2020 has been one of the most disruptive years in human memory. To reduce the risks of contracting COVID-19 restaurants have spent much of the year changing many processes and procedures. Are there any marketing strategies restaurants can leverage to have a better year in 2021?

As the year wraps up, restaurants owners are starting to think about how to market their places in 2021. Traditional approaches simply aren’t going to be as effective given the changed world. How you market your restaurant is just as important now as it has always been in the past. The difference is that you will probably need to make significant changes to how you market your restaurant. 

Waiters in Masks serving coffee in restaurant

Fortunately, technology provides many different ways to market your restaurant. It can also make marketing overwhelming as you need to find ways that reach your target audience.  To help you make the most of your 2021 marketing efforts, consider these marketing strategies for your restaurant.

Considerations for 2021

For the coming year, having a robust online presence will help attract more attention to your restaurant. 

Some of these strategies are more focused toward a particular demographic (for example, social media tends to be seen by younger generations). Other strategies are great for any potential customers. 

There are several key considerations for 2021. 

  • COVID-19 is a big consideration, and there is a lot that has changed because of the virus. This is why your 2021 strategy needs to be different from that of any previous year. 
  • The majority of your marketing is probably going to be online. Having one or two people who can dedicate their time to improving your online presence will be one of the most effective things you can do. This is a great way to try to make your business more successful.
  • Some of these changes may become permanent; others are more temporary measures. For example, working with charities is always a fantastic marketing strategy, as is offering a look into your expertise. 
  • Being transparent is important. From your processes to safety measures, help put your customers at ease from the moment they arrive – whether they are dining in or taking out their meal. 

Waitress taking an online order on a tablet

One thing to keep in mind is that you need to track your progress over the year. As you get better data on what is working and what isn’t, you’ll want to shift your strategies. These methods will help you find your footing in a socially distanced time. 

1. Hitting Social Media Hard

With so many different social media platforms, creating an online presence can be understandably overwhelming. If you don’t already have an account on the primary three platforms, that is where you should begin:

These are the most popular platforms, so by having an account on each one you will reach a lot of potential customers. Each of them has a decidedly different focus. You will want to take a tailored approach to post on each one, though you can focus on the same topics. 

For all three of these platforms, you should plan to make daily posts. Fortunately, the posts don’t need to be long. You can promote deals, new menu items, changed hours, or just share experiences and interactions with customers. 

Once you have established a presence on these three platforms, you can create accounts on a few other platforms. 

  • YouTube – Great if you want to add cooking lessons or other videos (#10 below). 
  • Pinterest – Another way of sharing images or showing off your delicious foods.

2. It’s about Loyalty – Programs for Your Customers

With so many people getting takeout meals, implementing a loyalty program can help to make your restaurant stick in the minds of customers. Knowing they may get free food or discounts can help them chose your place if they aren’t sure what they want to eat. This is a great strategy tp stay relevant in the “new normal“.

Loyalty programs are perfect for apps too, even if you don’t have one. You can work with foodie apps to offer loyalty perks.

You can also implement the old-fashioned card. Simply punch the card every time the customer makes a purchase. It also helps to make a slightly more personal touch as it requires interaction with your customer. The major downside to this method is that customers won’t be able to use the card if they use a delivery service and with the pandemic, one should try to eliminate as many touch points as possible. 

3. Working with Online Presences – Foodies, YouTubes, and Bloggers

Find local people who are active online in your area and see if they are interested in discussing your restaurant on their channels. They could give a review of your food and place, giving you more attention with people who watch their channels. 

Restaurant Marketing Strategy - Food blogger creating digital marketing content

Established bloggers, foodies, and YouTubers can help to get more attention for your place. From trying new items on your menu to discussing the freshness of the food, having several people talk about different aspects of your business can give potential customers more to think about. 

4. Becoming an Expert – Blogs and Articles

You don’t have to rely solely on others to talk about your business. As long as you have a website, you can add regular blogs to it. These blogs can talk about things that are related to your business but aren’t necessarily something customers know. 

Blogs can cover things such as upcoming events, things you are doing within the community, and recent experiences that are influencing changes in the restaurant. Blogs typically are more opinionated and emotional. 

You can even make the blogs more personal. For example, you can talk about what inspired you to start your restaurant. If you attend events, you can talk about how those events have influenced you. Or if you receive an award or recognition you can talk about what makes your food unique. 

Articles are slightly different. They often impart information and typically are posted to other sites. You will probably need to submit the articles, and they will need to be about more than just your business. 

Whatever method you use, establishing yourself as an expert will draw more attention to your restaurant. Focus on the type of food you serve, then discuss what makes your business unique. 

5. Engage Your Users – Contests and User Content

People will probably continue to prefer take out or delivery during much of 2021. You’ll need to find ways to engage your customers without as much in-person interaction as you had in the past. 

Another great restaurant marketing strategy to use is, to make the most of your social media presence by having contests. With your social media accounts you could have customers post pictures and have them vote to determine which are the best ones. Or you could ask them to suggest new menu options that you can try. 

Person taking a photo of their food

Contests can result in people getting coupons or a free appetizer or desert. There is a lot of potential to engage customers and help to generate interest even if they don’t dine in.

Don’t forget that you can use hashtags to get in on social media engagement. You can use existing Twitter hashtags or start your own and see where it goes. 

6. Review and Update Your Menu

With a lot of people likely to continue staying inside, updating menu items can help give them something new to enjoy. You probably don’t want to change your entire menu, but adding something new or rotating the options according to the season can help people stay interested in what you have to offer. 

Make sure to post your menu online. If you do change the different menu options, make sure you update the online menu. 

7. Communication – Sending Customers Messages

You probably already have an email marketing campaign. With your new sites and updates, you’ll have a lot more to communicate. You can also link to the takeout or delivery page to help make it easier for customers to place an order. This is another technology tool you can use to be safe during the pandemic.

If you are holding a contest, send out a couple of emails telling subscribers about it. If you offer cooking lessons online, you can let them know about it. Generate a monthly newsletter to inform customers of updates to your restaurant or things going on around the restaurant. 

8. Moving Your Business Online OR Show Your Safety Measures

Help put your customers’ mind at ease by letting them know what safety measures your restaurant has taken to reduce the risk of infection. If you are providing take out or delivery services make sure those options are easy to find. 

For restaurants that are dine in, let people know about any restrictions currently in effect. For example, if they can only eat outside or if there is limited seating, detail how you are implementing those restrictions. Consider reservations if you want people to feel more certain of their options. 

Waitress Spraying down and wiping down a table while wearing a mask

Make sure to post information about what requirements you have on customers, such as wearing a mask or ensuring that they are socially distanced. Try to make this as easy as possible for your customers. It is easy to forget to keep a set distance when standing in line. 

9. Your Delivery Options

Going into 2021, we know that a large number of people will still prefer not to risk their health by dining at a restaurant. That doesn’t mean they want to cook at home every day. 

Help make it easy for them to decide to try your place by posting all of your delivery options on social media and on your home page. 

  • If you deliver food, provide details on how to place an order. 
  • If you offer takeout, let customers know the process so when they arrive they have minimal interruption. Some places are bringing the food out to people in their cars after they pay online. Others have a designated area to pick up food near the door, away from diners.  
  • If you are working with a delivery service, such as a Door Dash or Grubhub, post that to your homepage and social media sites. That will save customers from having to open a number of apps to figure out which ones are working with you. 

10. Branching Out – Kits

One of the biggest changes of 2020 has been that restaurants are now willing to show how they cook and the secrets in the kitchen. While you don’t have to give everything away, you can make kits so that people can create a restaurant like experience at home. 

Creating a do-it-yourself kit gives customers what they need to have fresher, hot food in their home – without the wait for delivery. This is a really fresh marketing strategy that many restaurants are leveraging. 

Take the time to decide what kind of kits you want to offer, and how much of the work you will do in the restaurant. Things like pizza and sandwiches are typically easy. For more complicated meals, you can provide the fresh ingredients. 

Meal kit with fresh ingredients

To help customers make the meals more authentic, you can create online tutorials with your kitchen staff. These are great to post on YouTube and other social media sites. You can also let people know if you are going to host a livestream from the kitchen so they can ask questions during the preparation. 

And even if customers do a fantastic job, it still won’t be quite the same as dining in your place. 

11. Respond to Online Reviews

People have always paid attention to online reviews – that’s how most people decide if they will try a restaurant. It can be critical to your marketing strategy and overall restaurant success. Take the time to respond to what people are saying on sites like Yelp and on social media. 

Make sure to establish the tone you want before you start responding. You want a consistent approach, particularly to negative reviews or complaints about your place. Even positive reviews with suggestions should get a “Thank you” or response saying you’ll consider the suggestion. 

Do make sure to track suggestions and complaints, especially if you see the same ones popping up. These can be definitely be a great way of fine tuning your marketing strategy and improving your business and image. Handling restaurant reviews is really important to the overall success of your business.

People love to see that their input is being read and considered. It’s also a nice way to push yourself to do better or to challenge your staff to surprise your customers with changes that takes their reviews to heart. 

12. Become Active with Local Charities and First Responders

Whether you are donating to charities or want to help your customers do so, engaging with charities is both a great marketing strategy and a way to give back to the community your restaurant operates in. There are several ways to be active with your local charities. 

  • Donate meals to charities. 
  • Send food to first responders. 2021 will see them continuing to work long, hard hours, so let them know they are still appreciated. 
  • Offer gift cards or discounts to medical professionals. 
  • Dedicate a space on your site and social media pages to help people get involved. Make it easy for them to donate what they can.  

Restaurant Marketing Strategy - Woman donating food

Getting Ready for the New Year

Following the transformative year that has been 2020, we can hope that 2021 will be a bit less surprising and stressful. After all, most restaurants have found their footing. Now you just need to figure out the best way to market your restaurant based on your community. 

Every community is different, so what works for your restaurant in your community will probably be unique. You can start with these marketing strategies as a foundation to start 2021, but overtime those strategies will evolve. 

While it will definitely be a much different strategy than in previous years, the benefit is that it is nearly all online. That means the strategy you adopt successfully next year can serve as a template for the years to come.