Yogi Berra, the famous baseball player and manager–and a surprisingly famous connoisseur of restaurants–said it best: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to know it when you get there.”

We are speaking, in this case, about the marketing plan for your restaurant. An effective marketing plan should have goals and measurements to determine whether you are successful. It shouldn’t be a hit-or-miss type of thing, or something you do when you get the time. To be successful, marketing needs to be ongoing, consistent and focused on a plan with measurable objectives. When you have successes, you want to be able to look at the marketing plan and clearly see what worked, and what can be improved. You want to know when you got there, and the roadmap that allowed you to arrive successfully.

Your marketing plan should be based on your particular situation – your menu, the brand of your restaurant, your customer demographics, and a number of other factors.

Let’s start with your situation. The first step is a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Start with your staff, both the wait staff and the kitchen staff, as a great place to begin this process. Preferably, you can get them all together at one time and promote the team atmosphere. Announce the purpose of the meeting ahead of time and ask people to think about it and have answers when they come.  It’s important to tap into the knowledge base of those who are on the front lines with their ears to the ground every day.  Often they’ll come up with some of the best ideas!

Some examples of things mentioned in a SWOT are below, and it’s okay to have the same answer in more than one category:

Strengths:

  1. Location
  2. Food Quality
  3. Staff
  4. Chef

Weaknesses:

  1. Staff Turnover
  2. Limited Menu
  3. No Entertainment
  4. Outdated Décor

Opportunities:

  1. Population Growth
  2. Traffic Patterns
  3. Online Marketing and Ordering

Threats:

  1. Changing Demographics
  2. Health Trends Cause Decreased Interest in our Menu
  3. Vendor Costs Increasing

A word of advice: look at each category and determine if they, in fact, really belong in that category – or try to look at it from another perspective. Here is an example from another retail sector. A local home and garden center, that has been around for several decades, learned that a Wal-Mart was going in across the street. That certainly falls into the threats category and could mean the demise of the little guy. Instead the hometown nursery talked about it with their customers, launched a newsletter, and when Wal-Mart opened, went over and introduced themselves to the people working in the gardening section. The hometown store invited guest speakers, put on events, and drew lots of people. They also made sure the Wal-Mart gardening folks knew that if they couldn’t answer a question from a customer, or didn’t have something in stock, the little guy across the street might have what they needed.

Five years later the owner of the local home and garden center will tell you that Wal-Mart has been the best thing that ever happened to his business. His bottom line has never been better.

Moral of the story: Not everything is as it seems. Threats can be opportunities. Weaknesses can be strengths. It depends on how you approach it.

Armed with the information you get from your staff, talk to some of your business partners: suppliers, vendors, etc. Ask them the same questions – about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then get out of your comfort zone and talk to some trusted customers. Sit down with them, spring for a free meal perhaps, and ask them their perceptions on the same issues.

From there, determine a brand and a marketing strategy. Who is your restaurant? Are you a hangout for young people? Are you a family restaurant? Is your bread and butter the office lunch crowd, or the dinner crowd?

Some sample situational statements:

Situational Statement #1: Our sandwich shop, located just off a busy intersection and within easy walking distance of several large office buildings and businesses, caters to the lunch crowd that wants quick service and the ability to dine-in or take out. Our price point averages slightly higher than our competition because we offer good food and excellent service.

Situational Statement #2: Our restaurant, located in a college town, caters to students, faculty and parents visiting from out of town, as well as the local business community. Our competition includes several restaurants with higher price points and more ambiance, so our goal is to be the affordable alternative, with a relaxed atmosphere.

Once you know your position, determine a marketing budget, then the tactics that are supported by that budget. This budget is not limited to traditional advertising – space ads in the newspaper, billboards, etc. It includes special events, sponsorships, etc. The trick is to make sure that everything you do supports the strategy.

If you own the sandwich shop in strategy #1, advertising in a local newspaper might not make sense, especially if the labor base commutes from someplace else. Investing in signage and distributing windshield flyers in nearby parking lots does make sense.

If you own the restaurant in strategy #2, fliers under the windshields don’t make sense. What might make more sense is sponsoring a college event or, given your market for people that are tuned into social media, launch promotions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A word about budgets. You should set up your budget on a monthly spreadsheet, and then spend that money as if it were a bill you pay every month. Make sure that seasonal events and expenditures are reflected. Refer to it frequently. See what’s coming up several months in advance. Some events require preparation.

What is nice about having a strategy is that when an advertising or marketing opportunity presents itself, you can refer to your strategy. Does that opportunity support your strategy? The local newspaper may have a very affordable opportunity in an upcoming special insert, but if your customers are not drawn by newspaper ads – as you determined in your research – then even the most affordable ad is money down the drain.

As you are assembling your budget, try to also set aside some extra money each month for those opportunities that you didn’t anticipate when you were assembling the budget and marketing calendar. Your surplus budget can cover the expenses of promotional flyers that may need to be produced at the last minute. If you don’t use your surplus budget one month, roll it into the next month.

Take the time to track promotions and the amount of business they bring in to your business. Train your staff to greet new customers at the counter with a casual inquiry as to where they found out about you. Record that information and compare it against the promotions you are running.

Track your sales throughout the day. If you see a surge of business in the afternoon, then you know that email offer of 20% off appetizers between 3:00 and 5:00 is working.

Some tips about having and maintaining a strategy:

  • Write it down. Write down your research, keep all your notes, and most of all, write down your strategic plan and the tactics you have developed to support that strategy.
  • Go back often and read through it. You’ll forget things.
  • Appoint a marketing committee to work with you – your assistant manager, your head cook. Conduct weekly meetings. Hold each other accountable.
  • Not everything you do will be wildly successful. There will be some clear flops. Those things happen. Analyze why they didn’t work.
  • Measure everything as best you can.

You should re-evaluate your strategy on a regular basis. Once a year is recommended. Did something change that will affect your strategy? Is a new restaurant coming into town? Are your competitors doing something different that seems to be working? Are the demographics of your customer base changing?

Marketing should be seen as an investment, not just an expense. If done correctly, the rewards will be more business, the growth of your restaurant, and more profit in your bottom line. Having a marketing strategy is one of the key ingredients to help you get there.

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