• David B Townsend

Restaurateurs: 3 Fundamental Marketing Functions



There are several considerations in putting together a marketing plan for a restaurant. Based on these three functions, all other marketing tasks evolve. I've assisted in more than a handful of openings or revamps of concepts in the Bay Area and Monterey Peninsula in the past couple decades, so I've seen three critical factors begin a process from which all other marketing decisions will evolve.


1 ] Signature Menu Items- The first step in creating your Brand. You need to open with two or three items you want everyone in town to talk up. These become your restaurants 'go-to' for anyone who likes the 'best of,' be it an N.Y. Steak Sandwich, a Chicken Caesar Salad, the best Taquitos, whatever you think can distinguish you from your competition. It could be a grass-fed Burger, Ribs, or Prime Rib. However, it has to be outstanding and priced at or below similar restaurants in town.


2] Food Costs - High is ok- Ideal food costs should not be a goal in the first months of opening. Do NOT aim at a 28-30% food cost. Food costs are less significant for the first 3 - six months than filling seats and creating cash flow. [link] You can work on food costs once you have a steady, loyal crowd clamoring to get a reservation. If you Burger is $15 and your two closest competitors, are two bucks less, you're asking for trouble. New operations always have service issues and kitchen problems to work out, so give your guests the opportunity to 'give you a break' while working out the kinks, by giving them a great deal on that burger.


3] Social Media & Visual Marketing- Make your entire operation visually appealing and create a sense of excitement, of community. Stylistic choices become critical, from colors, uniforms, menu design, even the entryway appeal. These all have an immediate effect on the guest. You have to have a feeling of entertainment and panache to immediately grasp the new guest's interest in what they can expect- based on the visual impression from the moment they walk in your door. The concept involves everything from the hosts greeting, the ease of finding a menu to browse, and a feeling of comfort and wanting to explore.


Based on these three functions, all other marketing tasks evolve. Although there is an overlapping of marketing tools with operational tasks as in fulfillment of claims or specials in paid advertising offers vs. free social media, PR tasks, vs. in-house promotions, all are born from understanding Visuals, Costs, and Signature -or Branding.

stylized food for great visuals in food photography

Using great photography and the use of social media come from Visual Marketing. You need great photos for print, web, as well as social media. Developing side dishes to endorse your signature items is part of the process of developing a full menu. Offering a complimentary appetizer you want to promote with any Entree on the first visit will contribute to making a loyal guest and give them the opportunity to try more than one item. Yes, it affects your food cost, but it will give your menu exposure for first-timers.


To further explain the impacts of these three fundamental concepts think about the following:

VISUAL: uniforms, menu design, plate presentation, signage, server aptitude and presence or performance. All contribute to the visual communications in the eye of a new or potential guest.


SIGNATURE/ Brand: When you create a selection of items to compliment your main entrees and make the sides as well as the entrees available in 'to-go' packages for reheating and ready to eat.


COSTS: The goal of any marketing idea is to bring in new and keep repeat guests. If you're perceived as reasonably priced from the start, people will come back to try different and new items as you build your menu. You have to remain below market pricing for a guest to feel right about a possibly one-time not quite to expectation meal. However, if you're priced high, and a guest has a so-so dinner, they most likely won't be back for at least a while to give you the chance one you've perfected your operation.


I often get pushback on my take on high food costs and offer the following to show you the numbers, which hopefully will help let you see that the cash flow of a lower priced / higher cost menu can be helpful for a startup.

Keeping the Dining Room full of paying guests at fair pricing is more valued than a half-full room of high check averages.

Here's an example: Let's take an entree with a $15 menu price, at 30% cost.

20 entree at $15, cost $4.50 or a 30% food cost- (300-90= $210 net)

30 entree at $12, cost $4.50 or 37.5% food cost- (360-135= $225)

In this example- your profit difference is $15, while cash flow is $60 greater, and with only ten more meals, you won't need any additional staffing to accomplish ten more meals for the night.


30 entrée at $12, cost $4.50 or 37.5% food cost- (360-135= $225) t)cost. You need great photos for print, web, as well as social media. Developing side dishes to endorse your signature items is part of the process of developing a full menu. Offering a complimentary appetizer you want to promote with any Entrée on the first visit will contribute to making a loyal guest and give them the opportunity to try more than one item. Yes, it affects your food cost, but it will give your menu exposure for first-timers.