The 2 Laws of Restaurant Marketing

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Ask any restaurant consultant, and they can produce a laundry list of restaurant marketing golden rules. The only downside with rules is that they were made to be broken — especially when it comes to running a restaurant in today's economy. The cold hard truth is that traditional marketing avenues for restaurants are just not as cost-effective as online marketing.

Yes, the game has changed and if you want your restaurant to thrive and not just survive, then you need to change along with it. The mere word change itself is enough to drive fear into the hearts of some restaurant operators. Just like the evolution of humans who lived in caves. The main concern back then was food, shelter, and not being eaten by a large animal. Mankind and society has continued to evolve and grow. We are a species (at times) focused on bigger, faster, and better.

The Internet can be looked at simultaneously as a blessing and a curse. Never before has so much information been available in the palm of your hand. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops allow us to reach out and communicate to the world with just a click. Word-of-mouth advertising has become world-of-mouth. Restaurant operators not embracing and using online platforms will become much like the dodo bird — extinct.

Like it or not, modern restaurant marketing takes advantage of the power that the Internet provides. Here are two laws that you need to adapt as if Moses himself had them chiseled on a stone tablet:

1. Thou must be on more than one social media channel to be effective.

Variety is the spice of life. This is also true when it comes to which social media channels your customers prefer. While some people like Facebook, others can't stand it and actually avoid it. There are those that love the challenge Twitter provides with using only 140 characters. Instagram is for those who love the camera app on their smartphone (it’s not just for selfies). You would be hard-pressed to find a woman who does not have a Pinterest account.

Most restaurants have a Facebook page. Seems like that's an easy one to set up, and for most restaurants, they think that's about all they need. They are sadly wrong. Thinking that being active on only one social media channel is effective marketing is like only selling food to one fourth of your restaurant patrons who walk in the door.

Modern restaurant marketing requires that you have a presence on multiple social media channels. If nothing else, you have to be on the basic ones or what I refer to as… 

The 4 Horsemen of Online Restaurant Marketing:


There is an old saying that goes, “You go fishing where the fish are biting.” In today's economy, your customers are online and if you're not going after them, believe me, your competition is.

2. Thou must understand that marketing is more than just you.

Now that we understand that you need to be on multiple social media channels to get your message out to your customers, let’s take a brief minute to discuss what your message should be. The secret to effective marketing on social media is, on one side, very simple in explanation and, on the other side, very difficult for restaurants to follow. The whole secret to social media marketing is being social. Told you it was simple.

Now here's the hard part. Most restaurants get on social media and are constantly blasting out posts and content that is all pretty much focused on one thing — themselves. Browse through a dozen restaurant Facebook pages and as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow, the majority of those posts are about their features, happy hour or some other promotion.

The 80:20 Principle

If you truly want your customers to engage and take action, you need to follow a very simple yet profound economic theory called the 80:20 principle. Here's an easy way to adapt it for your restaurant’s online marketing: 80% of your activities on social media should be engaging with your customers, 20% should be about you.

So how would that look? Go on Facebook and take a look at the people following your restaurant’s page. Now pay particular attention to the locals. Those are the people you have a better chance of drawing in on a consistent basis. I know it's nice to have restaurant admirers around the world, but let's focus more on the people who actually might spend money in your restaurant this month. So, you find some people who follow or like your Facebook fan page and you check out their profile.

There is Susan Smith. Local teacher. Mother of four. She loves your Korean Lamb Meatloaf. You notice her son just graduated high school. You make a comment, “Susan, congratulations on your son's graduation. Please bring your son by and have dessert on us. Our seven layer chocolate cake is to die for.” Now, you have actually reached out and engaged with the customer, offered them something and made what is called a call to action.

On Twitter, use the same 80:20 principle. Retweeting your followers' tweets goes a long way in building the bridge of reciprocity that is the foundation of that platform. The same goes for Instagram and Pinterest. It's about sharing their posts and pictures, not just your ideas or agenda.

If possible, try to always attach a photo or video along with your post on Facebook or Twitter. A visual medium always gets more engagement than mere words alone.

As society grows, so does the Internet. The world keeps moving, evolving, and changing. There's a great saying that, “Change is mandatory, growth is optional.” Unfortunately in the restaurant industry, there is a law that if you don't grow and adapt, you’ll end up like the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain — extinct.