6 Things Diners Wish Restaurant Owners Knew…About Online Ordering

During the course of a seemingly endless pandemic, consumers developed a healthy and sustained appetite for online food ordering—along with higher expectations around speed, efficiency, and ease of use. (They want their pizza and they want it pronto!).

Tolerance for clunky online ordering experiences, especially on mobile devices, has declined…a lot. Half (49%) of consumers say they will move on and order from a different restaurant if they encounter a PDF menu on a mobile device, up from 30% two years ago. And that’s just for starters.

To help restaurants navigate digital demands and capture more sales, Popmenu conducted a 2023 study of 1,000 U.S. consumers. The end result? Six insights that can help determine how positive the online ordering experience is for customers and how lucrative—or not so lucrative—it is for the business. Turn the page to find out what diners really want.

1

They want to order directly from the source.

While third-party marketplaces provide a wide range of dining options, consumers are keenly aware of higher commission fees from third parties and the benefits of ordering directly from local eateries. Three in four (76%) prefer ordering from a restaurant’s own website.

PopTip

Keep as many orders on your website as you can. The more you can maintain direct interactions with guests, the more you can control the guest experience, and the more data you can capture to remarket to them for future business.

Do you prefer to order directly from a restaurant's website or third-party delivery app?

24%

Third-party app

76%

Restaurant's website

2

Many are interested in ordering more than food…on the rocks.

In addition to feeding their appetites, online guests are looking to quench their thirsts: 67% of consumers are more likely to order from or visit a restaurant if they can see their beverage menu online. That includes soft drinks and spirits of all varieties (we’re looking at you, Margarita, and your buddy, Mai Tai).

There is a nice profit margin associated with alcohol and, when you mix alcohol to go with direct ordering, that gives you the perfect profit cocktail (see what we did there?).

PopTip

Whether it’s cocktails or mocktails, make sure you feature your  beverage menu prominently on your website to boost sales.

3

PDF = DOA

The majority (87%) of consumers typically place online orders with a mobile device and, as mentioned earlier, half of them will order elsewhere if they encounter a PDF menu. PDFs can be difficult to view on a desktop, let alone a hand-held device where you have to pinch and expand the image. Plus, they do little to help your website traffic.

PopTip

Make your menus interactive and scrollable to help diners discover their next favorite. Restaurant tech providers can help you to set up your menu so that each dish is recognized as a unique  page by search engines like Google. So, when someone searches for “seafood near me” or “best tacos in town,” it will bring up more content for Google to consider. This will help you rank higher in search results and drive more traffic back to your site…for free.

Do you typically order food on your desktop or mobile device?

13%

Desktop

87%

Mobile Device

4

No photos, no reviews, no service.

Aside from hard-to-read menus, no pictures of food and no reviews of the restaurant or specific dishes are among the biggest pet peeves for consumers when ordering online. This is a sensuous business—it’s all about sight, smell, taste and ambiance. So, why convey that through static text that doesn’t properly showcase the burger of their dreams? And why rely on third-party sites to collect reviews vs. providing a way for you to directly receive them and ultimately control what is posted?

PopTip

Dishes with photos receive twice as many orders and four times as many reviews. If possible, include a photo of every dish featured on your website to increase your chances of converting traffic to paying customers. And provide a way for guests to submit feedback online so you can share rave reviews on your own website.

5

A bad online ordering experience (or worse, nothing at all) will cost you.

Also topping the list of pet peeves is when consumers have to call the restaurant to order because there is no online ordering capability on the website. Not only do consumers get annoyed, 56% said they will immediately move on to another restaurant (they’re “hangry” and they don’t want to talk to a human!). This is up from 40% in 2021, by the way. If it’s a poor online ordering experience, you’ll get some takers, but 42% of consumers said they will order from somewhere else instead. Another 23% said they will still place an order, but probably won’t come back anytime soon.

PopTip

Providing a great online ordering experience doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and can be implemented quickly. Plus, you get all the juicy insights on guest preferences and ordering behavior to encourage repeat transactions that you don’t get with on-premise dining.

What are your biggest pet peeves when ordering food from a restaurant online?

43%

Menu doesn't have photos

38%

Menu is hard to read

33%

You can't order online, you have to call the restaurant

31%

Have to order from a third-party site

25%

Can't find reviews of the restaurant or specific dishes

If a restaurant doesn't have a good online ordering experience, what do you do?

42%

I'll order from another restaurant

38%

I'll call the restaurant

18%

I'll deal with it and order online

23%

I'll order, but probably won't come back anytime soon

If a restaurant doesn't have an option to order carryout/delivery online, what do you do?

44%

Call the restaurant

56%

Move on to another restaurant

6

They are willing to pay online ordering fees…within reason

Living in a largely digital world, consumers have become more accustomed to processing fees associated with online transactions. This includes purchases from restaurants. The key here: everything in moderation. High online ordering fees that jack prices up 30% won’t fly, but two-thirds of consumers said they’re willing to pay at least $1; 39% are willing to pay $2 to $4.

PopTip

Whether you are processing orders on your own website or are working with a third party, it’s important to know how much the transaction is ultimately costing guests (and you) so you can determine where it’s appropriate to absorb the cost or split a portion  of it.

How much are you willing to pay in fees when ordering food from a restaurant online?

5%

A fee that is less than $1

10%

$1

39%

$2 to $4

15%

$5 or more

24%

I'm not willing to pay any fees

7%

I don't pay attention to service fees

Conclusion

Whether you are processing orders on your own website or are working with a third party, it’s important to know how much the transaction is ultimately costing guests (and you) so you can determine where it’s appropriate to absorb the cost or split a portion  of it.

Methodology

Popmenu conducted a nationwide survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers in April 2023. The survey was anonymous and included representative samples of consumers ages 18 and older across geographies.

Advanced Restaurant Marketing for Beginners

Intro

Did you know....78% of restaurant operators say they’re unsure what to do next when marketing isn’t working. Half are only somewhat confident in their marketing efforts, while 1 in 4 are not confident at all.

Consistent marketing is key to driving more guests through the door, but who has time when you're juggling multiple hats and priorities? And, if you don't know what's working in the first place, coming up with the right game plan can feel, well, overwhelming.

So, how do you get smarter with marketing without working overtime? We’re glad you asked!

If you’re new to restaurant marketing, we suggest you download our Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing for all the basics of getting started!

Thinking like an advanced marketer

Spicing up your marketing doesn’t mean spending more of your time or more of your budget. In fact, making your marketing sizzle really only requires nailing three key ingredients (think of them as your secret sauce!):

01

Be intentional with data

02

Automate whenever and wherever possible

03

Create a technology ecosystem

From guest engagement to operational adjustments, data drives everything…or at least it should.

Minimize the guesswork…and start using data to cook up success and guide what’s next.

Capture more than just an order

While earning revenue from guests is priority number one—you do run a business after all—it’s not the only thing you should be aiming to capture from them. The value of information is powerful, especially when it comes to marketing.

Having guest data not only enables you to stay in contact with emails, announcements and promotions, it also allows you to get more personalized with what you’re sending.

By knowing a guest’s favorite dishes (like the roast beef sandwich), dietary preferences, and even the special occasions they celebrate, you can tailor your messaging and offers to them.

We know “data collection” can sound like a scary concept, but there are a number of ways you can easily capture critical info:

Encourage guests to submit a review for a chance to win $500. When they leave a review, they leave their email too!

Similar to reviews, capture guest info when they like an individual dish or place an online order.

Exclusivity goes a long way…entice guests into becoming a VIP follower to receive special offers, secret menus, and more.

Pssst…all this data capture can be done automatically, but more on that later…

The best part? Guests don’t mind sharing…no, really!

79% of guests are willing to provide their email to receive info on special offers, events, and updates from their favorite restaurants.

The proof is in the…pizza

GIOIA Pizza logo and Popmenu client.

The potential value of a single guest

In 18 months, GIOIA sent 49 emails (39 sent automatically) to one guest, resulting in 101 orders and $5,700+ in revenue

“[Popmenu] lets us fill out the details on our customers so we can fine-tune our messaging. It helps us learn about our client base. You actually have information on the things people love and the things people can’t stop ordering.”
Kaitlyn Kolacy | Director of Operations, GIOIA Pizzeria

GIOIA keeps guests hungry for more with automated and customized messages—earning $897,000 in commission-free online ordering in 2022.

When we look at data holistically, we can better track how every touchpoint and guest interaction translates to orders placed and revenue earned.

Does a 5% offer on a slow day drive more orders? What about an email inviting guests to make a reservation for happy hour?

When we can better answer questions like these, we can replicate what’s working and iterate on what isn’t. 

Data that drives decisions

Did you know…52% of operators aren’t using data to guide marketing?

While the term "data" may seem as dry as an overcooked Thanksgiving turkey, it's actually the secret ingredient that adds flavor to your marketing efforts. It holds the answer to the burning question: "Is what I'm doing actually working?"

In the Beginner’s Guide to Marketing, we talked about the different ways to measure channels like website, email, social, ordering and POS. It's time to bring all that delicious data together to create a mouthwatering map to marketing success.  

Getting started with the numbers

Questions to ask your data:

First, ask: Which dishes are fan favorites?

Then: How can we highlight those dishes to entice people to order? 

First, ask: What days/hours are the slowest ordering times?

Then: How can we drive more revenue during those times or adjust other operating costs when we’re slower (like reducing number of staff scheduled)?

Online Ordering Overview

Shameless plug…Popmenu provides this data AND makes it easy to read!

Marketing Overview

First, ask: Do I know how much of my revenue can be attributed to marketing?

Then: If not, what tools do you need to start connecting marketing activities to revenue?

First, ask: How does marketing influence online ordering?

Then: Identify what made those messages stand out and experiment with future efforts.

Put it into practice

Start looking for patterns in the data. Do you have a day of the week with an ordering slump? Try creating an offer or setting a campaign to entice guests to order during that off day and turn your least profitable day into your most profitable!

3 ways Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie used data to drive business

Ramp up the slow days

Libby’s identified Monday and Tuesday as slow ordering days, so they instituted a 35% off discount deal for Monday and Tuesday for the summer.

They used data to earn nearly $20,000 in revenue from an offer in just one month. Bonus: Mon & Tues. are now their busiest ordering days.

Consolidated tools to save

The restaurant replaced their dollar-based loyalty program with an automated offer for a free appetizer that was already performing well.

They used data to consolidate costs while continuing to engage and reward guests.​

Focused on quality over quantity

Libby’s evaluated the number of emails regularly being sent to guests and found they could send fewer emails without impacting open rates or marketing revenue.

They used data to be more mindful about the frequency of guest outreach without compromising revenue.

Lean on automation whenever possible.

61% of restaurant owners said they spend 3 hours or less on marketing per week.

Automate data capture

So we know the importance of guest data; and earlier we showed examples of how it can be collected. We also hinted that data capture can be made easy with automation…here’s how:

VIP popup

Create a VIP popup on your homepage that promotes the benefits of signing up. You can even sweeten the deal with a one-time offer like 5% off their first order!

Interactive menu

With a dynamic menu, every interaction a guest makes with a dish—a like, a review, or a reminder to try—automatically prompts a VIP follower sign up.

Online ordering flow

The online ordering process is a great place to grab an email and phone number for marketing down the line. Guests automatically become followers when placing their first order.

Automate emails

How do you know what to send? Or when to send it? How do we catch a guest’s attention at the right time? Well…automation helps.

Think about what happens after you make a purchase online—a “thank you” email lands in your inbox right? Then two days later, you get another one gently encouraging you toward another purchase. These emails are automatically triggered to send based on your browsing and purchase behavior. Guess what, the same can work for restaurants!

Automate emails

Remember that guest data? Your marketing tools use that info (like new VIP signups, dish likes, and past online orders) to send personalized emails automatically—so every new VIP follower gets a proper greeting, every order they place is followed by a reminder to leave a review, loyal guests earn rewards, and a previous guest receives a special offer inviting them back to dine at your restaurant again.

Ocean State Sandwich company uses automated emails to welcome new VIP followers, celebrate birthdays, encourage new reviews, and inform guests of restaurant happenings.

The restaurant has netted nearly $42,000 in online ordering from their marketing efforts, with $17,000 of that being driven by automated emails.

That’s $17,000 in revenue without lifting a finger.

Automate content creation

1 in 4 restaurant operators never send marketing emails and texts to guests. Why? 35% said they don’t know what message or visuals to use and 32% said they don’t have time. Sound a little familiar?

As the usage of artificial-intelligence (AI) continues to grow, so do automation capabilities. In fact, AI can actually help build content for you—so you can reserve your creativity for the kitchen.

Automate content creation

How it works:

>

AI-powered marketing tools pull from newly posted reviews, upcoming events, popular dishes and recently added menu items to recommend content.

>

AI generates (and re-generates) caption recommendations in seconds.

>

All that’s left to do is edit (if you want), approve and schedule.

Create a technology ecosystem.

Make the most of your marketing efforts, automate more personalized outreach, and be more efficient with connected tools.

The key ingredient: connectivity

We know data is the number one driver of personalization, automation and efficiency, but how do you ensure your data is detailed enough? The answer is in the connectivity of your technology.

Having a single tool to manage your website, marketing, ordering (and more...) is the secret ingredient to elevating your marketing game. It unlocks valuable insights about your guests and helps provide a clearer picture of what marketing activities are leading to orders, which need a trip back to the kitchen, and which should be sent to the chopping block.

Plus, automation and AI can only take things off your plate if the systems have enough insights to learn from. By leveraging connected tools, you provide the vital data and context that these systems need to whip up informed recommendations.

The bottom line:

The more connected your tools are, the more you can learn about your guests…and the more you learn about your guests, the more successful you’ll be at connecting with them and their appetites.

Other tools to advance your marketing.

Use the phone line to highlight events and specials, keep waiting guests engaged, and put your website to work—the modern day of marketing extends beyond just email, text and social media.

Ring in more revenue and reservations

What’s one thing most restaurants all have in common? A phone ringing off. the. hook.

Tech-savvy restaurants are leaning more on automated answering services to handle the influx of calling guests. Marketing-savvy restaurants are using the automated phone answering as an additional marketing channel.

A headshot of Martin Bekkedal, the Vice President of Operations in Burrito Gallery restaurant and a client of Popmenu and Popmenu Answering.
“Popmenu AI Answering allows us to tell those new menu item stories, new promotional items stories, and features that we’re doing at the store.”
Martin Bekkedala | Vice President of Operations, Burrito Gallery

“Hello, thank you for calling The Black Cat Bar & Grill. Join us this weekend for a tequila tailgate and sip on one of our famous Peach Margaritas. How may I help you today?”

Turn phone calls into marketing opportunities

Is your patio open?

Do you have live music tonight?

Can I place an order?

How late are you open?

I want to make a reservation.

Speaking of waitlisting

With custom greetings and responses, you can highlight upcoming events, special offers, new dishes, and send links to revenue-driving actions like reservations, online ordering and waitlisting.

Stop wasting your wait time

Your waitlist should do more than just help organize a list of names. A good digital waitlisting tool helps capture guest data, encourages guest engagement and upsells, increases table turnover, and drives more reviews to the menu (more data, hello!).

The best part? Almost all of it is automated, triggered by a few keystrokes from your host stand.

"Our guests really enjoy the digital waitlist—it definitely helps keep them engaged while they’re waiting for a table…guests are texted a link to the menu while they wait so they can browse beforehand and then they’re texted again after they’re seated, encouraging them to leave a review. We’ve seen a major increase in reviews from that."
Tracy Bryan | Marketing Manager, Winking Lizard Tavern

With an optimized website, GIOIA shows up as #1 on the results page for the search “best pizzeria in Hayes Valley”

Your website is the SEOcret sauce

The website is often overlooked as a marketing tool; but when it comes to its ability to capture new guests straight from the search bar, your website is key. Yep, we’re talking Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO is what influences your website’s position on results pages when guests search for things like “best pizza in Hayes Valley.” Put simply, optimizing for search helps your restaurant attract more people who are more likely to order from your restaurant.

Put it into practice

An important thing to remember about SEO, you will not be at the top of search results overnight. It takes time, engagement, and persistence to rank well in search engines; but there are some key factors to ensure your website is made to Google’s order:

  • Provide a mobile-friendly experience

  • Highlight key information like hours and location

  • Host different types of content (i.e., images, text, links)

  • Stay up-to-date with fresh information (e.g., new reviews, menu updates, etc.)

Websites that check all these boxes usually get placed higher in search results, attracting more guests to the website—all without cutting into time or spending a dime.

"The website helps showcase the menu items we are most known for and we continually create new content on the site with the dynamic menu. We currently do not invest in any paid advertising, so the SEO-driven website helps us to gain more visibility in our market.”
Tracy Bryan | Marketing Manager, Winking Lizard Tavern

Final thoughts

We’ve covered a lot in this guide, but the key things to remember about marketing your restaurant are: data is your ultimate sous chef when it comes to personalization and decision-making; automation can help you be creative and save time; and connected tools help you connect with guests.

And, if you ever need an extra hand, Popmenu’s team of restaurant marketers is ready to help you build your strategy, create content and execute across channels. Learn more about our Boost team at:

popmenu.com/boost

Growing your business without a big budget: one restaurant’s story

Winking Lizard Tavern logo and Popmenu client

Eye-catching headlines. Gorgeous images. Irresistible offers instantly served up to guests. You don't need a big advertising agency to achieve this. In fact, you don't even need an advertising budget. We'll show you how one restaurant managed to grow their business and continually outpace competitors through easy strategies and a healthy serving of automation.

Meet Winking Lizard Tavern, a multi-location restaurant in Ohio known for ridiculously good ribs and wings, a wide selection of craft beer and savvy marketing.  We sat down with Tracy Bryan, Marketing Manager at Winking Lizard Tavern, to give you a sneak peek into how they attract guests and keep them coming back…

A website that looks good and works hard

Fact: 90 percent of consumers research a restaurant online before dining. When guest cravings start at the Google search bar, how do you make sure your restaurant website comes out on top? The answer: Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Put simply, SEO helps drive more organic (free) traffic to a website from search engines like Google. To be considered “search optimized,” websites must:

- be easy to navigate on mobile devices,
- highlight key information like hours and location,
- host different types of content (i.e., images, text, links),
- and stay up-to-date with fresh content (e.g., new reviews, menu updates, etc.)

Websites that check all these boxes usually get placed higher in search results and therefore attract more guests to the site—all without costing a dime.

PopTip

Want to learn more about how SEO works? Check out our Front of House article: What is SEO for restaurants?

A website that looks good and works hard

The zero-cost nature of SEO is why it’s a key part of Winking Lizard’s overall growth strategy. With Popmenu, Winking Lizard’s website is not only optimized to the factors above, but also through the menu.

With the dynamic menu each dish acts as its own web page connected to the Winking Lizard (vs an image or a PDF which only counts for one page in the ‘eyes’ of Google). So, Google not only ranks the Winking Lizard Tavern homepage in results but also specific menu items. Now, when guests search things like ‘wings near me,’ the Winking Lizard pops up on the results page every time.

“The website helps showcase the menu items we are most known for and we continually create new content on the site with the dynamic menu. We currently do not invest in any paid advertising, so the SEO driven website helps us to gain more visibility in our market.”

SEO in action

Google searches where Winking Lizard comes out on top:

- Monday wings
- Mesa chicken
- Pizza Monday
- Burger basket
- and 150+ more!

In just three months with Popmenu…Winking Lizard Tavern nearly doubled the amount of organic traffic to the homepage of its website.

Value of Winking Lizard’s free traffic
If Winking Lizard had been paying for the traffic that it generated through Popmenu (for free!), it would have cost them: $239,628.* In other words, this is how much Winking Lizard has saved by having an optimized website.

*Data captured from April 2021 - Sept. 2022 using ahrefs—a third party data site not affiliated with Popmenu

Winking Lizard whiskey bar makes page one

When searching for the “best whiskey bar in Ohio,” Winking Lizard Tavern’s beer store and whiskey bar, Lizardville, appears as one of the top 3 results.

SEO helps this community staple, which launched in 2011, to stay top-of-mind.

Food that speaks for itself

Did you know: 73% of diners order food on their mobile device and 30% will automatically move on to another restaurant if they see a PDF menu online. An online menu should look as good as it tastes—why not make the menu irresistible?

Winking Lizard knows the guest experience begins at the online menu; with rich dish descriptions, delicious photos, and likes and reviews living under every dish, Winking Lizard creates cravings that bring guests through the front door.

“With so many restaurant options to choose from, we need to maximize our chances of getting selected over another restaurant. Making our food and beverage offerings more appealing than our competitors is part of it.”

What’s more? The menu is quick to update so it’s easy to highlight menu items, add and remove seasonal specials, and update pricing when necessary.

“Our online menus also allow for the most current information to be displayed…[and] we are able to remove items quickly without having to wait for menus to be reprinted.”

PopTip

With Popmenu, a dynamic menu is part of your website—so you can finally 86 those PDF links on your website!

Making the menu a dynamic destination

- 7,600+ restaurant followers gained through Popmenu
- 6,000+ menu interactions (loves, likes and reminders to try!)
- 2,000+ dish reviews across menus
- 2:25 average time spent looking through the menu & website*

*Average: 00:52 seconds

“Having a website that is visually appealing to the guests, allows comments to be submitted for their favorite menu items, and helps create searchable items....Our customers are wanting information about us and our menu fast—the [dynamic] menu gives them all that they’re looking for—and with our Popmenu website, we can showcase the menu items we’re most known for.”

Reviews that build reputation

Reviews of a restaurant/dishes is the No. 1 reason why diners choose one restaurant over another. Positive reviews can also contribute to how much customers spend at a restaurant, with 31% of diners saying they would pay more at an establishment with positive reviews.* When reviews are that important to influencing guests to dine in, why let third party sites like Yelp! control them?

With over 2,000 reviews across the menu, Winking Lizard knows the importance of guest feedback in bringing in new business. Through Popmenu, the restaurant hosts reviews within individual menu items and is able to manage reviews that come in—giving them the ability to approve the positives and respond to service missteps without making them public to potential diners.

“With guest reviews living directly on the menu, we can oversee what is posted—as opposed to third-party sites like Yelp! where we have no control—and we have the ability to handle negative reviews in private and directly so we can ensure the guest comes back in the future.”

PopTip

In addition to the positive-press reviews give the restaurant, each new review also serve as a fresh content update to the website, driving additional organic (free) traffic by improving SEO rankings!

Winking Lizard food fanatics

Waitlisting that brings more walk-ins

Modern waitlist technology should do more than just help organize a list of names. Waitlisting has the potential to encourage guest engagement and upsells, increase table turnover, drive more reviews to the menu, and turn first-time guests into loyal followers.

Winking Lizard Tavern never misses an opportunity to connect with its guests. With digital waitlisting, guests receive wait updates to their phone along with a prompt (and link!) to browse the Winking Lizard food menu—driving more traffic to the website and keeping them entertained while waiting. What’s more? After being seated, guests are prompted to leave reviews on dishes while the taste is top-of-mind—leading to an increased number of reviews across the menu.

“Our guests really enjoy the digital waitlist—it definitely helps keep them engaged while they’re waiting for a table. We had a digital waitlisting platform we were using previously, but what we like about waitlisting with Popmenu is that guests are texted a link to the menu while they wait so they can browse beforehand and then they’re texted again after they’re seated, encouraging them to leave a review.”

An added bonus? Because guests spend their wait time checking out the menu, they spend less time menu browsing at the table (helping Winking Lizard turn tables faster!)

Marketing that keeps guests coming back

65% of guests say they want to hear from their favorite restaurants at least once a week; 1 in 3 diners want to receive special promotions and other news from restaurants every week.

These expectations can feel like a lot to keep up with, but marketing your restaurant doesn’t have to be costly, time consuming, or complicated. In fact, even a little bit of marketing can go a long way. Simple marketing tactics like email, text, loyalty programs, offers, and more can keep you connected with new and long-time guests, drive more revenue, and increase foot traffic on slower days. Oh and the best part? With the right technology, many of these efforts can be automated!

Winking Lizard Tavern stays top-of-mind with its 30,000+ followers through custom emails, monthly email newsletters, regular text messages, and website announcements that call out upcoming events, new offers, new seasonal menu items, ordering events, and specials.

PopTip

Check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing for Restaurants for more best practices around marketing your restaurant!

Ordering event shows restaurant marketing at work

Last Thanksgiving, Winking Lizard Tavern saw over $20k in additional sales from one single ordering event. The restaurant advertised the event using website announcements, emails, and social posts.

“The online ordering events have been an easy way for us to offer special holiday meal packages that are normally not available on our regular menu…Last Thanksgiving we were able to reach a broader range of guests to market the event with the email marketing, online announcements, and social media integration to help generate over $20,000 in sales for one event.”

Watch this video below to catch up with Tracy Bryan, Marketing Manager at Winking Lizard Tavern!

Winking Lizard Tavern does it all (for less!) with Popmenu

Fact: 90 percent of consumers research a restaurant online before dining. When guest cravings start at the Google search bar, how do you make sure your restaurant website comes out on top? The answer: Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

- With SEO, guests find Winking Lizard through organic channels

-Guests add themselves to the waitlist in advance and receive a text to the dynamic menu

- Dynamic menu with likes and reviews entices guests before dining

- Guests leave reviews and restaurant captures guest information

- Restaurant keeps guests engaged and stays top of mind with marketing—inviting them back to the restaurant again and again

The Complete Guide to Restaurant Hiring & Staffing

Restaurant Hiring and Staffing:

More Complicated (and More Important) Than Ever Before

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the annual employee turnover rate for the restaurant industry had reached 75 percent—the highest it had been in five years.

That was in 2018, and we don’t need to tell restaurateurs how much has changed since then. The COVID-19 pandemic turned the restaurant industry on its head, exposing long-buried cracks in the system and completely flipping the script when it comes to hiring and staffing for restaurants.

With an unprecedented labor shortage that has wreaked havoc on restaurant sales—and continues to dominate industry headlines—something we already knew has become even clearer:

The agility, performance and growth potential of a restaurant is closely tied to the strength of its talent.

In fact, a nationwide Popmenu study of 415 restaurant owners and operators found that 71 percent lose $5,000 or more per month due to the labor shortage. 37 percent reported losing $10,000 or more per month. It’s clear that finding (and keeping) talented employees can be a challenge for restaurants—even though it’s one of the most important parts of running a successful business. Ready to learn how to recruit and hire the best?

Let’s get started.

Source: www.bls.gov

Table of Contents

1

Why Restaurants Need Great Employees

2

Employer Branding

3

Recruiting

4

Interviewing

5

Onboarding and Training

6

Staffing

7

Reducing Turnover

CHAPTER: 1

Restaurant Hiring and Staffing:

According to the National Restaurant Association, 90 percent of restaurants in the U.S. have fewer than 50 employees.

Restaurants run on small, tight-knit staffs. That makes every member of your staff vital to your restaurant’s success. From dishwashers to servers to cooks, every employee plays an important role in creating the experience you want guests to have at your restaurant.

It’s important to approach hiring and staffing like the essential parts of restaurant operations that they are. These are just a few of the reasons why restaurants need great employees to be successful.

YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE THE HEART AND SOUL OF YOUR RESTAURANT

Whether they’re greeting guests as they walk through the door, answering questions and taking orders, cooking and plating meals, bussing tables, washing dishes, marking inventory, or planning the restaurant’s long-term goals—your employees do it all, and every job counts in creating a great guest experience.

YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE YOUR BIGGEST INVESTMENT

For most restaurants, labor costs account for at least 20-30 percent of gross revenue. Plus there’s the investment you make when onboarding a new staff member—most new employees actually cost a restaurant money for the first few weeks, because of the time and resources spent training them properly.

In other words, your employees are a major investment, and can heavily impact your restaurant’s bottom line. This makes it even more important to seek out the best job candidates you can find.

YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE AN EXTENSION OF YOURSELF AND YOUR RESTAURANT

As a restaurant owner or manager, you can’t be everywhere at once. Instead, you have to depend on your employees to represent you—both at your restaurant and in your community. The best employees will live out your values and be great ambassadors for your restaurant whether they’re on the clock or off.

CHAPTER: 2

Employer Branding

What Is Employer Branding?

Employer branding is how you influence your restaurant’s reputation among the workforce, which can also include your current employees’ perception of you as an employer. It encapsulates your mission, values, and work culture—and the unique benefits and experiences you bring to current and future employees.

Employer branding is a common topic in the corporate world, and it’s gaining popularity in other industries, including restaurants. It’s how the world’s best companies market themselves to attract and retain top talent—something restaurants can do, too.

Building Your Employer Brand

If your restaurant is missing an employer brand, you can start building one in just a few steps.

1

Decide on your core values.

Company values and culture are an inextricable part of your employer brand. That’s why the first step toward building an employer brand strategy is identifying what’s important to your organization.

There are two key things to keep in mind as you identify and solidify your values and culture:

1. Your restaurant already has an established culture and values that drive it. Talk to you current staff and capture what already exists. Pay attention to common themes from these conversations; these will help you narrow in on your values.

Tip: Try to keep your number of values to no more than four so you can be dedicated equally to all of them.

2. Respect your culture for what it is. Don’t try to be overly aspirational—that’s how you end up making promises that you can’t deliver on.

The bottom line: “Culture” is like the ambiance of your restaurant; You work with what you have (location, space) and maximize your strengths (service, decor, music, etc.) to create a great experience.

2

Create an employee value proposition.

At the core of every employer branding strategy is the employee value proposition (EVP)—essentially, an agreement between an organization and its employees about what each is going to provide to the other.

EVP is the balance of give and take between employer and employee—the promise of what the employer will do for the team, and what they can expect from their employees.

When creating your EVP…

Incorporate your restaurant’s mission, values, and culture.

Think about your standard offerings. These are the things that most other restaurants will be providing to their employees. Some examples of these standard offerings include:

- Available shifts and scheduling flexibility.
- Accessibility for all employees.
- Employee discounts and shift meals.

Then, consider what you offer that sets your restaurant apart from others—these are your excitement offerings. Excitement offerings usually require more investment on the employer side, so, you’ll want to choose just a few to be great at providing. Some examples of excitement offerings include:

- Career development and upward mobility.
- Benefits like health insurance and PTO.
- Tuition coverage.

3

Put your brand strategy into practice.

Crafting your EVP is only half the job—the other half is to actually practice what you preach. Remember that all your employer branding efforts will be for nothing if employees accept jobs and realize your restaurant doesn’t live up to their expectations. Rather than just say your restaurant is a great place to work, you have to actually make it a great place to work.

Tip: Choose 1-2 excitement offerings that you want to do a great job at delivering on for employees and invest in those. Treat your EVP like your restaurant menu—there’s no need to offer every dish possible, be selective and serve the things you’re great at creating.

Restaurants With Strong Employer Branding

For some big restaurant chains, it’s employer branding that helps them stand out.

Take Shake Shack, for example, which has created the “Shacksperience,” an upward career path that’s available to all employees. Using a clear visual, Shake Shack shows the direct path employees can take to progress in their careers with the company. This, along with competitive healthcare benefits and 401(k) matching, makes Shake Shack an example of investing in your workforce as an employer.

A couple other examples:

Chipotle, which has expanded its debt-free educational degree options for employees this year.

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants promotes a “Culture of Caring,” emphasizing its commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace.

CHAPTER: 3

Recruiting

Employer branding is the first step to recruiting top talent for your restaurant. Once your restaurant begins to build a reputation for being a great place to work, word will spread. You’ll find the best employees coming to you, not the other way around.

But there are other ways you can help maximize your restaurant’s success while recruiting new employees.

BE COMPETITIVE

Other restaurants in your area are hiring, too. Why should the best talent choose your restaurant over the one down the street or on the other side of town?

Employer branding plays a role in this, but it’s equally important to walk the walk—to live up to your core values and make your restaurant a truly great place to work.

LOOK FOR REFERRALS

When it comes to finding talented restaurant employees, you already have a secret weapon: Your existing staff. It’s likely they know other great employees, and can help refer them to your open positions— plus, studies show that referred candidates get hired faster and stay longer than non-referred employees. Offer incentives to your existing staff for referring great candidates, like bonuses or extra perks.

POST YOUR OPEN JOBS EVERYWHERE

When you’re hiring, make sure everyone around you knows it—post your open jobs on social media, on restaurant job boards, and even on signs in your restaurant. Be strategic about your postings; Handshake is a job platform specific for college students, Culinary Agents is a career site for hospitality-specific jobs—think about where your best employees learned about you and be sure to float your job postings through that channel. Also, don’t just set it and forget it; remember to resurface your job postings on a regular basis (weekly is best!).

USE TECHNOLOGY

Your restaurant should already have an easy-to-use, mobile-friendly website. When you’re recruiting employees, use your website to your advantage—make sure you have a clean, welcoming, up-to-date careers page where you list your open positions and make it easy to apply.

Write Great Job Descriptions

One of the hardest (yet most important) parts of recruiting the best employees is writing great job descriptions that get them in the door.

Keep in mind that the best job descriptions keep things short and sweet, while still conveying all the important information about the role. Here’s a template to help you get started.

Job Title

What role is this person applying for? In your introduction, include the job title and an attention-grabbing opener: “Want to work for a restaurant with great pay and career opportunities—and have fun along the way?”

Job Duties

List a few bullet points about primary duties for this role, and what will be expected from the person who fills it.

Qualifications

What skills are necessary for success in this role?

Don’t go overboard with this section. Try to boil it down to a few key buckets (for example, collaborative communicator, adaptable and quick-thinker, passionate and hospitality-minded).

Try to avoid listing things like, “5+ years of experience.” Research shows that adding these types of parameters can make even qualified applicants self-select out of applying for roles. Instead, list experience qualifications in other ways:

- “You enjoy leading teams in a fast-paced environment.”
- “You’ve grown your skills behind the bar and are ready for a new challenge.”
- “You’ve demonstrated your ability to work on a tight-knit team.”

Compensation and perks:

All job descriptions should include information about pay. Be clear about the hourly wage or salary for the position you’re hiring for, and include any other compensation like benefits or on-the-job perks.

About your restaurant:

Briefly summarize your core values from your employer branding. Focus on what sets your restaurant apart and makes it a great place to work.

According to Glassdoor, 76% of job seekers want details on what makes the company an attractive place to work

Source: b2b-assets.glassdoor.com

CHAPTER: 4

Interviewing

Interviewing is an essential part of the hiring process. It helps you get to know your potential new hires, see what they value in a workplace, and how they might fit into your team.

Tips for an effective interview:

The 51% Rule

Meyer wrote about using the “51% Rule” when hiring staff for his restaurants. That means he gave 51% of consideration to a potential employee’s personality, and 49% to their skillset. Meyer’s reasoning is that restaurant skills can be taught, but essential personality traits—things like emotional intelligence, critical thinking, work ethic, and empathy—cannot.

76%
personality

49%
skillset

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT AND WHAT YOU DON’T WANT

Before beginning interviews, sit down with your management team to discuss what an ideal candidate would look like: What qualities do they have? Why are those qualities important? Also think about what you don’t want—sometimes knowing what we are not looking for helps us better identify what it is we are.

BE PREPARED

Sometimes the application process looks like candidates walking through the door and filling out an application at the hostess stand. Make sure you have printed app forms on hand (or a QR code that directs them to an easy application on the website). Also, be ready to jump into an interview with them right away. This ties back to knowing what you want; that way you’re prepared for a conversation at all times.

BE STRATEGIC WITH SMALL TALK

Small talk can be a great way to get comfortable, but try to ask questions that go a bit deeper than “how is your day going?” Ask them how they wound up working in hospitality; what they like about it/what excites them. These questions will lighten the mood and help you get to know more about them.

START WITH LOGISTICS

The first things you discuss in an interview should be compensation, scheduling, & availability. Make sure those expectations are aligned before you dive into why they want to work for you and how they’re qualified.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR RED FLAGS

Red flags are usually issues with interpersonal skills vs a lack of hard skills (e.g., knowing a certain POS system). Trust your gut when interviewing. Hospitality is the business of reading people; what you learn through your observation skills counts for just as much as what you learn from the candidate’s interview answers.

FOLLOW UP WITH REFERENCES

A candidate’s references already know about their skills, experience, and work ethic. Ask if they’d re-hire the candidate, and if they say yes, you likely have a solid hire on your hands. If the candidate has few or no references, it’s okay to trust your gut and take a chance.

Sample Interview Questions for All Restaurant Positions

The key to a successful interview is asking the right questions and then going a level deeper. There’s no need to have 15 questions lined up; have 3-5 strong questions with follow-ups that dig deeper into the candidate’s thinking, attitude and behavior.

When deciding on questions to ask, consider the STAR Method to learn more about a potential employee’s values, emotional intelligence, and skillset:

S
T
A
R

Situation: Outline a situation the candidate is likely to encounter.

Task: Describe a common task that’s part of the job.

Action: Have the candidate explain the action they’d take in that situation or to accomplish that task.

Result: Ask the candidate about the result of them taking that action in a similar situation in the past.

QUESTION

WHAT IT TELLS YOU

Why do you want to work in the restaurant industry?

We know restaurants can be a tough place to work. It takes passion and dedication to succeed. This question helps you determine whether your potential employee truly loves this kind of work.

Follow-up: Why did you choose to interview here/at this restaurant?

How did you start working in hospitality?

Hospitality is at the center of everything a restaurant does. Any potential hire needs to have a strong sense of what it means and why it’s important.

Follow-up: What does hospitality mean to you? How do you demonstrate hospitality to guests?

What is the best FOH/ BOH team you’ve ever worked with?

A restaurant’s staff has to operate as a team. This question will speak to a potential employee’s ability to resolve conflict and work well with other members of your staff.

Follow-up: What did you respect about that team? How did you contribute to fostering that positive relationship?

Who was the toughest guest you ever had to serve?

Sometimes guests behave badly, but it’s still up to your restaurant’s staff to give them the best experience possible. This question will help you see a potential employee’s attitude toward difficult guests.

Follow-up: What made them tough? How did you handle it?

Would you say you’re better at (job) than most people/than other (job) you’ve met?

Ideally, you’ll be able to hire employees who are already well-versed in what your restaurant offers. But asking this question helps you see if, even if they’re not already experts, an employee is curious and willing to learn.

Follow-up: Why do you think that? What is it about you that makes you better?

Additional Questions for Specific Positions

FOR BARBACKS AND BARTENDERS:

What do you do if you see an irate or extremely intoxicated person at the bar?

When the bar is busy, how do you decide who to serve first?

How do you make a (insert a popular but generic drink served at your restaurant)?

FOR COOKS:

What’s your favorite dish to make and why?

How do you respond when a guest sends a dish back to the kitchen because there’s a problem with it?

What do you do if the chef asks you to make something you’ve never made before?

FOR CHEFS:

What’s the first thing you would change about our menu and why?

How do you help manage food costs?

How will your influence make our food better?

FOR MANAGERS:

Tell us about the worst employee you ever worked with and how you helped manage them.

How do you handle conflicts between members of your staff?

Tell us about a time you exceeded a guest’s expectations.

FOR FOH EMPLOYEES (CASHIERS, HOSTS, SERVERS, ETC.):

A guest tells you they have a food allergy. What do you do?

What do you do if your register is short at the end of a shift?

What do you say to guests as they arrive at the restaurant? As they leave?

Tell me about a time you’ve had to work with a disappointed or angry guest.

CHAPTER: 4

Onboarding and Training

Did you know that 40 percent of employees who receive poor training leave their jobs within a year? Onboarding and training set the tone for a new employee’s time on your team. It’s important to spend this time teaching a new hire everything they need to know to perform their job well, but also helping them integrate with the rest of your staff.

These tips can help get any restaurant employee off to a strong start.

ORIENTATION

Orientation gives a new hire a chance to settle in. This is the time to collect necessary paperwork, walk them through your employee handbook, and introduce them to the rest of the team. This is also a good time to give your new employee their training shift schedule and work out any questions about scheduling and availability.

SHADOWING

Pair up your new hire with a reliable employee (preferably one who has experience in the role the new hire is filling). For at least the first week, let your new employee shadow the more experienced one, taking on more of the responsibility with each shift. Encourage them to ask questions and get to know the role as well as possible.

ACTING OUT SCENARIOS

One of the best ways to help a new hire learn their job is by acting out common scenarios with them as a training exercise.

CROSS-TRAINING

Once a new hire has mastered their position, consider crosstraining them for other jobs in your restaurant. Having a crosstrained staff creates empathy between teams and takes some of the pressure off when covering positions if another employee calls out or quits unexpectedly.

Always live your restaurant’s core values.

The onboarding and training process is a great time to let your core values shine. In everything you do, make sure you live up to those values and show new hires that your restaurant really is a great place to work.

Source: b2b-assets.glassdoor.com

CHAPTER: 6

Staffing

Since staffing costs take up 20-30 percent of the average restaurant’s total revenue, staffing your restaurant effectively can have a direct impact on your bottom line. Once your dream team is in place, it’s time to make sure your restaurant is properly covered for different seasons and shifts.

Average Staffing for Different Restaurant Types

FAST-CASUAL:

1 cashier for every 12 tables.

1 service staff for every 12 tables.

4 kitchen staff for every 50 guests per hour.

CASUAL SIT-DOWN DINING:

1 host for every 5-6 tables.

1 server for every 5-6 tables.

4 kitchen staff for every 50 guests per hour.

FINE DINING:

1 host for every 4 tables.

1 server for every 4 tables.

1 bartender for every 30-40 guests.

6 kitchen staff for every 50 guests per hour.

How to Make a Restaurant Schedule

BREAK UP YOUR HOURS OF OPERATION INTO SHIFTS

These can be 8-hour shifts, a lunch shift and a dinner shift, or something else entirely—try to find a way to create shifts that work for your restaurant’s open hours, and that won’t require you to change over staff during rushes.

DIVIDE YOUR DINING ROOM INTO SECTIONS

Every table in your dining room should have a number. Divide the numbers into sections that can be assigned to different members of your serving staff. Depending on the type of service and typical turnover time, it’s standard to assign each server 4-6 tables at a time.

SCHEDULE YOUR STAFF

This will include at least one host, and as many servers as you need to cover all the dining sections for each shift, plus as many BOH staff as you need to cook and keep the kitchen running smoothly. When scheduling, take into account each employee’s availability and needs. There’s a lot of trial and error involved here—don’t worry if your schedule isn’t perfect after your first try. Keep collecting feedback from your staff to fine-tune it over time.

CAREFULLY CHOOSE OPENERS AND CLOSERS

Openers will be the first employees to arrive at your restaurant, preparing it for whatever service lies ahead each day. Closers will be the last to leave, cleaning and making sure the restaurant is prepared for the following day.

Openers and closers should be your most trusted employees. They will set the tone for each day’s service and make sure the restaurant stays clean, stocked, and prepped.

Important Considerations for Restaurant Staffing

LEAD TIME

Your employees need enough time to plan for their work schedules. Aim to finish the schedule two weeks ahead of time so your employees can plan for things like appointments, childcare, and class schedules. This will also give you plenty of time to get a shift covered if an employee has a conflict with the posted schedule.

FLEXIBILITY

One of the things restaurant employees love about this industry is it tends to be more flexible than some— that is, the concept of a “9 to 5” doesn’t apply here.

While some employees might appreciate consistency in their schedules, they’ll also appreciate being able to trade shifts with co-workers, request time off, or pick up extra shifts for extra cash. Remember the schedule doesn’t need to be set in stone.

OVERTIME

The Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) dictates that restaurant workers are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in one week (typically defined by 7 consecutive 24-hour periods). Federal law doesn’t dictate how much overtime pay needs to be, but local laws might. The industry standard overtime for hourly restaurant workers is 1.5x their normal hourly wage, or time-and-a-half.

LOCAL LABOR LAWS

Tell us about the worst employee you ever worked with and how you helped manage them.

How do you handle conflicts between members of your staff?

Tell us about a time you exceeded a guest’s expectations.

FAIR SCHEDULING LAWS

Fair scheduling laws outline the legal rights of hourly workers. These laws vary from state-to-state, but may dictate:

- How far in advance you need to create your schedule
- Whether you can change the schedule after distributing it
- Break time between shifts
- Break time during shifts

How far in advance you need to create your schedule Whether you can change the schedule after distributing it Break time between shifts Break time during shifts

Find your state’s scheduling, overtime, and labor laws at www.dol.gov/agencies/ whd/state.

CHAPTER: 7

Reducing Turnover

Turnover is one of the biggest staffing challenges restaurants face.

The average tenure of a restaurant employee is just one month and 26 days. Meanwhile, the average cost to replace an employee in the restaurant industry is one-third of their annual pay. That means there’s a direct (and substantial) financial incentive for reducing turnover at your restaurant—a 25 percent reduction in turnover could save you more than $60,000 a year.

Why is restaurant industry turnover so high? While there are great career opportunities with restaurants, the industry has a reputation for jobs that are high-stress and low-pay, with unpredictable hours, physically demanding work, generally few benefits (if any), and limited opportunities for career advancement.

To reduce turnover at your restaurant, start by taking a hard, honest look at how those common industry challenges affect your staff. These tips can help you retain the best talent over time, ensuring your restaurant has the best people working for it—and protecting your bottom line.

Keep in mind that even if you can’t implement everything we’ve outlined, starting to address some of these challenges one at a time is a great start in the right direction to hiring and retaining great people!

LIVE YOUR CORE VALUES EVERY DAY

One way to help reduce turnover is to practice what you preach in your restaurant’s core values. Your employer branding was designed to set you apart from other restaurants and show why yours is the best restaurant to work at. But if new hires quickly discover things aren’t as great as you made them seem, they won’t want to stick around.

OFFER GOOD COMPENSATION

Notice we didn’t say “competitive” compensation. One of the biggest drivers behind the labor shortage of 2021 was workers demanding a living wage—not just a wage on par with other low-wage businesses in their area. Today, the businesses that have their pick of top talent are the ones that offer pay and benefits packages that allow their employees to thrive.

CREATE OPPORTUNITY FOR ADVANCEMENT

Another big reason employees leave restaurants is because it can be so hard to rise through the ranks. Your restaurant will retain the best talent if you offer them clear opportunities to advance their careers by staying employed by you.

VALUE WORK/LIFE BALANCE

Why do restaurant workers love the industry’s flexibility? It gives them opportunity for great work/life balance. As an employer, you can make your restaurant a more attractive place to work by recognizing that your employees want to work to live, not live to work.

REWARD AND RECOGNIZE GREAT EMPLOYEES

One way to make sure your employees always feel how much you value them is to make sure to regularly recognize them for their great work. You can also consider something like an incentive system, with bonuses or other rewards, for your best employees.

GET FEEDBACK FROM YOUR TEAM

If you’re wondering how else to make your restaurant the best possible place to work, you already have all the information you need—just ask your team. Regularly collect feedback from your employees on what could make their work experience better, and create a culture where it’s OK for employees to give feedback on things they don’t love about their jobs.

Restaurant Hiring and Staffing Are Tricky Parts of the Business…

But with the right tools and strategies, you can master them.

Welcome to your guide to email marketing

Consistently communicating with guests is key to repeat business. One easy way to do that? Email marketing.

Now, we know what you might be thinking, with all the flashy marketing channels available (i.e., TikTok, Instagram, etc.) email might seem a little too simple—but, sometimes the best dishes are made with the simplest ingredients, right? In fact, email marketing remains one of the top ways to connect with and market to consumers…and just like crafting the perfect dish, there is an art to it! In this guide, we cover the basics of creating a content calendar, writing tasty subject lines and craveable content, measuring marketing success—and how technology can help with all of it.

So, whether your goals are to attract new guests, grow sales, cultivate more guest loyalty, or just share what’s new on your menu, we’ve got all the email tips you need to entice guests through the front door.

Sending emails to guests is one of the fastest, easiest, and most effective ways to grow revenue. Yet, 1 in 3 restaurants never send them.

The proof is in the…pizza​ ​

The potential value of a single guest

In 18 months, GIOIA sent 49 emails (39 sent automatically) to one guest, resulting in 101 orders and $5,700+ in revenue.

With the help of email, GIOIA earned $897,000 in commission-free online ordering revenue in 2022.​

There are a number of ways you can easily capture critical info:

PopTip!

Capturing guest order history and preferences on top of email not only enables you to stay in contact with emails, announcements and promotions, it also allows you to get more personalized with what you’re sending. Shameless plug: Popmenu does this automatically and makes it easy!

Plan your communications

Creating an email content calendar

Planning a content calendar might sound a bit daunting but it’s actually pretty simple:

Start by looking at a calendar. Then, drop in key dates and recurring theme nights (like wine dinners, half-priced appetizer night, etc.), offers you’re running, and any operational changes you might have coming up (like holiday hours).

Once your calendar is planned out from an operations standpoint, you can layer your communications on top of it. Have a wine pairing dinner planned for Thursday, why not send an email to promote on that Tuesday? Got a great live music lineup for the weekend? Share the schedule and invite guests in!

The anatomy of a quality email.

Eye-catching header

Appetizing image

Hook

Body text

Body CTA

Button

Pro Tip! Include offers whenever possible

Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie identified Monday and Tuesday as slow ordering days, so they instituted a 35% off discount deal for Monday and Tuesday for the summer.

The offer earned them nearly $20,000 in revenue in just one month. Bonus: Monday and Tuesday are now their busiest ordering days. ​

An Ocean State Sandwich restaurant logo and a client of Popmenu

Ocean State Sandwich company uses automated emails to welcome new VIP followers, celebrate birthdays, encourage new reviews, and inform guests of restaurant happenings.

The restaurant has netted nearly $48,000 in online ordering from their marketing efforts, with $17,000 of that being driven by automated emails.

That’s $17,000 in revenue without lifting a finger.

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing for Restaurants

What’s Inside

Intro: capturing more consumer spend

Make your website (and online menu!) work extra hard for you

Discover your brand

Automate whenever, wherever you can (email/SMS/text)

Set SMART goals

Grow social media followers and engagement

Create and execute a simple strategy

Measure sweet success

People. Love. Restaurants. In fact, they love them so much that they spend 40% of their monthly food budgets on restaurants.

How much of the consumer wallet a restaurant captures is greatly influenced by the strength of its marketing. But, who has the time between serving guests, answering phones, checking inventory, paying bills, managing employees and the kazillion other things that occupy the day?

The reality is 61% of restaurant owners/operators spend 3 hours or less on marketing per week; a third spend less than 1 hour, according to Popmenu research. While 1 in 4 restaurant owners/operators have a person or team dedicated to marketing, nearly half say management and staff juggle marketing along with other duties. Another 18% say they do little to no marketing at all—which translates into a whole lot of missed revenue opportunity.

Ready to grab more of that consumer spend?

26%

We have a person/team dedicated to marketing

47%

Management/staff juggle marketing and other duties

9%

We outsource marketing

18%

We do little to no marketing

While marketing can feel time-consuming, expensive and utterly overwhelming, we’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be complex, it doesn’t have to cost a lot and much of it can be automated. This guide will show you how and cover all the basics with easy tips so you can hit the ground running and quickly grow your sales.

01

GETTING STARTED

Discover Your Brand

Before diving into a campaign of the “i’m lovin’ it” variety, it’s important to take some time to think about your brand.

First things first, what is a brand anyway? We’ll give you a hint: it’s not your logo, colors, menu or website. Rather, it’s all the parts that make up how people think about you. A brand has many layers and, technically, your customers are the ones who own it because they experience it. But, there are actions you can take to influence desired perception and those actions start with answers to the following questions:

What is your restaurant’s mission?

Do you want to “serve the best tacos on the planet” or “provide a cozy home away from home” or aspire to something bigger, like “end hunger in our community?” Whatever it is, it should be the guiding force behind how you talk about your restaurant and everything you do from a marketing standpoint.

In the case of Atlanta-based R&D Provisions, they position the restaurant as a place “where great food and technology innovation converge for a new way of dining.” In addition to providing global cuisine with a local flair, the restaurant serves as a real-time test lab for technology to benefit the greater restaurant industry.

How do you differentiate from competitors?

What features stand out? How is your dining experience completely unique or better than anywhere else? Think an unusual dish, homemade desserts as big as your head, servers who sing or joke around with you, cult classics playing while you eat, etc.

What is your restaurant NOT?

Knowing what you don’t want your restaurant to be can help sharpen your vision: It’s upscale, but not formal. It’s nostalgic, but not kitschy. It’s affordable, but not cheap.

How would you describe your restaurant’s personality?

Is it bold and edgy, casual and fun, or classic and elegant? If your restaurant was a person, would it be more akin to Betty White or Lady Gaga?

How do you want customers to feel about your restaurant?

Whether they are dining on-premise, ordering online or checking out your Instagram, how do you want them to feel when they interact with you? Funny enough, a lot of restaurants even use their restrooms to convey their brand experience.  

What does your restaurant look like, sound like, taste like, smell like?

A restaurant is a sensuous business and you want to find the right words and images to convey what guests should expect when they dine with you. A photo of a juicy steak you can taste just by looking at it. A headline extolling the virtues of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. A video of guests salsa dancing.

The Freakin' Incan logo with alpaca icon

The Freakin Incan in Roswell, GA brings authentic Peruvian street food to life through its brick-and-mortar restaurant and food truck business. Its fun and engaging brand is accentuated by beautiful dishes and cocktails that “transport your taste buds to Peru.”

Are there other brands you admire (inside or outside the industry)?

What do you like about those brands and the way they communicate with their customers…and how can you put your own personal spin on that?

Answering these questions will help you to zero in on the right vibe and voice to attract guests and keep them craving more.

02

Set SMART Goals

Now that you’ve identified your brand, it’s time to set some goals. What outcomes do you want your marketing plan to achieve?

Generate business for a new location or concept

Increase dine-in traffic (i.e., get more butts in seats)

Amplify online presence and increase engagement on my website and social channels

Drive more online orders directly from my restaurant instead of third-party delivery services

Drive awareness of and sales from special events like happy hours, trivia nights and doggie brunches

Sell more pre-ordered meals or meal kits for holidays

Promote specials to drive ordering spikes

Increase number of online reviews

Turn more guests into regulars by generating a loyal customer base

Curate a sense of community among followers

Reach new clientele demographics

Keep in mind that each goal should be quantifiable and with a relatively short timeline. Start with three and keep iterating. Make sure the goals are SMART (that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) so you can check progress, shift strategies as needed and grow as you go.

Here are examples of three SMART goals and corresponding tactics for a 1-month timeframe:

Increase online orders on the slowest days of the week by 20%

How? Send 2 SMS messages per month sharing a unique offer code to guests

Increase engagement on Facebook and Instagram with an average of 30 engagements (likes, comments, shares) per post across social channels

How? Send out 2-3 social media messages per week highlighting specials, events and other news

Generate 100 covers for Sunday brunch

How? Send 2 emails per month, incentivizing guests to book early

03

NOW FOR THE FUN PART

Create and Execute a Simple Strategy

When asked to identify the most important factors that help them decide where to eat, 1,000+ consumers surveyed by Popmenu pointed to the following:

Reviews of the restaurant or specific dishes on the menu: 57%

Photos/descriptions on the restaurant’s menu: 45%

Restaurant’s website: 35%

Restaurant is advertising a special promotion/event: 35%

Restaurant’s social media activity: 25%

Restaurant shows up on the first page of my search results on Google or other search engines: 24%

Other: 12%

There are several channels you can use to market your restaurant—from your website, emails, SMS/texts and social media to special promotions and word of mouth. In an ideal world, you’d be making good use of all of them, but don’t try to do everything at once. Start with what feels manageable and what you think will have the most impact on your goals with a smaller amount of investment.

We’re going to discuss various marketing channels in a little more detail, providing tips, examples and fun facts to know and share. As you explore with us, keep the following “must haves” for every marketing plan in mind:

Craveability

So much of effective restaurant marketing is putting photos of mouthwatering dishes and/or cocktails in front of hungry guests.

Consistency

Marketing is not a “one and done” situation. It’s important to provide a steady cadence of communications, choosing optimal days and times. We’ll get into that later.

Automation

As guests interact with your digital assets, there are easy ways to capture guest information (very important!) and automate outreach based on their preferences and behavior (equally important!).

Measurement

48% of restaurant owners/operators use data to guide marketing, which means 52% do not. Tracking the performance of each channel against your goals enables you to adjust channels or content as needed and drive greater ROI.

04

Make Your Website Work Extra Hard for You

It goes without saying, your website is your prime digital real estate to attract new customers. Make it easy for people to find information and keep it consistently updated with your latest restaurant news and offers. Here are examples of promotions you can run on your website to connect with guests:

Is it Friday?

Promote Happy Hour specials with a pop-up announcement on your website every Thursday night starting at 11:59 pm. Schedule it to display on the website weekly so it’s automatically there without extra effort!

Brunch, anyone?

Display an announcement above your menu to capture the attention of folks browsing your delicious dishes. Include a clear call-to-action to make a reservation so you can be part of their weekend plans!

Events

Keep an events calendar on your website and update it with live music, trivia nights, wine tasting or anything else you’re cooking up!

Promote weekly specials through your events page

If you don’t have special events like live music, no worries! You can make events out of Taco Tuesday and other weekly specials. Add images to your event display to make it attention-grabbing.

VIP

And remember, a little exclusivity can go a long way. On your home page, invite guests to become a VIP, so they can reap the rewards of special offers, advance notice of events, loyalty points and more. Outside of someone placing an order on your website, this is one of the easiest tools you can use to capture guest information and drum up more business.

SPEAKING OF WEBSITES

A Word About SEO, Menus and Ordering

Hands down, THE most important marketing asset for a restaurant on its website, or quite frankly anywhere else, is the menu. Around 90% of a restaurant’s website traffic goes directly to the menu…and that traffic has high expectations. Marketplaces like Amazon have trained consumers to expect photos, rich descriptions and reviews when making purchasing decisions and it’s no different when it comes to satisfying their appetites.

A text-only menu or PDF menu isn’t going to cut it, especially when you consider that 49% of consumers will immediately move on to another restaurant if they encounter a PDF menu on a mobile device.

And there’s the issue of search engine optimization (SEO), which influences how high your restaurant ranks when consumers are searching for “restaurants near me,” “steakhouse near me,” etc on Google. A PDF menu counts as one page of content for search engines to track while an interactive menu can give you multiple pages and boost your rankings to page 1 of search results.

A Word About SEO, Menus and Ordering

To ensure your restaurant ranks high in search engine results and generates more traffic to your website, set up each dish on your menu as a separate page for Google and others to index. Make sure that each dish features a photo (dishes with photos get twice as many orders!) and an opportunity for guests to like, review and share dishes for social validation.

Interactive Menu

Sidebar

Winking Lizard Tavern, a multi-location neighborhood restaurant in Ohio known for their craft beer paired with savory wings and ribs, implemented an SEO-driven approach during the pandemic. Within three months, they nearly doubled their home page traffic, generated 432 reviews and captured data from over 1,800 guests for remarketing. Not bad, right?

Winking Lizard Tavern logo

The Results in Just 3 Months

Location Page Traffic

Home Page Traffic

Monthly Site Users

Guest Contact Info Obtained

Reviews Added to Site

Time Spent on Site (in minutes)

Before Popmenu

105k+

32k+

161k

0

0

1:20

With Popmenu

201k+

91k+

201k+

1,800+

432

2:31

In addition to having an interactive menu, it’s critical to keep online ordering on your own website as much as possible. For one, 76% of guests prefer to order directly from a restaurant’s website vs. going to a third-party provider. Second, you’re able to capture customer data and get deeper insights into their preferences and behavior—enabling smarter, more lucrative remarketing campaigns that can be automated.

Which brings us to our next tip:

05

Automate Whenever, Wherever You Can

Think about the world of retailers and e-commerce. The moment you engage with an item, a targeted email lands in your inbox, enticing you back to your shopping cart with 15% off your first purchase or 20% off your next order. The immediacy of that email is made possible by automation—in other words, an email is triggered to send after a certain behavior is taken by the customer.

Restaurants can work the same way; every website engagement by a new or existing follower creates an opportunity to send a message that encourages an action (e.g., place an online order or make a reservation). And best of all, you don’t have to lift a finger or even think about it. Here are some examples of where automation can help foster guest relationships:

Welcome new followers

Make sure your guests are greeted with a welcome email as soon as they opt to share their contact info through your website. Attach an offer or valuable information so that guests find immediate benefit from your outreach and want to see/taste more!

Send a Happy Birthday offer

Collect your followers’ birthday information when they sign up and extend a gift like a free dessert or appetizer when they dine in with you on their special day. Keep in mind that guests often celebrate their birthdays in groups, so give them a reason to let you host their birthday festivities.

Show your gratitude

When a guest goes out of their way to provide feedback about your business, send them a Thank You. Make sure that they know that their feedback is valuable and helps you serve them better. A sweet, thoughtful message from the owner will do the trick.

Alert guests that popular menu items have returned

Known for your special menus or seasonal dishes? Let guests know instantly that their favorites are back to inspire action.

More on Email/SMS/Text

In addition to triggers like welcome emails and birthday messages, you want to keep guests continually engaged over time. So, how often should you reach out? It all depends on what you’re offering or news you want to share, but consider these stats from Popmenu surveys:

Consumers want to hear from their favorite eateries, yet 1 in 4 restaurant owners/operators say they send emails or SMS/texts with promotions less often than once a month and a whopping 38% NEVER do. That creates a significant competitive edge for restaurants that choose to engage their guests on a regular basis.

Remember Winking Lizard Tavern and the guest contacts they captured through their online menu? Their distribution list steadily grew to over 26,000 followers and they proactively keep in touch with those guests through newsletter-style emails and other outreach to bring in more business. For example, they sent a message that pointed guests back to a special online ordering event for Thanksgiving that generated $20,000 in one day.

63%

of consumers order takeout at least twice a week

65%

of consumers would like to receive special offers from restaurants at least once a week

Should you send an email or SMS?

Both can be effective ways to reach guests—especially when the message generates immediate perks for guests—but SMS outreach tends to significantly outperform emails in terms of open rate (98% for SMS vs. ~20% for emails) and response time (90 seconds for SMS vs. 90 minutes for emails). What’s more, research shows that once a consumer joins a restaurant’s SMS program, the guest spend increases by 23%. SMS subscribers visit restaurants 44% more frequently than non-subscribers, which has a direct impact on your bottom line.

Should you send an email or SMS?

Open rate

98%

SMS open rate vs 20% of emails—that's nearly 5x higher.

Response rate

90 seconds

avg SMS response time vs 90 minutes for email response.

95%

of SMS messages are opened within 3 minutes after receipt.

45%

SMS response rate vs 6% for email.

In terms of frequency of outreach, you ideally want to send one SMS message per week with a very intentional call to action like: “Half-price apps from 4:00 to 6:00” or “Cool off with our signature cocktails on the patio.”

For email marketing, the rule of thumb is to send 2 to 4 per month depending on the quality and relevance of content you’re sharing around offers, menu items, events and other news that may interest guests.

Either way, make sure your communication features drool-worthy photos. Sometimes all it takes to bring a guest through the door is a small reminder of the deliciousness you offer.

06

Grow Your Social Media Followers and Engagement

If you ever wondered whether social media is a powerful tool in your customer acquisition arsenal, try this stat on for size: 73% of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant if they see a special promotion on social channels, according to Popmenu research.

More than half of consumers follow restaurants on social media and they’re looking for a mix of content to make their dining decision. What do they say they want to see?

Photos of featured dishes/drinks – 61%

Special events – 47%

Discounts – 64%

Pictures shared by guests – 38%

Staff highlights – 28%

Reviews – 52%

Quotes from the chef – 22%

Rooh restaurant logo

ROOH is an urban, progressive Indian restaurant nestled in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. ROOH uses social media marketing to build brand awareness and leaves no feature of Instagram behind—which has helped them to build a following of over 18,000 and growing. In addition to striking photos of dishes and cocktails, they consistently share stories and reels and actively engage with customers through DMs and comments.

A custom icon of Instagram for Popmenu's new brand identity of year 2023

@roohsf

In this reel, ROOH partnered with a local food influencer to promote their most popular dishes and cocktails and gained over 13,700 views from both current and potential customers.

A custom icon of Instagram for Popmenu's new brand identity of year 2023

@friskiefries

Friskie Fries, known for the crispiest, friskiest fries in Rhode Island, is another great example. With over 15,000 loyal followers (AKA Friskettes), their focus on local community support, positivity and inclusivity (on top of tasty, fun food) draws continued engagement. In addition to professional photos, cheeky graphics and witty puns, they also leverage user-generated content to capture the customer experience.

Social posts can help to bring in new business, keep your brand top-of-mind and cultivate community engagement. Channels being used and frequency of social outreach often comes down to resources, but most restaurants choose to post on Instagram and/or Facebook. Thirty-six percent of restaurant owners/operators say they post on social media every day while 41% post 1 to 3 days per week.

Popmenu research found that followers are more engaged on weekdays. Aim for posts to go out on weekdays unless important information needs to be shared on a Saturday or Sunday for a specific reason.

Sidebar: More About Timing

Whichever marketing channel you’re using, consider the behaviors of your guests before deploying your outreach. Schedule your emails, SMS/texts and social media posts to engage your followers at optimal times (e.g., right before lunch time, a happy hour reminder near the end of the workday or a special offer to appease late-night cravings).

Remember, every restaurant is unique and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Test social posts, emails and SMS/texts to determine what days of the week and what times your followers are most responsive and build your marketing plan from those insights.

07

Measure Sweet Success

Now for the million dollar question: are your marketing efforts paying off? One key practice to keep in mind when measuring: context. Be sure to capture the “before” picture so you can accurately measure the impact of your efforts.

Website Traffic Metrics

Google Analytics reports are a great resource to help you understand more about your guests’ online behaviors:

- How many views does your website receive daily?

- Is there a spike on a certain day of the week and why? Maybe there’s a popular happy hour or new press mention?

- Where does your traffic come from?

- What device(s) are your website visitors using to find you?

- How long are your guests staying on your website?

Knowing more about how your guests interact with your restaurant online will help inform where you should invest your marketing efforts.

Social Media Metrics

In addition to tracking follower growth over time, it’s important to see how much engagement you’re receiving on each social channel:

- How many likes and shares were generated?

- How many comments were made and are they positive, negative or neutral?

- How many people clicked on special offers or signed up for special events?

- Which posts are top-performing and which fell short? What can be replicated, adjusted or ixnayed altogether?

Email Marketing Metrics

We talked about average open rate (98%), response rate (45%) and response time (90 seconds) for SMS marketing earlier. Taking a closer look at email marketing, there are three standard benchmarks you can track:

- open rate (how many people open an email)

- click-through rate (how many people click on the email and take the next best action (e.g., place an order, make a reservation, etc.)

- unsubscribe rate (how many people opt out of receiving communication from you).

According to Mailchimp, the average email open rate for the restaurant industry is 19.77%, the click-through rate is 1.34% and the unsubscribe rate is 0.28%. How do your metrics stand up against industry averages? If they’re better, that’s great; keep up the excellent content! If they’re lower, it might be worth it to evaluate the content you’re sending.

Ordering Metrics

If your goals are to increase ordering volume, it’s good to have a sense of how many online orders you typically receive before you start your campaign. Some questions to think about:

- Is your promotion leading to a larger check average/stronger return on investment?

- How many orders come to you directly?

- How many come through third-party delivery services? What is the slowest day of the week?

- Does your audience respond well to offers, discounts and promotions?

- What is the most popular dish your guests order online?

Dine In + POS Reporting

Your POS system is a great resource readily available to help you understand your patrons and their purchase patterns. Moreover, your inventory reports can reflect how your marketing efforts, like promotions and specials on specific dishes or ordering events, are impacting sales goals. Metrics to pay attention to:

- What days of the week have slower dine-in traffic?

- What time(s) of the day drive the most revenue?

- Are guests coming to celebrate with you? If so, what holiday(s) or events?

- Is there a way to capture emails and phone numbers for future marketing?

As you review different metrics, make sure to check progress on meeting goals. Did you meet them or, better yet, exceed them? What worked, what didn’t and why? Continue to iterate and tailor your approach and messaging. Marketing is a constant learning process and every interaction with guests will help you find the right strategy to drive desired outcomes.

Final thoughts

We covered a lot in this guide. Hopefully, you’ve found some helpful tips you can quickly put into action to hone your brand, set SMART goals, make the most of your website and menu, automate outreach, run promotional campaigns and measure your success.

If you’re eager to learn more, stay tuned for The Ultimate Advanced Guide to Digital Marketing for Restaurants coming out later this year!

And, if you ever need an extra hand, Popmenu’s team of restaurant marketers is ready to help you build your strategy, create assets and execute across channels. Learn more about our Boost team at

popmenu.com/boost
A Popmenu logo icon consist of three dash lines inside a talk bubble icon with spoon and fork.

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