Supporting Restaurant Expansion Through Smart, Local Marketing Efforts

Senior Friends Happy HourFour ways to build your customer base in new markets

When a restaurant brand starts expanding outside of its home territory, it’s tough to gain traction. Your business was initially built around your location, suppliers and consumer base. When you expand beyond those, everything changes.

Today I’m going to focus on consumer base. How do you convince a whole new set of consumers to visit your restaurant – ideally often, especially if there’s low awareness of your brand in that area? Whether you’re a regional chain entering a new market or just a single restaurant embarking on your second restaurant in a new location, I have four marketing tips to help make the transition as successful as possible.

  1. Reflect local tastes on your menu

Okay, so this one touches several aspects of your business, not just marketing. Do your research on local tastes. I’m not suggesting you overhaul your menu – rather, I’m recommending that you incorporate flavors that are reflective of the area while staying true to your core offerings.

Smashburger does a great job of this, usually offering at least one menu item that is unique to a particular region, such as the Carolina Chili burger in their South and North Carolina locations.

  1. Engage your existing fans to generate grand opening buzz

We’ve covered grand openings before, but I can’t overstate the importance of generating as much buzz as possible ahead of time around your restaurant’s big day.

You might be surprised to find that even in areas where your restaurant isn’t very well-known, there are often at least a few people who know and love your brand. Do your homework. Find these people and engage them via social media a few weeks before you open. Offer them coupons or invitations in exchange for helping you champion your brand on social channels. If you can find a fan who is a local influencer, such as a blogger or reporter, even better!

  1. Ingrain your restaurant in the local culture

If you are an established regional chain moving outside of your territory, this one can be difficult.

Let’s say you’re a well-known Pennsylvania classic – how do you make people in Indiana feel like your restaurant has a place in their daily lives? The answer is to get local. Find out what matters to the local community, and make your restaurant a part of that. Sponsor little league teams. Host fundraising events. Cheer on your new state’s premier sports teams. It won’t happen overnight, but in time your restaurant will feel like it was part of the community all along.

  1. Pump extra marketing funds into the new location 8-12 weeks post-opening

Even for restaurants who have a successful grand opening, it’s common to see the honeymoon period end 2-3 months later. At this point, many restaurants experience a dip in sales. This is a good time to pump a few extra dollars into that market. Radio sponsorships, social promotions or traffic-driving display advertising on Waze are all great ways to continue raising awareness levels in the new area.

Now, there are certainly no guarantees when a restaurant expands outside of its original territory, but these four tips will help put you on the path to success.

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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A Brief Keyword and Content Guide for Restaurant Marketing

seo.jpgUsing these SEO tactics will help restaurant websites rank for a larger volume of keywords and develop more original content.

Restaurant marketers and brand managers obsess over variations of the question “Why isn’t my website ranking better?”. As a result, they are blind to the fact it misses the breadth of opportunity that SEO is built to capture.

For example, a brand manager might fixate on ranking for “Boulder Tacos.” They can certainly work to rank for that term, and over time they might actually rank and consider their SEO efforts successful. But think about all the keywords they missed.

It’s like commercial fishing with a spear and a snorkel.

In my experience, it’s best to develop a keyword and subsequent content net based on the following buckets:

1. Branded Terms – If your site was built with any technical prowess, and you’re not locking up branded terms in images and logos, these rankings should come easy. These terms are obviously the name of your restaurant, but should also include variations. Think IMM, IMM Bar, IMM Bar and Grill, IMM Restaurant, IMM Grill, IMM Food, etc. These days, Google is pretty good at contextual search, so don’t feel like you need to include all of these terms together. If your brand guidelines state that your restaurant should only be signaled a specific way in copy, that’s fine. Just be sure to include other keywords in close proximity (same paragraph, page, etc.).

Keyword example: Chili’s.

  1. Local Intent – A lot of restaurant searches have local intent. Have you ever looked for a good restaurant in a new city? Have you ever searched for a good sushi place? The behavior generally involves a combination of “city” + “keyword” or “keyword” + “near me”. A lot of restaurant websites miss the mark here. They focus on the food but less on the community. So, it’s important to have content both about your services, as well as the city and neighborhood you serve (maps, parking directions, address, things nearby, etc.). Obviously, it’s also helpful to have a local listings management platform, especially if you have multiple locations.

Keyword examples: Boulder BBQ, Boulder Steakhouse.

  1. Restaurant Category – It’s important to execute keyword research around what type of restaurant you’re marketing. For example, a BBQ restaurant has a group of closely related keywords: “BBQ,” “barbeque,” “smokehouse,” “pit bbq” or “smoke shack”. Figure out what keywords have the best opportunities and develop content around those keywords. Make sure you’re using related keywords naturally throughout that content.

Keyword examples: Smokehouse, pit bbq, smoke shack, barbeque.

  1. Menu Items – Most restaurants miss ranking opportunities around their menu items, simply because they don’t have enough content for each item. If you have regular menu items, it’s a good idea to give each item a unique page, with images, videos and quality content. If we expand upon our BBQ example, this tactic gives a restaurant a better shot at ranking for terms around ribs, brisket, BBQ pork, etc.

Keyword examples: ribs, brisket, BBQ pork, cornbread

  1. Happy hours/specials – While the competition is generally high around happy hour terms, most restaurant websites don’t have dedicated content. Instead, there might be outdated specials or happy hour times on an hours section of the homepage. If you have a great happy hour, write about it.

Keyword examples: best happy hour, “brand” + happy hour, “city” + happy hour.

  1. Delivery/To-go – It’s not enough to add a note to the top of your website that says you have delivery. Devote a page to it. Answer common questions users might have and do everything you can to keep engagement high.

Keyword examples: “city” + delivery, “brand” + to-go, “category (bbq)” + “delivery”

So, the moral of this story is don’t go keyword fishing with a spear and a snorkel. Cast a wide net and remain open to variety of flavors.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Casual Dining in the Streaming Age

Mobile photographyCDR does not have to be ‘dead’ – but they do need to lean in to their cultural currency

OK, let’s be honest, as a marketer, you watched Super Bowl LI for the commercials, right? Don’t get me wrong, Lady Gaga was pretty impressive. I definitely was not expecting that mic drop and jump off the platform at the end of her performance.

But back to the advertising – Buffalo Wild Wings was the only restaurant to show up, and that makes sense as sports is one of their key brand pillars, as well as the genesis for the restaurant concept. And while there were many ads that touched on the current political landscape, there were a few ads that really caught my attention, and Netflix’s Stranger Things was certainly one of them.

First, this Super Bowl saw a distinct increase in TV series commercials vs. Film advertisements – that’s a testament to the shifting consumer behavior and eyeballs moving more and more toward streaming content vs. broadcast. And that’s where the opportunity for restaurant marketers is – get in on the Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube content trains. It’s way easier and cheaper to go this route — just look at Eggo’s success story! Sure, this was a profitable happenstance and not necessarily a strategic move on either party, but what if you could lean into your cultural currency for one of the many upcoming shows that will be released next year?

I loved what Azher Ahmed said about this phenomenon because I think that this is the core issue that the casual dining category is facing today. They are trying to be something that they aren’t. By ignoring, or even shunning, what cultural currency they have left, CDRs are alienating their core and simultaneously sounding inauthentic to the new Millennial and post-Millennial audiences – that’s a lose-lose strategy.

Stranger Things reminds us that nostalgia is a powerful emotion that, when harnessed correctly, can be used to bring in your diehard loyalists while also creating a halo effect to start to pull in the Snapchatters of the world.

So, grab onto your restaurant’s cultural currency – don’t be afraid to own your restaurant’s heritage and use that as a basis to reinvigorate your core guests. Try to pitch your restaurant as the go-to spot for the main characters of an Amazon or Hulu show – even if there is some self-deprecation involved. Just because the characters of the show may not fit your target guest profile doesn’t necessarily mean that the viewers of the show won’t.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Your Online Restaurant Marketing Can Help Build Lasting Customer Relationships

Cafeteria Good Food Critic Review Tablet Technology ConceptUse social media and online marketing to connect with your customers.

When people hear the word ‘restaurant marketing,’ words like BOGO, table tents and Happy Hour specials start to come to mind. While all of those things are great tools for encouraging your guests to dine with you, they are a one-to-many vehicle for communication.

Here are some really easy and quick ways to start building a personal relationship with your guests:

  1. Social Platforms – Are you present on the usual suspects such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat?

Social is so rich with information on your guests and what they like and don’t like about your restaurant and the general zeitgeist. Think about surprising and delighting some of your best influencers with their favorite menu item (which you would know because you are paying attention). That guest will be yours for years to come and encourage others to come with.

Try reposting and tagging photos that your customers are sharing of your food. This will show that you are paying attention and appreciate their business.

  1. Email Marketing – Sure, some have shunned their inboxes for short-form texts, but according to eMarketer there are still over 240MM email users with median ROIs of 122% – the inbox is not dead, folks. 

The great thing about email is that your guest has raised their hand and said they want to engage with you on a deeper level. The last thing you want to do is screw that up by offering generic newsletter updates and offers only.

Get personal here – this is an area where your guests are OK with you looking at the data and providing a custom experience. Does your guest prefer beer or hard liquor? Do they have kids, if yes, how old are they? What is their kid’s favorite menu item? Don’t know? Well, there is still time to start down that journey with your guests.

  1. Content Marketing – Today, advertising and marketing is all about exchanging value with your guests. Bring them in to your world by sharing stories and they will likely share some back.

Showcase your staff and their stories – the ‘why’ behind their passion for working at your restaurant. Talk about the chef and the cooks and what excites them about food. Make the experience with your restaurant more than transactional and your guests will view it as a relationship not easily replaced by the cheaper and more convenient competition down the street.

In the current age of digital and social media, one-to-one conversations are happening and if you aren’t already taking advantage of this change in consumer behavior then your competition has probably snuck in and started doing it for you.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Use Your Restaurant Marketing to Stand Out Amongst Competition

Competition.jpgSet your brand apart from your competition by creating commercials that include more than just shots of food.

It’s not hard to miss the recycled ingredients of the usual CDR commercials: sizzling close-ups of slow-mo food porn, diverse groups of hysterical folks having the most fun they’ve had in 25 years and a touch of a super-caffeinated voice actor. But let’s dissect this recipe and look at exactly why it’s hurting CDR. Let’s also examine the standout fast casual star and why CDR should take notes.

To understand the formula, let’s play a quick game called Whose Commercial is This?


It’s a pretty tough game, right? For those keeping score that’s Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback, TGI Fridays and Olive Garden.

And seasoned CDR advertisers could likely spot the subtle differences from these frames. Some might even stress the importance of this type of marketing. We know, for example, that showing images of food increases intent to visit scores. We understand that CDRs need to retain key customer segments, while attracting younger audiences. Ultimately, the challenge is that messaging has to have the widest appeal possible.

But these types of commercials raise a few problems…

For traditional TV marketing, it makes sense for spots to have the widest appeal possible, especially when the primary key performance indicator is reach. But in the world of digital and streaming devices, where surgical targeting is available, these ads make less sense. But over and over, we see TV spots recycled for digital and this is tanking more accountable KPIs like engagement, completion rates and online orders.

Some CDR leaders are beginning to understand the dilemma.

“Over time the category advertising, casual dining advertising in particular, started to blend and look very similar,” said Chili’s SVP/Chief Marketing Officer Krista Gibson in a recent AdAge interview. “Lots of shots of fresh ingredients and lots of shots of food. We just felt like our creative and our campaign wasn’t breaking through.”

As a result, Chili’s recently differentiated their hero campaign “Fresh is Happening Now” for “Chilin’ Since ’75,” a campaign that rides the feel-good wave of the ‘70s and moves away from food glamour shots.

Chipotle takes it a step further – their commercials don’t feature food at all. For the most part, they lean heavily on animation rather than film, and their digital content is built for digital only – not an overweight Frankenstein TV spot trying to fit into a well-targeted digital campaign.

Set your brand apart from competition by creating commercials that include more than just shots of food.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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