Restaurant & Bar Marketing: The No Bullshit Guide to Improving Guest Counts

by Erik Shellenberger

Erik Shellenberger cuts through the hype and tells you what really works—and what doesn’t—to bring more customers into restaurants and bars. Before getting into the tactics, he presents his ocean versus fishbowl concept.

The fishbowl includes people who follow you on social media, who subscribe to your email list, etc. “The ocean—NOT the fishbowl—is where you improve guest counts… People who have no idea you exist. People who are looking to branch out and try new places to eat and drink in their home city… The tourist economy is almost exclusively an ocean environment. It includes the person using Google or online reviews to find a business like yours.”

According to the author’s polling, these are the sources of new customers.

  • Word of mouth – 65%
  • Online review platforms (Yelp, Google, Facebook reviews, TripAdvisor) – 20%
  • Google – 10%
  • Social Media – 4%
  • Everything Else – 1%”

WORD OF MOUTH

“Word of mouth is based on past experiences of friends, family, and even strangers. It’s operations—NOT the marketing department—that turn a one-time customer into a regular.” So Shellenberger gives a speech to bar and restaurant staff.

“Remember the NAME. Remember the DRINK. Remember the CONVERSATION. If you remember these things—not only with the regulars but with the customers who have been in only once before—your tips WILL increase… People don’t buy from businesses—they buy from people… You are just as responsible for bringing people in the door as you boss’s marketing efforts, and believe it or not, you’re waaaaay more effective at it. Remember, you bring in two-thirds of the people through those doors.”

“The customer experience is absolutely crucial to success. This may sound like common sense, but it’s overlooked every day, in every restaurant, in every city.”

PHOTOGRAPHY

“Investing in professional photography for your business is not an option—it’s absolutely required for online success. It’s the building block that your entire online presence is based on… Crap in, crap out.”

ONLINE REVIEW PLATFORMS

“Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google—respond to ALL reviews, good and bad, in a timely manner… Of course, you need to fix the bad reviews and get that customer back if at all possible. But get in the habit of thanking your fans for their positive feedback! … When you are the one business responding to your reviews, since on one else takes the time to do so, it paints you in a very good light.”

Shellenberger even leaves his cell phone number in his replies. “People who were just about to leave a scathing 1-star review on Yelp… saw my phone number and decided to reach out instead… Remember you’re not just responding to the author of the review, you’re responding to the public. Always respond publicly, never in a private message.”

“Whatever you do, do NOT copy and paste responses! This is the only thing worse than not responding at all.”

With TripAdvisor, “the review volume isn’t as high in non-tourist areas” but it is still worth your time.

GOOGLE

The author advises against spending a fortune on a website. “Just keep it simple… Save yourself the time, money, and heartache you would put into a flashy website and, instead, invest it into getting found on an online search. Getting found on Google makes you money.”

To improve your Google organic search rank, you need to complete your profile thoroughly. “If you’re the guy who fills out the bare minimum when creating your profile, you’re half-assing it… If there is a spot to upload your logo and ten pictures, don’t just upload one. Upload all ten pictures… If you can’t do the work yourself, this is where you want to invest your money… Don’t try to cheat the system; Google has people working for them who are way, WAY smarter than you and I will ever be.”

“Optimizing your search results in Google [is] geared for long-term success and not a short-term spike in traffic.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

“Organic reach is pretty much a thing of the past on Facebook.” Don’t spend much time or money on it.

If you want to try paid Facebook ads, “Choose an engaging photo or video. Choose something that will make people stop scrolling… Video will always get a better reach than any other format, so use it when you can. Attention spans these days are less than a second while scrolling social media.”

“Try to get out of the mind-set of looking at what everyone else is doing and duplicating it.” This reminds me of a line from the Green Banana Papers: “Never imitate you competitors. They don’t know what they’re doing either.”

“Choose your target carefully… Remember we’re trying to bring in NEW people here… The quality of your customers is WAY more valuable than quantity when it comes to paid Facebook and Instagram ads for restaurants.”

The author explains that hashtags are not effective for restaurant marketing. “A #happyhour hashtag search in social media will pull up every damn post from around the entire globe… To me, the improper use of hashtags—and ESPECIALLY the overuse of hashtags—looks amateur and spammy.”

What else? “This book was written in 2018, and at this point in time, the only relevant social media platforms are Facebook and Instagram… The big picture is that Instagram skews younger, and Facebook skews older. Of the people I’ve polled, only about 0.7% use Twitter to find a restaurant… People will find you on Yelp whether you buy advertising or not, no matter what the Yelp salesperson tells you… I don’t recommend Google AdWords. It’s got its purpose, but restaurants and bars are not included… Groupon brings out the bottom-feeders… In the end, it’s detrimental to your brand. Like a sinking ship, you can tell the failing businesses when the Groupon deals start to surface.”

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book.


Shellenberger, Erik. Restaurant & Bar Marketing: The No Bullshit Guide to Improving Guest Counts. Scottsdale, Arizona: n.p., 2018. Buy from Amazon.com