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In today's competitive restaurant market, having great food and service is no longer enough: You also need great marketing to entice customers to come back and to get new customers to spend their money with you rather than with your competition.

Here are four tips to make sure the time you spend doing your own restaurant marketing really pays off.

1. Create a marketing plan and calendar

As with most things, preparation is key. A well-prepared marketing plan and marketing calendar will really help you to focus and ensure a steady stream of customers.

For the marketing plan, you need to first identity your target markets—e.g., businesspeople, tourists, young, old... Remember that you will have different target markets throughout the day and the week. At this point, it's also a good idea to take an objective view (or ask your customers or a branding professional) about all the marketing material. Do the design, imagery, voice, and tone speak to those target markets?

Ideally, your marketing plan will go into as much detail as possible about all the tactics that you want to implement, as well as where to target your potential customers—for example, local businesses, hotels, theaters, gyms, cinemas, sports clubs, and associations.

Next, think about programs to implement—e.g., organizing a local business network event and setting up a joint promotion with a theater or gym. I find that putting such tasks into bullet points onto a marketing calendar really helps to stay on top of them, and broken down like that, they're a lot easier to implement. It also means that you have plenty of time to plan for key dates such as Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.

2. Build your customer database

You need to stay connected to your customers with both social media and regularly emailed newsletters. For the latter, you need email addresses. You can use various tried and tested strategies to capture customer data, including customer comment cards handed out with the restaurant bill, a fishbowl for business cards on the bar, a competition to win a meal each month on your website, a competition in the local press. The more savvy restaurants also ask for an email address as well as all the usual information when customers phone up to book.

Your newsletters need to be carefully written and designed, and they should include links to your website booking page and your social media accounts. Pay particular attention to the subject line: It is the key to getting people to open the newsletter.

Don't make the newsletter too text-heavy; we all receive lots of emails every day, so we don't want to read a long narrative. Get to the point, use headings to break up the text, and use an attractive image for maximum impact.

3. Target your locale

The vast majority of your customers will likely be those who live or work in your local area, or those who are visiting the area. So that's where to target. Build up a list of big local employers, including businesses, schools, hospitals, and universities. Next, start phoning them. Ideally, speak to the heads of Human Resources; they will be able to email the rest of the company and also help to organize events.

In the case of big employers, invite a couple of key people for a complimentary meal. Doing so will not only create goodwill but also provide a great return on the investment of a meal. In the case of smaller businesses, just try to get an email address and send them some kind of offer.

You also need to look at the local media. Write a press release, send it to them, and then telephone to invite key journalists for a complimentary meal. Finally, consider which companies you can set up some kind of joint promotion with—such as gyms, theaters, and cinemas.

4. Launch creative campaigns

By creative campaigns I mean those that your competitors probably won't be doing.

They take a little bit of thought, but they can help to capture the imagination of customers, press, and bloggers—for example, a menu that focuses on a seasonal ingredient, such as the Alfonso Mango (the king of mangoes). Such a menu might include starters, mains, and desserts made with the mango, as well as a mango-flavored cocktail.

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Good marketing is about building relationships—so you shouldn't feel daunted. After all, you work in a hospitality business, and so you must be good with people. Just continue to build those relationships with your staff, customers, and your local community, and you won't go far wrong.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Guy Holmes

Guy Holmes is managing director of UK-based Captivate Hospitality.

LinkedIn: Guy Holmes