• Steven Johnson

Why Content Marketing is Important for Restaurants

Before you arrived at this lesson, your searches have probably sent you to the big-name sites like The Content Marketing Institute, Hubspot, or CopyBlogger.


They'll give you a great understanding of what content marketing is, why you need a strategy, and free tools to get you started. And if you haven't visited them, I suggest you do so. They're great resources.

But what they don't give you, and likely the reason you're here, is food industry-specific insights and how to apply them.


Here I'll give you my best explanation of content marketing, why it's a little different for restaurants, and some suggestions on developing an effective strategy.


What is Content Marketing?


The primary purpose of content is to engage an audience with some goal in mind. The reality is, everything these days is content.

  • The nutritional information on your cereal box's size informs you on how the food fits into your balanced diet.

  • The Netflix show you just binged keeps you entertained and subscribing to the service.

  • That recipe on your favorite food blog keeps you on their email list.

With that in mind, an excellent way to visualize content marketing and content strategy is to use a cooking metaphor.


Content is your raw ingredients. Think of photos, recipes, videos, blogs, etc.


Content marketing is the recipe that allows you to make a delicious end product. In this case, the end product is a person eating at your restaurant after engaging in your content.


Content strategy is the chef that sources all the ingredients and then uses R & D to get that content marketing recipe perfect. It's putting in the leg-work to understand your audience, the most effective ways of reaching them, and the best channels to go through.


All three components rely on one another to achieve the desired result.


Understanding the Basics


If you own a restaurant, you know that the moments when a person connects with your product are in person.


Most restaurants want to create an experience for the customer that goes beyond the food. The atmosphere, service, and food offerings all come together to make an impression on your guests.

However, some restaurants, such as take-away only and food trucks, rely solely on their food to impact the customer.


What if you could connect with people before they even think of dining with you?


What if you could somehow help them understand your vision and passion for food?


Content marketing does this. It explains to people seeking out a specific type of food, or a particular type of overall dining experience, why you're place is the right one to visit.


It's different from paid advertising because that is something you put out and hope people respond to. Four things have to happen for an ad to be effective.

  1. People need to be consuming the media the ad is attached to.

  2. They have to be in a receptive state of mind.

  3. Be focused on the ad.

  4. They have to remember to follow up on the ad's call to action.

With content marketing, three out of four of those criteria are already covered.


They're already on your content's platform (the internet), focused, and seeking answers to a problem they have. The only thing your content needs to do is help guide them toward purchasing your product/service.


How People Choose a Restaurant


Traditionally, four things influence a person's decision when picking a new restaurant to try out. Those things in no particular order are:

  • Word of Mouth

  • Adds/Promotions

  • Location

  • Internet Search

Word of Mouth


It's no secret, word of mouth is a powerful force for your restaurant. It can create a buzz around your restaurant that can see significant returns at absolutely no cost to you.


On the flip side, word of mouth can be harmful and prevent potential customers from seeing what you offer for themselves.


Word of mouth also loses traction. It comes on strong when your business opens. But, unless you are continually creating buzz for your restaurant, it fades after some time.


How do you think an excellent way to create buzz for your restaurant continually is, by the way?

If you said content marketing, you get a cookie.


Paid Ads


We touched on this earlier, so I won't go into it too much more.


Because of my profession, I clearly have a bias against paid ads. That's not to say they don't work.

I feel they're a short-term solution for a long-term problem. And, you usually have to spend a lot of money on ads before you start seeing a consistent return.


Content marketing is the long-term solution to getting more people in your doors. It also pairs well with promotions and referral programs.


If you can't shake the desire for spending money on advertising, paid-ads are an excellent way to get your content in front of people quickly, especially through social media.


Location


"Location, location, location!"


It's a voice in the back of our minds that says this is an essential factor when opening a business. But we can't pinpoint where we've heard it.


But that voice is right. It's crucial for restaurants. Unless you're Thomas Keller opening The French Laundry in remote Sonoma Valley, you need a good location.


Restaurants in big cities pay a premium for this, but the foot-traffic pays off. But, The French Laundry example proves that people are willing to travel for excellent food. If you're a celebrity chef, I'll tell you that you probably don't have to rely heavily on content marketing to get people out to your restaurant.


However, if you don't have that luxury, even the best cuisine needs to be promoted to make it known to everyone that it's worth the journey. Content marketing is the perfect tool for the job.


Internet Search


Internet search and location go hand in hand. People are obviously searching for places to eat in an area where they are or will be.


However, the way people come to find places to dine is shifting dramatically towards the internet. For this reason, restaurants need to shift from outbound advertising to content marketing. But we'll dive into that a bit later.


First, let's say you have a business trip to Dayton, Ohio. At night you and a co-worker Google restaurants in Dayton to try and find a decent place to get a meal on the company dime.


The first page of the Google search results will look like this…

These first three results are known as a Google Local 3 Pack and it's incredibly coveted real estate. There are many factors that Google takes into consideration when determining who gets two be the top three results. You can find those factors in Moz's local search ranking survey.


After the Local 3 Pack, you'll notice Trip Advisor's top 10 rankings of Dayton's restaurants based on categories and user ratings.


Next, further down the screen out of view listed in order are:


Google's top three news stories about Dayton restaurants then...

  • Yelp

  • The City of Dayton website

  • Then a slew of 3rd Party Food and Travel blogging sites that do write-ups and rank local dining establishments.

It's not until almost the last result on the second page that an actual restaurant's (The Melting Pot) website populates.


If you visit the Melting Pot site you, notice that it's nothing special (sorry, Melting Pot). There isn't a ton of amazing content. What they do have is the word Dayton on their home page nine times.


Doing this seems like keyword stuffing, which Google doesn't usually approve of, but it looks like they've let it slide this time.


The point being, the more content you have on your site that follows SEO best practices, the better chance your restaurant has of being ranked high by Google.


Why Content Marketing is Different for Restaurants


The restaurant industry is not the most predictable one, especially after COVID19 turned the industry on its head.

Cash flow is always uncertain, business is seasonal, employee turnover is high, profit margins are thin, and management is overworked. With all of this, marketing, much less content marketing, is usually a back burner priority.


I've worked for many restaurants where the marketing department consisted of one person that juggled many other duties. They typically had no background in marketing, writing, or often, even in the food industry.


National chains and larger restaurant groups are fortunate enough to have deep enough pockets to dedicate teams (or at least a couple) of people to handle the marketing duties. Even still, the majority of these large chains plow most or all of their marketing budget into outbound marketing.


The main reason for this is because food is always on our minds and there are SO MANY options. Restaurants with a marketing budget spend thousands of dollars on TV, radio, and print ads every year to make minimal impact.

Restaurants also think they can save money by allowing food/travel bloggers and directory sites like Yelp or Urban Spoon to handle their content marketing.


This is a fatal mistake that restaurants often make.


Why Your Restaurant Shouldn't Rely on Food/Travel Blog Websites


Food and travel sites like Eater, Bon Appetit, and Culture Trip make money off your restaurant merely existing. They search Google or Yelp once or twice a year to do write-ups from afar and rake in cash from ad and affiliate revenue.

Their content is updated infrequently. Culture Trip's Top 10 Restaurants in Detroit article features two restaurants that have closed down. Bon Appetit's article "Where You Should Be Eating in Detroit Right Now" was written on October 26, 2018.


Do you want to rely on the content from companies like these to represent your restaurant's vision and values? When you control the content, you can control the narrative.


Why Your Restaurant Shouldn't Rely on Directory Websites

Directory sites like Yelp and Trip advisor rank your restaurant on an unclear algorithm to everyone except those with the organization. Synup, a digital marketing firm out of New York, says that Yelp ranks businesses on the following factors.

  1. Number of reviews that the local business has received.

  2. Average rating from reviews.

  3. Credibility of Yelp users that have reviewed the business.

  4. The relevance of keywords used in the reviews by users.

  5. Number of check-ins on the app by users.

So not only do you have to score high on this list to get a good ranking, but you also have to endure customer reviews.


Don't get me started on Yelp customer reviews. I'll get triggered. What I will say is, despite their almost constant lack of substance and credibility, they affect your business.

We live in a review and ratings-based world now. The problem being a business in this world is that there's practically zero chance of your business getting a five-star rating despite your best efforts.

The restaurant industry has dozens of customer touchpoints where a restaurant can fall short in meeting its customer's expectations. It could be anything from a swamped server, a misinterpretation of the menu, a long wait time, and even unavailable parking.


Your Content Marketing Sets The Expectation

In the end, people can find anything to complain about. So, your restaurant shouldn't spend too much of its time worrying about ranking high on Yelp or any other directory website.

The best way to mitigate their complaints is to take the proper steps in setting customer expectations through your content on your website.

You want to leverage these directory and food/travel blog sites to increase traffic to your site. Many Yelp and TripAdvisor users utilize them as a directory and nothing more.

They know that if they want current menu offerings or information on weekly specials, they need to visit the restaurant's website.

When they get to your site, you set the expectations for your customers through your content. Videos, photos, menus, blog posts, and any other content to tell your restaurant's story will start setting customer expectations before they walk in the door.


The content on your website will set the tone for your restaurant. If your Italian restaurant wants to provide an experience similar to Spiaggia rather than Olive Garden (or visa versa), then reflect it through the content on your site.


Not only that, but the more content you put up on your website, the better chance your restaurant will rank high and return more results in Google search


What Restaurants Need on Their Websites


In my post, 4 Restaurants with Delicious Content Marketing Strategies, I highlight restaurants that are doing things right when it comes to their content marketing strategies.

I would suggest taking a peek to see what they're doing to get some ideas. However, I also mention your restaurant needs to be original when creating its content, just as it does with its concept and food.

I suggest getting creative with your restaurant website's content, just as you would with your food. However, there are three primary forms that you should be using to convey your restaurant's core values accurately.

  1. Blogs

  2. Video/Images

  3. Restaurant History/Story

Blogs


Blogs are necessary for three reasons. First, they are critical for keyword search traffic.


Second, blogs are the most utilized content form with email newsletters. It's important to provide valuable content consistently to nurture your leads and loyal customers. An e-newsletter supported by a blog does just that. Blasting your list with endless promotions will not provide the same result.


Video/Images


The restaurant industry is incredibly visual. People always love seeing creative platings and how dishes are made. Visually captivating images and videos can and should spotlight recipes, online menus, and restaurant atmosphere. Incorporating videos into your restaurant's creation story and other aspects of operations is also a great idea.


Restaurant History/Story


A company history/story is pretty standard for any company. The sky's the limit when it comes to what type of content you use. Some companies will use a written, blog-style format. In contrast, others will get more visual with infographics or videos.


If your restaurant is looking to improve its content marketing strategy, please contact us to start a discussion.

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