Restaurant Marketing Plan: Planning for Success

Does your restaurant need a restaurant marketing plan? Or is it enough that people come because the food and service are good. Certainly, if your tables are full every day, you probably don’t need one (unless, of course, you’d like to make a bigger profit). Simply put, a restaurant marketing plan is a plan for success. If you agree that you need a restaurant marketing plan and are able to write one, we don’t have to convince you of its importance. But before you sit down to write it, keep in mind that a restaurant marketing plan has to cover much more than the 4P’s taught in Marketing 101: product, price, place, and promotion. Restaurant marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Great marketing is about solid operational execution, effective positioning and the cumulative results of marketing inside the four walls of your restaurant and in the immediate trading area, not taking over the airwaves. Effective restaurant marketing must be built on a foundation of fact and knowledge about the market, your competition, your customers, financial history, marketing history, the industry, and outside forces that will impact your business. Be sure you’re keeping track not only of overhead and income, but know the answers to questions about business progress:

What percentage of your business is new vs. repeat?

For example, instruct your serves to at least ask the very simple question, “Have you been here before?” These first-time customers will establish their opinion of your restaurant during this first visit.

How often do existing customers return?

Frequency is generated by developing enduring relationships and loyalty among customers. It’s easy to imagine how much business would increase if customers who come to your restaurant once a month, returned once a week. And we both know there are many ways of increasing loyalty and frequency, without spending money on media.

What’s your check average?

Check averages can be built through price increases, suggestive selling programs, effective internal merchandizing, and through add-ons or upgrades to name but a few techniques. If the check average shifts up or down dramatically, be sure you know why, and make it a part of your restaurant marketing plan.

Do customers primarily visit alone, in twos or in groups?

Whatever the number, you’ll want to devise programs that encourage customers to bring more of their friends with them for each visit. Examples of programs include bus drivers eat free, birthday clubs and refer-a-friend tactics. Encouraging party size turns customers into advocates and enlists them as part of your sales-building team.

Knowing all you need to include in a restaurant marketing plan is vital, but how much should you budget for marketing?

A typical restaurant should allocate 3% – 6% of sales to marketing. It’s also a good idea to allocate this money proportionally to your sales volume. Meaning, if July is your busiest month, you should spend a proportionate amount on your restaurants marketing budget in that month. One of the most common marketing mistakes is not spending money when business is good. Fish where the fish are biting. If your location depends on seasonal business, like at a ski or beach resort, it’s obvious you should promote when the potential customers are in town. All the money in the world can’t bring in people, if the people aren’t there. Likewise, if your location is not convenient for a happy hour crowd, don’t throw away money trying to build one. Marketing can’t change behavior, it can only influence existing behavior.

Spend your marketing dollar where it will have the best return for your restaurant. And remember, if your restaurant marketing plan is allocating a large percentage of your marketing budget on print and broadcast advertising to gain new business, you’re wasting your money. It’s sad really, but up to 90% of restaurant marketing budgets are spent against new trial – getting a new customer to visit for the first time. This is the least effective place to spend your money. The fact is, new customer acquisition is 7-10 times more expensive than building restaurant sales through increased frequency, check average and party size. All too often, restaurant marketing isn’t always about what’s most effective, but about what everyone else is doing. Some restaurant operators see that their competitor is on television or in the yellow pages or on a billboard and think they should be too. A much more economical and effective way is to make yourself known to your market through public relations.