The Total Guide to Writing a Marketing Plan for Fast Casual Restaurants
You’ve set up your fast casual business model for quick service, high-quality ingredients, and great prices. Now, you need to get people through the door. Restaurant marketing is the key to your success, and a well-written restaurant marketing plan will make the execution of your strategy super easy.
So here it is: everything you need to know to write the perfect marketing plan for your fast casual restaurant. In this article, we’ll walk you through all the components of a complete restaurant marketing plan – which you can of course tailor to the needs of your business.
To set you up for success, we’ve also put together a template you can download, customize, and fill in with your own restaurant marketing strategy. Take everything you learn here and follow along with your template – at the end of this process, you’ll be well on your way to creating an expert-level promotion strategy specifically tailored to your fast casual restaurant.
While a business plan establishes how you’ll conduct your business in the future, a marketing plan is a blueprint of the ways you’ll promote your fast casual restaurant to the target audience defined within your business plan.
A marketing plan:
acts as an instruction manual for promoting your business
sets goals and milestones for customer growth and retention
determines roles, responsibilities, and budget for promoting your restaurant
Keep your business plan handy as you build your restaurant marketing plan. The two documents – while distinctly different – should rely on each other like a codependent power couple.
Planning to Write Your Restaurant Marketing Plan
There are a few things you should check off your to-do list before you actually start writing your marketing plan. These items set you up to write an informed marketing plan that aligns with where your restaurant is positioned within the market and against your competitors. Here we’ll take you through all the elements you’ll need to prepare before you start writing your plan.
As a fast casual restaurant, you’re facing more competition than ever, as investors continue to pour money into the fast casual segment. If you’re currently benefiting from this influx of investor cash, great! If you’re not, you can still come out on top – you’ll just need to know what your competitors are doing so you can stay on top.
Whether you beat ‘em or decide to join ‘em, you need to know what “‘em” are up to. Here’s what you need to do to conduct an effective competitor analysis.
Sign up for your competitors’ e-newsletters
Follow your competitors on social media
Keep a spreadsheet of your competitors’ offers and promotions
Then perform a formal competitive analysis: their channels, voice and tone, target audience, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities you have to beat them, and threats they may pose to your business
You probably conducted a SWOT analysis of your own business when you wrote your restaurant business plan. If you did not, perform one now:
List your business’ strengths: the things that make you stand out
List your business’ weaknesses – and make sure to be honest
Write down any opportunities your restaurant has to stand out from the crowd, whether it’s biodegradable takeout packaging or a great customer rewards program
List any threats to your business, like your competitors or a change in your neighborhood
Compare your SWOT analysis to the ones you did for your competitors. Note any interesting overlap, and keep this information close at hand when you’re writing your marketing plan.
Marketing Plan Overview
Before diving into the nitty-gritty details of a marketing plan, you’ll want to remind yourself of your vision, goals, and target audience. Ideally, you can pull this information straight from your business plan. Here’s what you’ll need to include:
Mission statement: Your mission statement is the reason your restaurant exists. Mission statements are usually one to three sentences and approximately 50 words. They describe your restaurant’s value, inspire your customers, staff, and stakeholders, are plausible and realistic, and they are specific and to the point.
Elevator pitch: Your elevator pitch is how you would describe your restaurant to a stranger if you only had 60 seconds. Make sure you include your restaurant’s name, what type of food you offer, and what makes you unique.
Target audience: Describing your target audience can be fun. Some people like to create personas, which is a character who represents your target demographic and psychographics.
Voice and tone: Now that you’ve created your persona, how do you want to talk to them? Will your restaurant voice be more casual or formal? This is your chance to define a personality for your restaurant.
Goals: Not to get too existential, but what’s the point of all the work you’re doing here? You’ll want to list some tangible goals you can use to measure your overall success in your marketing efforts.
Some obvious examples are:
Customer acquisition (XX% growth in 12 months)
Customer retention (XX% by end of year)
Local share of voice (XX media mentions this year)
You may have others, and that’s great! Just remember that, as you go through the components of your marketing plan, you’ll want to return to these goals to make sure each element of your strategy rolls up to one of them.
Writing Your Marketing Plan
Now that you’ve identified the who and why, it’s time to focus on the how and when. This next section is the heart and soul of your marketing plan.
As a fast casual restaurant, facetime with your guests is limited. Your marketing plan can make up for that by strategizing ways to enhance other aspects of your guest experience so that your restaurant is memorable.
For each section of your marketing plan, identify the following:
Goal: Refer to your primary goals. Which goal will each particular tactic or strategy support?
Audience: If you have a segmented audience, identify which segment you’re targeting with each marketing effort.
Channels: Based on who you’re targeting, and which goal you’re aiming to meet, determine which channels you will have the most success reaching your audience with.
Timeline: Key events and milestones you hope to hit throughout the year ahead.
Measuring success: We’re talking tangible ways of measuring whether a marketing strategy is working or not. Key performance indicators.
Roles and responsibilities: Who will execute on the elements of your strategy, and what will they do?
Budget: Fairly self explanatory. List your budget line items for each tactic. Include a note about return on investment if you’ve done the research.
Note: Don’t feel pressured to execute on all the components of this plan! You know your capacity best, from budget to human resources. We’re giving you the full menu, but we also want to stress that you should prioritize what’s best for your business.
Public relations / media marketing
You’re in the business of feeding people when they’re hungry. Well, earning media exposure for your restaurant is all about feeding news-hungry journalists a good story.
So how do you make your restaurant newsworthy? Here are some ideas:
Story mining: Journalists usually do this – but they’ll love you if you can do it for them. Community partnerships, special menu items, or efforts to make your restaurant more environmentally sustainable – these are the kinds of stories local media outlets eat up (pun intended).
Be a local expert: Whether you’re partnering up with a local food bank or spearheading a movement to ban plastic straws, the more publicly you speak to the issues you’re passionate about, the more journalists and bloggers will approach you for quotes when they’re running stories on your fave topics.
Tap into trends: What’s trending? If you can draw a link between your restaurant and what’s hot in the news – a food craze, a new cooking technique, biodegradable takeout containers – you’ll be seen as newsworthy.
Pull on heartstrings: Make people feel something about your restaurant, and the media will follow. One of the easiest ways to do that is through human interest storytelling. Pay attention to your staff and customers – everyone has a story.
These days, when people think marketing, they immediately think digital. As almighty and powerful as the world wide web has become, it has yet to make more traditional marketing methods obsolete. A direct mail campaign may sound old school, but in this case, old school is cool.
As a fast casual restaurant, you have less time with your guests than, say, a family restaurant. So your window to collect feedback, provide incentives, and encourage word of mouth is limited. A direct mail campaign can help with that.
Some advantages to running a direct mail campaign are:
You don’t need to collect email addresses
You can target everyone within your delivery zone
Direct mail establishes your brand as top of mind to your target audience
Direct mail lets you tracks success with coupons and discount codes
Here are a few items you’ll want to tackle before launching your first direct mail campaign to ensure its success:
Optimize your website: Make sure your website looks great before sending out any direct mail campaign. Update your information, add an online menu, and make sure you include links to your social media channels.
Set up success tracking: Track the success of your direct mail campaign by including discount codes you can track as they’re redeemed.
Invest in design: Be aware that effective direct mail campaigns involve paying for professional design services. People get a lot of mail – your piece needs to be unique and stand out from the pile.
Loyalty programs are the holy grail of customer retention for fast casual restaurants. The faster, transactional nature of your guest experience sets you up to create an environment where customers can keep coming back – and you can benefit from the repeat business.
Provide incentive (points!) for your customers to keep coming back and spending more
Allow you to communicate with your customers via mobile or email
Collect data and keep track of what your customers want
When you’re planning to implement a loyalty program, you’ll want to think about ways to incentivize your customers to come back. Think about a points system – if your customer comes back to your restaurant two days in a row, how many points should they get? How many points will it take for your customers to earn a discount or a free item?
When you include your loyalty program as part of your marketing plan, you’ll be setting yourself up for success because your loyalty program goals will map to your overall customer retention goals.
Website and SEO
Your website is the online face of your restaurant. Also, just FYI, 86% of people look at restaurant menus before going out to eat – meaning the online menu on your website needs to look great.
You’ll want to make sure you include certain key assets on your website to make it easy and enjoyable to navigate:
Easy to find opening hours, location, and contact information
High-quality photos of your restaurant and menu items
A detailed and descriptive online menu
Your restaurant’s history and mission statement
Links to your social media profiles and online review site profiles
When you’re designing your website, you should also be thinking about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the practice of optimizing your website so it ranks as high as possible when people are searching for places to eat.
On a basic level, here’s how to improve your search engine rankings:
Optimize for relevant keywords
Write effective title tags
Include keywords in your meta descriptions
It wasn’t so long ago that social media marketing was viewed as cutting-edge. Today social media is a standard component of any marketing plan – which means your competitors are also vying for attention across channels.
If you do nothing else, make sure you understand the quirks of every social media channel available to you before you start mapping out your strategy. Every channel comes with its own features, characteristics, and potential problems you’ll need to be aware of.
Instagram, for example, is a no brainer for restaurants, given that we eat with our eyes and people love to look at beautiful pictures of food. Twitter, however, requires constant monitoring and maintenance, so you may not want to invest in the channel if you’re not properly resourced. And while Google+ may seem like a backwater social media channel that basically no one uses, just having a presence on the channel has been said to boost search rankings.
So make sure you carefully consider your goals and the conversations you want to be a part of on social media. This will help you focus your efforts when you’re mapping out what should be a significant portion of your overall marketing strategy.
If a customer has gone so far as to provide you with their email address, it means they care enough about your restaurant to want to know about its promotions, so don’t leave ‘em hanging!
But how do you go about collecting customers’ email addresses to get started? Here are some tips:
Place an email newsletter subscription button on your website
Cross-promote your email newsletter across your social media channels and direct mail campaigns
Online review sites
Word of mouth is nothing new, and it’s tried and true.
You provide customers with an experience, they talk to their friends about that experience, then those people either choose to visit your restaurant or stay away.
Restaurant review sites are just word of mouth through the world’s biggest megaphone.
Most restaurant-goers regularly look at online reviews to help them make decisions about where to eat. So it’s safe to say you should be taking the time to claim your business on restaurant review sites.
Here are some of the reasons why you should claim your business on restaurant review sites:
Be found: Ensure your business information (address, website, contact info, hours, menu) is up to date so people searching by location or category can find you.
Boost search rankings: The more reviews your business has, the higher your business will rank on Google. When searching, users usually only look at the first few search results, so it’s important you rank as highly as possible.
Build relationships with customers: Thanking positive reviewers is a great way to solidify their great experience with you. And when you address issues raised in a negative review, you’ll be more likely to turn a displeased customer’s opinion around.
Improve your business: Reviews tell you how customers experience your restaurant. When you’re paying attention to online reviews, you’re getting insight into what’s working and what’s not, so you know which menu items to promote and how to improve customer experience.
Remember that no two restaurant marketing plans are the same – you’ll want to prioritize marketing efforts that are the most important to your restaurant based on your budget, time, and resources. But also don’t be afraid to take some risks, as you’ll need to test certain initiatives before you can know whether or not they worked. Make sure to fail fast, learn, and optimize your efforts for the next round.
Tiffany was the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she shared knowledge with restaurateurs on how to run their business. She’s passionate about traveling the world and getting to know communities through great food.