Restaurant communications strategy guide

The anatomy of a proven restaurant communications strategy

If you want to survive market upheaval and increase your revenue over the next five to ten years, then a restaurant communications strategy is your blueprint for success.

Stay competitive with a defined plan for restaurant communications that accounts for past, present, and future goals while increasing revenue across all platforms.

Communications Strategy

The food industry has never been a get-rich-quick scheme for restaurant operators—partially due to slim margins, tricky labor markets, and rising costs across the board.

An effective restaurant communications strategy should be your go-to plan, influencing every decision you make and action you take. The content in your restaurant comms strategy supplies the data to:

  • Formulate your social media strategy.
  • Develop your restaurant crisis communications plan.
  • Structure your loyalty program.

Restaurant owners’ pain points

  • The fast clip of tech advances driven, in part, by consumer expectations. Today’s restaurant customer expects to access your brand seamlessly across numerous platforms.
  • The woes of third-party delivery like substantial fees and a loss of brand awareness, make it tougher to distinguish your restaurant.
  • A hundred different SaaS companies vying for your money without clear information on which offers the highest ROI is confusing.

Define your restaurant’s business goals

A restaurant communications plan supports your business’s goals.

Everyone wants to increase their profits. Turn general goals into a precise plan for success.

Those goals might be set by your customers’ behavior. Nowadays, a customer might pull up your menu on their phone, laptop, or tablet. Perhaps they mute their call and use voice search to find a local eatery that offers delivery.

Customers anticipate that every way they interact with your restaurant will look and feel the same way. You can use that knowledge to define clear business goals.

Each step you take along the way to building your communications strategy will help you reach out to your audience while directly reflecting back on your business goals.

  • Finance. Choose objectives that increase your Gross Profit after Prime Costs (GPPC) by reducing labor or food costs while boosting sales. Break this down into weekly milestones for easy measurement.
  • Customer service. Set performance goals for staff and management that focus on improving customer experience. Use feedback from guests to refine your standards for table service or delivery, then pick precise goals for FOH employees to meet within a specified amount of time.
  • Food quality. Specify objectives that enhance your food and determine how you’ll measure these goals. For example, if you want to change a product that performs poorly in delivery, then after the trial period, you should consider how guests responded to the change and compare that to the overall cost of the product and labor.
  • Marketing. Choose high-level goals, like increasing brand awareness on social media or growing your restaurant loyalty program. Include specific long- and short-term objectives, along with how you will measure and share this data with your team.
  • Employee Training. Set goals for new hires and current staff that engage your team and improve employee brand advocacy. Group and individual goals should set measurable outcomes that provide recognition for meeting the objective.

Define your restaurant’s communications goals

What are you known for and how will you communicate that to your audience?
SMART goals

At any given time, your Instagram photo or video of piping hot soup might entice a viewer to check out your menu from their mobile phone. Get the most out of every dollar by understanding how each dollar earns you a return.

Applying SMART goals setting to a business goal

If one of your business goals for marketing includes brand awareness (and it should!), then turn that into a communications objective.

For example, Jessie’s Organic Eatery wants to increase local brand awareness of their new lunch specials on Instagram this quarter, then they would set a SMART goal.

  • SPECIFIC: Increase local brand awareness of lunch specials at Jessie’s Organic Eatery on Instagram.
  • MEASURABLE: Boost engagement rate on restaurant posts with local promotions by 15%. Increase the number of followers who live in the area by 20%. Use Google and Instagram analytics to measure rate and demographics.
  • ACHIEVABLE: Use three local hashtags per post. Tag brand ambassadors, including employees and loyal fans, in local promotions. Engage with one non-competing local brand that shares a similar audience each week.
  • RELIABLE: Market research and competitive analysis show us that more than 50% of our eatery’s local target audience uses Instagram during lunch hours, so this goal is relevant and worth investing the time and money.
  • TIME-BOUND: Within three months, assess how close Jessie’s Organic Eatery is to meeting their goal.

Conduct discovery, research, and segmentation

The restaurants that create and promote content without listening to what their ideal customers need or want are wasting precious time.

Can you communicate how you’re different from your competitors without being snarky or putting another brand down?

With competitive analysis, you’ll identify which platforms your competition uses, what type of responses they get, and how they differentiate their business from your restaurant. Use this analysis to:

  • Highlight the differences between your restaurant and your competition.
  • Find areas where you are outperforming competitors.
  • Brainstorm ideas for promotion and PR outreach.

Karen Anderson, senior vice president of strategy and consumer insights at Arby’s, told QSR that, “Part of designing your target and whom you want to talk to is about making some choices, and you’re going to prioritize some people over others.” By prioritizing and segmenting your audience, you get the best return on your communications investment.

Dig into your data sources

  • When are you guests online? Do they share food pics during their business lunches or hit Instagram hard on the weekend?
  • How does the timing of off-premise sales compare to in-house guests? Do customers on various platforms prefer specific items that differ from in-store menu favorites?
  • Review the habits of guests who access your restaurant brand through multiple platforms. Do customers who join your loyalty program also use your reservation system or sign-up for restaurant events on Facebook?
  • Comb through POS data to pinpoint top performing products and combine that data with specific guest feedback.

You’ll find out when when your guests are snacking and what they’re snacking on! All of these details guide your communications strategy and enable you to personalize your promotions to capture the attention of your ideal audience.

Audience Segmentation

Create messaging to support your restaurant’s brand vision

Concise, targeted messaging ensures the consistency that attracts your ideal customer and satisfies their needs.

Strategic messaging distinguishes your restaurant from competitors.

Clear messaging eliminates any confusion about why they should dial you up, order in, or drop by. It provides you with a solid position and strong voice. Once your messaging is locked in, you can repurpose it for future content and campaigns, changing it slightly depending on the platform.

Consistent messaging = consistent positioning = consistent customers.

Zero in on your restaurant’s brand voice: the tone you set for how you talk to your customers—beyond the words you say and instead how those words make people feel.

Plus, planning out your key messaging, value proposition, and mission gives everyone in your restaurant clear objectives.

Take into consideration how your core messages perform across a variety of touch points.

Communication standards that apply only to in-house diners hurt your business far more than those that manage to sustain your value proposition across multiple mediums.

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Identify the best communications channels for your restaurant

Focus on the channels that will have the greatest return on investment in boosting customers for your restaurant, increasing visibility, and expanding your network within the community.

Consumers want responsive, authentic, and transparent communications from all brands. It’s nearly impossible to stand out if you spend all your time marketing to others without engaging with restaurant guests and providing value.

A restaurant communications strategy breaks down the various digital touch points that influence your audience. For the best results, choose a diverse marketing mix.

Consider these statistics:

  • Over 1 billion restaurant visits by consumers are influenced by online marketing. (Monetate)
  • 63% of restauranteurs use social media for advertising. (Toast)
  • Out of all industries, consumers read restaurant reviews more than any other industry. (BrightLocal)

Communications channels

  • Social media. Go where your audience is at now. For restaurants, Instagram is where it’s at. But, if your target audience still uses Facebook or your young staff is on Snapchat, then incorporate these platforms into your content calendar.
  • PR opportunities. Seek out local food bloggers, editors, and writers as part of your PR outreach strategy. Don’t be shy. Write up press releases for employee promotions and special recognitions.
  • Restaurant reviews. Foodies read reviews. Which platforms receive the most comments in your area? That’s where you want to be.
  • Website. Consider ways to generate interest on your website by embedding social media streams and adding pages that answer your guests’ top questions. Include a pop-up for event promotions and loyalty program membership drives.
  • SMS / messaging apps. Use geofencing to target a specific audience at the right time with a personalized promotion.
  • Google My Business. Determine how often you’ll review and respond to questions on GMB or if you can designate a team member as an expert.

Create a content calendar and delivery plan

A content calendar will help your team be even more unified on the message and will give everyone a clear understanding of needed deliverables and timeline.

A well-defined content calendar that lays out platform-specific objectives with a predetermined schedule is crucial. Use your research—which identified the optimal communications channels and timing—to create a mix of content that helps you reach your objectives.

For example, if data shows your restaurant guests use Instagram heavily during the weekend, then look for ways to incorporate additional content during this timeframe. Consider increasing your user-generated content from your audience and staff to boost brand awareness.

Go through an online calendar and search for national events to build promotions around. When a food holiday for smoothies, lobster, or pizza comes around, you’re prepared with content (and hashtags) that capture your audience’s attention.

Show neighborhood goodwill by including local events on your content calendar and promoting non-competing businesses and charities. Search for extra ways to boost sales by mentioning or tagging local business owners, restaurant guests, or staff.

Your content calendar covers online and offline promotions, so fill in how you’ll use direct mail, loyalty, and email programs to extend your reach.

Each type of communications should tie to a specific goal. List how you’ll measure the objective and who will track its progress.

  • Timing. From when to post online to the best time to send an SMS with a coupon, each restaurant communications goal needs a time-based metric.
  • Frequency. Perhaps you send out two emails a month but post to Instagram 30 times. The frequency needs to be channel-specific.
  • Content sources. You may rely on SaaS services for preset messages, or you may have a list of local influencers and loyal fans that provide user-generated-content.
  • Responsiveness. Each platform is an area where restaurant customers can reach you or try to get your attention. It’s crucial to create standards to meet guests’ expectations across touch points.

Create metrics and evaluate the plan

A communications strategy is only as effective as the evaluation stage and how agile the team is when it’s clearly time to pivot.

This last step is one of the most important components of the entire communications plan: determine how well your efforts are working.

To accurately evaluate the plan, you need to have a clear idea of your baseline. The research you performed and the SMART goals you developed should give you a roadmap to clearly evaluate quantifiable impact.

Include benchmarks for each of your goals: like the number of new Facebook followers or amount of dollars raised in the last campaign.

Need help? Get in touch!

For more tips and advice from our restaurant communications specialists, visit our blog

Communications Strategy Review & Tips

Hold a plan review every quarter (or within a set amount of time) to go over what is working and what isn’t.

  • Customize metrics to the platform and goal.
  • Use A/B testing to determine the best communications strategy for your objective.
  • Which benchmarks did you miss? Which have you hit?
  • How can you pivot to better reach those you have not yet attracted?

Adjust your plan accordingly to prop up what’s working well and fix what’s not.

This communications strategy was devised by our content specialist and research analyst, Jessica Elliott, in collaboration with 816 New York’s team. ©2019 816 New York, LLC. All Rights Reserved.