Digital marketing for hospitality

Table of contents

Restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels have some of the best yet competitive opportunities to market themselves online. Their product is fantastic for creating impressive visuals and offers, but there may be substantial competition in the local area. This can leave business owners a bit daunted as to what to do.

Often their customers can also become a long term, repeat customer. It’s important your marketing strategies focus on keeping people informed of the latest menu or promotion to keep them coming back again and again. To stand out, a hospitality business needs to be strong and proactive in multiple channels which can be quite a lot of work. Here we touch on the key areas to focus on.


There are a few major goals a hospitality website should have such as:

  • be visually appealing (either the food or venue but ideally both),
  • have easy to find contact details to make a reservation
  • have an easy to find menu

Contact details

The contact details on a hospitality website should be the most obvious element, especially from a mobile phone. Users on mobile are more likely to be looking to make an enquiry or reservation at that very moment. It’s a sure fire way to miss bums in seats by making it difficult to find your phone number.

Big visuals

To take a good photo of your finest dish you are going to need a professional photographer or at least some pretty decent lighting. The dish needs to look fresh and appetising, so any dull spots or shadows from an amateur shot are going to ruin that for you. Sure it’s an investment in the photographer and the food you will have to prep for the shoot, but you can’t really afford not to. Not every photographer is good at food photography so ask to see some examples of work.

Gift vouchers

Gift giving is difficult at the best of times. These days everyone seems to have everything already, so people are turning to giving experiences as gifts. A night out is an ideal gift and is usually at a good price point. It’s also a massive time saver by being able to buy and print your gift in a few minutes online before dashing off to a birthday party.

Smart venues are capitalising on this by offering gift vouchers online. To do it well offer customers a branded, stylish and printable voucher that they can personalise with a message to their recipient.

Email Newsletter

How can you tell your repeat customers about your new menu or special if you don’t ask for their email address? You must have a newsletter subscription form or popup on your site to build that database. Your loyal customers will be more than happy to sign up, but you could offer new ones a small discount on their next visit in exchange for their subscription.

Social media

I hate the term, but ‘foodporn’ is extremely popular on social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook and recently more so in video form. There are over 5 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag.

But ‘foodporn’ isn’t just for making us feel hungry. Another human trait to capitalise on is boasting. Some people love to tell the world when they are at a fancy restaurant, or out with their friends. Make sure you’re engaging with conversations on your social channels. People will appreciate a personal message after being tagged by their friends.

If you want to go further, post videos of your kitchen, your staff or your patrons enjoying themselves (if they give permission). Give as much insight into your business as possible to hopefully inspire potential customers to come in. Social media is all about authenticity so don’t worry too much about the perfect shot or scene. Make it fun and often.

Search engine optimisation

Local search is a must. Search volumes for ‘best restaurant in ###’ or ‘top bar in ###’ can be amazingly high. Your venue must have a Google My Business listing. Getting your address and phone number in business directories is also a must.

But the number one problem venues find with searches for their name is that reviews can appear first. If your website isn’t ranking well and users are finding your reviews first, you are missing the first impression opportunity. A disgruntled diner or even worse a competitor may leave a bad review for you, and that could be a potential customer’s first impression of you. So for that reason it is important to take steps to ensure your site ranks well, and if you can’t it’s time to pay up for some ads to ensure you are the first result.


You will no doubt start to receive reviews on Google, Trip Advisor, Urbanspoon and Facebook. It’s important you monitor these sites regularly.

So here’s the reality. You are going to get bad reviews. No matter what. Your competition will leave bad reviews. Some customers love to complain no matter what their experience was. There’s not a whole lot you can do to stop this from happening, but what you can do is react well. Other potential customers will appreciate how you handle such situations and understand that you can’t please everyone.

Never reply in anger or with sarcasm. If you have to, step out of the room for a moment and when you come back think of how you could best respond for other customers. Ignore the specific person and consider how would you want this situation to be perceived by others.

It never hurts to ask your customers for a review. I recall being at a Mexican restaurant once that was just ‘ok’, but when the waitress told us about how much of a hard time they have had with competitors leaving bad reviews, everyone at the table immediately grabbed their phones and created a glowing review.

So many things at once

Yes that’s quite a few areas you need to be on your game for, but such are the demands on the hospitality industry. Building your visibility through these channels, and then retaining customers with follow up marketing is the key to growth.

You may not have the resources to devote to absolutely everything. So if I was a betting man, I’d focus on your website, Instagram and Google reviews. Or of course, get a digital marketing expert to help out.


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