In the scramble to get a restaurant up and running, pre-launch marketing may be the last thing on your mind, yet is one of the most crucial elements in determining whether your restaurant grows and scales rapidly, or struggles, lurching from one revenue curve to another. In a tough market where 59% of new restaurants fold in three years, you need to lay the foundation for future success.
In this article, I’ll unpack some of the marketing insights that we share with our clients to ensure that you set yourself up for success pre-launch and we’ll examine some of the strategic decisions that will give you the edge over more established restaurants in the market.
1. Start Marketing Early
Even if you’ve thought of a great concept for your restaurant, you’ll fail to monetise it if the world doesn’t know about it. No restaurant can stake its survival on customers finding them by chance or word of mouth. In a world where media noise abounds and people lead hectic lives, you need a strategy to actively pull customers in, keep them coming back and get them talking about your restaurant.
I recommend a pre-opening marketing campaign 3-4 months before your doors open. As well as getting yourself known, you’re creating an opportunity to really know your customers and tailor your offering so that is has been tested, tweaked and validated in time for your restaurant’s official opening.
2. Decide On A Marketing Budget
A pre-launch marketing budget needs to be allocated from your start-up capital – this is one of the biggest investments you can make in your future success, yet surprisingly often it’s an overlooked element in a restaurant’s business plan. How much should you invest? I’ve worked with clients who have allocated as much as £30,000 pounds and have gone on to reach profitability a great deal faster as a result.
The amount you decide on will very much depend on available resources. What’s important is that you factor marketing into your budget; many restaurants don’t, and put their business through a great deal of pain, stress and frustration as a result.
3. Define Your Target Audience
Before commencing any marketing (and even before you make decisions on logos, menus, decor, tableware, service style etc) you need to have a very clear idea of who you are marketing to. Try and define your key customer segments in terms of age, location, gender, lifestyle, interests etc.
Not only does this empower key business decisions pre-launch, it gives you a very specific idea of the customers you need to win over and the mediums you should focus on.
4. Create An Irresistible Brand
A brand is a differentiated experience that diners fall in love with and is the be all and end all of your restaurant’s longevity. It is the catalyst that empowers and delivers ROI on all your marketing.
You cannot limit your restaurant’s brand appeal to an attractive visual identity. You need to communicate and deliver an experience to capture and evoke your uniqueness.
Crafting a brand is a strategic, analytical, psychological and creative process and my team at Futura works closely with restaurants to create distinctive and enticing brands that will seduce your diners and the food press.
5. Create A Profits Driven Website
It’s shocking to see the number of restaurants that open their doors without a website or get their digital presence disastrously wrong. Pre and post-launch, you need a website that entices the press and diners alike and that is an active medium that generates business for you.
The vast majority of restaurant websites that I see do little to evoke the unique cuisine and ambience of their restaurant and fail to ENTICE new diners to make a booking.
Pre-launch, building up an experience and anticipation via your website is key as well involving prospective customers in your brand story and your vision for the future.
A powerful restaurant website will evoke your restaurant’s brand, have persuasive well-worded copy, feature stunning imagery, will be primed to rank well in Google and will align with and empower every aspect of your marketing.
6. Use Social Media To Build Up Momentum
Millennials eat out more than any other generation and are also the most rampant users of social media. Put the two together and they’re the perfect market to talk to. Millennials are also early adopters of new food concepts and often have a wide-reaching network on social media that they can influence.
You don’t need to have your doors open to create a social media buzz. Trendsetters crave exclusive behind-the-scenes content. Show off your culinary inspiration. Lift the veil on the design of the menu. Showcase shop fittings. Invite feedback and interaction.
Once opening day arrives, you’ll have an active audience to market to and a customer-base who are looking to create content from your food! The “Instagrammable” generation have turned food into a delicacy we view as much as we eat. You’ll get content created for you free of charge.
7. Utilise The Power Of Re-marketing
Every element of your pre-launch marketing is a re-marketing opportunity. Use every marketing medium possible to collect data by enticing your audience to sign up for pre-launch updates and special offers.Fire off regular emails as part of your pre-launch and post-launch communications strategy. Weave in exclusive discounts, special events and brand insights to keep your audience connected to your restaurant’s brand.
8. SEO & Local Listings
Getting your restaurant found in Google should be a long-term goal for your restaurant. However, in the shorter term, it’s important to get your restaurant listed on every eating out directory which has well entrenched Google rankings and an active viewership.
Use keyword research to ensure that your restaurant’s listing can get discovered in Google for relevant search terms and deploy the services of a professional copywriter and photographer to ensure that your restaurant’s listings grab attention.
9. Don’t Forget Local Marketing
Let the locals know that you want your restaurant to be an integral part of the local community. Engage in a pre-launch flyer drop and invite your neighbours down to a ‘locals evening’ where you can collect their details and re-market to them in the future. These are the people your staff should build relationships with as they will be your “Bread and butter” customers when your restaurant opens.
If you’re in an area surrounded by offices and you’re looking to create revenue during the lunch hour, it’s a fantastic idea to take samplers around the week of your launch. Join local networking groups to promote the restaurant and forge relationships with local businesses and organisations that can refer their customers to you.
10. Launch Exclusively For The Press
A soft launch can double up as a boon for PR. Not only are you testing the operational workings of the machine you’ve built, you’re making the press feel special. Target food bloggers, influencers and editors of print and digital magazines.
Hire a photographer for the evening and have attendants post their own photos using a designated hashtag. Later, group the photos together for an unmissable social media splash, and follow up with publications on when their stories are going live.
Ultimately, in my experience, pre-marketing is the most effective strategy for building up a buzz that extends well beyond your opening night. Too many restaurants open their doors with no concrete plan for getting noticed and wind up haemorrhaging money while they scramble for ways to make a splash.
When it comes to marketing, audience attention spans are always low, so the sooner you start your push, the more customers you can target. Ultimately, leave nothing to chance. You’ll be amazed what a concerted pre-launch marketing drive can do for the long-term success of your restaurant.