Now’s the Time for Restaurant Owners to Work on Online Presence

Internet and drinks

Guest writer Mark Matsusaki of Greenkoi Design is Houston Food Finder’s website development consultant and put together these tips. 

Bars and restaurant dining rooms are shut down right now thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for owners to sweep the parking lot or detail the fryer. With less to do, it is the perfect time to fix online presence issues and bootstrap your marketing with free and low-cost tools.

For restaurants offering to-go and delivery, as well as other food businesses with online sales, visibility, good online communication and social media savvy is imperative. Right now, it means life or death for your business: literally, functionally and figuratively. It’s great if you have a public relations or marketing resource, but the reality is that under the current circumstances, many businesses cannot afford those services. The goal is to survive with the tools at hand.

social media keyboard
If business is slow, it’s a good time to ensure all social media pages have complete and current information. Image by Shahid Abdullah from Pixabay

Potential customers are rightly concerned about safety issues when getting food to-go and for delivery. Transparency and communicating your social distancing and food safety policies is paramount to allaying fears — and that is where a good online presence comes in handy.

Related to customer trust: as much as possible, use your own servers for delivery. Third-party delivery services take a significant percentage of your margin. In addition, while these companies vet driving records, most drivers are not trained in food safety. Encourage customers to order directly from your restaurant and call with questions about delivery distances and minimum orders. Deploying your own delivery crew — every member of which has a Food Handlers certification — also helps keep your staff semi-employed.

Here are some self-marketing tools to turn to now.

  • Update your website and ensure it has accurate information, including hours, how to order and an online ordering link, if available. This is not the time to make customers hunt for information.
  • The same goes for your Facebook page, Instagram and even Twitter. (Yes, some people still use Twitter.) Add a Menu option to your Facebook page navigation and ensure current menus are uploaded. (If you can’t add the Menu option, or don’t have it available, unfortunately you may not have your Facebook template correctly set for your type of business. Post about your dishes and specials at least once a day. Photos should be clear, well-lit and mouth-watering.
  • Check into free online advertising credits. Word of mouth may have worked when your dishes and dining halls were Instagram friendly, but we are in a different time now. Facebook, Google, Bing and Yahoo often offer ad credits as incentives for new customers. One word of caution: make SURE you set budget limits and promotion end dates. Otherwise, once the free advertising credits run out, you could face a big bill at the worst possible time. Below is information on these free credits for new customers by platform: 
    • Google: $150 credit for new customers
    • Yahoo: Use code yahooads for an initial $50 credit
    • Microsoft Advertising formerly Bing Ads: Get $100 in search advertising when you spend $25
    • Facebook periodically offers advertising credit coupons for new customers. These are emailed to whatever address you have associated with your Facebook account or are offered “through partnerships Facebook has with other sites or companies.”  When you get one, follow these instructions to use it. (Sometimes coupon codes are published online.)
    • Some web hosting providers, such as GoDaddy and BlueHost, and e-commerce services offer advertising vouchers that can be claimed from the website hosting dashboard. Ask your web host if you have questions about what’s available or need technical help logging into your dashboard.

When business is slow, it’s scary and depressing. Fight the instinct to give up and take constructive action that will both make your business look better online and potentially get both old and new customers to pick up the phone and call.

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