No Money? No Problem! Restaurant Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

Rapper and cultural icon Notorious B.I.G. once said, “I don’t know what they want from me, it’s like the more money we come across the more problems we see.” 

Honestly, he’s not wrong, either. In a world where companies are spending millions of dollars each year trying to discover the “next big thing,” small people like you and me are trying to MacGyver our way to success with nothing but $50, two pieces of chewing gum and half of a shoelace. 

While it’s nice to think about how great it would be to have the budgets those big companies have, the truth is you don’t need to dump a ton of money into marketing your business to see some kind of tangible results. Thanks to the power of the Internet, wordofmouth marketing and some clever tricks to get your restaurant noticed, you can get your business in front of the right eyes without having to risk a lot of money on trial and error.

Every Restaurant Should Have a Website 

You’ve opened the doors to your restaurant and garnered all that free media attention that comes with it, but now what? Well, do you have a website? If you don’t, now is a great time to make the investment to build one. 

Of course, you might be thinking to yourself, “But Gino, I run a burger bar downtown. Why do I need a website?” It’s a fair question to ask, especially because the Internet isn’t going to magically purchase enough burgers to sustain your restaurant during your first few months of operatingHowever, there are a couple reasons to take a minute and set up your own domain.  

Source: The Wrap / Giphy

A website is your restaurant’s personal piece of real estate on the World Wide Web and you can do almost anything you want with it. Make sure your menu is easily visible on your site and offer customers a chance to learn more about you and what makes your restaurant tick. Post daily or weekly specials, share videos of your happy waitstaff and cooks doing what they like to do, and even take the time to maintain and curate a blog. 

While having a website isn’t going to make your restaurant an overnight success, it’s going to do several things. First, it’s going to serve as your business card. Did you know that according to 2018 Pew Internet study, 89% of American adults are on the Internet? Even more interesting is the fact that about two-thirds of adults over the age of 65 use the Internet. When you look at target demographics like millennials, that number is nearly 100%. 

Our online lives allow us to connect with more than 7 billion other people around the world with the click of a button. You’re missing out on a ton of people if you aren’t online, including those who might live right around the corner from your place but have no idea who you are.

Unfortunately for you, those people you’re missing out on likely are spending money. According to 2015 data from Restaurant Marketing Labsmillennials spent about $174 each month on eating out, and about $20 more compared to other generations. Additionally, close to 9-in-10 millennials will pull the trigger on a nice dinner, even if they’re a bit cash-strapped.  

Having a website also gives you a chance to be found in Google when people do local searches. If you don’t have a background in basic search engine optimization (SEO), when people perform searches Google does its best to bring back a relevant result. It’s always attempting to solve the user’s problem as quickly and easily as possible. Having a website helps your restaurant because when someone performs a localized search (let’s say “best burgers in Utica, NY), Google will pull the web results it deems most capable of answering that person’s query. 

Let’s take a look at those search results for “best burgers in Utica, NY.” The first thing that pops up is a map with several local places with burgers on the menu. Scroll a little further down and you’re inundated with travel sites highlighting the 10 best burger joints in the city. After that? A few local media websites and restaurants. 

By having a website that has good content on it and provides all the information your customers want, it may encourage Google to rank your site higher. When people perform local searches, the goal is for your site to be seen before others competing in your space. 

It’s not expensive to do, either. You can build your own basic website using a free template provided by one of several hosting companies, and sites like GoDaddy, Wix and DreamHost are constantly offering deals to get people to sign up for their services. If you’re looking for a site that has a little bit more of a custom feel, that will likely cost you more money, but you’ll have much more control over how people interact with your pages. 

While we’re on the topic of Google… don’t forget to sign up for “Google My Business.” In fact, if you haven’t registered your business and site with GMB, do it right now. I’ll wait. 

The reason GMB is so important for restaurants, especially smaller ones, is that it literally puts you on the (Google) map. Make sure you fill out your profile with as much information as you can because Google will pull that data when it tries to answer user queries. Although Yahoo and Bing don’t draw nearly the search share Google does they offer similar services. I would suggest getting set up on all three to give yourself a fighting chance in every search arena. 

Word-of-Mouth Marketing 2.0 

Source: Simpsons World / Giphy

We’ve all had a time in our lives when we were planning to do, buy or eat something and were quickly told that it was either a great or terrible idea. The same can be said when your users are online. According to Invesp88% of consumers say they trust the opinions of people they know more than anything else when it comes to making a purchase. Just because the world has moved online and you have a freshly-designed websiteit doesn’t mean you’ve automatically got a leg up on those around you. 

There are plenty of great restaurants that have a terrible or non-existent online presence but absolutely kill it because their word-of-mouth marketing is so good. That largely comes from delighting customers and offering them the best experience possible each time they walk through the door. Customers are just as likely to suggest your restaurant to others as they are to bad mouth it, and that comes from small things like slightly cold food, a waiter having an off night or just plain inattention. Providing your visitors with just the right ambiance, experience and quality is a winning recipe. 

Encourage your guests to share their experiences on Yelp and TripAdvisor. By having them leave a review on third-party sites, you’re building a word-of-mouth database that others will find when they decide what to have for dinner. It also helps you land in more spots on the search engine results pages (SERPs), because sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor pull reviews of your restaurant on their pages and compare them with other eateries in the area to create “top lists.” See? That website I told you to build a few minutes ago is already paying you back! 

Offline Marketing Still Works 

The world has largely moved online, but that doesn’t mean traditional marketing hasn’t got a place in your toolkit. Fun signs, coupons and loyalty programs still work, and so does garnering local media attention. In smaller media markets where news doesn’t happen non-stop, there’s sometimes room for a good local story. Volunteering in your community, hosting charity drives and making your restaurant a social gathering place still hold a spot in peoples’ hearts. 

At the end of the day, sometimes the almighty dollar doesn’t have to be the goal. Sometimes, just being able to make a difference in the community using the skills you have and being open to new experiences and people is just enough to get you noticed and rewarded.

Don’t believe me? There are plenty of stats to back this thought up. According to a 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study, nearly 80% of Americans think companies should do more than just try to make a profit. In fact, they believe the companies they buy from and support should positively impact society as a whole.

Almost as important is a similar Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Premium Index study suggesting that a vast majority of Americans prioritize companies that are responsible (86%), caring (85%) and protect the environment (79%). While that’s not to say your restaurant should be out saving the Earth, it might be nice to support your community by hosting aevent, volunteering with your local charitable cause or just offering a pay-it-forward program. Small offerings and gestures can often do a lot more to help your restaurant than harm it. 

As they always say, “It doesn’t cost a dime to be nice.”

Want more marketing tips and tricks? Check out part two of this series!