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As a restaurant owner, your goal is to deliver exceptional food in an appealing environment. However, positive dine-in, takeout, and delivery experiences can only get you so far. To stay relevant and encourage repeat business, you must engage customers across a range of channels.

That’s where marketing comes in — it keeps your small business at the top of customers’ minds and gives them an incentive to come in for a meal. Whether your target audience responds best to daily email marketing messages or mouthwatering social media posts, mastering marketing is a key to long-term success in the restaurant industry.

Not sure how to get started? Level up your next campaign and maximize ROI with our top marketing tips for small business owners.

Why marketing your small business is crucial

Next to serving high-quality food, marketing is one of the most important activities for your small business. Done well, restaurant marketing achieves a few important goals:

  • Boosts brand awareness. The primary goal of marketing is to let potential customers know that your restaurant exists. When you get your brand name and imagery in front of more people, it automatically builds awareness and familiarity.
  • Increases revenue. Boosting brand awareness and promoting your food typically leads to higher sales.
  • Creates a connection with customers. Marketing messages can establish a powerful emotional connection with your target audience. That’s critical — when someone resonates with your restaurant’s style, cuisine, or values, they may be more likely to give you their business.
  • Reinforces your reputation. Have you ever noticed that large brands continue to run promotional campaigns even after they’re a household name? That’s because high-quality marketing strengthens a company’s reputation and reinforces customers’ positive perceptions.
  • Keeps you competitive. Marketing is one way to distinguish your small business from competitors — that way, it’s easier to attract diners who want what you’re offering. It also keeps your restaurant’s name at the forefront of customers’ minds, which can help it stay relevant in a fast-paced market.

Building a small business marketing strategy

Whether you’re running an independent local business or a nationwide restaurant chain, use these offline and online marketing tips to build an effective strategy.

1. Know your target audience

The first step in creating a marketing strategy is simple: Know your audience. How old are they? Are they professionals? Retirees? Families with children? Do they come to you for a quick and delicious meal, or are they looking to have a specific experience?

The more you know about your customers, the easier it is to create powerful marketing materials and messages. If you know your customers care deeply about locally sourced foods, for example, you could run a social media marketing campaign introducing your suppliers. If you cater largely to busy professionals, your content might focus on lunch delivery or daily specials.

2. Define your value proposition

Your restaurant’s value proposition is a statement that describes the benefits and value you offer customers — it explains why they should choose your establishment over another local restaurant.

Not sure what sets your business apart? Try these tips to narrow down the options:

  • Assess and analyze your competitors. Determine what your restaurant does differently or better than other local businesses.
  • Read customer reviews. Look for trends in positive feedback to determine how your restaurant adds value to customers’ lives.
  • Look at your core business documents. Read through your mission statement, business plan, and marketing strategy documents; they can remind you of the original purpose of the business. 

A value proposition doesn’t need to be grand or groundbreaking. For example, you might want to: 

  • Offer friendlier, more flexible service than any other restaurant in town
  • Serve gluten-free food without the risk of cross-contamination
  • Create a welcoming and affordable experience for people from all walks of life

Your restaurant’s value proposition should be the heart of your small business marketing strategy. It can inform your messaging, inspire new marketing ideas, and drive the selection of content marketing channels. That way, you’re always highlighting the unique value your restaurant brings to customers.

3. Set marketing goals

Goals help you gauge the success of a small business marketing campaign. Typically, marketing goals are measured in terms of key performance indicators (KPIs) — metrics that help you determine progress toward a specific objective. If one of your goals is to build a larger, more engaged social media following, for example, your KPIs might include growth in Instagram followers or the number of likes, comments, and shares posts get.

It’s important to set goals for each initiative in your marketing plan. Common goals for restaurants include:

  • Increasing web traffic
  • Building brand awareness 
  • Creating an email marketing list
  • Growing the following for each social media account
  • Adding more customer loyalty program members
  • Expanding your online presence

Once you establish KPIs for each goal, track them consistently. Keep an eye out for changes — they can help you determine which marketing ideas are successful and which need to be adjusted. If you see a dip in website traffic on Google Analytics, you may need to revisit your search engine optimization strategy. If you’re stuck at 200-500 views on TikTok, you might consider switching to a different social media platform or developing a more trend-focused digital marketing strategy.

4. Leverage social media

Social media is critical to any modern restaurant marketing strategy. The most popular platforms are highly visual in nature, giving you an opportunity to showcase your food and ambiance. And since they’re free to use, they fit easily into your small business budget. Plus, chances are good that your existing customers and potential customers are already there — according to the Pew Research Center, 81% of adults aged 30 to 49 use social media. The same is true for 84% of people aged 18 to 29 and 73% of adults between the ages of 50 and 64.

Some ways to maximize your social media presence include:

  • Strike the right tone. Use language and image styles that feel like an extension of your restaurant brand. This strategy creates a consistent experience across all points of contact, which builds familiarity and strengthens customer relationships. 
  • Use both photo and video marketing. Strong visuals draw in social media users; video content is a great way to keep their attention.
  • Consider influencer marketing. Pay local food bloggers and Instagram influencers to try your restaurant and post about their experience. These posts help expose your brand to more people and provide social proof for new customers.
  • Try a variety of platforms and marketing tactics. Experimenting with different styles helps you determine what your target audience responds to.
  • Use social media ads. Invest in Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook ads to get your profile in front of a wider group of users.

Posting on social media takes time, which can be challenging for small business owners. To create a more efficient process, spend one day per week or month creating marketing content. Then, use marketing automation tools to schedule posts in advance across a range of channels. 

5. Learn to love content marketing

Complement your social media presence with content marketing — promoting your restaurant with written, visual, and audio content. Common content types include:

  • Blog posts
  • Landing pages
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Memes
  • Email marketing

You don’t need to do everything; the goal is to choose a few types of online marketing content that work for your audience.

Not sure where to start? Tap into Grubhub’s free social media templates to showcase your cuisine and run national food holiday promotions to boost sales.

6. Consider customer loyalty programs

Encourage repeat business and boost your bottom line with a customer loyalty program. To start, give customers points or punches every time they come in. After they hit a certain threshold, reward them with discounts, free items, or special prizes. Whenever possible, use a digital loyalty program — it’s an easy way to get customers’ email addresses, which you can use for other online marketing efforts.

7. Try local marketing

This type of marketing is designed to reach customers in your geographic area. Some local marketing ideas to try include:

  • Use search engine optimization to improve your position in search results.
  • Claim and complete a Google My Business profile.
  • Hand out traditional marketing materials including business cards and printed delivery menus.

Boost your marketing with Grubhub for Restaurants

As you develop a digital marketing strategy, use Grubhub to enhance your efforts. In addition to offering industry-leading delivery and takeout capabilities, our platform offers marketing performance tracking, social media templates, and built-in promotions.

Need help managing your online orders? Check out Direct, a commission-free online ordering website. Looking for social media inspiration? Our team creates Canva templates you can customize to suit your business. We even have a guide to national food holidays to help you build a relevant promotional calendar.

To take advantage of these resources and receive digital marketing tips, sign up for restaurant insights today.