When it comes to hospitality, food is big business. Britons will spend an incredible £52.2 billion on eating out this year, with more than £2.4 billion of that figure to be spent on morning coffees alone. It’s fair to say that, if you work in food, there’s money to be made.

However, whether you own a bar, a restaurant, a café or a bakery, you’ll know that in the early days of your business launch, it can be difficult to bring punters through the doors. Of course, you’ll get your friends and family to spread the word and get as many people to check out your food as possible, but once the hype dries up, how do you keep customers interested in what you’re doing? Why should they switch up their current routine and give your establishment a second chance when there’s so much choice in their neighbourhood?

One of the very best ways of promoting your café, restaurant or bakery is to invest in a strong digital marketing strategy. Spreading the word about what you do online can be incredibly effective and open your brand to thousands of potential new customers. Below, we’ve rounded up ten digital marketing techniques every small business owner needs to try out if they want their food service business to be a success this year.

Sign up to Google My Business

Google is one of (if not the) most important tool that you can use to promote your food service business. The chances are that you use Google every day to search for ingredients, see what’s on TV, find out about upcoming events and research into your industry. You may not have known, however, how the tool can be used to bring you more customers.

Sign up to Google’s free business listing service Google My Business. It only takes a couple of minutes and allows you to add your opening hours, phone number and directions to search results. So, if someone’s looking for a café in your local area, then your business may appear at the top of the search results with all of the information they’ll need to make a decision.

Not only does Google My Business allow you to edit all of your business information and verify your identity, but it allows you to add pictures of your food products, respond to reviews that have been left by customers and share everything that’s going on within your business, whether that’s a new menu item or a special themed evening.

Signing up for Google My Business takes literal minutes and can bring you big benefits, so it makes sense to do so as soon as you possibly can. And, with free analytics to show off how many people have viewed your business, you’ll know how to target potential customers and keep them coming back to your premises.

Get a digital camera

If you work in food, then you need to invest in a good quality digital camera or have a high-quality camera on your smartphone. Photography is everything when promoting your food online, so be sure to practice as often as you can and even consider investing in an online photography course to polish off your skills.

If you don’t have the right tools, such as a professional camera and a copy of Photoshop, you could damage your reputation and make your food appear outdated or even unsightly.

BuzzFeed generates millions of dollars from their food-related content because they know how to satisfy their audience. Their simple recipes are recorded on high-quality cameras for maximum impact, and as a result, their social media posts look professional, aspirational, and above all else, delicious! If your bakery makes cakes, pies and other tasty treats, then you could consider following this model and posting video recipes to grow your audience.

Get snapping

Now you’ve got your photography skills up to scratch, it’s time to start snapping. Sign up to all of the visual social networking platforms – namely Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat – and experiment with their tools to see how you can promote your brand.

You’ll probably find that Instagram is the most effective for building an audience, but don’t rule out the others until you’ve given them a fair shot.

Take tons of pictures of your food and post them on your social platforms with questions and other engaging captions. Check out these Instagram posts from Pizza Loves Emily if you’re looking for inspiration. How can you not want to visit their restaurant and tuck into a meal after seeing these snaps?

Don’t forget to use hashtags and emoji to make your posts more eye-catching and shareable, and follow up on any comments or likes that you receive by responding, following back and getting in touch. The more personable you can be with your Instagram and social media marketing, the more likely you are to win over hungry new customers.

Use ‘traditional’ social media

Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat are some of the most modern social networking platforms and rely on visual media, but the ‘traditional’ social networking sites can be just as useful when promoting your brand. Social media not only allows you to connect and engage with your customers, but it allows you to increase your search engine rankings, too.

Just like search engine optimisation, social media marketing is a marathon, not a spirit, and so you most likely won’t see immediate results when you start tweeting and Facebooking. However, the use of these websites is essential for promoting your food service company.

  • Facebook: Home to more than a million active users around the world, Facebook is the world’s most powerful social media company. Remember to create a Facebook page for your small business – NOT an account or profile – and put your page in the appropriate category, which will be Local Business >> Restaurant/Café. After selecting this, you’ll then be able to ‘check in’ to your premises and add items to your menu, something you won’t be able to do if you select the wrong category.
  • Twitter: Even if you’ve never used Twitter for your personal social networking escapades, you can’t discount this social media platform. Twitter users love posting about their favourite foods and drinks, so join the conversation, attend networking hours (list of UK Twitter Hours here) and follow the same visual marketing techniques that you’re using on Instagram and Pinterest on Twitter. It’ll work.
  • Google+: You may think that Google’s social network is something that you should avoid, but posting on the platform can be good for your business. What’s more, your Google My Business account is connected to a Google+ profile, so keeping your profile fresh will be beneficial when ranking on those all important local results

Don’t forget that there are plenty of ways to promote your small business using social media and that you can rely on automation to do the job for you when you’re busy. Tools like Hootsuite, Buffer and Meet Edgar can be customised to automatically post new content from your website so that your feeds are always displaying new content, but don’t overdo your automation or you could risk losing customers.

Post recipes

When it comes to food, you’re a pro. Don’t shy away from the fact that you spend your days brewing coffee, baking cakes, grilling chicken and constructing buffets for your customers – use your knowledge to your advantage and create recipes that your customers can use.

Content marketing one of the most important parts of any digital marketing strategy. In fact, we’ve covered the benefits of content marketing for small businesses quite thoroughly, and advocate that every small business owner dusts off their keyboard and writes a quality post or two that will keep their audience entertained.

Although content marketing can be challenging for small business owners, the good news is that writing recipes couldn’t be simpler. Twinkl has put together a recipe template that you can download and edit, or you could follow websites such as BBC Good Food and Jamie Oliver to get some inspiration for your first piece of content. Remember to take your time when writing your recipe and give your audience as much information about the right ingredients, the right temperatures and the best ways to finish the dishes – the more detailed and informative you can be, the more useful the content will become, and the bigger your chances of it ranking on search engines such as Google.

When creating a recipe for your website, follow this cheat sheet:

  • Choose a recipe that works for your business
  • Write down the recipe and practice it once or twice
  • List all of the ingredients and measures precisely
  • Document each step in the appropriate level of detail
  • Take some high-quality images to illustrate your recipe
  • Consider creating a video to complement your content
  • List alternative ingredients/brands to give your users more choice
  • Reiterate that you can sample the food in your bakery, café or restaurant
  • Promote your recipe on social media and through your mailing list
  • Update your recipe page with photos sent in from visitors who have tried it

Although this process will take time, content marketing can offer benefits well into the future, especially when other people start linking to your content and giving you more backlinks. You can boost your chances of your recipe going viral by submitting your content to food blogger websites – and you should also consider the benefits of guest blogging to share your knowledge and build your brand outside of your usual audience.

Run a competition

In digital marketing, running a competition or giveaway is one of the oldest tricks in the book – but it works, because people are always looking for a freebie.

Consider giving away a meal for two, lunch vouchers or a gift hamper and host your competition on social media by asking your followers to share your post and like your page. Remember the techniques we’ve already mentioned above – use high-quality photography, appealing captions and consider using the free digital marketing resources we’ve put together to add graphics and text to your images and GIFs to boost engagement.

Such competitions, depending on the size and scope of your audience, can go viral, and expose participants to your brand and what you do. From there, you’ll be able to market your food offering to your new followers and encourage them to check you out. You could even, succeeding your competition, give everyone a discount coupon or access to a special offer to thank them for their participation and increase engagement from the giveaway.

Reward loyalty

The chances are that you’ve seen the loyalty schemes offered by brands like Starbucks, Greggs, McDonald’s and Pret – but did you know that you can implement a similar scheme within your own business? Look into the services offered by companies such as LevelUp and Flok – both of which allow you to reward your customers for their repeat purchases and exchange their points for freebies, rewards and discounts on future food and drink.

And if you don’t want to spend money or you want to keep your marketing offline, then you could, of course, stick to the good old fashioned hand out punch cards, which are also used by some of the world’s biggest businesses. Both are viable options and allow you to reward the loyalty of your everyday customers without spending a small fortune.

Remember to tie your loyalty scheme back into your digital marketing strategy. Mention the scheme on your website, promote it on social media and actively encourage your patrons to post about their discounts and freebies using your service. The more engaged your existing customers are, the more likely they are to recommend your food to their followers.

Wrapping Up

We’ve put together seven digital marketing techniques for your café, restaurant or bakery, but there’s certainly more to consider. Don’t forget that our website is packed with small business marketing advice, like our digital marketing cheat sheet and our content marketing for small businesses infographic.