, employees to supervise and menus to confirm. And then, there's the marketing and PR to do.
No restaurant succeeds without steady cash flow, a la a stream of customers. To draw them in, check out these 10 ideas. Some require more upfront effort and upkeep than others, but all will grow the number of customers coming to your restaurant.
1. Invest In Local SEO
Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, may not be in the restaurant business, but he knows how to attract customers. "Local search [engine optimization] is a deadly customer acquisition channel for the restaurant industry," he explains.
"Many local marketers don't realize this, but Google penalizes brands with inconsistent listings, seeing them as several different locations rather than one. For a restaurant to rank well in online search, the rankings have to be consistent across the board."
2. Pursue Online Coverage
Alex Reichmann, CEO of iTestCash, builds upon Bryan's idea. "I've spoken with many business owners about marketing techniques," Alex says. "One great method is writing for blogs and magazines in the restaurant industry, including retail, [small] business and food marketing." The coverage establishes your restaurant's presence in the larger community and often attracts untapped customer segments.
3. Host A Reddit "Ask Me Anything"
"It was a fantastic way to put our brand directly in front of our target audience, creating the perfect environment for high user engagement. The best part about it? It was fun! And it only took about an hour of our time."
4. Send Targeted Messages
Restaurant owners can also attract customers via free Wi-Fi, exchanging the Internet connection for customers' email addresses. Once you collect the contact information, targeted messages about happy hours and other offerings can be sent to customers' inboxes. "The tactic," says Eric Burns, CEO of Gazella, "increases conversation rates rapidly."
5. Purchase Geo-Targeted Facebook Ads
Derric Haynie, Head of Growth at Rebrandly, adds a related method: online advertising. "Restaurant owners should run geo-targeted Facebook ads for the five miles surrounding their businesses," he says. "The ads should target ideal customers, on mobile only; run during peak hours; and be tracked via a custom coupon code [or other method]."
6. Test New Social Networks
Facebook Ads are a proven way to attract more customers, so you should augment it with other tactics. Max Robinson of Mister Singh's India Restaurant recommends small tests; some efforts will inevitably backfire.
"We tried to hop on the recent Pokemon GO trend and use it to reinvigorate our Snapchat account," Max says. "We slowly realized that getting people to play Pokemon didn't necessarily convert them into customers.
"Since then, we've refocused on Snapchat. Although it doesn't attract nearly as many people into our restaurant, it draws the people more likely to purchase food."
7. Develop A Diverse Menu
Jeff Hands, President of TracRite Software, suggests a different idea: updating the menu. "Consumers care about gluten-free and dairy-free options," he explains. "Offering them on your menu makes yourself more attractive to a wide and growing customer base."
Once the items have been added to the menu, follow up with marketing and PR initiatives. "It can be something as simple as updating your billboards," Jeff says, "or inviting local foodie bloggers in for a potential review or chef spotlight. Their coverage will spread within the area's niche audience."
8. Partner With A Local Cause
In addition to updating your menu, you should consider partnering with a local cause or organization. The fall season presents an opportune time; people seek ways to contribute to the community as the holidays draw nearer.
9. Bring In Local Talent
Another smart option is live music. Customers love entertainment and will share real-time videos and photos to their social networks, increasing your reach. To fully benefit from the idea, set up a schedule and seek out local talent.
10. Create Photo Opportunities
Finally, you should create photo opportunities. Set up a scene where customers will take photos and share them online. Chalk Point Kitchen, in New York, builds instant photo-worthiness by greeting reservations with a custom chalkboard message.
Running a restaurant may be hard, but the 10 ideas here will keep you in business for a long time to come. Which one will you try first? Let us know here or on social.