By Doug Radkey, Foodable Industry Expert
The restaurant start-up period is a hectic three to four months, sometimes more. With a lot of moving components, it’s easy to get caught up in it all, but an area that you simply don’t want to overlook is your restaurant’s pre-opening marketing and promotional-based strategies.
As with much of your start-up phase, it is mostly about proper planning, budgeting, and execution.
The worst thing you can do is start your marketing and promotional tactics one week before opening, like a majority of independent restaurateurs do, or expect a “if you build it, they will come” type scenario. (Hint: This doesn’t work.)
If you don’t start one to two months before opening, you may just have to wait three or four weeks, maybe even more, before seeing a full house, list of reservations, or profitable level of phone and online related take-out orders.
Marketing comes down to three things: creating awareness, increasing revenue per customer, and ensuring a return customer. The goal of your pre-opening effort is to create as much awareness as possible, all while building on the foundations for sustainable marketing and promotional efforts for the many weeks and months after opening.
Let’s look at eight ways to generate buzz throughout your community with very little investment!
No. 1 Be creative and imaginative.
People are bombarded with advertisements and marketing-related messaging each and every day from a variety of businesses and industries. The advantage you have is that you’re new and people will take notice of you more easily — at least at first. However, how will you plan to be memorable and stand out from the others as time goes on? Start early and be creative, imaginative, and bold in all of your efforts.
No. 2 Create suspense.
Using the above creativity, ensure you build suspense and anticipation. Keep the community and target customers wanting to know more about you and what you will be offering. Use creative temporary window and road signage while the renovations are being completed in addition to other community and online efforts. Remember, though, don’t give away all of your secrets too early or the suspense will fade away.
No. 3 Reach out and amplify.
A key piece to marketing and advertising is amplification. How can you reach the maximum number of targeted customers with the least amount of spending? Reach out to leading bodies within your community in addition to industry professionals in your area, including restaurant-related bloggers. You also want to reach out to local community-focused publications and invite them for a tour, tasting, interview, and photo opportunity before you open.
No. 4 Establish your online presence.
This should not be a surprise. Start your social media presence very early, right when leasehold improvements begin. Share photos and videos of renovations and other behind-the-scene moments to capture the interest of your local audience while creating the aforementioned suspense.
It’s important to create content and posts that will generate engagement and dialogue about your concept, and make sure you respond to each and every comment to further build community relations. It is very easy to have hundreds or even thousands of online advocates before you even open!
Equally, you want to create a website that is intriguing and suspenseful with a call-to-action to gather even more data before opening. Along with your site, begin setting up your other online directories and review site profiles two to three weeks before opening so they’re up and properly indexed for your opening weekend.
No. 5 Take pre-opening reservations.
If your concept plans to accept online reservations, why not accept them long before you open? Create a waitlist so that you can plan more accurately for the first week or month. This is also an excellent method to create an email list with other marketing-related data! Use effective social media and web campaigns to drive this traffic.
No. 6 Be picture-worthy.
Create dishes and drinks so picture-worthy, they just need to be shared online! Get your start-up staff to share photos and videos online to their personal network after menu testings. This will entice their friends to share with their network, as well, leading to amplification. Create dishes the local publications will want to add to their content, too. These memorable plates should be so alluring that guests during your soft opening will be proud and excited to share what they just enjoyed.
No. 7 Execute a solid soft opening.
Your restaurant’s soft opening is an excellent way to further spread the word before you open. Create methods to maximize your soft opening with engaging and consistent messaging within the four walls of your restaurant.
Make sure each of your soft opening guests leave with a way to help spread the word for you after their departure, and with an experience to bring them back in the following months.
No. 8 Get involved with your community.
Hit the pavement with your team and introduce your brand to the local community. Give local businesses a copy of your menu, or better yet, a sample or two of the delicious food off your menu!
Consider creating a campaign alongside your soft or grand opening that will generate donations for a local charity or cause you and your staff are passionate about supporting.
Use these simple, cost-effective strategies in the weeks prior to opening to create the buzz you want. These methods will maximum exposure and revenue opportunities during your upcoming honeymoon period.