Digital Marketing Trends for Your Restaurant

It’s a cliché to report that COVID-19 changed everything for the restaurant industry. We can marvel at how a microscopic virus changed an entire profession, but really, there is no time. 

Last year, food service businesses quickly went into survival mode, and for many, it meant ramping up their delivery businesses just to keep their doors open. From a marketing perspective, this meant restaurants, groceries, and quick service food vendors had to improve their digital presence—fast. Far from being an afterthought, thanks to COVID, digital presence is more important than ever. 

Magazine bon appetit says, “COVID nearly killed the restaurant industry.” But these businesses exhibited unbelievable resiliency in the face of insurmountable odds. We are making our way in the new COVID normal now, and for the food service industry there is one key question to consider: How can digital marketing set your business up for success in the future?

Restaurant entrepreneurs plan their digital marketing strategy.

Top Trends in Digital Restaurant Marketing 2021

The cruelty of the coronavirus goes beyond the physical impact. By March of 2020 an industry that employed more than 15 million in the U.S. was partially shut down. Suddenly, restaurants became take out hubs and websites that were afterthoughts became the center of businesses. 

Digital marketing became an indispensable part of the industry over the past year. Many restaurants had to rethink their digital strategies to include some of the following techniques.

Email Marketing
Email marketing has always been a good investment. With a yield of $44 for every dollar spent, the ROI is high. Some of the typical restaurant trends within this technique include:

  • Welcome emails for new guests
  • Discount or special offer emails to keep guests returning
  • Online order follow-up emails inviting your guests to do an online review

Personalizing the promotion whenever possible by segmenting offers based on order history or other customer demographics will help engage your customers to order more frequently.

Visual Marketing
Visual marketing in the form of branded videos is hot; 76% of adults make a purchase after they view a marketing video. Videos are the gift that keeps on giving, too, because they can be reshared on social media, used on your website or YouTube, or other channels.

Texting has become a great marketing tool. Text based notifications for when a table is ready was common before COVID. Now, restaurants can use this same technology to market their business. Some of the trends we’ve seen include:

  • Texting special offers or a coupon code
  • Texting happy hour specials
  • Texting promotions or contests
  • Texting payment confirmations on takeout orders
  • Texting to streamline carryout orders

Texting a picture of a tasty new menu item or sending a coupon for a special this month is an engaging way to use SMS to your advantage.

Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing should be a no-brainer for your business. There are more than 200 million food posts on Instagram alone every day. The high volume of consumer activity necessitates that restaurants must have a social media strategy in place, particularly in light of today’s digital economy. Restaurants most frequently use Instagram but also Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and TikTok. Our advice, if you don’t have a dedicated marketing team, pick one social channel and immerse yourself daily in building your brand on your platform of choice.

Pictures of food are the most often posted form of social media that restaurants use. Make sure your post is truly appetizing even if it takes investing in some high-quality food photography. Menu changes or specials naturally lend themselves to this type of format.

Online reviews are a make-or-break form of social media marketing for restaurants. One study showed 94% of consumers said bad online reviews convinced them to avoid a business. If your restaurant has negative reviews from customers about service or food quality or even delivery times, your business will suffer. You’ve heard the adage that it costs much more to earn new customers than it does to keep the old ones? Online reviews can help you do both so the ROI is clearly high.

One tip for maintaining this form of social media in a way that reaps the benefit? Make sure you respond quickly to any comments, no matter if they are negative or positive. says, “Hearing and addressing concerns can help create a loyal following for years to come.” They report on the latest research that says online reviews allow restaurants to bring dissatisfied customers back by addressing their issues. This usually takes a form of a discount coupon or a freebie for the disgruntled customer. However, this investment is usually worth it; according to the data, the addition of a half-star in the online rating is equivalent to a revenue jump of 5% or slightly higher.

Online Directories

Finally, also make sure your website, Google My Business, bing business, Yahoo!, or any other digital directories remain consistent (Yext can help with this). It will frustrate your customers if your hours are incorrect or if there is conflicting data between these sites. Trust us on this; in this new digital economy your customers will go elsewhere if this occurs.

A strong digital marketing strategy brought in the right crowd to a restaurant.

From Surviving to Thriving: What’s Next for Restaurants?

“Restaurants have shown creativity and resilience, becoming movie theaters, drive-throughs, grocers,” according to bon appetit. But will we ever get back to normal? The answer is that we are living in a new normal, with an uncharted future. Diners are trickling back in slowly in some parts of the country and the industry is making some changes, like socially distanced tables with plexiglass partitions, single-use menus, and of course, more takeout. 

Restaurant and hospitality marketing expert Monique Yeager says, “In many parts of the country, I think we won’t see a return to packed dining rooms for a while. With that said, people need to eat, and the restaurant industry has shown their grit and determination over the past year. We will survive this and come out the other side stronger than ever.” 

Insight Hospitality Group helps the restaurant and hospitality industry with digital marketing strategies that impact your bottom line. Call on us to talk about your future.