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Guide to Restaurant Customer Acquisition Part 2: Winning Strategies

Sep 29, 2021
min read
Written by
This article outlines:
Strategies for advertising your restaurant on social media
The anatomy of an effective Google Ads campaign for restaurants
How to retarget your restaurant website and social media visitors

cuick recap: In the first installment of our Guide to Restaurant Customer Acquisition, we explained why knowing your current customers is critical for finding and attracting new, high-value guests. Additionally, we covered the three key elements to unlocking those insights: first-party data, a restaurant-specific CRM, and an integrated tech stack.

Now comes the fun part: Acting on that intel.

Using customer data and segments, restaurant brands can execute a strategic marketing plan that targets new customers who behave similarly to and share interests with their regulars and VIPs.

(Note: If you haven’t already optimized your restaurant website, Google listings, and social media channels, read 3 ways to boost online visibility and web traffic for your restaurant first.)

Start acquiring new customers today with these proven strategies:

1. Advertise on Social Media

Social media advertising is a powerful tool for finding and attracting new restaurant customers on platforms that they use daily. Because organic reach is largely on the decline, social ads ensure your content is seen by the right people at the right time.

Consider which is more likely and effective: Stumbling upon a billboard for a new restaurant in your area or seeing a sponsored post about the grand opening in your Facebook News Feed.

In addition to marketing to existing customers on social media—this is critical for customer retention and should be part of your overall marketing strategy—some brands target by customer persona (i.e. demographics, location, interests, age, etc.). This strategy may work for certain brands, but Lookalike Audiences can get you closer to your target market on Facebook and Instagram for less money.

In general, the more refined the audience, the lower the customer acquisition cost (CAC) a.k.a. the amount you have to spend to gain a new customer. To calculate CAC, divide your total marketing expenses by total new customers acquired. To know if you have a good CAC, you'll want to look at CLV:CAC, or Customer Lifetime Value to Customer Acquisition Cost, as a ratio. If your CLV:CAC is 2:1 or less, you'll struggle to stay in business. The ideal range is 3:1 to 5:1.

The key to success, as you may have guessed, is leveraging first-party restaurant data.

How to Find New Restaurant Customers With Lookalike Audiences

Facebook defines Lookalike Audience as “a way to reach new people who are likely to be interested in your business because they're similar to your best existing customers."

In other words, you choose a source audience—it could be your social followers or a list you upload, such as your email database, website visitors, online orderers, etc.—and Facebook then uses the common qualities of the people in it to target similar people.

Note: You’ll get the most bang for your buck by segmenting your customers first—by customer lifetime value and other attributes that are known indicators of a high-value guest—and creating Lookalike Audiences based on those segments.

By targeting Lookalike Audiences, you can reach potential customers who are likely to patronize your restaurant, and may or may not have heard of it before, with relevant messaging that motivates them to take immediate action (i.e. order online or follow to learn more).

Campaign ideas for targeting restaurant Lookalike Audiences:

Customer Segment: Guests who visit more than 3x per month

  • Promote a new location by targeting people within a set geographic location who have behaviors and interests like your loyal fans in other markets

Customer Segment: Guests who have booked events or placed large catering orders

  • Showcase your catering offerings leading up to a big game to people who would likely do the same if they knew about your restaurant

Customer Segment: Most valuable guests (10+ visits, high check average)

  • Promote a menu item that high CLV customers order and target people who behave similarly to and share interests with your MVPs

Tips for Creating Social Media Ads for Restaurants

Today the average American is exposed to 6K-10K ads per day. To stand out, your ad needs to be relevant to your audience and feature eye-catching visuals, compelling copy in your brand voice, and a strong CTA. Otherwise, your ad will become white noise or turn customers away.

Examples of Effective Restaurant Social Media Ads

El Pollo Loco Ad

This El Pollo Loco ad is part of the brand’s #NoNakedChips campaign, a fun (and funny) way to present its new Double Loaded Nachos. It features an eye-catching photo, an appetizing description, a catchy hashtag, a memorable punchline, and, most importantly an Order Now button, so users can order directly from the ad.

Five Guys Ad

This Five Guys Facebook ad uses a gif to quickly and playful present several offerings and service options. The ad is personalized for people who live within a set geographic location (it includes the name of the city where they live, Largo, in the gif) and it enables users to start an order from the ad.

Great American Cookies Ad

This Great American Cookies ad promotes new Pumpkin Spice Cookies. It creates a sense of urgency with a Shop Now button and succinctly explains that users can order online and have cookies delivered with free shipping.

With a data-driven social advertising campaign that leverages Lookalike Audiences, restaurants can lower their CAC and increase ROI.

2. Launch a Google Ads Campaign

According to Google, there are over one billion restaurant searches every month, and “food near me” is one of the fastest-growing search terms. Needless to say, Google advertising represents a huge (largely untapped) opportunity for restaurants to get in front of new customers searching for places to eat.

These Google Ad types can maximize your restaurant’s exposure: Search (text ads at the top of Google search results), Display (image ads on websites), and Video (YouTube ads).

All Google Ads can feature general messaging and/or promote things like seasonal offerings, events, catering, and more. They can even run during certain times of the day, like 10 a.m.-1 p.m. for the lunchtime rush or 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on date night, based on your current customers’ behavior.

How Restaurants Can Use Google Search Ads

  • Rank above your competitors (i.e. Someone searches for your competitor and sees your ad above the link to their website)
  • Target people searching for restaurants in your area (i.e. 10-mile radius of the restaurant)
  • Bid on relevant keywords (i.e. “Italian restaurant Syracuse” or “Smoothie near me”) that potential customers are using in their search

Example of an Effective Google Search Ad

Chuy's Ad

This Chuy's Google Search Ad includes a variety of service options and brand differentiators. Most importantly, users can easily view the menu, shop, find a nearby location, or contact the restaurant by clicking on the Google Ad extensions (webpage links).

How Restaurants Can Use Google Display Ads

  • Catch the attention of potential customers with a compelling, on-brand visual
  • Showcase your menu items and differentiators to users as they surf the web
  • Promote your offerings on websites that focus on specific, related topics or keywords (i.e. A chicken wings ad on a fantasy football website before game day).

Example of An Effective Google Display Ad

P.F. Chang's Display Ad

This P.F. Chang's Display Ad is eye-catching and uses simple, straightforward messaging to prompt the viewer to Order Lunch, right from the ad.

How Restaurants Can Use Video Ads

  • Show off your menu and seasonal offerings to users who are searching for relevant keywords on YouTube or who are subscribed to certain channels (i.e. Eater, Food Insider, Bon Appétit, etc.)
  • Take customers behind the scenes of your restaurant (i.e. cooking tutorials, meet the team, tour the kitchen, see the farm where the food originates, etc.)
  • Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video vs. 10% when they read it, so YouTube ads can ensure that your restaurant messaging is internalized

Examples of Effective Video Ads

This retro-style Lazy Dog Video Ad shines the spotlight on the restaurant’s new TV Dinners while evoking feelings of nostalgia. It’s short, sweet, informative, and leaves a lasting impression.

This Sonny’s BBQ Video Ad is fun, relatable, and speaks to the desire to reconnect with friends and family during the pandemic. The ad shows off some menu offerings, while also appealing to our emotions.

With Google Ads, restaurants can:

  • Increase online orders, phone orders, waitlist signups, and reservations
  • Boost website traffic, phone calls, and foot traffic
  • Extend your restaurant’s reach far beyond what your brick-and-mortar location and online listings can
  • Generate brand awareness among locals and visitors
  • Re-engage customers who haven’t visited in a while

3. Retarget Website and Social Media Visitors

If you’ve ever left a website without buying anything and then seen an ad for that company appear on your social feed or within your search results shortly thereafter, you’ve experienced retargeting.

With retargeting, brands can invite consumers back after they’ve visited their website or social page through hyper-relevant ads that follow the user as they browse the Internet. Given that these people have already expressed an interest in your brand, it’s easier and more cost-effective to advertise to them, compared to a non-retargeting audience.

How To Set Up Website Retargeting For Your Restaurant

To advertise to your website visitors with Google Ads, you’ll need to add a code snippet to your website: the global site tag and the optional event snippet. This will capture information about your visitors—pages viewed and actions taken—to create remarketing lists. For instructions, go here. Alternatively, you can enable remarketing with Google Analytics.

Once your website is tracking properly, it’s time to set up an audience source for your remarketing list in Google Ads. Your goals will determine who belongs on your remarketing lists. For example:

  • Visitors of a page (i.e. Viewed catering options)
  • Visitors of a page who did not visit another page (i.e. Viewed menu, but didn’t order)
  • Visitors of a page during specific dates (i.e. Father’s Day weekend)
  • Website visitors in the last 60 days

When you’re ready to launch your Google Ad, you’ll narrow your audience targeting to remarketing and select the appropriate list. For a breakdown of the setup process, check out this blog post.

Just imagine how powerful this kind of retargeting campaign would be if it were paired with a stellar automated marketing email and SMS strategy—now you’re thinking like a world-class restaurant marketer.

Facebook Retargeting For Restaurants

Facebook retargeting is another way to find people who have expressed interest in your restaurant—by visiting your website or engaging with your brand on social media—and make it easier for them to place an order.

To get started with Facebook retargeting, you’ll need to install a Facebook pixel—a small snippet of code—onto your website. This code enables Facebook to track your customers and their actions on your site and social media. After you install the pixel, you can set up events to measure important actions, like placing an online order.

Next, it’s time to create a Custom Audience on Facebook based on those actions, such as people who started an online order but didn’t checkout. Once your Custom Audience is built, you can create a campaign for your specific objective.

The Key To An Irresistible Restaurant Retargeting Campaign

Whether you use Google and/or Facebook, the key to driving conversions with retargeting is to create ads that are hyper-relevant to your audience and have a clear objective. If, for example, you’re retargeting people who visited your seasonal milkshake landing page last month, consider appealing to their sweet tooth.

There should be no guesswork involved when it comes to the CTA. Want someone to reorder or make a reservation? Make it abundantly clear and easy for them to follow through.

Examples of Effective Retargeting Ads

  • Showcase popular menu items to people who engaged with your Instagram posts or ads in the last 30 days.
  • Highlight a 5-star customer review in an ad that retargets your segment of customers who have passed their average frequency (a.k.a. Churn Risks).
  • Gently remind people who abandoned an online order with messaging like: “Ready to order? Complete your purchase.”

Nothing Bundt Cakes Ad

This Instagram retargeting ad from Nothing Bundt Cakes is effective in its simplicity—a mouthwatering image of their Pumpkin Spice cake paired with a "Shop Now" button that enables the user to place an order from their feed. A simple caption (not pictured) invites the viewer to order this fan-favorite online today.

Restaurant Customer Acquisition - Remarketing Ads

This is a Google Ad retargeting campaign for Athena Grill (a fictional restaurant created by Wisely), which would retarget the restaurant’s website and social media visitors. It’s consistent in messaging, branding, and has a clear CTA: Order Now.

Final Thoughts

No matter what strategy—or combination of strategies—you choose, remember that customer acquisition, just like restaurant marketing in general, is an iterative process. What works for your competitor may not work for your brand.

Expect to test different tactics and customer segments until you figure out what drives the most results. Keep an eye on impressions, clicks, cost, conversions, etc. and adjust accordingly.

Once you’ve found the sweet spot—the right platform, content that resonates, and high engagement—you’ll see your CAC drop. But don’t stop there. Keep your ads fresh so that they remain effective.

And, use your restaurant data as a guide. Top brands leverage guest data to reach consumers at just the right time, on their preferred channel, with relevant, personalized messaging based on their behavior.

Stay tuned for the final installment of our Guide to Restaurant Customer Acquisition, in which we’ll cover the importance of customer retention and outline ways to enhance the guest experience to drive long-term loyalty.

Photo credit: Vince Fleming