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).
  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!!!

Social Media Business Hour Podcast: Learn The Secrets Of Profitable Sales Funnels And Copywriting


I was familiar with Nile Nickel’s Social Media Business Hour podcast so I was honored to be invited on as a guest. We covered a lot of ground and the podcast went by so quickly!

We talked about how a sales funnel should be defined (most people define it incorrectly), and the importance of an intentional sales funnel, rather than a sales funnel that grows organically and exists by default. We talk about how I got into sales funnels in the first place and what attracted me to profitable sales funnels as one of the most compelling opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs. Then, since the podcast is about social media, I connected it back to social media and showed how your sales funnel needs to exist even in your social content. Then I shared (overshared?) my formula for creating amazing headlines — this piece was really valuable for Nile’s audience!

Click here to listen to my interview with Nile Nickel about profitable sales funnels and copywriting

Want to interview me on your podcast? Click here to learn how to book me as a guest.

If you’re trying to decide on the best social media strategy, you’ve probably missed this crucial first step…

This is a pretty common scenario: I’ll get on the phone with someone to consult with them about their business and somewhere in the conversation they’ll ask a question.

The question usually sounds something like this: “Should I get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile? What about Pinterest? Or Instagram?

It’s a good question to ask… unfortunately, business owners frequently ask it too early in the process.

My response is always this…


Your sales funnel is the most important part of your business. It’s the flow of your customers from first hearing about you… allllllllll the way through developing a relationship with you… allllllllll the way to the point when they buy from you, and beyond.

It’s the step-by-step sequence that people go through as they become leads, then prospects, the customers, then evangelists for your business.

I think most business owners know that (at least intuitively, even if they don’t know their sales funnel as deeply as they could).

However, business owners also encounter an onslaught of messages that tells them: “You need to be on social media and if you’re not on ALL social channels, your business is as good as dead in the water.


Social media is a means of communication not a universal business strategy. It’s a way to engage with people, to connect with them, to listen, to have conversations, to advise, to help, to share… and yes, even sometimes to sell. Because it’s a means of communication, it’s also a useful marketing tool… but it is NOT a universal business strategy.

The reason is: Not all of your prospective customers are active on every social media channel or even ON every social media channel.

One client found that his target market of older professional men with an interest in cars were active on LinkedIn but not Facebook and definitely not Pinterest. Another client found that his target market of a specific group of real estate investors was active on Facebook but not Twitter or Instagram. One client found that his clients weren’t on social media at all.

Consumers use social media to connect and learn and share. But not all consumers do. Some don’t get it, others don’t feel the need, others don’t have time.

Many business owners seem to assume that ALL of their customers are on ALL social media ALL the time so they invest a lot of time and energy and money into building social brands. They discover a significant lack of engagement and zero return on all of that marketing investment.

The truth is very different: Some target markets are using some social media some of the time. (Sometimes more than others).

There are situations when a different approach works better. From direct mail to print ads to cold calling, just to name a few.


Before you invest heavily into every social media channel, figure out where your best customers spend their time. Are they hanging out on Twitter? Are they hanging out on Facebook? Great. Invest there. Or, as I suggested in another blog I run about copywriting or real estate investors, if your target market is spending more of their time at their kid’s softball tournaments, then skip social and sponsor the team.

Invest time thinking about where your audience’s attention is focused and that will tell you exactly how to connect with them.

It might be one or more social media channels… or it might not.

Are you using both types of marketing in your business?

I was putting together a marketing plan for a client recently and I was listing all of the places where they had already been marketing. Just in social media alone they were marketing on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, YouTube, a blog, Tumblr, Storify, Disqus, Quora, plus a couple of other industry-specific channels.

On top of that, there were other media channels as well: Multiple websites, print and display advertising, banner ads, and the list goes on and on. And they were looking to add more marketing methods to the mix.

It was turning into an awful lot of effort for my client. And there was a high cost. And the worst part was: There was very little understanding of what the results from each channel were. She was becoming overwhelmed at how many different media channels she needed to juggle and how much of that was eating into her bottom line.

And, like all business owners, she was tempted to adopt even more media channels to promote her business, because she wanted to grow. As I reviewed the channels she was currently using, I realized that “turning up the volume” on her marketing wasn’t necessarily going to help her.

And the same is true for your business, too. More marketing doesn’t necessarily turn into more clients. Here’s why…

Think of your marketing in these two different ways:

  • You’ve got the marketing that directly pushes people into your sales funnel, and further along in your sales funnel, until you are ready to ask them to buy from you.
  • And, you’ve got the marketing that doesn’t necessarily move people forward directly but it helps to support your credibility if and when they research you online.

Let’s call the first one “sales funnel marketing” and the second one “credibility marketing“.

Sales funnel marketing drives people into your sales funnel. Credibility marketing may have that impact but it does so indirectly. Rather, it acts as a promoter, credibility-builder, and helps to lock up your search results on Google.

Both types of marketing are necessary, but not in equal amounts. Unfortunately, a lot of business owners don’t differentiate between one type of marketing and the other and so they take the shotgun approach to marketing, just trying whatever channels they can get their hands on, and then doing more and more and more and more.

Here’s what should happen instead:

Your sales funnel marketing should receive the largest portion of your investment and it should also be the most measurable. And if you are going to overwhelm the market with one type of marketing, this sales funnel marketing should be the one you choose. The reason should be clear: This type of marketing pushes more and more prospective buyers toward a sale. It is directly responsible for the revenue you earn and the profit you keep. And it should be as measurable as possible. You need to pay attention to the numbers — how many people does it drive into your funnel with every deployment? What is the cost of deployment versus the return?

Your credibility marketing is where you can probably cut back. Choose a couple of different channels that you enjoy using, that have reasonable time/money/effort costs, that you can excel at. Don’t try to take on every marketing opportunity imaginable. Just pick a few things and do them well. Build a voice and an audience and a brand. Establish yourself in a few channels and you’ll gain more credibility that way than if you spread yourself thinly over several channels.

Now you’re going to ask me which channels are sales funnel marketing channels and which ones are credibility marketing channels. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that for you. It’s different for every business (and the answer is influenced by the target market and the industry and your skill in using that channel). For example: Twitter is a good credibility builder for some businesses but other businesses use it really well to as a sales funnel marketing channel. It really depends on how you use the channel and, again, on which channels that your target market is interested in.

So, if you are counting the cost of your marketing and trying to decide how you’ll possibly squeeze in ANOTHER marketing channel, first consider the role it plays. Is it a sales funnel marketing channel or a credibility marketing channel? Determine this, invest more of your time and money in the sales funnel marketing channels, and you’ll have a far greater return on your marketing effort.

5 laws of marketing ROI

The marketing you do for your business is an investment. You put in some combination of money, time, and effort and ideally you get back a return of some kind. A good marketing investment is one where the benefits you get in return far outweigh the costs (of money, time, and effort) that “spent” to deploy that marketing in the first place. Your return on investment (ROI) needs to be positive for your marketing to be worthwhile.

Here are 5 laws of marketing to help you improve your marketing ROI.

1. You need to have an accurate measure of what you are spending. Too often, business owners focus on the money they spend on their marketing but ignore the cost of the time and effort they spend. An entrepreneur might unwisely think they are benefiting because they are using a free marketing method when, in fact, they are simply not valuing the amount of time that the free marketing method requires of them.

2. You need to have an accurate idea of your ROI. There are many marketing opportunities out there but the benefit that a business can derive from each one varies wildly. Unfortunately, many marketing channels are chosen not because of their ROI potential but because everyone else is using it. Social media – including Facebook and Twitter – are just the latest in a long line of marketing channels that attract businesses with this “lemming effect”.

3. ROI is not always measured in prospects. Traditionally, marketing success has been measured in some very specific ways, such as: The increase in phone calls or inquiries, the number of new leads, or the increase in clicks to a website. But today’s variety of marketing channels offers several new ways to measure ROI. (Just don’t forget law #2!)

4. Marketing activities should always be done in the context of the sales funnel. With the variety of available marketing opportunities out there, many entrepreneurs can adopt new marketing channels and deploy them quickly then move on to another marketing channel and then another and then another. However, more successful marketing (with lower costs and better ROI) comes from first understanding the business’ sales funnel and then determining which marketing methods fit into the business’ sales funnel. That is a key difference in how marketing is planned and deployed.

5. All marketing is a test. The creation of a marketing effort (i.e. a website or a television commercial or even an article on an article website) has two functions – first, it needs to deliver the desired return; second, it needs to act as a test that informs the business owner about future marketing efforts. Where possible, marketing should be split-tested and the information used to determine the best ROI. Even where split testing is not possible, marketing can still provide a lesson for future marketing efforts.

Your business relies on marketing to run and grow. But not all marketing is created equal. Some marketing is costly (in ways you weren’t expecting), some marketing provides little or no ROI, and isn’t always easily measured in the way you expect to measure it. All marketing needs to work with all of your other efforts in your sales funnel, and you should never ever stop testing your marketing to improve its results.