Opening a new restaurant is hard work. From finding a space and working with contractors to hiring staff and building your menu, the list of operational projects is neverending (luckily, there are a lot of great operational resources to help you get your restaurant ready to open).
The bottom line? Marketing is usually the last concern on most operators’ minds—but it shouldn’t be.
In the months before opening, every operator should dedicate time to developing a strategy that ensures customers actually walk in the door when they finally open.
Want to know exactly what you need to focus on from a marketing perspective before you open your doors?
Keep reading to see what you should prioritize in the months leading up to opening to make sure your dining room is full when the time comes.
What To Do Before You Open
If you think you don’t need to start marketing your restaurant until it’s ready to open, think again.
In the months leading up to your opening, it’s crucial to spend time taking ownership over the channels where most customers will discover you, and to ensure that your presence on those channels is professional and conveys the brand you’re trying to create.
Claim Your Social Profiles
If you’re spending the time and money to make your physical space look professional and beautiful, you should make sure that your online presence follows suit.
Here are a few must-do’s in the months leading up to opening:
- Hire a good photographer: As you put the finishing touches on your space and your menu, invest in a photographer to take professional photos of the restaurant—and your food. (Tip: use a platform like Snappr to easily source a pro photographer.)
- Claim your social profiles: Claim your most important social handles at least a few months before opening. Focus on the networks preferred by diners searching for restaurants: Instagram, Yelp, Google, Facebook, and TikTok.
- Build a Website: Nothing makes a customer say “next!” like a restaurant without a website. Try a one-stop-shop platform like Bento if you don’t have time to build one yourself.
- Add content to your profiles: Upload your beautiful, professional photography to all your social profiles, and save your bio/description info in a Google doc so you can easily keep your messaging consistent across every social media platform.
Start Posting Consistently
About a month before you open, start getting active on social and posting regularly! The goal is to grow your audience and build anticipation of your opening.
- Post Frequently: Post several times a week, and be sure to share your accounts on any existing social profiles you already have to build follower counts. Too busy? Use a tool like Hootsuite to save time by scheduling posts at your convenience in advance.
- Don’t overcomplicate it: Food is some of the most popular content on social media, so continue snapping pictures/videos of what’s in front of you (the buildout, the menu, the chef cooking, etc.). Want ideas? Check here!
- Use Hashtags: Selectively using hashtags can help you be discovered by people searching for specific keywords. See some suggestions here.
- Give offers, discounts, and updates: Keep your audience updated on everything they need to know about your opening, and consider promoting special offers and deals for those followers in your first few weeks after opening.
And speaking of opening…
What To Do After You Open
Congratulations—after months (or years) of prep, you’ve finally opened! Now that the doors have opened and your costs are climbing as fast as ever, it’s time to make sure your seats are full as often as possible.
So, how can you ensure you’re being visited by more than just friends, family, and random passersby?
Start Testing PR and Paid Marketing
- Reach out to influencers: You don’t need a huge budget to get featured online! Search for hashtags related to your restaurant or competitors near you on Instagram to discover the handles of smaller influencers (ideally in the range of 1k-20k followers) who are already posting about similar restaurants. Send them a DM and offer to comp their meal if they visit and publish a post about you!
- Reach out to local press: Reach out to local publications and blogs to let them know you’ve opened. In your pitch, give a quick overview of the restaurant’s concept and your background (focus on the hook that makes you or your restaurant particularly unique), and even link to a PDF with a few more details about the business. And don’t be shy about pitching yourself to larger publications, like The Infatuation and Eater!
- Run temporary paid ads: Consider running paid promotions on Instagram and Yelp to drive awareness in the weeks following your launch. These can be effective channels for getting the word out to new customers in your area with little effort—just pay attention to how much you’re spending, and how much you’re making back.
Collect All Guest Data
- Select a CRM: If you’re using a modern Point of Sale system like Toast, or a reservations platform like Resy or OpenTable, you most likely already have access to a simple CRM that lets you send promotions and updates to your customers. If you don’t have a CRM integrated with your existing systems, consider a standalone option like Bikky.
- Collect guest emails: It’s crucial to collect emails for every customer who dines with you—otherwise, you may never be able to reach them again after they leave! If your POS doesn’t provide an easy method and incentive for guests to opt in to receive marketing emails, create your own QR code that guests can scan to join your email list (use Typeform to create a simple email capture form).
- Offer incentives for email opt-ins: To maximize the number of guests providing their email address via your in-store QR code, consider offering incentives like a free appetizer or dessert on their next visit to guests who opt in!
Use an Occupancy Management Tool
Finally, consider using an Occupancy Management tool like Seated to help you fill any gaps in your books that you see after the restaurant opens.
Seated is an easy way for new operators to quickly get in front of a huge network of people looking for last-minute reservations, all with zero effort, operational impact, or staff training. This means you can worry less about filling empty seats as you’re opening and focus more on delivering an amazing guest experience.
Most importantly, you won’t need to invest time and money in online marketing campaigns that are difficult to track, since Seated lets you see every guest who filled an empty seat in one simple dashboard.
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