Restaurant App, Increase Restaurant Mobile App Downloads
Restaurant mobile apps have quickly evolved from nice-to-have to essential for meeting the needs of digital-first guests. Recent studies have shown 40% of guests prefer to order directly through a restaurant’s website or app.
For one, they’re convenient. A well-designed restaurant app will enable guests to quickly find and reorder their favorite menu items, use the credit card on file or their digital wallet, redeem loyalty rewards, select their preferred handoff mode, and be on their way to a delicious meal in no time.
Second, restaurant apps can tailor the guest experience to each individual. Personalized greetings and recommendations or offers based on order history can make guests feel understood, appreciated, and loyal to the brand.
But it’s not enough to have a restaurant app. Brands, and especially marketers, are tasked with continuously driving downloads and app engagement. To help you grow your app user base, we’ve compiled a list of proven strategies.
11 Tips for Driving Restaurant App Downloads
People now manage their lives with smartphones, using 10 apps daily on average. You can help more of your guests find, understand the value of, and download your app by taking the following steps.
Prioritize the User Experience
If you want guests to download your app, you must put their needs first. A frictionless user experience is critical for driving downloads, prolonged app usage, and positive reviews. Make sure your app is user-friendly, branded, and convenient. Guests should be able to find their favorite menu items, order, and pay quickly and easily. Conduct regular user testing to identify and address any pain points before they impact your reviews and revenue.
Optimize for App Stores
Boost your restaurant app’s discoverability within the App Store and Google Play by incorporating relevant keywords in the title, description, and keyword fields. Include compelling descriptions that emphasize the perks of downloading—speed of service, ability to save favorite items, loyalty incentives, etc.—plus mouthwatering imagery to make your brand stand out from the competition.
Make Regular App Updates
A mobile app isn’t something you can set and forget. To provide the best guest experience and attract new users, regularly update your app with small improvements each month, such as bug fixes, new features, UX enhancements, device compatibility, etc.
One of the best ways to let current and prospective guests know about your restaurant app is to make the download call-to-action prominent on your website. Include a visual of the in-app experience, some information about the benefits of downloading, and offer an incentive, like free fries on your first app order.
Leverage Social Media
Utilize your restaurant’s social media accounts to promote your restaurant app. Use imagery and video to showcase the user experience, advantages, features, and exclusive perks for app users. To extend your brand’s reach and drive more app downloads, consider teaming up with influencers and other local businesses.
Make it easy for guests to download your restaurant app by incorporating QR codes into your menus, promotional materials, in-store signage, ads, and more. The fewer steps, the better!
Offer Exclusive In-App Deals
Encourage guests to download and use your restaurant app by offering promotions only available to users. Perks can include LTOs, special discounts, early access to new menu items, insider swag, etc. Be sure to tease these benefits in your marketing campaigns—the fear of missing out can be a powerful motivator.
Use Email and SMS Marketing
Promote your restaurant app to your existing guests via email and SMS messages. Highlight key features, benefits, and exclusive promotions available to users. Personalize the content to appeal to guests’ interests and purchase history (e.g., happy hour regulars get $5 off their next purchase when they download the app).
Set Up a Referral Program
Implement a referral program to incentivize existing app users to refer people they know. Offer perks to the referrer and the new user to boost guest satisfaction, foster loyalty, and gain more users.
Solicit and Respond to App Reviews
Use in-app notifications to encourage satisfied users to leave a review. Positive app reviews will increase your brand’s visibility and downloads. Be sure to publicly respond to all feedback—positive and negative—to build trust and credibility. Timely responses signal to restaurant regulars their opinions matter and demonstrate to prospective guests your brand values the guest experience.
Next Up: User Retention
Of course, getting guests to download your restaurant app is only step one. The real challenge is retaining users over time. After all, 25% of mobile apps are abandoned after only one use.
Stay tuned for strategies to keep your app users engaged—the key to sustained growth and profit.
Want to drive more direct digital sales? On average, Olo customers see a 108% higher conversion rate with our online ordering app. Learn more and talk to our team of experts about Olo Ordering today.
With so many competing priorities—from building brand awareness to acquisition and retention—it can be challenging for restaurant marketers to determine where to start—let alone come up with campaign ideas.
When guests engage with your brand in multiple ways, they become more valuable. You can meet dine-in-only guests where they are by marketing your takeout/delivery program in-restaurant. Offer to-go-only specials, off-menu items, or discounts when guests order online during a specific timeframe. Consider incorporating a promo code (e.g., 10% off your first online order) on signage, receipts, and online campaigns targeting dine-in guests who haven’t ordered online before.
2. Use Social Media To Boost Slow Dayparts
If evenings are slow, promote weeknight specials on Instagram and Facebook with share-worthy photos in your feed and behind-the-scenes content in your stories. Expand your brand’s reach by including a prompt to “tag a friend in the comments who deserves a weeknight out.”
3. Drive Social Engagement in Restaurant
Add a menu insert offering free dessert (“Monday Sundae”?) to any guest who posts their dinner on Instagram and tags your brand. Then, repost user-generated content to your feed to drive engagement.
4. Attract New Guests With Targeted Advertising
Maximize the ROI of your acquisition campaigns by leveraging your current guest segments to target prospective guests who share interests and behaviors with your regulars. For example, you could create a “weeknight dinner lookalike audience” for paid search and social ads.
5. Partner With Local Businesses and Influencers
Team up with a local movie theater for a “dinner and movie” promotion. Then, incentivize local social media influencers to get the word out by offering a free meal in exchange for sharing the news with their fanbase.
6. Personalize Follow-Up Messages
Studies have shown 91% of people are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations. Boost retention by using triggered campaigns and feedback surveys to reengage guests with content that feels personal (“Thanks for coming in, Mark! How’d we do?”)
7. Drive Frequency by Staying Top-of-Mind
A guest returning for a second visit exponentially increases the likelihood of building brand loyalty. Target an audience of “Recent Email Opt-Ins” or “Haven’t Visited in Last 30 Days” with an email campaign and special offer.
8. Retarget Across Channels
Remarket to WiFi sign-ups, marketing subscribers, website visitors, and social followers by uploading the audiences for targeted social and search campaigns. Since these people have already expressed interest in your brand, it’s easier and more cost-effective to advertise to them than to a non-retargeting audience.
9. Create a Feeling of Exclusivity
Build urgency and FOMO through limited-time offers, specials only available on certain days, and secret off-menu items shared on social media and with email or SMS subscribers.
10. Increase Visits by Promoting Your Purpose
Research shows 62% of consumers prefer purpose-driven brands that take a stand on issues like sustainability, transparency, and fair employment practices. Use your marketing channels to share your brand values and empower guests to support your philanthropy (e.g., offer a portion of proceeds from lunch to a charity fighting childhood hunger). Whether you support local farmers or employees’ continuing education, you can tell their stories with a “Spotlight” series on your website, email newsletter, and social media.
11. Reengage Lapsed Guests
Extend the guest life cycle by re-attracting churn risks. Send a triggered email to an audience of “Last Visit Longer Than 60 Days” with personalized copy that shows you’ve noticed they haven’t been in lately.
Remind your weekend regulars they can enjoy their favorite menu items any time by launching a midweek business lunch campaign. Sliders for the office, anyone?
14. Boost Awareness of Catering
Do all your guests know you offer catering? Use your marketing channels to share your offerings, especially leading up to holidays, game days, and wedding season. Showcase your packages, emphasize the benefits of ordering through your brand, and consider adding a special offer, such as free dessert if they order by a certain date.
15. Leverage Guest Lifetime Value
Target a lookalike audience of your top 5% of visitors by LTV with a social media campaign that includes a lead magnet. For example, offer a $10 bonus certificate for every $50 gift card purchased during the holidays.
Get Started in Four Steps
The beauty of this list is that it’s evergreen—any of these campaigns could be turned on throughout the year depending on your brand’s objectives. To get started, follow these steps:
A December 2022 survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association found three in four consumers planned to eat at a restaurant or order takeout during the holidays. Restaurants can capitalize on that demand this season by offering catering.
Catering has several advantages, which we’ll dive into shortly. But to be successful, restaurants must invest in proper training and infrastructure, such as additional staff, equipment, a reliable ordering platform, and logistical considerations.
Keep scrolling to find out why catering is worth the effort, plus get best practices to help you maximize profit with catering this holiday season.
Advantages of Offering Catering
The average catering order value is higher than ever at $350. As such, catering can be a lucrative revenue stream for many restaurant brands.
Catering allows you to tap into a new market segment, such as corporate events, weddings, and parties, which can provide a steady source of income beyond dine-in and delivery. The diversification of services can make your brand more resilient to fluctuations in the market and slow periods.
Catering is also a great way to boost guest retention and acquisition. Existing guests become more valuable to your brand when they place catering orders, and on the flip side, satisfied catering guests may become regulars. By adding catering to your service offerings, you can increase brand awareness and reach a broader audience.
When people experience your food and service at off-site events, they are more likely to visit your restaurant and tell their friends about it. Similarly, catering creates networking opportunities with event planners, venues, and other vendors.
When crafting your holiday catering menu, make sure it’s easy to produce* and meets the needs of your guests—especially those with high lifetime value. To help control costs, use ingredients that overlap with those featured in your regular menu items. Incorporate items and flavors that people typically associate with holiday gatherings and consider putting a unique spin on them.
*Pro Tip: To maximize resources in the kitchen and boost staff efficiency, use off-peak hours to prepare catering orders.
Create a Frictionless Ordering Experience
The process of placing a catering order should be as frictionless as your online ordering experience. Consistency—from branding to payment options—is critical for fostering trust and repeat business. Existing guests will expect the same level of service they typically receive from your brand, so be sure to go above and beyond. To encourage repeat catering orders, give high-value guests flexibility in payment options with house accounts (essentially, a line of credit).
Seize Upsell Opportunities
Offer customized catering menus and services, which can result in higher average ticket sales. Special requests, add-ons, and unique offerings can lead to upsell opportunities. For example, your restaurant could offer basic and premium catering packages, the ability to add drinks or desserts—think pumpkin pie, gingerbread cookies, etc.—or even a team to serve event attendees.
There’s no such thing as overcommunicating when it comes to catering orders. Guests pay a lot for catering, and the pressure of a high-stakes event can set them on edge. To help put guests at ease during an already stressful holiday season, check in the day before or the day of the event to assure them their order is on track* and will be prepared/delivered on time. Don’t forget to follow up for feedback and to show appreciation.
* Pro Tip: Pack slips can help ensure you have everything you need for each order before you hand it off for delivery or pickup.
Spread the Word
Make sure existing and prospective guests know about your catering program using in-restaurant signage, your website/app, social media, email/text, and ads. Tell local businesses, schools, and groups about your holiday offerings, and leverage your restaurant marketing database—including high-value guest segments—to ensure your festive digital ads get in front of the right people. An initial discount or free item is a great way to attract guests. And within your catering campaigns, you can cross-promote services like delivery or takeout.
Getting Started With Catering
Ready to get started with catering or scale your existing program? Request a demo of Catering+, Olo’s enterprise-grade catering solution.
Catering+ is a direct ordering channel connected to the rest of Olo’s solution suites. This enables you to take control of your catering orders and all of the associated data, which is seamlessly integrated with your other restaurant systems.
Though your website and mobile app are paramount, Order with Google (formerly known as Google Food Ordering) is another valuable direct ordering channel. Keep reading to learn how it works, how restaurants and guests benefit, and what makes the Olo integration unique.
What Is Order With Google?
Order with Google enables restaurant brands to reach prospective guests using Google Search and Google Maps to locate similar restaurants or dishes in their area. Additionally, it helps guests easily find and order directly from nearby restaurants—without leaving the Google platform.
When guests use Order with Google, they see the same menu featured on your brand-owned channels and the orders are sent to your restaurant and processed just like website or app orders.
5 Benefits of Order With Google
To help you better understand the value of Order with Google—from a restaurant brand and guest perspective—we’ve compiled a list of the primary benefits.
1. Frictionless Ordering
When it comes to meeting the needs of digital-first guests, convenience is everything. Order with Google provides a seamless direct ordering experience from your Google Business Profile. Guests can place an order with just a few clicks without being redirected to third-party ordering pages. This can result in higher conversion rates, guest satisfaction, and long-term loyalty.
2. Incremental Revenue
Order with Google is a critical source of incremental restaurant revenue for many brands. Guests can quickly and easily place orders from Google Search or Google Maps, eliminating the need to navigate to your website or a third-party platform. This streamlined process can lead to more direct orders and, ultimately, more revenue for your business by removing third-party fees from the equation.
3. Increased Discoverability
A fully optimized Google listing with an “Order Online” button will ensure people searching for similar restaurants and cuisines will discover your brand. Get tips for optimizing your restaurant’s Google listings so your brand ranks high in search results and stands out with a seamless Order with Google experience.
4. Guest Acquisition
Order with Google is an efficient way to boost restaurant guest acquisition. On average, 81% of guests who order from a brand on Google have never ordered from the brand’s website or app. Of that 81% (incremental guest orders), 16.4% go on to order directly through the brand’s website.
5. First-Party Guest Data
When guests order through third-party marketplaces, the platform owns that data, making it difficult for your restaurant to build a direct relationship with the guest. Order with Google enables you to collect first-party guest data—including who guests are, where they’re coming from, and their purchase behavior—to better serve, recover, and market to them. This data is essential for personalization and making every guest feel like a regular.
What Makes the Olo Integration Unique
Driving guests into the direct ordering funnel can seem daunting now that third-party marketplaces are ubiquitous. Olo’s Order with Google integration makes it easy to attract and acquire prospective guests—without spending a fortune on advertising—by meeting them where they are: on Google Search and Google Maps.
Unlike third-party marketplaces, orders placed via Google are treated as direct orders within the Olo platform. This ensures Olo customers can collect, analyze, and act on the associated guest data, which is seamlessly integrated.
When guests place a pickup or delivery order via Google, they can view the same menu, images, and pricing as your brand-owned channels—all of which are syndicated by Olo to ensure accuracy. The order is sent to your Olo Dashboard, where it appears alongside orders placed on your website or app so you can leverage all the benefits of Olo, including order throttling, reporting, and analytics.
For a firsthand look at the Order with Google experience, watch the Fall Release video (Order with Google is covered at the 5-minute mark.) Then, check out Uncle Julio’s case study to find out how the brand grew its direct orders, check size, and guest database using Order with Google via Olo.
If you’re already an Olo customer, contact your Customer Success Manager to learn how to implement Order with Google. If you’re not using Olo yet, request a demo to start the conversation.
As a leading end-to-end restaurant platform, we spend a lot of time talking to brands of all sizes about everyday challenges, goals, and what tech investments they’re making to eliminate pain points and deliver hospitality at scale. These conversations drive our year-round product innovations and shed light on what’s new and next for the industry.
To give you a taste of some of those insights, we’ve compiled a list of trends that will shape restaurant marketing in the coming year. Spoiler alert: Personalizing the guest experience is a common theme.
Now that AI tools like ChatGPT and Olo’s AI Creative Assistant are widely accessible, restaurant marketers will spend less time on tedious tasks like writing email copy or social captions and more time segmenting audiences, testing, and learning.
AI will supercharge marketers’ creativity and help maximize their output by turning simple prompts into relevant, attention-grabbing headlines, body copy, and CTAs they can easily refine to match their brand’s voice, tone, and style.
Brands will use restaurant marketing automation tools to lighten their load and drive sales across channels. By leveraging automated triggers, filters, and time delays, marketers can make every message feel personal to each guest.
The key will be finding ways to positively influence guest behavior as they move through the lifecycle—such as incentivizing dine-in guests to order online—and using automations to drive them further down the funnel to habituation.
By incorporating personalization into campaign strategy—including channel, audience segmentation, targeting, and messaging—marketers can boost ROI, sales, visit frequency, and overall guest engagement.
With a GDP, restaurants will be able to more effectively market to 100% of guests—not just loyalty members—and create conditional messaging flows that turn one-time visitors into regulars.
5. Lifetime Value
As more brands discover that 60% of their revenue is driven by 20% of guests, restaurant marketers will begin to use guest lifetime value (LTV)—the estimated profit generated by each guest based on recency, frequency, and spending—to inform their retention and acquisition strategies.
With LTV, they’ll be able to do things like:
Determine which channel, offers, and messaging have the highest ROI potential
Build segments to ensure all guests become more valuable over time
Create lookalike audiences to reach potential guests who behave similarly and share the interests of high-value guests
Promote and incentivize behaviors high-value guests are known to exhibit
To unlock and leverage LTV, marketers first need an integrated restaurant tech stack that harnesses first-party data from across the guest journey and makes it actionable.
6. Gamified Loyalty
Some restaurant brands will level up their loyalty programs with gamification to drive engagement, awareness, and sales. These fun challenges reward participating guests with points, prizes, free food, etc.
For example, Olo helped Denny’s launch a gamified rewards program that provides guests with monthly offers and personalized challenges that unlock never-before-seen rewards (e.g., visit four times in one month for a free Grand Slam breakfast).
7. Short-Form Video Content
Demand for short-form video remains sky-high—66% of consumers consider it the most engaging social media content. As such, restaurants will continue to use TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube to boost awareness and engagement, especially among younger guests.
Short-form videos can be a powerful acquisition and retention tool for restaurants when used strategically. In the new year, expect to see top brands leveraging short-term video for things like LTO teasers, brand challenges, behind-the-scenes tours, dish prep, team member intros, and user-generated content.
Key Considerations Before Jumping on a Trend
Before jumping on the trend train, it’s important to remember no two restaurant brands are exactly the same. What works for one may not work for another.
Data: If your brand is at the start of its digital journey, you may simply need data that is accessible and usable (in other words, a CRM). But if your brand is more mature, a GDP will enable you to unify and enrich guest profiles, send data to business intelligence tools, and leverage LTV across your business.
Social media: If your high-value guests live on TikTok, short-form video could be your sweet spot. But if they don’t, you’ll want to focus on growing a following on the social platform where they—and prospective guests who behave like them—actually spend their time.
To determine which trends will yield the best ROI for your restaurant brand, you must consider your unique business needs, goals, budget, guest experience, operations, marketing team capabilities, etc.
Restaurant Delivery, Restaurant Delivery Best Practices
Just as restaurant brands aim to provide exceptional hospitality to dine-in guests, it’s equally important to create a consistent guest experience for delivery orders. In other words, off-premise guests should expect the same caliber of service, food quality, ease of ordering and payment, branding, etc. as in-restaurant guests.
But how do you control the off-premise guest experience when third-party marketplaces capture the lion’s share of restaurant orders? In this blog post, we’ll explore strategies for restaurants to wow and, most importantly, retain guests who order food delivery.
1. Invest in a Digital Ordering Platform
The foundation of a positive off-premise guest experience is an intuitive digital ordering platform. If you haven’t done so already, invest in restaurant software that puts the user first.
Whether you decide to build or buy, you can help foster trust and loyalty between your guests and your brand by ensuring your website and app have the following:
While third-party marketplaces have proven vital for boosting awareness and guest acquisition, direct ordering channels are essential for maximizing profit, unlocking actionable guest data, and scaling your restaurant brand. The more guests you can empower to order direct, the better.
2. Prioritize Your Packaging
Your kitchen staff works hard to prepare delicious food—don’t let it go to waste with subpar packaging. To ensure takeout food stays fresh from pickup to delivery, consider investing in high-quality, eco-friendly packaging materials that are easy to seal and maintain the temperature of their contents.
Branding is a key component here. Standardized packaging that reinforces your restaurant’s visual identity helps build trust with guests, strengthens your reputation, and makes social sharing a piece of cake—especially for guests who order via third-party marketplaces. Think branded boxes, bags, napkins, and any additional marketing collateral (e.g., “Next time order direct for $5 off!” coupon).
When prepping a takeout order for transit, separate items by temperature to preserve their quality and prevent food safety issues. The last thing you want is for your guest to end up with a wilted salad or for leaks to dampen the guest experience. Lastly, to prevent tampering after handoff—and give guests peace of mind—you can add a seal to packages.
3. Implement Quality Control Processes
When guests order food off a menu, they expect it to arrive looking like (or very similar to) the photo. You can keep off-premise guests happy and protect your brand’s image online by training kitchen staff to follow standardized recipes and plating guidelines when preparing takeout food, including consistent portion sizes, garnishes, and presentation.
A quality control process can help your team verify all takeout orders meet your brand’s standards for accuracy, temperature, taste, and presentation before delivery handoff. This step is critical for preventing errors and negative reviews.
4. Equip Your Delivery Team
If you have your own delivery fleet, your couriers should serve as an extension of your brand. Provide them with the same guest service training as in-restaurant employees so they are polite, professional, and punctual. Emphasize the importance of handling food carefully and following safety protocols during transportation.
To help build trust with off-premise guests and increase brand recognition, delivery team members should have branded clothing or delivery bags. This makes them easily identifiable and contributes to the overall consistency of the guest experience.
Bonus points for branded vehicles with your restaurant’s name, logo, and contact information, which will keep your brand top-of-mind for existing guests and prospective guests on the road.
5. Add a Personal Touch
While it might seem challenging to personalize delivery orders, small gestures can help create a positive association with your brand. It could be as simple as including complimentary items like condiments, utensils, or even a little appetizer/side (egg rolls, pastries, naan, etc.) in their to-go bag.
A handwritten note thanking the guest for their order or offering a discount on their next visit can further enhance the delivery experience. This type of care and attention to detail is one way to show off-premise guests the same level of hospitality they would receive in your restaurant.
6. Clearly Communicate With Guests
Just as you would let on-premise guests know if the item they ordered is being prepared, taking a little longer than expected, or is no longer available, off-premise guests also deserve clear and consistent communication.
By sending order confirmation messages, estimated delivery times, delay notifications, and follow-up communications, you are staying true to your brand's promise of reliability and putting the guest first.
7. Solicit Feedback From Delivery Orders
One of the best ways to ensure delivery guests have a consistently positive experience is to request feedback. Use follow-up surveys, your website, push notifications, social media, and other channels to gain insight into any delivery issues or areas in need of improvement.
Consider implementing a sentiment analysis tool to aggregate, respond to, and analyze the sentiment of your restaurant reviews from across the web. That way, you can uncover emerging trends in delivery guest satisfaction, address problems before they impact sales, and win back unhappy guests.
How Restaurants Benefit From Enhancing the Delivery Experience
The key to scaling your delivery business is ensuring every part of the process—from placing the order to food preparation to handoff—meets your brand’s standards for hospitality, quality, and reliability.
By taking these steps to provide a consistent guest experience for delivery orders, you can build a 5-star reputation for your restaurant brand, foster long-term loyalty, and attract new guests.
Learn more about our delivery solutions—Dispatch and Rails—or request a demo to find out how Olo can help scale your delivery business.
Recent headlines in The Wall Street Journal and New York Times about rising credit card fees have stoked confusion and fear among many restaurant brands, which already operate on thin margins.
To help make sense of what’s happening—and, most importantly, what’s not—we’re breaking down the news, what it means for restaurants, and what you can do about it.
What was reported
On Aug. 30, 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported Visa and Mastercard are planning to increase fees many merchants pay when they accept guests’ credit cards beginning in October and April. As a result, merchants could shell out an additional $502 million annually in fees. Mastercard and Visa have since put out statements refuting the claims in the article.
Adding to the confusion is a New York Times piece from Aug. 14, 2023, that talks about the impact of credit card fees on restaurants. However, most of the examples refer to processor fees (not fees issued by credit card brands) or exaggerate the effect of network fee updates released by the card brands.
What’s actually happening—and what it means for restaurants
In reality, only Visa adjusted interchange (IC) rates during this release, and just for online transactions, not in-store transactions. But both Visa and Mastercard added or increased a few network fees. Restaurant brands, like all other merchants that accept credit cards, will have to incur the fees associated with Visa’s—and any other credit card brand’s—rising rates.
The greater threat, especially for restaurant brands, is payment processing fees. While they may look simple on paper, the devil is in the details. For example, a payment processor might offer a rate of 2.9% + $0.35 per transaction. It seems straightforward, but the cost of accepting payments goes beyond the processing fee and often includes charges not shown in the rate.
Over the years, we’ve heard from numerous restaurant brands about payment processors hiding fees, overcharging for services, and even charging for unnecessary items without consent.
What you can do about it
While restaurant brands, unfortunately, have to eat credit card fees, many don’t realize most processor-level fees are negotiable. As a result, some have increased menu prices or added a surcharge to pass the extra cost on to guests.
Here are a few things you can do to manage the high cost of accepting payments:
Carefully review all statements every month. Look at the fine print and encourage your franchisees to do the same. Some payment processors won’t contact you about fee adjustments or increases. Instead, they make it your responsibility to catch the change in a statement or learn about it by monitoring their website or blog. If something looks off, notify your payment processor.
Negotiate processor-assessed fees. You can negotiate any fee assessed by your payment processor—especially if you’re up for contract renewal. If you’re being charged monthly fees, ask if they are assessed by the processor or by the credit card brand. It can be hard to distinguish. If, for example, your merchant statement shows a $15/month charge listed in the “Other Fees” category, it’s worth flagging unless there is a specific service you signed up for and are using.
Explore other restaurant payment solutions. You no longer have to settle for legacy payment processors with excessive fees, inaccessible data, limited functionality, and security issues. Consider switching to a modern, restaurant-specific payment stack designed to help you drive digital sales, prevent fraud, and streamline day-to-day payment processes—with transparent, up-front pricing.
When evaluating payment stacks, restaurant brands often look for the cheapest rate. Once locked in, they tend to stick to the provider—regardless of any issues that arise—due to the hassle of switching. Onboarding a new payment processor alone can take weeks, but most often takes months. And yet, inaction can come with a high price tag. Let our team of restaurant payment experts help ensure you keep as much of your hard-earned revenue as possible.
Learn more about our restaurant payment platform, Olo Pay, and contact our team to start protecting and growing your digital business.
Olo Founder and CEO Noah Glass recently sat down with Eric Cacciatore of the Restaurant Unstoppable Podcast to discuss Olo’s evolution—from a text-message ordering solution to an industry-leading open SaaS platform—and how restaurant brands are leveraging technology to optimize operations, enhance the guest experience, and maximize revenue.
As with most conversations surrounding restaurant technology, build vs. buy was a hot topic. Noah and Eric discussed the fact that not every brand has the budget or resources to build its own tech stack, as well as the common misconception that build vs. buy is a one-time choice.
In addition to the upfront cost of building software, for example, restaurants also have to consider the ongoing costs of regular maintenance and ensuring optimal performance, security, and reliability as guests’ needs change and technology evolves.
Why Direct Ordering Matters
While Noah and Eric acknowledge in the podcast that third-party marketplaces have proven vital for boosting brand awareness and guest acquisition, they talk at length about the benefits of direct ordering for restaurants and guests alike.
Noah explains that restaurant brands want as many people as possible to order directly from their website or app to collect essential first-party data (visit frequency, favorite menu items, purchase behavior, lifetime value, etc.). These insights enable them to better understand, serve, and market to guests.
When guests order via third-party marketplaces, restaurants are blocked from that data altogether. To stay competitive, Noah recommends brands look to the hotel and travel industries—which went through the same battle 15 years ago with online travel agencies—to find strategies for empowering guests to order direct. For example, brands can offer direct orderers the lowest prices, access to the full menu, loyalty rewards, and other perks.
He goes on to say that because restaurants want the kitchen to be at peak capacity through the most profitable channels, they should prioritize those that enable them to make the most profit, own the guest relationship, and retain guests. In other words, direct ordering.
The Power of First-Party Guest Data
To further illustrate the value of direct ordering, Noah shares some of the benefits with listeners, including owning the guest relationship, building actionable guest profiles, and driving retention. He explains that when you can access and analyze first-party data from digital touchpoints throughout the guest journey, you can offer next-level hospitality by predicting their needs and also influence their behavior.
He shares that beyond ordering and payments, a guest data platform (GDP) can turn insights from every digital touchpoint into one, unified guest profile. This enables brands to unlock the lifetime value of nearly 100% of guests and leverage that data to make informed business decisions across departments, including marketing, real estate, and operations.
To maximize ROI across the board, he says restaurants must be able to discern which guests are most valuable by recency, frequency, and spending, and which guests are simply one-time visitors motivated by a discount. Why? Because, on average, 60% of restaurant revenue is driven by just 20% of guests.
Eric and Noah go on to talk about restaurant payments and how brands are racing to meet the evolving needs of digital-first guests.
When digital orderers elect to check out anonymously, Noah says it’s a lose-lose situation for the guest and the restaurant. Guests have to re-enter their custom order and payment information each time they return, whereas brands can’t tie the transaction back to a guest profile. In other words, the restaurant doesn’t know if that guest has ordered 20 times before or is brand new.
To eliminate friction in the checkout process, he says some restaurant brands are following in the footsteps of e-commerce and adopting modern payment solutions that offer passwordless login, digital wallet support, and increased security.
To meet the expectations of digital-first guests, restaurant brands are racing to update and optimize their tech stack. But the question of whether to build, buy, or build and buy restaurant tech isn’t always straightforward. Find out why.
Given the industry is still in the early innings of its digital transformation, brands often find themselves navigating a mix of legacy tech and newer tools that can be hard to connect.
For smaller, emerging brands, buying restaurant software from tech vendors is usually a no-brainer. But for larger, more resourced brands, the debate can shift to build vs. buy or build and buy.
What’s Attractive About Building Custom Restaurant Software
The power of building native technology lies in owning the roadmap and defining the priorities—restaurant brands can determine exactly what matters and build it, even if they’re the only brand in the world that values those capabilities. This level of control is alluring, especially for bigger brands, that might have more resources to take on a custom build.
Additionally, working with external software partners can get complicated. For one, some tech vendors control restaurants’ guest data. A scaling tech company may also get sold to a large corporation only for the tech roadmap and overall priorities to change. Even more simply, many tech partners fail to deliver on promised updates or oversell the future.
And, through it all, tech solutions cost money for restaurant brands that famously operate on razor-thin margins.
The Trouble With Building Custom Restaurant Software
Despite the best intentions of building custom restaurant software, brands often find themselves in a quagmire. Restaurants don't specialize in tech.
Even companies like Lyft and Airbnb use Amazon Web Services (AWS). Why? Because specialization makes for a better outcome. A business that specializes in a solution will put the needed resources, rigorous testing, and a world-class team of engineers behind it.
Lyft leverages AWS for its IT infrastructure, data center capacity, etc. so it can focus on building the parts of its product that are differentiated.
The same principle applies to restaurant brands. The need for a POS system or reservations platform is commonplace across the entire industry—execution of the food and guest experience is each brand’s differentiator.
5 Questions to Ask Before Deciding to Build vs. Buy
1. Will the short- and long-term costs be justified?
For restaurant brands, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to match the operational focus of a tech company intent on building software products that will be resold to thousands of customers. Tech companies invest their time, money, and resources into product design, engineering, maintenance, and optimization to stay competitive in their verticals.
To build a custom software application, a restaurant brand could put a year’s worth of SaaS fees or more into development—while paying a tech partner to keep day-to-day operations running in the meantime—and still not do a better job than a tech partner. And, because the work isn’t ever “done” once a solution is rolled out, the investment doesn’t stop there.
Marginal value invested in the restaurant software application often doesn't justify the marginal cost, because brands are limited on the number of restaurants they can create value for.
2. Can you compete with tech companies to attract and retain top talent?
Because the economics are better for tech companies, they naturally attract talent. Engineers gravitate to companies where they are paid the best. In addition to large salaries, tech companies often provide equity.
On the other hand, restaurant brands have more complex environments—they need ops, culinary, real estate, marketing, and training, in addition to technology.
Beyond the talent aspect, partnering with a restaurant tech company allows you to tap into the knowledge base of a wide range of customers and their guests, integration partners, and a variety of specialists—all in the name of building the best possible solution for an entire industry. A restaurant team building in-house is limited to input from a much smaller pool of experts.
3. Will building tech take focus and resources away from what matters most to your brand?
Werner Vogels coined the term “undifferentiated heavy lifting” to describe all the hard work engineers do that doesn’t add value to the company. This concept inspired Amazon’s development of AWS. Jeff Bezos put it this way, “we build muck so you don’t have to.”
In discussing this theory, Arun Nagarajan, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Evolve and a founding member of Uber Eats, laid it out simply, "building anything is hard. There are things you probably don’t want to build because it doesn’t matter who builds it. If you’re lifting heavy things anyway, lift the things that matter."
Building a memorable, authentic guest experience is what matters most for restaurant brands, and it is already a heavy lift. Shifting focus to building the technology behind those guest experiences may result in resources being spread too thin.
4. Can guests wait for mission-critical systems to be built?
If a tech solution is a priority and will solve a unique problem for your restaurant business, what is the cost of delaying implementation while it’s built internally?
By the time a tech company finds product market fit, they’ve gone through upwards of five iterations of their product, with rigorous testing, bug fixes, and multiple rounds of addressing user feedback.
Buying a solution comes with hard-earned ease of use, advanced features, product stability, and ongoing support from day zero. Building custom software means likely having one-fifth of the capabilities and ROI on day 365.
Equally as important as time to value is the consideration of points of potential failure once a system is rolled out. Leveraging an outside tech vendor offers risk mitigation against a scenario in which an internal employee exits a company and takes intricate knowledge of a proprietary system with them. (And, a new in-house engineer stepping in could take 3–6 months to ramp.)
5. Beyond the dollar amount, how high is the opportunity cost?
The time spent waiting for a homegrown solution to be ready is not the only cost. The likelihood that it will be underdeveloped compared to existing solutions is high. This may result in missed value that would have come from having a tech partner that drives results immediately.
There is also a real probability that a custom-made solution won’t seamlessly integrate with other technologies used by the brand or crucial value-added features. In addition, the difficulty in keeping up with the industry’s evolution at pace will put brands exponentially further behind their competitors. All of this increases opportunity cost long-term.
Avoiding the Sunk-Cost Fallacy: Pei Wei Case Study
Answering those upfront questions can help you avoid some costly missteps that make it increasingly difficult to course-correct over time. Too often, once material investments are made, brands fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy and continue iterating on systems that could more easily be replaced with proven solutions already in the market.
Pei Wei, a fresh Pan-Asian fast-casual restaurant, faced this problem head-on when it saw digital sales decline due to the underwhelming performance of its homegrown ordering solution. Rather than continuing to invest and re-invent, Pei Wei partnered with Olo to revamp its online ordering platform and turn the tide.
The result? A 36% lift in digital sales in the first 90 days and a 57% increase in ticket size for online orders.
So, What Business Do You Want To Be In?
The real question restaurant brands need to answer when considering building custom restaurant software is, what business do you actually want to be in?
The work doesn’t stop once the software is built (think: integrations, updates/evolution, analytics, etc.). An increasingly short tech life cycle also means anything built today will be irrelevant in 18 months. The truth is, there is no finish line.
That said, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to assembling the perfect restaurant tech stack. And some brands, especially large, well-resourced ones, may still pursue homegrown solutions to meet their needs.
Whether you decide to build components in-house, integrate solutions from different vendors, do a little of both, or rely on one end-to-end platform, it’s important to do what’s best for your brand—not just for today but in preparation for what’s to come.
To prepare for a passwordless future, restaurant brands need a refined approach to digital payments. Learn how Olo Pay’s Borderless checkout feature leads to better guest experiences, more sign-ins, and more frequent purchases.
There’s little room for friction in the world of e-commerce—and that’s even more true in the restaurant industry. After all, guests turn to digital channels for convenience, and there’s no harder time to handle unexpected hurdles than when you’re hungry.
With the likes of Amazon, Shop Pay, and Bolt raising the bar for e-commerce checkouts, it’s no wonder 91% of consumers say a satisfying checkout experience significantly influences the likelihood they will return to a given merchant.
Keep reading to find out how the Borderless checkout feature of Olo Pay irons out some common wrinkles in the restaurant checkout process—so you can deliver a smoother ordering experience that leads to satisfied guests rather than abandoned carts.
Why the Restaurant Industry Is Primed for a Passwordless Future
Recent research reveals the average person has roughly 100 passwords across their various online accounts. Even if the bulk of those are more likely to be reset than remembered due to lack of usage, it’s still a staggering amount.
It should come as no surprise that across all e-commerce segments, 42% of consumers prefer to use the “guest checkout” option when making a purchase. And even for those who do create an account, 75% use a burner email address, according to a 2022 study from Capterra.
Restaurant guests are no different. Aside from frequent users and those looking to accrue and redeem loyalty rewards, most don’t want to add to their password pile by creating an account every time they order from a new brand.
To eliminate friction in the checkout process, restaurant brands are beginning to adopt modern payment solutions similar to the ones guests have grown accustomed to within the traditional retail e-commerce segment.
How Olo Pay’s Borderless Checkout Feature Works—and Why It Matters
Borderless was purpose-built to make the restaurant checkout process as quick and simple as possible. The first time guests enter their payment and contact details, they can save that information for future use.
Because that information is saved at the platform level, guests can securely speed through checkout for each subsequent purchase—with that specific restaurant brand or others in the Borderless network they’ve never ordered from before—without having to remember a password or re-enter their information. All they have to do is enter their email address or phone number and then input the one-time code they receive to verify their identity and authenticate the purchase.
3 Ways Guests Benefit From Borderless
1. Easier Ordering
Guests want to complete their order, yet the average online shopping cart abandonment rate is nearly 70%. Two of the main reasons cited by consumers are mandatory account creation and a long/complicated checkout process. With Borderless, guests can speed through checkout without the hassle of recalling passwords or manually entering information.
2. Increased Security
Another often-cited concern about digital payments relates to security. With data breaches making headlines on a routine basis, it makes sense for guests to have second thoughts every time they’re asked to input their credit card information and try to limit the number of accounts they create. Borderless eliminates the need to re–enter payment information with each transaction and protects sensitive payment information through full PCI compliance.
3. Loyalty Rewards
We’ve integrated Borderless with loyalty partners on Serve to ensure guests can earn and redeem loyalty rewards while enjoying the passwordless login and accelerated checkout experience provided by Borderless. Additionally, guests who sign into their loyalty account can have their delivery address and payment details pre-filled from their Borderless account.
Borderless in Practice: Din Tai Fung Case Study
Din Tai Fung was one of the first adopters of the Borderless checkout feature of Olo Pay. In the seven months following its implementation, 60,000 Din Tai Fung guests created a Borderless account. Since then, Borderless has positively impacted order frequency, guest sign-ins, and saved cards during checkout.
Lift in Orders Per Guest Using Borderless
Due to the convenient checkout process, existing guests who signed up with Borderless are likely to place 61% more orders throughout the year—or 1.5 more orders per existing guest—compared to those who have not signed up for Borderless.
Increase in Guest Sign-Ins
After Borderless was enabled, Din Tai Fung saw guest sign-ins (Olo legacy and Borderless) before placing an order jump from 31% to 65%—a 109% increase. This strong guest engagement has driven the increase in orders.
More Guests Saving Cards on File
With the introduction of Borderless, more Din Tai Fung guests are opting to save their credit cards on file for smoother checkouts in the future.
Ready for the Passwordless Future?
As guest behaviors rapidly evolve, brands are ramping up investments across their tech stack to keep pace. Unfortunately, payment processing has largely remained a commodity and most legacy providers don’t meet the unique challenges posed within the restaurant industry.
In the passwordless future, restaurant brands that offer a frictionless checkout will have a competitive advantage. Guests crave convenience as much as their favorite food items. Fortunately, you can give them both.
Contact our team of restaurant experts to learn how Olo Pay’s Borderless checkout feature can help you meet the needs of today’s digital-first guests.
Restaurant Website Design, Restaurant Website Examples, Google Business for Restaurants, Social Media for Restaurants
To remain competitive in the restaurant industry, brands of all sizes and types need to have a strong online presence. A user-friendly website, optimized Google listings, and active social media accounts increase discoverability, drive sales, and help foster long-term guest loyalty.
Here are three ways to boost your restaurant’s visibility online and drive traffic to your website:
1. Prioritize Your Restaurant Website
When people want to learn about a new restaurant today—explore the menu, find nearby locations, view order options, etc.—they’ll often start by looking at the website. And first impressions are everything.
A well-executed website has the power to convert a window shopper into a paying guest, whereas a poorly designed one can quickly drive people away. Consider your website an extension of your restaurant brand. It should mirror the brand colors, messaging, and overall vibe of your brick-and-mortar locations so anyone (existing and new guests) can get a feel for what your business is all about.
When thinking about the design of your restaurant website, put yourself in your guest’s shoes. Carefully consider their end-to-end journey. How easy or difficult is it to find your website? View the menu? Place an order? And what is the experience like on a phone? The less friction, the more likely they’ll place an order, book a reservation, or share with their friends.
You’ll have an easier time attracting and retaining guests by ensuring your restaurant website has these important features:
Key Elements Of An Effective Restaurant Website
Responsive (mobile-friendly) design
Clear calls to action (CTAs)
Ability to order online, make a reservation, join the waitlist, or download your mobile app
Full restaurant menu
Attractive, cohesive branding
Accurate information (contact info, locations, hours, etc.)
Social media links
Ability to share feedback about the dining experience
Kudos: Jamba’s website is fresh, fun, and brightly colored, just like the brand and its menu. The bold CTA buttons enable guests to quickly place a pickup or delivery order. Rewards and gift cards are also part of the main navigation for easy access. Upon scrolling, guests can download the app for a special offer, sign up for a subscription, or follow on social media.
Kudos: Jeni’s website features a minimalist, on-brand design with mouthwatering imagery. The navigation is straightforward with a clear “shop now” CTA above the fold. You can easily place a delivery order from the home page, subscribe to the email list, follow on social media, and join the Pint Club.
Kudos: High-quality video on BurgerFi’s homepage brings the fresh ingredients to life. The eye is drawn to the bright green “Order Now” button and everything else you might need (menu, locations, rewards, etc.) is easy to find at the top. Further down the page, you can learn about the rewards program and delivery offerings.
Kudos: Maggiano’s puts reservations front and center on its home page with a built-in form. Guests can also place an order from a button in the top right corner. The main navigation is straightforward and makes important pages, like the menu, easily accessible. Upon scrolling, guests will find a special offer for downloading the restaurant app, plus information about catering and banquets.
2. Optimize Your Restaurant’s Google Listings
One of the most common ways guests find places to eat today is by searching online—primarily using Google Search or Maps.
Google now owns 93% of search engine market share worldwide, and according to Google Trends data from the last five years, the search term “restaurants near me” recently reached peak popularity in July 2021.
But don’t just take our word for it: Look at your guest data. When you review the sources of your online orders or cover count, how many came from Google?
You can easily increase your restaurant visibility, online orders, reservations, and more, by optimizing your Google Business listing, which is tied to your Google Maps listing. In other words, by meeting guests where they are.
But what exactly does optimize mean?
How To Optimize A Restaurant’s Google Business Listing
To rank high in Google Search results and appear in Google Maps when guests are searching for nearby restaurants, you first need to claim your Google Business profile. Be as detailed as possible when filling out your business listing.
These details include:
Category (food type, services offered)
The three main factors Google considers when ranking local listings:
Relevance: How relevant is your business listing to the search results?
Distance: How far is your brand’s location from the searcher’s location?
Prominence: How well-known is your brand in the offline and online communities?
The more accurate details you provide, the higher the click-through rate your listing will yield.
Leverage Order with Google
Did you know you can offer a seamless direct ordering experience from your Google Business Profile? By leveraging Order with Google, you can ensure guests who are using Google Search or Maps to locate similar restaurants or dishes in their area can easily find and order directly from your brand.
When guests use Order with Google, they see the same menu featured on your brand-owned channels and the orders are sent to your restaurant and processed just like website or app orders. By enabling guests to quickly place a direct digital order without leaving Google, you can eliminate friction in off-premise ordering, increase your online conversion rate, and open the door to new, incremental guests.
Most importantly, unlike third-party marketplaces, Order with Google gives you full ownership of your guest data so you can maximize LTV and put those insights to work across departments.
You can also give guests the ability to “Reserve a Table” or Join the Waitlist”—right from your Google listing. The fewer hoops guests have to jump through, the better.
Google Business is an essential platform for restaurants to communicate directly with current and potential guests by posting announcements (events, seasonal offerings, safety precautions, etc.), answering questions in the Q&A section, and responding to reviews—good and bad.
Appear on Google Maps when people look for restaurants nearby
Enhance the guest experience by making it easier for guests to find information (menu, photos, reviews, answers, etc.) quickly
Engage with guests and build trust by responding to questions and reviews
Identify opportunities to improve service based on guest feedback and recover guests whose sentiment indicates they may be a churn risk
Set your brand apart from the competition
Example Of An Optimized Restaurant Google Listing
Kudos: Uncle Julio’s has fully optimized Google Business listings and leverages Order with Google through Olo. Guests can easily view the menu and imagery, reserve a table, and order directly from the restaurant without ever leaving Google. Additionally, the brand engages with reviews, which boosts guest satisfaction and attracts potential guests.
3. Establish A Strong Social Media Presence
According to a 2023 survey by PYMNTS, 37% of diners search for restaurant information by accessing content from a restaurant’s social media page. That share jumped to 42% for Gen Z and 46% for millennials.
Needless to say, social media is a critical avenue for finding and attracting new restaurant guests. But it’s not enough to post an occasional photo. Restaurants must outline specific goals for each platform (building brand awareness, engaging directly with guests, showcasing unique offerings, etc.) and spend time cultivating a community around their brand.
When you’re first getting your restaurant set up on social media, think of quality over quantity. Focus your efforts on two or three major platforms so you don’t spread yourself too thin. If you’re unsure which social channels are worth the investment, consider your current guest demographics, look at referral traffic sources in Google Analytics, and survey guests with high lifetime value (LTV).
Let’s say you discover your best guests spend a good chunk of their day on Instagram. Here’s how to make your profile (and your restaurant) attractive to new and existing guests on that platform.
Start by filling out all of your Instagram profile details:
Pick a username that accurately reflects your restaurant and is easy to remember
Use your restaurant logo for the profile photo
Add a link to your website
Write a keyword-rich description and include a branded hashtag
Set up a shop if you have merchandise
Add the option to order food if applicable
Add the option to send an email to the restaurant
Social Media Strategy for Restaurants
Next, create a content strategy for posting images on your feed. Here are some tips.
Establish a posting cadence by theme: Food, drinks, people, vibe, brand story, user-generated content, etc.
Determine what brand voice and tone you’ll use for your captions (playful, thought-provoking, punny, personable, etc.)
Identify opportunities to engage with followers by asking questions
Create a plan for posting consistently (e.g., at least five days per week, testing different times to measure engagement)
Stick to your brand color palette to ensure your feed is aesthetically pleasing (dark and alluring, neutrals, bright and fun, etc.)
In addition to posting images, take advantage of all of Instagram’s features, including Stories, Reels, and Live to get guests excited about your restaurant offerings. For example, post a smoothie tutorial, poll your followers, tell the origin story of your famous queso, or do a live Q&A with everyone’s favorite bartender.
Next, create Story Highlights that will live on your restaurant’s profile for all to see. Consider highlighting menu items, locations, user-generated content, a Q&A about a seasonal offering, and chef tips.
Examples of Restaurant Brands Winning on Instagram
When it comes to curating your restaurant’s Instagram profile, consistency—from the overall look of your grid to the posting schedule—is key. In fact, 30% of millennial diners actively avoid restaurants with a weak Instagram presence.
Example Of An Optimized Restaurant Instagram Account
Kudos: Milk Bar has a fully optimized Instagram account with high-quality imagery and video that showcase the brand’s signature, brightly colored desserts. The brand uses Story Highlights to further entice visitors and the detailed description invites guests to order, look for Milk Bar at local stores, or shop the feed.
While every social media platform has unique opportunities for optimizing a profile, start with these guidelines:
Ensure all profile details are filled out and updated as needed
Create a clear CTA to maximize conversions (i.e., Order Online or Reserve a Table)
Utilize relevant hashtags to increase discoverability
Use location-based tagging when possible to help people find your restaurant
Make it easy to contact you with questions or for more information
Ensure all images, videos, and messaging are on-brand
Seize the opportunity to interact with and learn from current and potential guests
Leverage user-generated content to build a community around your brand
Taking these steps on social media will grow your following, boost brand awareness, drive traffic/orders, give regulars an easy way to advocate for your business, enable new guests to find and engage with your brand, and provide an additional digital front door to your restaurant.
Don’t Miss Out on Digital-First Guests
The importance of a strong online presence for restaurants—and businesses in general—cannot be understated. New and existing guests need to be able to find and engage with your brand quickly and easily across platforms.
Your restaurant website, Google listing, and social media accounts—or lack thereof—could be the difference between earning a guest’s business and losing it to a competitor.
Contact our team of restaurant experts to find out how Olo can help your restaurant brand boost visibility, traffic, and sales, online.
As a follow-up to our post about why SMS marketing matters for restaurants, we’re diving deeper into why SMS marketing automations work, the anatomy of an effective campaign, and three examples any brand can use to drive engagement and sales.
The Power of SMS Marketing Automation
Automation might just be the best tool in the SMS marketing toolbox. Before we get into why, here’s a quick definition: SMS automations are marketing text messages that send automatically, triggered by guest behaviors.
For example, with help from a restaurant CRM, you can set up an automation to send right after a guest dines on-premise or places an online order, thanking them for their business and requesting feedback on the experience.
While mass SMS campaigns can drive results for specific goals, SMS automations have real advantages in driving predictable, sustainable results.
Why SMS Marketing Automations Work for Restaurants
1. They are timely: Because they trigger automatically based on behavior, SMS automations arrive at the right time—whether reminding a guest who hasn’t visited for three weeks of a popular menu item or asking for feedback after an online order closes.
2. They are relevant: Message content is tailored to guest actions, increasing responsiveness and building a 1:1 relationship.
3. They are consistent: SMS automations don’t rely on a daily, manual marketing effort to be sent—they reach every guest, every time, over time.
4. They are targeted: Reaching a guest on their mobile device is, by far, the most personal method of communication.
5. They reach the intended recipient, guaranteed: SMS messages don’t get caught by filters, like email inboxes, and aren’t served alongside competitive ads (as is often the case on social media).
Anatomy of an Effective SMS Marketing Automation
Despite the built-in power of SMS automations, the content must still be carefully crafted for opens, engagement, and returns.
Short, concise, natural copy: Texts should read like they’re coming from a friend.
Consistent brand voice: A good SMS campaign should reflect the same voice used on a brand’s website, email campaigns, and social media.
Personalized content: Using the recipient’s name is good, but a text that is relevant to the behavior that triggered it makes communications feel organic and personal.
Clear call to action: Make clear what you want guests to do when they receive your text and ensure that it aligns with the campaign's objectives.
Urgency: LTOs and VIP perks are go-tos, but exciting copy and creative engagement strategies can go a long way to create urgency without direct promos.
Three SMS Marketing Examples for Restaurants
Once the brainstorming starts, use cases for automated SMS marketing campaigns are limitless. Get inspired and build on the basics of effective SMS campaigns with these examples:
Be the First to Access Special, Value-Add Content
Campaign Goal: Reward opt-ins and build a 1:1 connection with guests
Trigger: New SMS opt-in from WiFi, website, etc.
SMS Content: Welcome text with exclusive value-added content
Drink recipes that complement takeout offerings or cooking tips from the culinary team
A link to your brand’s playlist or to download a coloring sheet
A special survey to provide input on upcoming menu additions
If You Ordered This, You’ll Love That
Campaign Goal: Drive continued takeout menu exploration and guest frequency
Trigger: Guest ordered [menu item] but not [menu item] (a combo your brand knows drives repeat orders most often)
SMS Content: A simple reminder from a friend about menu items they love, and what they pair well with, is often enough to keep your brand top-of-mind come mealtime
Are you craving an extra order of [menu item]? Asking for a friend. Don’t forget [menu item].
Did you know (fun fact about the menu item)?
It’s #MeatlessMonday/#TacoTuesday (or another trending food hashtag). Let’s celebrate with [menu item] and [menu item].
“Show this Text” for Perks (Bonus: Creates Urgency)
Campaign Goal: Boost online order frequency and average check
Trigger: Ordered [menu item] online
SMS Content: Incentivize guests with a special perk that’s redeemable when they order online (for a limited time)
A special incentive tied to a new menu item or a specific day-part lagging in sales (e.g. $5 off your next lunch order)
A perk that incentivizes guests to order bundled items that are popular with your most high-value guests (e.g., free __ when you order __)
A promotion tied to a new category of items you’re looking to drive a trial of (plant-based offerings, new family meal kits, etc.)
In summary, SMS automations not only save restaurant marketers time and streamline workflow, but they’re also more likely to create immediate and meaningful ROI for the business than most other channels. Leading brands are texting with their most engaged and loyal guests multiple times a week—building a 1:1 relationship by adding value with each message and creating urgency because every SMS is triggered by individual guest behaviors.
Consumers have become so accustomed to personalized experiences that 91% of people are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations. While personalization has become table stakes for industries like e-commerce, it remains a competitive advantage within the restaurant industry.
Whether guests are dining on-premise or off, restaurant brands can make every guest feel like a regular by leveraging first-party data to tailor each touch point to their preferences, order history, visit frequency, preferred marketing channel, and more.
How Restaurants Can Use Data to Personalize the Guest Experience
Once a restaurant brand has begun collecting first-party guest data, the options for personalizing the guest experience are endless.
Here are a few examples that will help …
strengthen the relationship with guests via elevated hospitality
provide a seamless, end-to-end guest journey on- and off-premise
create memorable dining experiences that keep guests coming back, spending more, and engaging with the brand in new ways
No matter how a guest chooses to order—online, drive-thru, counter, kiosk, table, etc.—brands can make them feel valued and encourage them to try new menu items by offering individualized recommendations.
With visibility into a guest’s order history, brands can offer data-driven suggestions in-person or digitally to make the ordering experience seamless and enjoyable. This could include a guest’s favorite dish or new items that align with their dietary restrictions and preferred modifications.
Brands can further tailor the guest experience and increase conversion within the digital ordering flow by:
Putting the guest’s favorite items at the top for ease of reordering
Suggesting items based on their previous orders
Presenting relevant item pairings, such as a burger and a beer
Giving the guest easy access to their transaction history
Targeted marketing campaigns are critical for driving guest acquisition and retention. Restaurant brands can (and should) use data to segment guests and create personalized offers and promotions to boost sales, visit frequency, and engagement.
For example, a Japanese restaurant could send a personalized email or SMS message to guests who typically order sushi on the weekend, offering a discount on their favorite roll the next time they order lunch Monday-Thursday. A few days later, the brand could launch a social media ad campaign targeting that same guest segment to motivate them to act on the exclusive offer (and keep the brand top of mind).
This type of 1:1 communication—based on insights like purchase behavior, order history, or dietary preferences—can turn one-time visitors into loyal brand advocates with high lifetime value (LTV) by making them feel seen and appreciated.
By training staff to access guest profiles or notes before or during interactions, brands can make every guest feel like a regular. For example:
Inquiring if they’d like to start with the wedge salad again
Congratulating them on their progress toward a loyalty program milestone
Thanking them for their Google review
Acknowledging their child’s peanut allergy
Noting how the brand is making improvements based on their recent survey feedback
Surprise and Delight
Restaurants of all types can use guest profile data within the restaurant CRM, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or high school graduation, to surprise and delight guests. A special greeting, free dessert, or a small gift can leave a lasting impression.
On a typical day, brands can use data to anticipate the needs and preferences of guests before they arrive for a pickup order or reservation. In those instances, the surprise-and-delight moment could be putting a few extra packets of a guest’s favorite dipping sauce in their to-go bag, or ensuring a guest’s favorite cocktail is waiting for them at their reserved table.
No matter the occasion, this type of elevated hospitality can set a brand apart.
With Personalization, Everyone Wins
When restaurants start using data to personalize and streamline the dining experience, both guests and the brand will benefit.
Guests will feel valued and well taken care of when their specific needs and preferences are anticipated and accommodated.
In turn, brands can expect this boost in guest satisfaction to positively impact sales, visit frequency, reviews, recommendations, guest LTV, and overall growth.
Contact our team to learn how Olo can help your brand harness first-party data and personalize the guest experience to maximize revenue.
In the third and final installment of our Guide to Restaurant Guest Acquisition, we cover retention’s role in your acquisition strategy and offer tips for leveraging data to build a healthy guest base.
Once you’ve found and attracted new guests, how do you build a healthy base with high lifetime value (LTV)? The answers are in your restaurant data.
As you start to analyze, consider these four important questions, which should serve as the basis for your guest retention strategy and inform future acquisition efforts.
Four Questions To Ask When Analyzing Restaurant Data
1. Who have you acquired, when, and how?
2. How are your guests progressing through the guest lifecycle?
3. What characteristics do your guests share?
4. How can you influence behavior to mirror the actions of your most valuable guests?
To keep restaurant guests coming back, you first have to take the time to learn who they are, along with their preferences, motivations, and behaviors. Within your data, you can find out what initially drove guests to your business and why they keep coming back—or why they’ve stopped returning—by looking at things like location, visit frequency, average spend, the preferred method of ordering, time and day of visits, marketing engagement, feedback, acquisition campaign/channel, etc.
Focusing Retention Efforts With Cohorts and Segments
Rather than attempt to boil the ocean regarding retention, some brands analyze their data by cohorts, or groups of guests acquired at the same time, to evaluate repeat purchasing, churn, spending, reliance on guest acquisition, and other trends over time. By doing so, they can uncover when exactly guests become brand-loyal and why, and create retention campaigns specifically designed to move them forward in the life cycle.
For example, you might discover once guests reach the four-visit mark, you’ve retained them for life. And so, the challenge then is figuring out how to move cohorts from one to two visits, two to three, and beyond.
Additionally (or alternatively), you can analyze your restaurant data by guest segments based on shared characteristics, such as guests with high LTV, website visitors, online orderers, on-premise guests, weekend warriors, Wi-Fi signups, catering orderers, and more.
To ensure each segment becomes more valuable to your restaurant brand over time, you should be thinking about ways to influence their behavior in a positive way. For example:
Giving weekend warriors a reason to also visit during the week, like Happy Hour or live music
Encouraging email subscribers to sign up for SMS messaging for insider perks
Ultimately, every restaurant brand is challenged with testing different retention strategies to find out what works for their guests. The best win-back campaign for your churn risks may be a free appetizer or a perfectly timed email with menu recommendations based on their order history.
By studying your data, you can identify cross-selling, bundling, or promotional opportunities you may not have previously considered, and use that intel to create irresistible campaigns to meet your goals.
Series Wrap-Up and Next Steps
As we close out this series, remember the best guest acquisition strategies are rooted in data generated by an integrated restaurant tech stack, utilize highly detailed segmentation, and take an omnichannel approach to find and attract the right people at the right time on their preferred platform. But guest acquisition doesn’t end with the first visit.
To build a healthy guest base, restaurants need to regularly leverage their data to identify trends, monitor progression through the guest lifecycle, and develop retention strategies that meet individual needs and preferences as they evolve over time. Furthermore, by unlocking LTV and studying the behavior of high-value guests, brands can positively influence behavior and strengthen engagement across their entire base.
Learn more about Engage, our suite of restaurant marketing tools, and contact us today to find out how Olo can support your retention efforts.
Effective restaurant marketing requires an omnichannel approach to engage guests. And SMS marketing automation—also known as text message marketing—has quickly proven itself to be a valuable tool in a marketer’s tool belt.
Why? On average, SMS open rates are as high as 98% and replies are received within 90 seconds.
Restaurant brands can use this marketing channel to target their most engaged guests on their mobile devices with timely, personalized messages that drive results. To help get you started, we’ve created a quick guide that covers the basics of SMS restaurant marketing, including why it works, rules to know, and ways to grow your audience.
What is SMS Marketing?
SMS marketing stands for “Short Message Service” marketing, often referred to as text-message marketing. Prized by marketers for the immediate, direct connection with guests, the ability to customize and personalize messages, and the timeliness of outreach via SMS automation—it’s no surprise that SMS marketing is driving ROI in all industries.
Why SMS Marketing Matters for Restaurants
The restaurant industry, in particular, has an immediate need for timely, personalized guest communication as demand for off-premise dining and contactless service continues to grow. Restaurants are turning to technologies, like SMS marketing, to help them create a consistent, branded experience for both dine-in guests and online orderers.
The case for SMS marketing is clear, but a successful start depends on two crucial steps: Knowing the rules and driving opt-ins.
Step 1: Know the Rules
SMS Marketing Regulations
Collecting guests’ phone numbers through marketing efforts doesn’t necessarily mean you have clearance to add those numbers to your SMS campaigns. The rules and regulations of SMS marketing are set by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the CTIA. It’s important to read, understand, and comply with published regulations.
Get Clear Consent To Opt-In From Guests
Texting guests without their permission is an invasion of privacy and is against the law. To receive SMS marketing messages, guests must explicitly opt-in via mobile or web.
Transactional Messages Are Off-Limits To Solicit Opt-Ins
It’s not permitted to solicit opt-ins to SMS marketing via transaction-based text messages, such as online order updates or reservation confirmations.
So where CAN you solicit opt-ins? Read on to Step #2.
Additionally, new opt-ins must receive a confirmation text after sign-up, including purpose, a reminder that message/data rates may apply, opt-out instructions, and how to access help instructions. (For restaurants running SMS automation through Olo, this message flow is already set up to ensure compliance with regulations.)
Keep Guests Up-to-Date
Access to information about your SMS campaigns should be accessible via your website, in the restaurant, and on any pages where you collect opt-in guest data.
Step 2: Grow Your SMS Marketing Opt-in Audience
Whether SMS automation is the first outreach tool you’re testing or simply the latest in your comprehensive restaurant marketing strategy, these three quick plays will drive opt-ins for any restaurant brand.
Drive SMS Marketing Opt-ins Via Web Forms
Include SMS opt-in fields on all of your guest-facing forms (e.g. waitlist, reservation, website sign-ups, guest WiFi, etc.) to quickly grow your marketable database.
Encourage Guests to Opt-in Using Short Code
Offer your guests an incentive to sign-up to receive SMS messages from your brand simply by texting a keyword to a short code.
Promote on Social Media, Email, and Offline
Remind guests and social followers of the benefits of being kept up-to-date with your restaurant brand via SMS marketing across all channels.
Start Communicating Directly With Guests
SMS marketing has emerged as one of the best and most reliable ways for any brand to connect with its guests. Its use is on the rise, and with good reason: when done correctly, it works. The response rate of SMS marketing is 45%, whereas the email response rate hovers around 6% (Gartner).
Quick recap: In the first installment of our Guide to Restaurant Guest Acquisition, we explained why knowing your current guests is critical for finding and attracting new, high-value guests. Additionally, we covered the three key elements to unlocking those insights: first-party data, a restaurant-specific CRM, and an integrated tech stack.
Now comes the fun part: Acting on that intel.
Using guest data and segments, restaurant brands can execute a strategic marketing plan that targets new guests who behave similarly to and share interests with their regulars and VIPs.
Start acquiring new guests today with these proven strategies:
1. Advertise on Social Media
Social media advertising is a powerful tool for finding and attracting new restaurant guests on platforms that they use daily. Because organic reach is largely on the decline, social ads ensure your content is seen by the right people at the right time.
Consider which is more likely and effective: Stumbling upon a billboard for a new restaurant in your area or seeing a sponsored post about the grand opening in your Facebook Feed.
In addition to marketing to existing guests on social media—this is critical for retention and should be part of your overall marketing strategy—some brands target by persona (e.g. demographics, location, interests, age, etc.). This strategy may work for certain brands, but Lookalike Audiences can get you closer to your target market on Facebook and Instagram for less money.
In general, the more refined the audience, the lower the customer acquisition cost (CAC) a.k.a. the amount you have to spend to gain a new guest. To calculate CAC, divide your total marketing expenses by the number of new guests acquired. You can determine if you have a good CAC by looking at your check average. If guests are spending more than it costs to get them in the door, your acquisition strategy is on point.
The key to success, as you may have guessed, is leveraging first-party restaurant data.
How to Find New Restaurant Guests With Lookalike Audiences
Facebook defines Lookalike Audience as “a way to reach new people who are likely to be interested in your business because they're similar to your best existing customers.”
In other words, you choose a source audience—it could be your social followers or a list you upload, such as your email database, website visitors, online orderers, etc.—and Facebook then uses the common qualities of the people in it to target similar people.
Note: You’ll get the most bang for your buck by segmenting your guests first—by lifetime value (LTV) and other attributes that are known indicators of a high-value guest—and creating Lookalike Audiences based on those segments.
By targeting Lookalike Audiences, you can reach potential guests who are likely to patronize your restaurant, and may or may not have heard of it before, with relevant messaging that motivates them to take immediate action (e.g. order online or follow to learn more).
Campaign Ideas for Targeting Restaurant Lookalike Audiences
Segment: Guests who visit more than 3x per month
Promote a new location by targeting people within a set geographic location who have behaviors and interests like your loyal fans in other markets.
Segment: Guests who have booked events or placed large catering orders
Showcase your catering offerings leading up to a big game to people who would likely do the same if they knew about your restaurant.
Segment: Most valuable guests (10+ visits, high check average)
Promote a menu item that high-LTV guests order and target people who behave similarly to and share interests with your MVPs.
Tips for Creating Social Media Ads for Restaurants
Today the average American is exposed to 6K-10K ads per day. To stand out, your ad needs to be relevant to your audience and feature eye-catching visuals, compelling copy in your brand voice, and a strong call to action (CTA). Otherwise, your ad will become white noise or turn guests away.
Examples of Effective Restaurant Social Media Ads
This El Pollo Loco ad is part of the brand’s #NoNakedChips campaign, a fun (and funny) way to present its new Double Loaded Nachos. It features an eye-catching photo, an appetizing description, a catchy hashtag, a memorable punchline, and, most importantly an Order Now button, so users can order directly from the ad.
This First Watch ad targets guests located near its new restaurant location to boost brand awareness and generate excitement for the grand opening. The ad also drives email sign-ups by encouraging people to become a "pre-opening VIP."
This Great American Cookies ad promotes new Pumpkin Spice Cookies. It creates a sense of urgency with a Shop Now button and succinctly explains that users can order online and have cookies delivered with free shipping.
With a data-driven social advertising campaign that leverages Lookalike Audiences, restaurants can lower their CAC and increase ROI.
2. Launch a Google Ads Campaign
According to Google, there are over one billion restaurant searches every month, and “food near me” is one of the fastest-growing search terms. Needless to say, Google advertising represents a huge (largely untapped) opportunity for restaurants to get in front of new guests searching for places to eat.
These Google Ad types can maximize your restaurant’s exposure: Search (text ads at the top of Google search results), Display (image ads on websites), and Video (YouTube ads).
All Google Ads can feature general messaging or promote seasonal offerings, events, catering, and more. They can even run during certain times of the day, like 10 a.m.-1 p.m. for the lunchtime rush or 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on date night, based on your current guests’ behavior.
How Restaurants Can Use Google Search Ads
Rank above your competitors (e.g. Someone searches for your competitor and sees your ad above the link to their website)
Target people searching for restaurants in your area (e.g. 10-mile radius of the restaurant)
Bid on relevant keywords (e.g. “Italian restaurant Syracuse” or “Smoothie near me”) that potential guests are using in their search
Example of an Effective Google Search Ad
This Sprinkles Google Search Ad features a keyword-rich description that includes brand differentiators. Most importantly, users can easily order for pickup or nationwide delivery by clicking on the Google Ad extensions (webpage links) like “Order Today.”
How Restaurants Can Use Google Display Ads
Catch the attention of potential guests with a compelling, on-brand visual
Showcase your menu items and differentiators to users as they surf the web
Promote your offerings on websites that focus on specific, related topics or keywords (e.g. A chicken wings ad on a fantasy football website before game day).
Example of an Effective Google Display Ad
This P.F. Chang's display ad is eye-catching and direct. It invites guests to order lunch by clicking the ad and features an irresistible tagline and image.
How Restaurants Can Use Video Ads
Show off your menu and seasonal offerings to users who are searching for relevant keywords on YouTube or who are subscribed to certain channels (e.g. Eater, Food Insider, Bon Appétit, etc.)
Take guests behind the scenes of your restaurant (e.g. cooking tutorials, meet the team, tour the kitchen, see the farm where the food originates, etc.)
Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video vs. 10% when they read it, so YouTube ads can ensure that your restaurant messaging is internalized
Examples of Effective Video Ads
This retro-style Lazy Dog Video Ad shines the spotlight on the restaurant’s new TV Dinners while evoking feelings of nostalgia. It’s short, sweet, informative, and leaves a lasting impression.
This Sonny’s BBQ Video Ad is fun and relatable and speaks to the desire to reconnect with friends and family during the pandemic. The ad shows off some menu offerings, while also appealing to our emotions.
Boost website traffic, phone calls, and foot traffic
Extend your restaurant’s reach far beyond what your brick-and-mortar location and online listings can
Generate brand awareness among locals and visitors
Re-engage guests who haven’t visited in a while
3. Retarget Website and Social Media Visitors
If you’ve ever left a website without buying anything and then seen an ad for that company appear on your social feed or within your search results shortly thereafter, you’ve experienced retargeting.
With retargeting, brands can invite consumers back after they’ve visited their website or social page through hyper-relevant ads that follow the user as they browse the Internet. Given that these people have already expressed an interest in your brand, it’s easier and more cost-effective to advertise to them than to a non-retargeting audience.
How To Set Up Website Retargeting For Your Restaurant
To advertise to your website visitors with Google Ads, you’ll need to add a code snippet to your website: the global site tag and the optional event snippet. This will capture information about your visitors—pages viewed and actions taken—to create remarketing lists. For instructions, go here. Alternatively, you can enable remarketing with Google Analytics.
Once your website is tracking properly, it’s time to set up an audience source for your remarketing list in Google Ads. Your goals will determine who belongs on your remarketing lists. For example:
Visitors of a page (e.g. Viewed catering options)
Visitors of a page who did not visit another page (e.g. Viewed menu, but didn’t order)
Visitors of a page during specific dates (e.g. Father’s Day weekend)
Website visitors in the last 60 days
When you’re ready to launch your Google Ad, you’ll narrow your audience targeting to remarketing and select the appropriate list. For a breakdown of the setup process, check out this blog post.
Just imagine how powerful this kind of retargeting campaign would be if it were paired with a stellar automated email and SMS marketing strategy—now you’re thinking like a world-class restaurant marketer.
Facebook Retargeting For Restaurants
Facebook retargeting is another way to find people who have expressed interest in your restaurant—by visiting your website or engaging with your brand on social media—and make it easier for them to place an order.
To get started with Facebook retargeting, you’ll need to install a Facebook pixel—a small snippet of code—onto your website. This code lets Facebook track your guests and their actions on your site and social media. After you install the pixel, you can set up events to measure essential actions, like placing an online order.
Next, it’s time to create a Custom Audience on Facebook based on those actions, such as people who started an online order but didn’t checkout. Once your Custom Audience is built, you can create a campaign for your specific objective.
The Key To An Irresistible Restaurant Retargeting Campaign
Whether you use Google and/or Facebook, the key to driving conversions with retargeting is to create ads that are hyper-relevant to your audience and have a clear objective. If, for example, you’re retargeting people who visited your seasonal milkshake landing page last month, consider appealing to their sweet tooth.
There should be no guesswork involved when it comes to the CTA. Want someone to reorder or make a reservation? Make it abundantly clear and easy for them to follow through.
Examples of Effective Retargeting Ads
Showcase popular menu items to people who engaged with your Instagram posts or ads in the last 30 days.
Highlight a 5-star review in an ad that retargets your segment of guests who have passed their average frequency (a.k.a. Churn Risks).
Gently remind people who abandoned an online order with messaging like: “Ready to order? Complete your purchase.”
This Facebook retargeting ad from Panda Express promotes a family meal deal and gives guests the ability to Order Now from the ad. The copy and imagery are warm, inviting, and informative.
This is a Google Ad retargeting campaign for Athena Grill (a fictional restaurant created by Olo), which would retarget the restaurant’s website and social media visitors. It’s consistent in messaging, and branding, and has a clear CTA: Order Now.
No matter what strategy—or combination of strategies—you choose, remember that guest acquisition, just like restaurant marketing in general, is an iterative process. What works for your competitor may not work for your brand.
Expect to test different tactics and guest segments until you figure out what drives the most results. Keep an eye on impressions, clicks, cost, conversions, etc., and adjust accordingly.
Once you’ve found the sweet spot—the right platform, content that resonates, and high engagement—you’ll see your CAC drop. But don’t stop there. Keep your ads fresh so that they remain effective.
And, use your restaurant data as a guide. Top brands leverage guest data to reach consumers at just the right time, on their preferred channel, with relevant, personalized messaging based on their behavior.
Next up: The final installment of our Guide to Restaurant Guest Acquisition, in which we cover the importance of retention and outline ways to enhance the guest experience to drive long-term loyalty.
Learn more about our marketing suite and contact us today to find out how Olo can help you attract new, high-value guests via targeted digital marketing campaigns.
In the first installment of our three-part Guide to Restaurant Guest Acquisition, we explain why first-party data, a restaurant CRM, and an integrated tech stack are key to finding and attracting high-value guests.
One of the biggest priorities for restaurant marketers is driving a consistent stream of people in the door, to the counter, curbside, etc. In other words, guest acquisition: the process of bringing new guests to your business.
Traditionally, guest acquisition in the restaurant industry centered around mass communication (i.e. limited-time offers, newspaper and radio ads, and out-of-home advertising). But just as a restaurant manager would never shout to everyone in the dining room to find out if they’re enjoying their meal, mass communication tactics are impersonal and difficult to measure in terms of effectiveness.
There’s a better way to acquire new restaurant guests.
The first step: Knowing exactly who your current guests are—beyond demographics.
In this three-part blog series, we’ll walk you through the fundamentals of restaurant guest acquisition, so you can level up your marketing plan and, ultimately, drive revenue.
Getting To Know Your Guests—Beyond Demographics
Chances are your restaurant brand already has some sort of guest acquisition strategy in place, but unless you fully understand your current base, you’re likely wasting marketing dollars on attracting low lifetime value (LTV) or even one-time-only guests (e.g. people only motivated by discounts) and the ability to optimize your approach is limited.
So, what does it mean to truly know your guests? We’re not just talking about surface-level demographics like age and location, or even contact information. Restaurants should have all of the following intel and more about each guest at their disposal:
Recency: Time of Last Visit, Last Check, Last Online Order
Visit Trends: Last Waitlist Time, Reservation Time, Wi-Fi Sign-Up
Engagement: Last Email or SMS Clicked or Opened
Personal Info: Name, Email, Zip Code, Anniversary, Birthday
Frequency: Number of Visits, Time of First Visit, Lifetime Frequency
Average Spend: Check Averages, Tips, Online Order Totals
Order Data: Ordered Items, Online Order Source
Restaurant Details: Preferred Location, Last Location Visited
But how do you get all of that information? The secret to unlocking these valuable insights is first-party data, a restaurant-specific CRM, and an integrated tech stack.
What Is First-Party Data and Why Do Restaurants Need It?
First-party data is information that a company collects directly from its guests and owns. This includes all the ways a guest engages with a restaurant brand online, including orders, reservations/waitlist, comment forms, email sign-up, e-commerce, app usage, social media, surveys, and more.
Restaurant software like Olo takes that first-party data a step further by enriching it with sources such as your POS, pay-at-the-table solution, and payment platform, through tech integration.
More than ever, restaurants need first-party data to gain a clear understanding of their guests across the entire guest journey and more effectively tailor the experience to each individual. Remember: If you don’t know how your guests behave, you can’t influence their future behavior.
And yet, some tech vendors either don’t give restaurants ownership of their data or limit their ability to access and use it. The best way to find out who truly owns your data (and, ultimately, your guest relationship) is to dig in and ask the tough questions.
For example, when you pull a covers or online orders report, can you tell exactly how many originated from a source like Google or found your website directly? What about the number of guests who have visited/ordered once, twice, or don’t dine as often as they used to? And, if you can get access to all of your data, can you act on it?
A restaurant CRM (Customer Relationship Management solution) like Olo’s stitches together data from your POS, reservation system, online ordering solution, and other restaurant-specific integrations into a single, unified guest profile—and makes it actionable.
This 360-degree view of each guest enables you to better understand their behavior and preferences, which, in turn, leads to more effective omnichannel communications, real-time personalization across guest touchpoints, hyper-relevant promotions, and revenue optimization.
Note that a standard, run-of-the-mill CRM may be limited in terms of its integration capabilities with your existing restaurant tech stack and what actions you can take to engage guests.
The Importance of an Integrated Restaurant Tech Stack
When it comes to getting to know your guests, the ability to collect and then access data is equally as important as having a restaurant tech stack built with systems that talk to one another. For example, do your POS, payment solution, Wi-Fi, CRM, reservation system (if you’re full-service), and online ordering solution share data? If not, you’re only getting part of the story of the guest journey.
To gain this comprehensive understanding of each guest, including their purchasing behavior, preferences, and long-term value to the business, you need to eliminate data silos.
So, before implementing any new systems, ensure that they integrate with your existing tech stack or take the necessary steps to do so.
Restaurant Data Analysis and Guest Segmentation
With integrated first-party data and a restaurant CRM, brands can analyze the guest journey across platforms and find out where and when guests spend money, what they spend it on, which channels they use to connect with the brand, their opinion of the dining experience, and their lifetime frequency.
In addition, restaurants can use the process of guest segmentation to identify which guests are most valuable long-term. Guest segmentation is the act of categorizing guests based on shared characteristics or behaviors, so businesses can effectively market and cater to the needs of each group.
Restaurant brands might choose to segment guests based on things like:
Lifetime Value (LTV): Visited more than 10 times, ordered within the last month, and check average is over $50
High Probability for Reorder: Clicked an email on a Tuesday, and ordered tacos online after 3 p.m. two weeks ago
Opportunities to Treat VIPs: Number of visits is greater than 20, regularly orders dessert, and anniversary month is August
High Churn Risk: Last visit was over 90 days ago and number of visits is greater than 10
Now, how can we use all of this data and these segments to power a guest acquisition strategy?
In the second installment of our Guide to Restaurant Guest Acquisition, we cover a variety of ways to turn guest insights and segments into a data-driven, omnichannel marketing plan that resonates with your target market. Dive in for proven strategies to help you find and attract new, high-value guests that mirror the interests and behaviors of your regulars and VIPs.
And finally, read the third and final installment of our Guide to learn about the role retention should play in your acquisition strategy, plus get tips for leveraging data to build a healthy guest base.
Learn more about our restaurant CRM and contact us today to find out how Olo can help you better understand your current base and attract new, high-value guests.
Historically, restaurant leaders won by driving transactions—keeping tabs on cover counts and obsessing over same-store sales. Winning didn’t require that you knew who was dining with you, why, or how often. Some team members knew the guests, but that information didn’t get disseminated to all parts of the business. From a practical perspective, guest data often lives with specific team members, but isn’t brought into finance, marketing, culinary, labor, or real estate decisions.
There has been a fundamental shift in the restaurant industry brought on by changing consumer preferences for personalization (think individualized recommendations from Netflix, Amazon, DoorDash, and Instagram) and the pandemic driving tech adoption everywhere. Winning restaurant brands in every category are personalizing the guest experience to maximize lifetime value.
Before we dive into why and how, it’s important to have a basic understanding of guest lifetime value, also known as LTV.
What is Guest Lifetime Value (LTV)?
Guest Lifetime Value is the estimated profit generated from each individual guest from the first visit through the last. In other words, it’s how valuable a guest is to your business, not just on a transaction basis, but with regard to their recency, frequency, and monetary spend across the entire relationship.
Note: “Lifetime” does not refer to the person’s actual lifespan. No “til death do us part” metrics here.
Why LTV is Essential for Restaurants
Restaurant brands must now harness and act on guest data to remain competitive. In fact, restaurant industry analysts and investors are increasingly considering guest-level economics over same-store sales data.
Given the accelerated adoption of data-driven technology across the restaurant industry, it’s safe to say that any brand that doesn't prioritize LTV is now at risk.
Whether you recognized it or not, this shift did not happen overnight. E-commerce and entertainment giants like Amazon, Netflix, and Disney have been maximizing LTV for years with highly personalized user experiences—a process mirrored perhaps more obviously on social media and through digital advertising. As a result, we as consumers have come to expect things like email campaigns tailored to our unique interests, promotions triggered by our recent purchases, and recommendations based on our viewing history.
The restaurant industry is lagging behind on this front, largely because of legacy POS systems, consumer networks that “own” the guest data, and other fragmented point solutions. These blockers make it impossible to know the value of each individual guest because the data exists only in disconnected silos.
Fine-tune day-to-day operations through revealing insights, such as driving factors for guest loyalty and maximizing them
Analyze different guest segments based on individual behaviors
Quantify results of marketing dollars spent, staff training, menu optimization, real estate selection, and more
Discover exactly where and why guests spend money
Given that acquiring a new guest costs far more than retaining an existing one, increasing the value of your existing guests—with the support of comprehensive guest data—is a critical way to drive growth.
How Restaurants Can Maximize Guest Lifetime Value
Leading brands have proven that restaurants can maximize guest lifetime value, increase frequency and retention, and, ultimately, boost revenue by focusing on individual guest behavior. In the end, the brands that know their guests best and do something with that intel will come out on top.
By harnessing data and analytics—from 100% of guests, not just loyalty or rewards club members—restaurants can tailor every action, communication, and business decision to the behaviors of their most valuable guests.
Knowing exactly who’s behind every curbside order and if they’re also dine-in regulars
Targeting lookalike audiences for the top 20% of your guests on paid search and social media (proven to drive down guest acquisition costs to under $1)
Alerting managers which table touches to prioritize during a busy shift
Having a regular’s favorite drink prepared upon arrival
Moving from Transactional Thinking to Guest Thinking
At the end of the day, transactions still matter. After all, C-level executives continue to get grilled over things like same-store sales and box economics. But, those are output metrics. Input metrics that can be controlled and influenced by focusing on individual guest behavior—things like guest frequency, recency, and spending—drive transactions and therefore profitability.
Transitioning from transactional thinking to guest thinking changes the game for everyone on the team. C-level restaurant executives have to shift their focus from same-store sales to Customer Cohort Charts. Finance now concentrates on guest economics instead of box economics. Marketing starts looking at lifetime return on ad spend versus return on ad spend. The list goes on.
It may sound like a big undertaking, and it is. But budgets are tight, and the last thing you want to do is waste time and money attracting low-value guests. When you make every business decision with your most valuable guests in mind, you can ensure that every dollar spent will have a high ROI and drive profitability for your business long-term.
Ready to Make the Shift?
To effectively drive and leverage LTV, restaurant brands need to be able to access 100% of guest data from a single view and inject it into every part of the business—from operations to marketing. Only then, can they individualize each interaction and make data-driven business decisions that boost revenue, guest loyalty, and operational efficiency, all while bringing acquisition costs down.
The path forward for restaurants is building a profitable future with data and those who focus on guests (and their lifetime value) will win. So the question becomes: Does everything in your brand actually revolve around the guest?
Contact us to find out how Olo can help your brand unlock and maximize guest lifetime value.
In the age of social media, why should restaurant marketing teams put their energy, time, and budget into email? Because every marketer’s north star is investing in the channels most likely to drive results.
Nearly half of smartphone users worldwide chose email as their preferred communication method from consumer brands.
3. Email Marketing Converts First-Time Guests to Regulars
Research shows that email is 40x more effective at bringing new guests back than Facebook or Twitter.
4. Email Motivates Guests to Spend More
The rate at which emails prompt purchases is estimated to be at least three times that of social media and the average order value is 17 percent higher.
How to Build a Restaurant Email List
The importance of a restaurant email list cannot be overstated. For one, your brand owns it. You also have a direct line of communication with guests who have expressed interest in your restaurant and want you to market to them.
While there are a variety of ways to build a restaurant email list, here are a couple of valuable sources to start with:
Within your email campaign strategy, consider every stage of the guest lifecycle and every interaction as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with guests. Leverage these six retention strategies to ensure every guest becomes more valuable to your brand over time.
Marketing automation tools can help you do more with less by instantly sending relevant and personalized communications to guests when they meet predetermined criteria, such as placing their first delivery order or not visiting for 30 days.
Here's some campaign inspiration:
Examples of Strategic Email Campaigns
Convert First-Timers into Regulars
Send an automated welcome/thank you email within 24 hours of an online order being placed, featuring an incentive for a return visit or another online order within a given timeframe.
Encourage Return Visits
When an online order does not contain a particular menu item (seasonal special, high-margin item, new offering, etc.), promote that offering in an automated email that triggers a week after the initial order is completed.
Get Important Feedback
Show guests you care about their opinion by soliciting feedback on specific menu items or their overall ordering experience via an automated email sent within 24 hours of an order being completed.
When a guest signs up for in-restaurant WiFi or your e-club, send a welcome email within 24 hours. Then, seven days later, send a follow-up with links to your social media accounts and an invitation to share photos using your branded hashtag for a chance to be featured.
Email Benchmarks for the Restaurant Industry
When evaluating the effectiveness of your email campaigns, there are a few crucial metrics to keep an eye on. According to Campaign Monitor’s 2022 Email Marketing Benchmarks Report, here’s what good email engagement rates look like for the restaurant, food, and beverage industry:
Open Rate: 18.5%
Click-To-Open Rate: 10.5%
Unsubscribe Rate: 0.1%
If your emails are underperforming, test and learn. Ask yourself:
Are people mistaking your email for spam?
Is your design mobile-friendly?
Are you emailing guests too often?
Is the messaging personalized and relevant?
Just because one email performs well with a particular guest segment, doesn’t mean it’s going to be just as successful with another. Regularly monitor your analytics and pivot accordingly.
When building a lasting relationship with guests, email is a key tool in the restaurant marketing tool belt. Why?
It converts: Targeted email outreach puts restaurant brand messaging directly in front of the guest—prime positioning for them to take action. Opted-in guests trust brands with their data, a key indicator of future sales—57% of consumers say trust in a brand drives their purchase decisions.
It’s personalized: With a restaurant CRM that segments guests by behavior, email marketing can be tailored to individual preferences, driving up engagement and boosting conversion.
It’s always on time: With restaurant marketing automation, email campaigns can be triggered right after the first visit or online order to drive repeat sales. Plus, if guests haven’t visited or ordered in a while, an email can automatically remind them of their favorite menu items.
It’s the foundation of effective omnichannel restaurant marketing: Restaurant brands can boost guest acquisition and retention by providing parallel experiences across email and social media. You can use your restaurant email list to retarget regulars and acquire new, high-value guests by targeting lookalikes on social media platforms.
Guests engage with brands everywhere they have a digital presence, and the next new social platform always generates marketing buzz. In comparison, email marketing might seem old school.
To get ahead, though—especially when marketers are tasked with doing more with less—brands need to focus on the kinds of communication guests are asking for and responding to.
In every step of the journey, guests continue to show that restaurant email marketing is an important part of their experience.
This week, during the fifth anniversary of Beyond4, Olo’s annual customer conference, our Founder and CEO Noah Glass gave attendees a glimpse at the restaurant of the future—and how we plan to bring that vision to life.
In the video, embedded below, you’re invited to imagine an elevated dining experience wherein every guest touchpoint is enhanced by technology.
Come along as we explore the limitless possibilities for data-driven personalization, optimization, convenience, and overall hospitality across different service models, from drive-thru to delivery, full-service, and beyond.
Whether you’re a one-person department or simply have limited resources, you can maximize your time and budget with these proven restaurant marketing strategies for driving guest retention and acquisition.
Lofty goals, a tight budget, and a small team. Restaurant marketers are all too familiar with this juggling act. But how do you drive retention and acquisition at a time when guest preferences, the supply chain, and the labor market are also in flux?
By staying hyper-focused on your brand-specific goals, embracing automation, and leveraging what you know about your existing restaurant guests, you can maximize both your time and budget.
Start with these proven strategies for restaurant marketing success:
1. Focus On One Realistic Goal
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Don’t try to do it all. Be realistic about what you can achieve—especially if you’re a one-person marketing team.
Instead of wasting time and precious advertising dollars guessing who your guests are, what they like, how they’ll behave, and what channels they prefer, let your data be your guide. That way, you can concentrate on building strategic marketing campaigns with the highest ROI potential.
2. Automate Your Restaurant Marketing Campaigns
Work smarter, not harder. With marketing automation powered by your restaurant CRM, you can set up relevant, enticing, and personalized guest communications, including email, SMS, and push notifications, that are automatically triggered by events or segment criteria.
Give a Warm Welcome: Promote your loyalty program when guests place their first online order or sign up for in-restaurant WiFi
Cross-promote Sales Channels: Let QR code ordering guests know that you also offer curbside pickup and delivery
Boost App Downloads: Direct online orderers to download your restaurant app for a better user experience
Drive Repeat Orders: Make guests crave your food with a tailored message based on their order history and preferences
Win Back Cart Abandoners: Gently nudge guests when they’ve left something in their cart so that they’ll return to order
Show MVPs Extra Love: Incentivize guests with high lifetime value (LTV) with an irresistible offer based on what you know about them
Gather Valuable Feedback: Survey guests to make them feel heard, learn what’s working and what isn’t, and improve the guest experience
3. Optimize Your Social Media Efforts
Managing multiple social media accounts for a restaurant brand is a daunting task. To stay on top of the workload, consider using a posting tool such as Buffer or Hootsuite, that enables you to create and schedule content in advance for automatic publishing across platforms.
If you’re struggling to maintain a steady stream of posts, user-generated content can be a great resource. Reposting photos taken by restaurant guests is an easy way to show them love and add authenticity to your social feed.
Lastly, be sure to repurpose evergreen content so that you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel. Just remember quality over quantity.
4. Retarget Website Visitors and Social Followers
While guest acquisition is a critical part of any restaurant marketing plan, so is retention. It’s essential to not lose sight of those people who have already expressed interest in your brand: website visitors and social media followers.
By setting up a retargeting campaign, you can ensure that your brand stays top of mind long after website visitors leave your site—without doing any extra leg work. An eye-catching ad featuring messaging that resonates with your target audience can be the difference between someone returning to order or not.
Similarly, you can keep social followers engaged with your brand using targeted ads that remind them why they love your restaurant.
5. Leverage Your Existing Guests
When it comes to attracting new, high-value guests, your best resource is your existing base. By targeting lookalike audiences that mirror the interests and behaviors of your current guests, you can save time, lower acquisition costs, and boost ROI for digital marketing across social media and Google.
Sources for restaurant lookalike audiences can be CRM-based—email list, SMS subscribers, etc.—as well as online orderers, social followers, loyalty members, website visitors, and more.
What’s Next for Restaurant Marketing
Looking ahead, restaurant marketers will continue to seek out new solutions and strategies to optimize campaigns, work more efficiently, and maximize their budgets. Here are two examples:
Customer Data Platforms: A CDP like Olo’s restaurant-specific Guest Data Platform gives marketers a holistic view of their guests, which they can then use to power hyper-targeted digital ads and personalized communications.
AI: With the introduction of ChatGPT, the powerful new chatbot tool, the opportunity to do more with less, particularly from a marketing perspective, is sky-high. From writing social media copy to tailoring marketing messages and informing SEO strategy, the applications are endless.
While restaurant brands are faced with a variety of challenges right now, marketers can do more with less by concentrating on attainable, high-impact goals, using marketing automation tools to deliver personalized and timely guest communications, and leveraging existing guests to find and attract new ones.
Restaurant CDP, Restaurant CRM, Guest Data Platform, Customer Data Platform
To help you make sense of the ever-evolving restaurant tech ecosystem and how it all works together to benefit restaurants, we’re breaking down two of the most talked-about newcomers to the restaurant tech stack: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Data Platform (CDP).
At a high level, both of these tools are used to personalize the guest experience with cross-channel communications that are timely, relevant, and tailored to the behaviors of each individual. Though both can add tremendous value to businesses, they function very differently.
What is a CRM?
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. A standard CRM system collects data on a company’s direct guest interactions—like contact details and previous conversations—from a variety of communication channels, including their website, email, social media, and more. In other industries, sales teams utilize CRM systems to track and manage customer and prospect contact information, accounts, leads, and sales opportunities in one location.
Given that restaurants see thousands of guests per day, it would be unreasonable to expect operators to collect and store every nuanced guest data point by hand. A restaurant CRM like Olo’s eliminates that issue by connecting data from systems like your POS and online ordering solution as well as other custom-built (restaurant-specific) integrations—and making it actionable.
The action aspect of a CRM is not only critical but also differentiates solution providers. Every CRM has a unique set of actions you can take within the platform leveraging collected guest data—at minimum offering a way to create segments, engage guests via email, and so on. A restaurant CRM is built to take actions unique to engaging a restaurant guest like automating feedback surveys following an online order, incorporating offers into triggered email and SMS campaigns, and more.
In a nutshell, a CRM enables businesses to collect their guest contacts from select sources and organize them. And CRMs often also enable brands to communicate with their guests through integrated channels (e.g. via email)—and track those interactions over time.
What is a CDP?
CDP stands for Customer Data Platform. The Customer Data Platform Institute defines a CDP as: “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.”
In general, a CDP connects all types and sources of customer data, including transactional, behavioral, profile, product, CRM, and offline, to create a single guest profile. Then, it can send that data to a myriad of destinations to make it usable.
A restaurant CDP like Olo’s Guest Data Platform creates individual guest profiles by connecting data from restaurant-centric systems including POS, loyalty programs, payment processors, reservations, guest feedback, mobile apps, online ordering, WiFi, waitlist, events, and e-commerce. It can then push that data to, again, restaurant-specific destinations like the host stand, menu engineering tools, real estate site selection vendors, a marketing automation solution, media channels, and the list goes on.
This gives every department—from marketing and finance to operations and culinary—a holistic view of guests, so they can sort, analyze, and act on those insights instantly.
The Main Differences Between CRM and CDP
Both Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Data Platform (CDP) solutions collect guest data for businesses. However, there are a few important differences.
CDPs are designed to ingest massive amounts of data from a large number of sources. CRM data integrations tend to be more limited or require significant customization.
CDPs dedupe guest records automatically, which is vital when the data is being piped in real-time to several external tools. CRMs are built to make use of guest records from directly within the system itself and often include reporting or audience-building filters manually controlled by the CRM admin.
CRMs track known guests, whereas CDPs combine data from known contacts and reduce the number of anonymous profiles by connecting the dots between guest behaviors (e.g. a frequent diner could remain anonymous until their first online transaction—but their profile is zippered together with a unique credit card token)—to create a single source of truth.
CDPs are not designed to take action to the end guest. Outside of data consolidation and identity resolution, CDPs only send data to external tools. CRMs, on the other hand, regularly have action baked in.
Which is Best For Restaurants: CRM or CDP?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to optimizing a restaurant tech stack. There are numerous factors to consider including, but not limited to, overall business goals, budget, guest experience, operations, marketing, and beyond.
Restaurants can use the Guest Data Maturity Pyramid (Fig. 1) as a guide to determine which technology will best suit their business needs. Most brands start at the base of the pyramid to build the foundation of guest data architecture. At this stage, a brand may simply need data that is accessible and usable, in other words, a CRM.
As brands mature, they start to move up the pyramid. A CDP can help these brands with things like unifying and enriching guest profiles, gathering additional insights, piping data to other business intelligence tools, marrying data to financials, and leveraging lifetime value (LTV) throughout the organization.
It’s important to note that a CRM and CDP are not incompatible—more often than not, they’re interconnected. In fact, the best CRM for restaurants is one that can act as both a source and a destination for actionable data coming in through a CDP. For example, having your CRM and CDP connected would give you the ability to enrich guest data back into the CRM.
How Restaurants Can Benefit From a CRM
Good restaurant GMs and team members store personal details about regulars—favorite dishes, hobbies, family, etc.—in their heads. The problem is: It’s not scalable. They cannot easily share that information with other teams, especially corporate functions like marketing, culinary, or real estate. And to make matters worse, with staff turnover, those crucial guest details can be lost altogether.
A restaurant CRM eliminates those issues by collecting vital guest intel, along with contact information, communication history, and engagement channels, in one location so it’s never lost and can be accessed by others.
Keep in mind that not all restaurant CRMs are created equal. Some are integrated with other tools—like waitlist, reservations, POS, and more—while others are more limited in functionality. Additionally, only some CRMs offer analytical capabilities that enable operators to segment guests or export data. And when it comes to actually acting on that data, some CRMs feature SMS or email marketing automation, while others do not.
Given that no two CRMs are built exactly the same, it’s important to thoroughly vet any solution before adding it to your restaurant tech stack in order to get the best bang for your buck.
How Restaurants Can Benefit From a Customer Data Platform
When restaurant brands are ready to do more with their guest data than a CRM can offer, they graduate to a CDP. A restaurant CDP can fuel the next phase of growth by making data more accessible to everyone, integrated with a wider-reaching set of sources, and actionable across an essentially unlimited number of destinations.
Restaurants often struggle to access their guest data due to archaic systems or limitations set by tech vendors. With a CDP, restaurants gain access to usable data from countless sources—online and offline—merged into a single guest record. Here are just a few of those sources:
Even brands that have access to their guest data typically do not have the team or the technology to stitch it all together. And systems that strictly unify data add another layer of costs. Some of the primary benefits of a restaurant CDP are that it eliminates data deserts, manual workflows, tech-stack dependency, and vendor lock-in.
With a CDP, restaurants can push a singular, enriched guest record to the destination vendor best suited to meet the brand’s business goals, including marketing, business insights tools, or data warehouses. For example, brands can use lifetime guest data to tailor email and SMS marketing efforts, as well as search and social advertising, with conditional messaging that drives guests through the funnel based on their engagement.
Through unifying and enriching guest profiles, a CDP can tell a brand exactly where and why guests spend money. By piping data to business intelligence tools and using the lifetime value (LTV) metric, brands can quantify the results of marketing dollars spent, staff training, menu optimization, real estate selection, etc.—and make strategic business decisions based on the behaviors and preferences of high-value guests.
Still on the Fence?
If you’re still unsure of which solution is right for your restaurant brand, you’re not alone. For some, the data accessibility that a CRM provides is enough to satisfy their business needs. For others, the extra layer of data integration and flexibility that a CDP offers will be key to growth.
The truth is, that a CRM and CDP are not mutually exclusive. Each works with the other to provide a holistic view of the guest.
With a restaurant CDP, specifically designed to integrate with (often antiquated) POS systems, brands finally have the option to move up the Guest Data Maturity Pyramid and maximize lifetime value with enriched, actionable guest data.
In the end, restaurant brands that invest in technology that harnesses data—and act on it—will provide the best guest experience, edge out the competition, and build a profitable future.
Restaurant Marketing, Restaurant Guest Segments, Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing
People increasingly want to hear from their favorite brands, but blasting the same email to every guest—with no regard for their unique preferences, behavior patterns, or level of engagement—can be a costly mistake.
With restaurant guest segmentation, you can tackle a myriad of strategic objectives: win new guests, see them more often, boost online ordering, keep regulars engaged, and more.
5 Restaurant Guest Segments to Set Up Today
The best way to jumpstart a restaurant marketing plan is to build these five guest segments, which will enable you to personalize omnichannel communications and maximize lifetime value (LTV).
1. High-Value Guests
Segmenting by high check average is a foundational step toward targeted restaurant marketing. A good baseline is the top 10% of spenders. Why? Guests who spent a lot at your restaurant once are likely to have a high check average again, and therefore should make up a larger portion of where you invest your marketing dollars.
2. Loyal Fans
If a high-value segment is foundational, a segment of guests that is highly engaged is the second layer in that foundation. A loyal guest with a slightly lower check average may prove to have a higher lifetime value in the end (e.g. they spend less but they visit frequently). Plus, they’re more likely to be brand loyal if marketing communications speak to their personal preferences. This segment is made up of guests who come in regularly, order online often, and open most of your emails.
3. Churn Risks
It is proven to be more expensive to acquire new guests than it is to retain existing ones, so it’s worth putting time and resources into retaining lapsed visitors. When creating this segment, consider setting up filters to capture restaurant guests who used to visit or order regularly, but haven't in the past 6+ months (depending on your guest frequency averages).
4. Online Orderers
Restaurant delivery and curbside pickup are essential and will continue to grow in the future. A segment of online orderers allows brands to suggest high-value takeout items to interested diners, but also market in-restaurant experiences to increase on-premise sales.
5. Daypart Devotees
There are many ways to slice, dice, and cook up strategies to leverage daypart segments. One approach worth testing is using a segment of current daypart devotees to target lookalikes—meaning guests who mirror those already visiting regularly during your slower shifts. Want to drive business on Monday or Tuesday night? Targeting lookalikes of guests who have proven to be weeknight warriors in the past is a great place to start a paid search or social effort.
Restaurant Marketing Ideas
Restaurant guest segmentation is only the beginning. The real fun (for marketers at least) starts when those segments are put to work through personalized communications geared toward each segment’s preferences and purchase behavior. Here are a few examples of restaurant marketing campaigns that leverage segments:
Goal: Boost Online Order Frequency with a Triggered “Inside Scoop” Email Campaign
Segment: Guests who have ordered online, but haven’t ordered within the last month
Trigger: It has been 30 days since their last online order
Campaign: Personalized email campaign promoting special takeout-only menu offerings. “Hey, Naomi! We want to let you in on a sweet secret. *Whispers* Did you know we have a s’mores kit that is only available to-go?”
Win New Guests | Social Media Marketing for Restaurants
Goal: Attract Guests to a New Location by Targeting Lookalikes with a Lead Magnet
Segments: Top 1% most frequent visitors and/or top 10% most valuable guests
Lead Magnet: $20 toward your first meal (with a qualifying minimum spend)
Campaign: A social media campaign promoting your grand opening and the first week of specials targeted to lookalikes of your current regulars who live nearby your new location. For added effectiveness, require people to first share their email to access the $20 gift card (aka “email gate”) and grow your marketable guest database.
Boost Brunch Business | Multi-Channel Restaurant Marketing Plan
Goal: Drive Brunch Sales with a Multi-Channel Campaign Promoting New Menu Offerings
Segment: Saturday and Sunday Regulars who visit between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Campaign: Send a personalized email campaign promoting your brunch cocktail menu on Tuesday, then launch a re-targeted social media campaign to the same segment featuring your signature cinnamon roll on Friday to keep brunch top-of-mind as guests head into the weekend.
Segments are just the beginning of a personalized restaurant marketing strategy—once built, you can start to track their growth, frequency, and check average. For more inspiration, check out 6 Guest Retention Strategies that Actually Work.
Every day, restaurant CFOs field numerous requests to spend more money. If they approve the wrong expenses, the brand ends up in a ditch. Spending too much on labor or spending too little. Spending too much on food costs or too little. The same is true in every department.
To make matters worse, what you should spend varies from brand to brand—and location to location. Some guests will pay up for better food ingredients, others won't. Some guests will pay for a location that offers a unique dining experience, others won't. These decisions are all shades of gray, and they're endless.
Certain Costs and Uncertain Benefits
The reality is that every restaurant CFO is forced to predict what their guests are willing to pay for, and to what extent. Over the years, tools have emerged to help CFOs understand what's working and what's not, including:
Each is insufficient.
Online Reviews: Do the opinions of these people represent our guests in general?
Secret Shops: Even if we deliver our brand standard to one party, does it resonate with all guests?
Traffic Counts: Are we churning through guests, or are we doing a good job retaining them?
To this day, CFOs are faced with certain costs and uncertain benefits—the balancing of guest experience and cost. When faced with enough of these decisions, most people will start indexing toward reducing cost—it's the logical thing to do.
In his book “Restaurant Man,” Joe Bastianich shared that his secret to success in restaurants was "watching costs while focusing relentlessly on exceeding customer expectations." Restaurant margins are often tight; there's no room for error.
Like other complex ecosystems, it's difficult to quantify the effect of forces interacting with each other. (Aside: For an interesting read on ecosystems, I'd recommend “Serengeti Rules,” written by evolutionary biologist Sean B. Carroll.)
The net of all this: CFOs and the brands they lead sink or swim based on the strength of their judgment (and their luck).
It doesn't have to be that way.
Why Lifetime Value is a Critical Guest Health Metric
In other industries, especially retail e-commerce, brands optimize everything around Lifetime Value (LTV). LTV is the predicted cash flow from a guest, based on their recency, frequency, and monetary spend. You can think of it as a guest-level Discounted Cashflow Analysis.
Professor Peter Fader of The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania pioneered the LTV field 20 years ago, and it has since gained traction across industries. In 2016, Fader founded a company called Zodiac, which calculated customer lifetime value and was later acquired by Nike. Recently, Fader founded another company called Theta, which calculates company valuations based on guest data. Fader's and Theta Equity's work is used in tech, e-commerce, and hedge funds to help leaders fine-tune day-to-day operations.
The LTV science applies as much to restaurants as any other business. Legacy POS systems, tech vendors that "own" the guest data, and fragmented SaaS systems are the root problem. It's impossible to know the value of each individual guest when the data resides in disconnected silos.
In three years, harnessing the power of guest data will be table stakes. Today it differentiates—the Roark portfolio, Panera, and just a few others do it well.
Retail e-commerce nailed it. Restaurants can take lessons on six fronts: Strategy, Marketing, Operations, Menu, Labor, and Real-Estate.
How Restaurants Can Use Lifetime Value
According to Olo data from more than 18 million guest records, the top 5% of restaurant guests (by LTV) drive about 30% of revenue, and the top 20% of guests drive 60% of revenue. This is a law for every restaurant business. The entire executive team should understand:
Who those top guests are (psychographics and behavior most importantly)
Why they visit (purchase patterns, daypart patterns)
Why they stop visiting (NPS, feedback)
How we find them (acquisition channel)
Based on a strong foundation of understanding of the guest, now marketing can drive guest counts. In the future, marketing will be increasingly precise and measurable. Top guests spend 6x the average and 25x the bottom. On the side of acquisition, marketing can seek out those guests and justify paying a higher price to acquire each of them.
I don't know of a single CFO who would complain about spending $20 to acquire a guest who spends $750/yr as opposed to $5 to acquire a guest who spends $50/yr. Knowing the guest teaches you where to fish. Historically, the challenge has been tracking a single guest across visits.
From a frequency perspective, marketing teams can now nudge guests in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. If frequency dips, or it's been a while since they've visited, or they give you poor feedback, send an automated message (or series of messages) to the guest on the channels where you can reach them. The work here is testing and improving those messages—not sending or measuring campaigns.
Growing up working in restaurants, the CRM was in my brain. I had an anecdotal inventory in mind of who the valuable guests were. I knew their names, what they liked to drink, and their hobbies. I really cared.
But guest relationships can’t be entirely dependent on individual employees. Otherwise, every time you hire someone new, they have to rebuild that CRM from the ground up. It puts employees in an unfair position and alienates regulars. No regular loves the "have you dined here before?" question.
To ensure that guests keep coming back, even when staff turnover occurs, brands need an institutional memory rooted in data. Today's restaurant systems ensure that all employees know the regulars—whether they're in the building or ordering online. But we shouldn't stop at regulars. What about people who had a bad experience last time, haven't been back in a while or might like a new item on the menu?
It may seem like magic, but all this information can be displayed in the host stand system and pushed into the POS in real time.
If a server (full-service) or cashier (limited-service) gets guests to return more than the average employee, they should get rewarded. In full-service, that means better sections, and in all service types, that means better schedules. That part is obvious, yet mostly subjective.
The simple metric to provide managers is an employee’s Repeat Customer Rate: the number of guests who come back for another visit divided by the total number of guests they see. Managers should know an employee's Repeat Customer Rate within the first 90 days of hiring a new front-line employee.
What if you indexed your hourly pay to Repeat Customer Rate? Employees who drive high repeats should get paid more per hour. Repeat Customer Rate is a simple, transparent, fact-based metric to align employee incentives with those of guests and shareholders.
As a thought experiment, how much would you pay a server if they got every guest to visit again?
If you're not making menu decisions based on reorder rates, you're doing your guests a disservice. Let's explore a few theoretical menu items:
High volume, high repeat = All-stars, put these everywhere in your acquisition campaigns.
High volume, low repeat = Guests want to love this item, but they don't. These are the worst items of all because they turn off droves of new guests. Test new recipes here, fast!
Low volume, high repeat = It may seem like a bummer of an item, but your regulars are the ones who buy it. These kill you when you take them off the menu.
Low volume, low repeat = Not worth the space on the menu, and not the complexity to carry the food costs. Kill these items.
Every restaurant brand wants to pick locations near where their guests live, work, and play. In order to do that, you need to know exactly who your guests are and their respective lifetime values.
Brands can identify sites with high ROI potential by leveraging restaurant technology and analytics firms that provide actionable insights rooted in data, including mobility, demographic, LTV, purchase history, preferred sales channel, etc.
Give your real-estate team a spreadsheet with this intel so they can ensure your newest locations are set up for success.
How to Get the Restaurant CFO On Board With LTV
Today, you'll be uniquely good if you embed lifetime value into your company. In three years, you'll be uniquely bad if you haven't. LTV is the most critical guest health metric.
For non-finance types, if you're wondering how to convince your CFO to spend more money—prove to them that your project will drive LTV through:
Acquiring enough new target guests
Maximizing the "lifetime" of each guest
Maximizing the transactions guests make over their lifetime
Maximizing the margin per transaction
To find out how to unlock LTV and leverage those insights across your entire business, contact us.
Silicon Valley began funding delivery-only startups in 2016, but it wasn’t until 2019 that virtual restaurants started making waves. With the advent of COVID, the trend has taken off with some of the largest concepts, like MrBeast Burger, generating $100M in revenue across 1,600 virtual kitchens in roughly 15 months.
With that level of success, it’s no wonder restaurant brands of all types are seriously thinking about launching one of their own. But there’s a lot to consider—from unique offerings and packaging to competition, location, and marketing.
To help you determine if a virtual restaurant is right for your business, we’ve compiled a guide of opportunities, challenges, and best practices based on our experience launching over 75 virtual restaurant brands.
What is a Virtual Restaurant?
A virtual restaurant is a delivery-only concept with a full menu that exists solely online and is often listed on third-party marketplaces, with no traditional, brick-and-mortar restaurant space.
Virtual restaurant brands can operate out of an established restaurant or a ghost kitchen. While the terms are often used interchangeably, a ghost kitchen (aka a dark/cloud kitchen) is a shared commissary space without a dining room that one or more virtual restaurants can rent to prepare off-premise meals.
Guests can place an order for delivery via a virtual brand’s website or a third-party marketplace.
While virtual restaurants have proven to be a worthy venture for some brands, there’s plenty to consider before diving in. Here are just a few of the potential opportunities and challenges of launching a virtual brand.
Minimal Overhead: Without a dining room and front-of-house staff, there are fewer ongoing expenses, such as utilities, equipment, salaries, etc.
Additional Revenue: Virtual brands can be a valuable source of incremental revenue for established brands with underutilized kitchen space.
Flexibility to Test: Brands can iterate on menu favorites or repurpose ingredients to create new dishes.
Less Food Waste: By leveraging delivery data to make food preparation decisions, as well as splitting and reusing ingredients within a shared kitchen space, virtual brands can minimize food waste and help the environment.
Reach New Guests: Established businesses can breathe new life into their brand—or reinvent themselves altogether—to reach new demographics.
Quick to Set Up: Without a brick-and-mortar location or a large staff, standing up a virtual brand can be far less intensive than a traditional restaurant.
Room to Expand: If successful, a virtual concept could seamlessly transition into a traditional restaurant or even be absorbed by a parent brand, just as Wingstop incorporated Thighstop into its permanent menu.
High Partner Commissions: To drive sales, many virtual brands are reliant on third-party marketplaces, which can charge commission fees as high as 30%.
Harder to Form Relationships with Guests: Building trust and long-term loyalty can be difficult for virtual brands that have fewer ways to interface with guests.
Brand Building: Virtual concepts that don’t have an established parent brand have to build everything—from an audience to branding and marketing—from scratch.
Quality Control: Quality can suffer if kitchen staff have to juggle orders from multiple concepts. And if third-party providers are entirely responsible for delivery, brands have less control over order accuracy and customer service.
Reputation Management: Reviews can make or break any restaurant’s reputation, but virtual brands are especially vulnerable since they operate entirely online.
Inaccessible Data: Unless virtual brands take orders directly through their website, guest data can be difficult to access and leverage when owned by third-party marketplaces.
Staff Burnout: Brands run the risk of overwhelming staff if they’re unable to effectively manage the flow of orders from a virtual concept and their typical restaurant operations.
Virtual Brand Best Practices
In the process of helping dozens of virtual restaurant brands get off the ground, we learned a thing or two about how to set a concept up for success. Keep these tips in mind for a strong debut and sustainable growth over time.
Well-Researched Business Plan: You wouldn’t open a brick-and-mortar restaurant without a solid business plan—a virtual concept should be no different. Thorough market research, competitive analysis, budgeting, a comprehensive marketing plan, business structure, and financial projections are critical.
Small, Focused Menu: Winning virtual brands have unique but simple menus. They’re straightforward, optimized for quick conversion, and accompanied by mouthwatering imagery.
Professional Branding: Every guest touchpoint—from your website to packaging, and marketing—should be uniquely branded to help generate awareness, provide a consistent guest experience, and establish trust.
Direct Ordering: Marketplaces can be a powerful tool for driving first-time orders, but to build an actionable database and deepen guest relationships, a direct ordering restaurant website and/or app is critical. That’s why Virtual Dining Concepts leveraged marketplaces to garner interest in MrBeast Burger alongside social media and giveaways encouraging people to download its branded ordering app.
Know Your Audience to Grow Your Audience: While some brands, like Wingstop, have successfully tapped into an existing fanbase to find an audience for their virtual concept, others have teamed up with celebrities to generate buzz. Mariah’s Cookies, for example, targeted Mariah Carey’s 10 million-plus followers on Instagram to build awareness across 30 major U.S. markets. Ultimately, brands should play to their strengths and pursue strategies that appeal to their target market.
Multiple Delivery Service Providers: Since virtual restaurants need fast and reliable delivery to be successful, brands should consider enabling multiple delivery service providers.
Retention Campaigns: To keep guests coming back and ensure they become more valuable over time, virtual brands need to prioritize retention campaigns (e.g. direct online orderers to download your restaurant app for quicker service; encourage email subscribers to sign up for SMS messaging for insider perks; give weekend regulars a reason to order during the week, etc.)
Engage With Reviews:Restaurant reputation management is paramount for virtual restaurants. Brands can make guests feel heard and appreciated by responding to online reviews—good and bad—promptly.
Test and Adapt: Successful virtual brands continuously refine their strategy based on what’s working and what isn’t according to guest data and feedback.
What’s Next for Virtual Restaurants?
It’s estimated that virtual restaurant brands will become a $1 trillion industry by 2030, but it’s important to remember that the trend is still in its infancy. Many virtual brands are actively trying to figure out their niche and the key to earning repeat business.
According to research from Datassential, the future of virtual brands is mainly dependent on consumer education and transparency. While the research firm estimates that more than 13,000 virtual brands are operating in the U.S., it found that half of restaurant-goers had virtual brand awareness and just 34 percent have ordered from one.
To establish trust with consumers and gain a loyal following, virtual brands must prioritize quality, consistency, transparency, and exceptional service. By following the best practices above and teaming up with a knowledgeable tech partner, virtual restaurants can be a lucrative venture for traditional brands and startups alike.
Faced with a labor shortage and budget constraints, many restaurant brands are looking for a quick marketing solution that’s going to drive ROI. But in reality, what works for one brand may not work for another. Why?
Your guests and their relationship with your brand are unique
The most effective marketing campaigns are rooted in data
As tempting as it might be to test out every marketing channel and tactic at once to see what works, don’t try to boil the ocean. It’s the quickest way to overwhelm any team and, frankly, waste your time and resources.
Instead, consider narrowing your focus to one marketing objective.
Yep, you read that right—one.
Here are a few examples:
Move guests from one visit to five visits
Ensure every guest tries your most popular menu item within 90 days of their first transaction
Drive restaurant app downloads
Build up your SMS subscriber audience
Motivate online orderers to try delivery
Incentivize guests that typically use marketplaces to order direct
Now you’re probably thinking, how do I pick just one objective when we have countless initiatives?
Start by getting your data in order.
Determine what restaurant data sources you currently have access to, including email opt-ins, online orders, POS transactions, loyalty members, CRM, etc.
Next, it’s time to analyze. As you look at the data, ask yourself questions like, who are your guests? How do they behave? What is your average guest frequency? What is your most lucrative sales channel? Can you segment guests by lifetime value (LTV)?
By focusing on even one of these insights, you can figure out which marketing channel (search engine, social media, email, SMS, etc.) and strategy have the highest ROI potential for your brand. For instance, is your restaurant app more effective than social media for guest engagement?
If you can’t answer these types of questions because of a limited data set, a good marketing objective would be to connect more of your restaurant systems so that you have a holistic view of each guest. Cross-department collaboration will be key, so make sure your Marketing, IT, and Finance teams are looped in.
Remember, it’s impossible to create a marketable database and treat every guest like a regular if you have disparate systems and no shared understanding of who your guests are or how they behave.
Once you’ve picked a channel and settled on a plan of action, start executing marketing campaigns. Here’s some inspiration depending on your objective:
Drive foot traffic to a slow daypart: Launch geotargeted Google Ads during those hours of the day, bidding on relevant keywords (e.g. Smoothies near me) and featuring an attractive offer.
Target cart abandoners with remarketing: Invite cart abandoners back to your website to complete their online order with personalized remarketing ads that follow them as they surf the web.
Gather guest feedback at scale: Collect valuable feedback to power your business decisions via automated post-visit surveys. Add a tasty incentive—like free chips and queso on their next visit—for good measure.
Grow your social media following: Launch an email campaign featuring your most popular dishes on social media with an invitation to follow along. Drive engagement by encouraging guests to use a branded hashtag on their posts for a chance to be featured on your feed.
After you’ve gained some experience and insight into what works (and what doesn’t) for your brand, you can graduate within each channel. Think of it as building blocks and treat each marketing bucket as a progressive opportunity.
For instance, if your goal is to increase the number of direct online orders by driving traffic to your website, you could start by launching Google Search Ads targeting people looking for similar cuisine within 10 miles of your restaurant. Once you’ve honed in on the messaging most likely to convert window shoppers into paying guests, set up website retargeting to ensure your brand stays top of mind and invite visitors back.
Whatever your chosen marketing objective, make sure to share your plan—including what you’re testing and why—with your franchisees so that they’re aware and can provide support.
Ultimately, restaurant brands that take a data-driven, hyper-focused approach to marketing will see the highest ROI, not just in terms of sales, but also in terms of guest acquisition and retention. So the next time you’re tempted to do it all, think quality over quantity.
Restaurants typically have a handful of loyal regulars who GMs and bartenders know by name, but behind the scenes, restaurant marketers are on a never-ending treasure hunt to find and attract new guests. While there are numerous restaurant guest acquisition strategies that marketers can leverage, it’s important not to underestimate the value of current guests. After all, research tells us that increasing guest retention rates by 5% increases profits by at least 25%.
Since retention is critical at all stages of the restaurant guest lifecycle, we’re breaking down some proven strategies, with frameworks you can actually use.
6 Winning Restaurant Guest Retention Strategies
1. Use Data for Good (Especially When It Comes to Your Regulars)
Personalization is no longer just a nice-to-have. Guests are beginning to understand the power of their data, and increasingly want brands to use it to serve their interests via personalized offers, experiences, and suggested products. Tailoring what you sell to a guest’s purchase history, preferences, and what they have engaged with is a crucial strategy to build restaurant brand loyalty.
Framework You Can Use
If you’re not already looking to retail for inspiration, start now, paying close attention to personalized marketing. When a guest on the waitlist leaves before being seated, treat it like an abandoned cart and send a strategic email to prompt them to return (stats suggest a 48% open rate for emails like these). Make like retail giants and bundle items—when a guest orders tacos, trigger a campaign suggesting the tacos are frequently enjoyed with an agua fresca and salsa trio. Best use case: A/B test different bundles to see what drives higher check averages and visit frequency.
2. Like Rome, Guest Relationships Aren’t Built in a Day
When it comes to those guests you’re just getting to know, winning second and third visits is a leading indicator of a “guest for life.” The means to that end is a structured cadence of personalized outreach—said differently, giving new guests more chances to engage increases your opportunity to build brand loyalty. And, consumer research shows that personalization increases visitor engagement by 55%.
Framework You Can Use
Build a scalable, repeatable framework for your new guests with a variety of ways to engage as they move through the lifecycle. Pay attention to what works, and tweak accordingly. Try this cadence:
First Visit/ WiFi Signup/ Online Order >> Welcome email promoting your insiders' club (the more tailored you can make this to their experience the better, e.g. drilling down by location visited or the channel via which they first made contact)
After Second Visit >> Let them know you’re listening with a triggered survey: “Hey Caleb, how’d we do? Would you recommend us to a friend?”
After 30 days >> Email campaign featuring occasion-based messaging such as “Did someone say Happy Hour? Right this way…”
After 3 months >> Email campaign featuring your most popular dishes on social media with an invitation to follow along and share: “Tag your posts for a chance to be featured on our feed.”
After 6 months >> Seasonal menu reset with an invitation to get involved: “Be one of the first to taste the new dishes on our menu at a special event for loyal fans …”
After 1 year >> Anniversary perk “Have this cake … on us. And yes, please eat it too!”
3. Go with the Flow (of Guest Frequency)
The Gartner Group found that the Pareto principle holds true with consumer behavior: 80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your current guests. It’s worth putting time, effort, and resources into guest retention, but not equally for all guests. The key here is segmenting by value and analyzing each segment’s frequency. With that, you can allocate time and resources according to value, and build outreach aimed to increase their known frequency.
Framework You Can Use
Guests with a high check average may be occasion-based guests with a twice-per-year frequency for birthdays and anniversaries. Send them a personal invite to join for a New Year’s Eve toast or Mother’s Day brunch to increase their frequency to quarterly.
Meanwhile, a segment of high-value guests may have a lower check average and bi-monthly frequency. Aim to get them coming in once a month by sending them an easy-to-use offer that appeals to convenience.
4. Go Outside the Inbox
To reach guests who have stopped engaging with your brand, try a structured cadence across multiple platforms. Research shows that companies using multiple channels to connect with guests increase satisfaction by 15-20% and boost growth by 20%.
Framework You Can Use
Build a cadence around lapsed guests that includes personalized email, targeted social, and paid search outreach. Keep your automated lapsed guest content up-to-date with regular maintenance. Every six months, pull the entire list and test new platforms. Make sure to track engagement so you know what works.
5. Optimize for Conversion
If you want guests to keep coming back, you need to make sure that all sales channels are optimized for conversion. Otherwise, they’ll choose a different restaurant that meets their needs.
Framework You Can Use
Online Ordering: How easy is it to place an online order and checkout? If your menu is difficult to navigate or the checkout process is cumbersome, for example, your cart abandonment rate is going to be high. Ensure that your online ordering system enables guests to place an order quickly and securely. Bonus points if they can easily reorder their favorite items.
Convenience is Key: Can guests pick up their order curbside or in-restaurant? Is delivery an option? The more handoff options, the more likely guests will follow through with their order and keep coming back. In fact, according to Olo data, brands that enable four or more handoff modes typically see a 12%+ increase in conversion rate.
Google: Can people join the waitlist, book a reservation, or place an online order directly from your Google listing? If not, that’s one unnecessary hoop for returning guests to jump through. Eliminate friction by ensuring your Google listing is fully optimized for conversion.
6. Tighten the Feedback Loop
While 72% of guests will share a positive experience, for every 26 unhappy guests only one is likely to say anything to you. Good, fast, empathic guest feedback management is crucial. In addition, being proactive about collecting feedback is a great loyalty builder—77% of consumers view brands more favorably if they seek out and apply guest feedback.
Framework You Can Use
Build trust with a multi-level feedback strategy.
When a guest reaches out with valuable feedback in any way (third-party reviews, social media comments, survey responses), it’s essential to engage quickly. Acknowledge their experience and let them know from the beginning that you value their feedback, positive or negative. Take action to fix the problem. Say thank you.
Continue to build relationships by proactively asking for feedback (automated post-meal surveys work great). When guests reply, thank them and reward them.
For the super loyalist, consider consumer panel special events. “You are an important part of growing our brand and your voice matters.”
Take a moment for meta-feedback and ask how your engaged guests like to be contacted. Do they prefer a quick text survey, an email, a social form, or an in-person menu workshop? Are they okay being contacted after every visit, or do they prefer a couple of months between surveys? Make sure to contact them accordingly.
With the holidays right around the corner, restaurant brands of all types and sizes are gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year. To help you maximize revenue, guest loyalty, and employee satisfaction this season, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of winning strategies—from menu optimization to ticketed events.
When creating your plan of attack, consider the time investment, resources, value-add, and potential ROI—short-term and long-term—for your specific brand.
1. Holiday Promotions
Get in the holiday spirit with an irresistible limited-time offer that motivates guests to take action. Fear of missing out (aka FOMO) can be a powerful tool.
Food For Thought: Give guests $20 off orders of $100+, free delivery with a purchase of $50+, or a free appetizer with their first online order.
Level Up: Generate excitement around the promotion on your brand’s social media channels via a holiday-themed countdown or photo contest that incentivizes participation and helps to grow your following.
Launch an omnichannel marketing campaign across email, SMS, social media, and digital ads to inform new and existing guests about your holiday offerings. This multi-platform approach will increase your brand’s reach and help you meet guests where they are.
Food For Thought: On Dec. 23, ask guests if they forgot someone on their list and need a last-minute gift. Use this opportunity to promote your best-selling cookie cake, gift card, merchandise, etc.
Level Up: Leverage your restaurant CRM to segment guests—high-LTV, big spenders, churn risks, online orderers, etc.—and then personalize communications based on their order history and preferences. A tailored message, served at the optimal time, on a guest’s preferred channel is a recipe for marketing success.
3. Restaurant Gift Cards
Gift cards have been a staple in the restaurant marketing playbook for years, but demand has never been higher. According to research conducted by the National Restaurant Association in 2021, “62% of consumers hope to receive a restaurant gift card for the holidays.”
Food For Thought: Give guests the choice of purchasing a physical gift card that can be sent by mail or a digital gift card that can be sent electronically.
Level Up: Offer a “Give a gift, get a gift” deal to incentivize gift card purchases (e.g. Earn a $10 bonus coupon for every $50 spent on gift cards).
4. Retail Items
Retail can serve as an additional revenue stream, advertising vehicle, and method of strengthening guest loyalty during the holidays and year-round.
Food For Thought: Restaurant regulars go wild for branded merchandise like BBQ sauce, T-shirts, and tote bags. Not to mention, they pair well with restaurant gift cards. Put them front and center in your restaurant, on the website, and on social media.
Level Up: A wine or beer club with membership perks like exclusive events, discounts on food, and priority seating can provide a predictable revenue stream for restaurants. Plus, subscriptions make great gifts at any time of year.
Restaurant brands can put a festive spin on their menu with holiday meal kits, family bundles, and/or seasonal items such as hot drinks and other cold-weather favorites.
Food For Thought: Alleviate the stress of cooking for a crowd with “Thanksgiving-to-go” or appeal to your guests’ nostalgia (and tastebuds) with LTOs like hot toddies or pecan pie.
Level Up: Full-service restaurants can offer an exclusive, holiday prix fixe menu for guests that want an elevated dining experience.
6. Online Ordering
Given how busy we all are during the holidays, online ordering is a no-brainer for maximizing revenue. Just be sure your digital order management solution can keep up. The right system will enhance front-of-house operations, streamline the order flow, and provide capacity management tools (e.g. throttling, item availability customization, lead time extension, etc.), so your team feels supported and can focus on guests.
Food For Thought: Encourage guests to order holiday favorites like honey-baked ham in advance. Then, recommend menu items that pair well or irresistible add-ons to upsell during checkout and increase average check.
Level Up: Provide a suggested tip during checkout to ensure team members get an extra boost during the holidays.
7. Multiple Handoff Modes
Consumer demand for convenience is at an all-time high during the holidays. Restaurant brands can ensure that every guest has access to their preferred method of ordering by enabling multiple handoff modes, including curbside pickup, delivery, and dine-in.
Food For Thought: According to Olo data, brands that enable four or more handoff modes typically see their conversion rate increase by at least 12%.
Holiday parties present a valuable opportunity to boost restaurant revenue via catering. With many businesses and families gathering to celebrate, brands should consider offering holiday packages for pre-order that meet the needs of guests and also increase brand awareness.
Food For Thought: Promote your Christmas feast or taco party pack—complete with utensils, napkins, plates, reheating instructions, etc.—on your website, social media channels, and digital ads.
Level Up: Create a catering-focused marketing campaign, including email, SMS, and/or digital ads, specifically targeting guests that have placed large orders in the past.
Reservations play an important role during the holiday season when demand for dine-in soars due to cold weather and the desire to celebrate with loved ones. They can be a source of stress relief for guests who want to plan for an occasion and make guests feel special by eliminating the wait. On the flip side, reservations enable restaurant staff to better prepare for busy shifts and large parties.
Food For Thought: Boost reservations by enabling guests to book from any platform—your website, app, Google Business Profile, social media channels, and beyond.
Level Up: Paid reservations or prepaid bookings are proven to drive down no-shows. Consider introducing a nominal, nonrefundable reservation fee to improve guest show rates and generate revenue.
10. Ticketed Events
Build a community around your brand and maximize revenue at the same time by hosting holiday-themed ticketed events at your restaurant. These events can appear right alongside your regular reservations, piquing interest among repeat and new guests.
Food For Thought: Host an Ugly Sweater Party, Friendsgiving, or a cooking class geared toward achieving guests’ New Year’s Resolutions, and promote the event(s) across your marketing channels.
Level Up: Use your table management solution to create customized floor plans and table assignments before the event, and be sure to accept payments ahead of time to take the guesswork out of your guest list and drive down no-shows.
11. QR Code Ordering
QR code ordering can boost revenue by enabling guests to access the restaurant menu, order, and pay, all from their own mobile devices while sitting at a table. When guests order from a digital interface—without having to stand in line, wait for a server, or stress about indulging in add-ons—check averages and tip income increase.
Food For Thought: To encourage adoption, display eye-catching signage in the restaurant with straightforward instructions for how to order and pay at the table, and designate a team member to assist guests if they need help.
Level Up: Incentivize guests to use QR code ordering during the winter months with targeted marketing campaigns that feature a special holiday deal (e.g. Free dessert with your first QR code order).
12. Outdoor Dining
To extend the outdoor dining season and maintain a steady flow of revenue in winter, restaurants should think creatively about their physical space and offerings. Outdoor heaters, branded blankets, a thoughtful menu featuring warm drinks and hearty fare, and a little bit of ambiance (bistro lights, anyone?) can transform any restaurant patio into a culinary destination.
Food For Thought: Promote an outdoor Winter Ale tasting or turn the parking lot into a drive-in theater with a family-friendly menu.
Level Up: Add a fire pit or an Instagram-worthy backdrop—think flower wall, large mural, patterned wallpaper, or a neon sign—to attract guests and generate buzz on social media.
13. Make Every Guest Feel Like a Regular
A lesser-known but highly effective way to boost restaurant profit year-round, but especially during the holidays, is by personalizing the guest experience. Brands can thoughtfully tailor every guest interaction, whether dine-in or takeout—no matter which team members are on duty—with an integrated tech stack that ties order history and other guest details in the CRM to the waitlist, reservations, order, and table management solution. In other words, make every guest feel like a regular.
Food For Thought: Alert managers about which table touches to prioritize during a busy shift or have a regular’s favorite drink prepared upon arrival.
Level Up: Send a targeted and timely SMS message to guests featuring an image of your new candy cane milkshake (or another seasonal menu item) that feels like it’s coming from a friend.
Contact us to discover more ways to maximize restaurant revenue during the holidays and year-round.
CDP, Restaurant CDP, Restaurant Customer Data Platform, GDP, Olo Guest Data Platform
Despite the last decade of focus on the topic, restaurant brands of all sizes still struggle to collect, analyze, and most importantly, act on guest data to grow their business.
Restaurants face a mix of challenges with their guest data that fall into a handful of categories:
Lack of Access: Data is stuck in archaic systems and some tech vendors block access altogether
Lack of Integration: Data can be accessed, but, no team has the time or technology to stitch it together (or systems that strictly unify data add another layer of costs)
Lack of Actionability: Integrated data isn’t being passed to the tools that Ops, Culinary, Marketing, and/or Finance teams can actually use in their day-to-day
Lack of Ability to Test or Experiment: Any combination of the above makes it nearly impossible to test and pilot new strategies—from menu engineering to online and offline restaurant marketing efforts
With the rising importance of technology, many brands were just waking up to the fact that they didn’t have the data infrastructure they needed to succeed.
Practically overnight, brands were forced to confront these obstacles as they had to digitize their business and, in many cases, adopt tech solutions that threatened to disintermediate restaurant brands from their guests. This set the stage for the next frontier of restaurant growth, specifically, guest centricity and the ability to build an on-to-off-premise experience that is seamless, personalized, controlled by the brand, and driven by data.
Definition of CDP
Customer Data Platforms (CDP) exclusively serve the purpose of ingesting data, creating a single view of the guest, and piping that data to end platforms where it can add value.
So how does this new tech category fit into the restaurant tech stack? And is a CDP right for your restaurant?
Start by evaluating where your brand is today and then identify the data architecture that will serve your brand for the next decade.
Signs You Need a Restaurant CDP
Data deserts: “I wish I could do X, but can’t get the data from A to B”
Manual workflows: “We will need another person just to analyze X data”
Tech-stack dependency: “We can’t implement X until we have Y in place”
Vendor lock-in: “We can’t afford to leave X—they just have too much control over valuable data about our guests”
Say Goodbye to Data Silos
Here’s the real revelation of CDP: it’s a single solution to ingest data from any source, merge that data to a single guest record, then send it to the right destination.
With a restaurant CDP, you don’t have to think about whether the vendors you’re working with will give you useful data—your CDP is there to ingest and make that data usable.
To help visualize this point, see the graphic below. While everyone looks at charts like this and gets excited about “dream scenarios” in the top right—without a clean, usable, data foundation, they’re just that...dreams.
Benefits of a Restaurant CDP
To determine what a restaurant CDP like Olo’s Guest Data Platform could unlock for your brand, start by mapping out your current tech stack, with a specific lens on data sources and destinations.
Destinations are vendors who will help you act on the data. Examples include email and SMS marketing, search and social ad platforms, business insights tools, and even data warehouses.
It’s worth noting that sources can be destinations as well. An example of this is enriching guest data back into your restaurant CRM to fuel more impactful, targeted search, social, and even email/SMS campaigns.
This data source/destination exercise will get you to somewhere like this:
How a Restaurant CDP Works: The Loyalty Program Use-Case
Imagine you’re a restaurant brand years into a loyalty program offering, yet, your loyalty vendor’s messaging solution doesn’t fully meet your expectations. Or, you want to facilitate personalization based on more data than just what’s within your loyalty/offers solution.
Are you stuck? Marketing leaders at many brands have said they feel that way. But, that doesn’t have to be the case.
By adding a restaurant CDP to your tech stack, you’d be able to—in this example—ingest points, spend, offer, and redemption data back to a centralized guest record that can also include data from web, social, or on-premise interactions not captured by a loyalty solution. Data could then be pushed to the destination vendor best suited to meet your goals. The bottom line is that the added flexibility of a CDP ensures you don’t have to switch one vendor to accommodate another or to adopt a new strategy.
Further, you can push this singular, enriched guest record to a marketing execution platform of your choice. This unlocks the ability to build conditional messaging flows that drive guests further down the funnel to habituation, all based on their unique interactions with your brand.
It's Time to Harness and Act on Restaurant Data
To remain competitive, leading restaurant brands will create data architecture that puts an accessible guest data layer at its core—combined with modular, best-in-class applications to act on the data. This idea is not new to digitally-native companies, like e-commerce, that are disciplined at tracking every step of their guests’ journeys because the needed data architecture is already built into their platform and experience. Now is the time for brick-and-mortar businesses like restaurants to reclaim their guest data and put it to work.