New digital marketing solutions for restaurants

Restaurant owners, you’ve got so many killer marketing options emerging right now.

So much so, you should be foaming at the mouth to jump on one. Or biting at the bit. Or whatever more appropriate metaphor works here.

Do you want your own iPhone app? It’s available for little cost. 

Do you want to start a SMS campaign with a vendor that’s focused on the restaurant industry? It’s available… 

Do you want to accept mobile payments? Available…

Do you want to set the terms by running your own daily deals program? Available…

Do you want your own online ordering system? Available…

And how about getting a clear, numbers-driven view on how each of your social media outposts are doing for you right now? Available…

There’s a whole laboratory of extremely compelling solutions that are emerging right now (“laboratory” chosen on purpose, given that some of these aren’t even yet available to everyone).

And I’m not just talking about the big brands, who can drop $10,000 here or $20,000 there to hire digital agencies to put custom promotions or apps together. Nor am I talking about solutions you’ve already heard of, like Yelp, OpenTable, Foursquare, and so on.

Those are yesterday’s news. They’re ugly. Let’s go mobile. Let’s go custom. Let’s get local. Let’s help little guys, too.

While I’m building a larger go-to list for creative and brand-differentiating solutions, in this post we’re talking some cutting edge stuff that goes beyond creating a social media account and tweeting or posting your life away or devising ways to merely amass fans and followers with no plan beyond that. Put your marketer’s cap on here, operators. Here’s just a quick glance of a few solutions to keep an eye on or investigate:

There’s Locu, which is building a killer platform for bringing your restaurant and menu to life online. Upload your menu in nearly any file format, add your own daily deals, come up big when consumers conduct local searches to find a place to eat.

How about TextOrder.net, which is launching a system that allows customers to place orders via text message.

Textaurant helps you alert waiting customers when their table is ready…also via text message. Ditch the pagers, message consumers on the very devices they’ve got in their hands already. Consumers can also use the system to see what your wait time is online, or join the queue without being there.

Fork.ly is rolling out a compelling mobile experience that allows you to stand out when people use their smartphones to find cool places to eat, with detailed analytics built-in.

You’ve got Skipola building custom iPhone apps  in which restaurants can manage a menu, allow consumers to place orders from their smartphones, and send those consumers messages/notifications from within the app.

Then there’s Digital Menubox and its sweeping solution that allows you to: a) Manage a professional outdoor digital signage solution, and/or b) Update that digital signage, or your website, or your Facebook page, or your Twitter feed, with a killer, back-end system that even allows you to pre-schedule when your tweets, Facebook posts,  positive reviews and daily deals go live. A couple sentences don’t do justice to what Olivier’s team is building up in Canada. I’ve had a chance to walk through this first-hand.

AisleBuyer, TabbedOut, YWaiter, and Storific are among many tackling mobile payments in different ways. With some of these folks, you become a part of their ecosystem — one of many locations in their directory, willing to accept payments made through their app. With others, you get a custom-built smartphone app branded for you that allows you to take orders without a credit card passing hands.

RelevantMobile is a mind-blowing CRM system for restaurants unlike any other I’ve seen. Imagine an online dashboard in which you can see an overview of your customers’ dining frequency, average spend per visit, and locations visited. One in which you can then build incentives for customers when they achieve certain dining milestones. The prerequisite? Customers use your custom-built smartphone app to scan their receipts. Sounds funky, but checking-in was unheard of, what, three years ago?

If you’re looking to allow customers to place orders online, but lack any tech know-how to get this going, you’ve got OLO. Streamlined system for customers, Point-of-sale integration for you. And what’s that they say? If Five Guys is doing it, it can’t be wrong.

Revenizer is a web-based dashboard that allows businesses to get a one-page glance at a variety of social media follower metrics and Google Analytics. I’ve tested this baby out and really like how clean and simple, and therefore actionable, it is. Restaurant brands who care about how their social media and website analytics are evolving month to month or week to week will like this service. It’s also dead-simple to setup. We’re talking minutes.

And then we’ve got Appetizer. There’s something about what they’re building that I really love. I want you to picture your small-town, single-location restaurant launching its own, custom-built iPhone app that is thoroughly and completely Facebook-integrated. Not only will it pull in all your Facebook page info, it will allow you to launch daily deals, record consumer check-ins, and manage reservation-booking. All of this for $20/month. Seriously cool.

This list isn’t complete and doesn’t cover many other game-changing technology solutions that can help restaurants — whether independents or chains — differentiate from one another and add value to consumers’ dining routines while increasing sales.

Is there a heavy emphasis on mobile? Uh huh. Is that a hint that it’s time to capitalize on people living on their smartphones? Uh huh. Is it a coincidence that I’m posting this around the same time that troubled Groupon is on the verge of pulling their IPO off the table? No, I promise.

It’s time for restaurant owners to really think like marketers. Yeah, you could look to spiffying up your menu and, I don’t know, start offering hot Kool-aid or something. Or you can make a gutsy decision and put your first foot forward in marketing your restaurant in a whole new way.

Leave a Comment