Tight margins and fierce competition have always been hallmarks of the restaurant industry, but changes in the way consumers decide where to dine are forcing restaurateurs to get even more strategic in how they promote their businesses. According to the results of a new survey by TripAdvisor more than eight in 10 restaurateurs in the United States believe they should be doing more to promote their businesses, but only 17% say they’ve hired a dedicated employee to handle marketing tasks and just 1% use an outside marketing consultant.
That disconnect between what restaurants should be doing and what they’re actually doing is of particular interest to Gerard Murphy, director of product of TripAdvisor Restaurants, as he speaks to business owners who feel overwhelmed when they think about marketing strategy.
Murphy says he was surprised to learn that nearly half of U.S. restaurateurs reported spending less than 10% of their time on marketing activities, given how many channels are available now for restaurateurs interested in taking control of their online presence.
“It shows that if restaurateurs increase the time and effort they spend on marketing even a little bit, they can raise their game above the competition,” he says.
In the U.S. and around the globe, just 13% of respondents in TripAdvisor’s survey reported paying for a professional reputation or social media monitoring service, even though worldwide restaurateurs report that the most effective marketing channels for driving business are social media, online listing services, and search engine marketing, in that order.
Print advertising was not among the top three most effective channels for driving business, even though it was ranked among the top three channels for marketing spend. In the U.S., 68% of restaurant owners are investing in print advertising. Eighty-two percent are investing in social media, and 56% in online listing services.
The investment in online listing services aligns closely with changes in consumer habits. In another recent survey by TripAdvisor, diners reported spending more time browsing the pages of restaurants that offer “extensive decision-driven content,” and restaurant listings with a single photo experienced up to 44% more interaction than listings with no photos.
“We have worked to provide owners with easy to use tools to help them begin to manage their business’s online presence, and show them the high return on investment that it can have,” Murphy says.
Although restaurateurs were not asked about review sites specifically, TripAdvisor’s survey did touch on reputation monitoring. Ninety-four percent of restaurateurs in the U.S. reported monitoring their businesses’ reputations online, compared to 93% globally, with the majority monitoring their reputations “several times each week.”
“[At TripAdvisor, we] have seen more and more restaurateurs taking control of their online presence by responding to reviews, uploading photos and engaging directly with customers,” Murphy says. “Additionally, we know owners who respond to reviews can see as much as double the diner engagement with their TripAdvisor listing.”
Online vouchers and coupon services, like Groupon, were reported to be least effective in TripAdvisor’s survey.
“One of the things I love about the restaurant space is that it is always changing,” Murphy says. “Our survey shows part of this evolution.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.