Your menu can be one of your best marketing tools, helping to entice guests in the door or to order online. Try out these seven menu marketing strategies that are sure to have guests craving your food and beverages.   

  1. Say it with a photo. Nothing sells a menu item like an enticing photo. After all, people eat with their eyes first. Invest in a quality photo shoot with an experienced food photographer. Pull from these shots for all your menu marketing efforts—your website, social media, email marketing, print ads, and press releases. Easily supplement these photos as needed by taking shots with your smart phone.
  2. Consider running an Instagram contest to encourage guests to post their own photos of your menu specialties; award gift certificates to the winners. Boston Chops created a buzz when it recently installed an “Instagram Table” at its newest Beantown location. The table features extra lighting and is supplemented with a specially designed app for controlling color and brightness, helping diners capture the perfect image of their 20 oz. chateaubriand and onion ring tower.
  3. Let’s go to the video. Video clips offer an immersive way to engage with your social media followers. Gatsby’s Landing in Roslyn, New York, intrigues followers with clips of culinary staff making homemade pasta and bartenders mixing seasonal cocktails, complete with smashing figs into the restaurant’s “Old Sport Autumn Smash.” “Videos get more ‘likes’ than any of our other posts,” says co-owner Danai Falcone. “But don’t make your clips too long,” she advises. “Keep them short enough so people will watch the whole thing.”

    Use Facebook “stories” to highlight daily specials. A “story” is a collection of videos and photos visible for only 24 hours and appears in a special section at the top of your followers' Facebook News Feed. Use videos to wow followers with a behind-the-scenes look at your dishes, taking them from prep work to final presentation.

    Pinpoint your audience on Facebook. Reaching your target audience today on Facebook often requires paid advertising rather than just the “organic reach” of free posts. Facebook overhauled its News Feed content-selection process recently, prioritizing posts from friends and family and de-emphasizing those from businesses.

    Facebook ads let you target individuals by their interests and behaviors. This gives you the power to tailor your menu messages, marketing your meat-free specialties to vegetarians and your wine-paired entrees to wine aficionados. You can also send your ad to a wider population first and then analyze your results to help optimize your ad placement moving forward. With Facebook’s Ads Manager, you can see who’s interacting with your ad, based on gender, age and geographic region.
  4. Reach customers through their inbox. Promote seasonal menu items, holiday menus, and limited-time menu deals with an email. Include links to your website, menu, and online reservations to engage further with your email audience. Develop a strategic email plan at the beginning of each month, tweaking as needed, recommends Bridget Daily, an account manager for Fishbowl Marketing. Typically, limit emails to no more than once a week, she advises. Bombarding your email list with more frequent messages can yield negative results, like higher unsubscribe numbers and lower open rates.
  5. Optimize your online menu. A 2015 survey of OpenTable users found that 86 percent tend to check menus online prior to dining out. “It’s important to keep your menu information current online,” says Falcone of Gatsby’s Landing. She updates her website each time Gatsby’s Landing introduces a new seasonal menu, replacing dishes like “Sweet Corn” with “Okinawa Sweet Potatoes” as autumn sets in. Make your menu mobile-friendly so people-on-the-go can easily access it. Post a text-based version (rather than just a PDF) to help your restaurant pop up in online searches.

    Gone are the days when consumers turn strictly to a restaurant’s website to find its menu. Today they’re likely to see it on a review site, reservations site, a third-party delivery site or boxed-off to the side during an internet search.  It can be overwhelming for restaurateurs to keep menu information current across the web. Some restaurants use a service like SinglePlatform, which feeds the menu information to Google, Facebook, OpenTable, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other content providers. For a monthly fee, SinglePlatform works with restaurants to get their owner-verified menu across these multiple platforms, updating them all automatically when notified of any menu changes.
  6. Transform your menu into a marketing piece. Use vibrant, enticing descriptors that make consumers hunger for your food and drinks. A study by the Food & Brand Lab at the University of Illinois found that consumers chose a descriptive menu item 27 percent more frequently than a generic-labeled item. Sensory labels (crispy fries), geographic labels (Southwestern Tex Mex salad), and nostalgic labels (Classic Old World Italian Rigatoni) are all ways to spice up a menu. Diners who chose the descriptive menu item had better attitudes about the product and restaurant and said they would be more likely to return.
  7. .Engage in local store marketing. Get to know the concierges and desk staff at local hotels; stop by with your latest menu or invite them to dinner. Distribute your lunch menu to local offices along with coupons and a tray of goodies. Partner with local apartment buildings to include your menu and a gift card in their welcome packets. Make sure marketing emails highlight your local presence. For example, showcase that your dishes feature locally sourced ingredients, that you support local schools or charitable organizations, or that you champion local sports teams.   

This content was provided by National Restaurant Association partner Fishbowl.