Online Marketing Strategies For Restaurants

Aaron Hoos

It was Saturday afternoon. I was looking for a restaurant to go to with my wife for the evening. We reviewed our mental short-list of places we’d driven past and said, “oh, we should eat there.

And now we were in decision-making mode. So we checked online to see when the restaurant was open ’til and what was on the menu.

And that’s when we discovered it: restaurant websites are terrible (if they exist at all).

Now, granted, I’m not an expert restaurant marketer. But I am a marketer and strategist for a wide variety of businesses, plus I am a restaurant customer, so that gives me a bit of a perspective and some value to share.

Restaurants are missing important information on their websites—information that a customer like me is looking for to choose YOUR restaurant over the thousands of other options.

In the past few months that I’ve been paying attention to the general crappiness of restaurant websites, I’ve encountered sites with the following glaring errors and omissions…

  • No clear directions about how to get to the restaurant
  • No idea of when the restaurant is open or closed
  • No menu
  • No pictures of food
  • No prices
  • Old specials
  • No idea of what the atmosphere is like inside
  • No idea of whether reservations are needed, or when
  • Restaurants that didn’t have any online presence at all
  • Heck, one restaurant had a “Update: we’re just making improvements to our website”… but the date was more than a year old!

Maybe it’s me but it feels like these things should be the bare minimum when running a restaurant’s online marketing!

A Few Simple Fixes

The solution is simple. You don’t have to be fancy, just start a simple website and a few basic social media accounts, and then put the following information on it:

  1. The menu. (Oh, and don’t just make it downloadable, as many restaurants do, because I want to view it on my phone and downloading a PDF is a hassle).
  2. Mobile friendly website. (After all, I’m often deciding where to eat while I’m driving around… so why not meet me part way with a mobile-friendly site?)
  3. Directions from key places in the city. And don’t just say “north” or “south” but give clear directions (“one block past Fairview park—look for our big yellow sign”) and a link to Google Maps.
  4. Tell me where to park and if I need change for the meter (and how much that change should be).
  5. SHOW ME WHAT THE FOOD LOOKS LIKE!!!
  6. Give me an idea of the experience of your restaurant—What does it look like? How should I dress? Is this a great restaurant for an intimate dinner or a loud raucous group or a sports enthusiast?

See? simple.

Of course you can do more if you want, like…

  • Post frequent videos.
  • Maintain a blog with testimonials, messages from the chef and waitstaff, and yes, even recipes!
  • Keep your website up-to-date.
  • Give me ideas of when your restaurant is the perfect place to eat, and why. (Your restaurant is not perfect for every occasion but tell me why it’s perfect for entertaining out of town guests.)
  • Integrate social media and invite me to participate in the social conversation by helping me to find and tag you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • Tell me what beers are on tap.
  • Tell me the busiest times of the week and the slowest.
  • Tell me what your most popular foods are, and the surprise secret dish that the chef is most proud of.

I love experiencing new restaurants. I like trying to new foods and discovering restaurants I’ve never eaten at before. There are a million restaurants in my city and if you own one of them then help me choose your restaurant with these simple changes to your online marketing.

Hilarious update: I wrote a draft of this blog post and then left it for a week while I went to visit a friend in another city. He was getting married and I was his best man, so I’d planned a stag party (a pretty tame one, at his request), which included a few friends at a local bar. I checked the bar’s website and it said they were open from “11AM until Close” which is vague but whatever. But while we were eating there, the waitstaff came over and told us they were closing… and it was only 10:30 at night!!! We were shocked! In fact, by the time we left, the waitresses were outside smoking, waiting for us to be done. (#classy) Fortunately there was a bottle of whiskey back at the hotel that we could drown our sorrows in but that information would have been helpful if placed on their website. I just checked Google and their hours in Google are incorrectly listed as being open until midnight. It just reinforced the general crappiness of restaurant websites.

I WANT to discover YOUR website… help me out here!!!