According to recent studies, 59% of hospitality facilities fail in the first 3 years, and the first year is the riskiest with the highest failure rate. The biggest mistake that restaurant marketers can make is to believe that the buzz around a high-end restaurant should start on launch day. Potential fine dining customers today are searching online, in particular on their mobile devices, to discover new and upcoming dining destinations. In fact, 81% of consumers search for restaurants through mobile apps and 75% make decisions from those search results.
Consequently, knowing how to leverage digital marketing prior to the launch of a new upscale venue is essential if restaurateurs want to hit the ground running.
Set Up Key Digital Channels For Your High-End Restaurant In Advance Of Opening Day
Establishing a digital ecosystem and leveraging digital channels throughout a phased launch plan leading up to opening day is a must in today’s highly saturated, competitive fine dining landscape.
A pre-opening mobile-optimised website is essential
Think of a website, one that is mobile-optimised, as a necessary digital foundation for your upscale restaurant. Building a landing page well in advance of the launch with a “Coming Soon” teaser and a quick introduction of your fine dining concept is essential to establishing presence. In the months leading up to the launch, marketers can work to build out the website with the primary goal of immediately communicating your unique story and dining experience.
Engage with future potential customers and build appeal by highlighting the unique value proposition of the fine dining experience and story through your website. If it’s a Chef-led restaurant, showcase the Chef, his or her culinary journey and inspiration through visuals and copy. Even if the full menu isn’t ready, restaurant marketers can still highlight a few signature dishes and hero ingredients that will be central to the experience on the brand site.
When the full menu is ready, make sure that it is accessible across multiple devices. Studies show that 80% of consumers think it’s important to see a menu before they dine at a restaurant, and even more so, 70% of consumers think it is important to be able to read the menu on a mobile device.
Meanwhile, don’t forget the basics. Include essential information like address, contact number, an online booking widget, hours of operation, a general Q&A section and links to your social media channels.
Use Instagram To Offer Behind-The-Scenes Glimpses
The use of social media, in particular Instagram, to document the fine dining experience is a well-known phenomenon. It is a social media platform that currently captures 700 million active users a month who have the potential to discover and engage with your fine dining restaurant.
Even before the official restaurant launch, Instagram is the perfect social media platform to showcase the process and not just the finished product. Customers are seeking behind-the-scenes glimpses into the entire restaurant experience (think the open kitchen trend), and Instagram is a great social media channel to tell a work-in-progress story. Build buzz by featuring accessible, behind-the-scenes imagery and short videos of the restaurant’s journey — everything from architectural milestones, initial tastings to culinary inspiration and interior design.
This is especially applicable for capturing the Millennial customer, 80% of whom want to know more about process and origins — how the food is grown and where it’s sourced. A quick Instagram search on #farmtotable yields 904,095 posts. As farm-to-table, root-to-flower concepts are gaining popularity along with dining as an “Instagrammable” experience, using the channel to highlight key ingredients, their origins and sourcing is a way to heighten appeal pre-opening. Originality, innovativeness and artistry of the food and environment pays off for fine dining restaurants in this visually-driven platform.
Before Opening Day, Facebook Is The Go-To Platform For Addressing Inquiries
In many ways, Facebook has become the most popular social media platform in the restaurant industry for customer service.
Although much of the creativity can exist on your brand site and Instagram, Facebook must have the essential information regarding your restaurant. Pre-opening or opening events, a Book Now button, access to the menu, and important service descriptors like “Good for Kids,” “Good for Groups” are all musts. To account for potential reviews from pre-launch events, enable the reviews function as well. Positive reviews prior to the official opening will be particularly useful in generating appeal.
Finally, as you would ensure your fine dining experience includes a warm host at the door, ensure that your upscale restaurant has a digital host that can manage customer inquiries in a warm, on-brand and informed manner. Research shows that customers expect real-time engagement with restaurants via social media platforms: 70% of customers expect a response to questions, while 50% expect a response in less than 1 hour.
Upscale restaurants need to ensure there is a social media manager that can answer incoming customer questions.
Engage In A Phased Launch Plan For Your Fine Dining Establishment
Many fine dining restaurants are opting into a phased soft launch approach to ensure quality and a gradual amplification of their digital presence. A phased launch offers tailored experiences for micro segments amongst influencers and the community, which means more targeted opportunities to generate awareness and appeal leading up to the official launch.
Online Reviews and Buzz From Local Food Bloggers & Influencers
Besides traditional PR, upscale restaurants should consider a series of intimate and targeted events aimed at relevant and influential food bloggers, Instagram influencers, and traditional PR outlets. Use this as an opportunity to tailor the experience to the particular demographic and introduce the unique culinary concept behind your high-end restaurant. From the chef and the mixologist, to the ingredients and their origins, make sure to highlight the most appealing parts of your story to the relevant audience.
Be prepared for digital engagement — have a hashtag ready for Instagram posts, feed food bloggers with engaging content and behind-the-scenes information and photography. A handful of targeted events with digital influencers will kick-start the digital buzz surrounding the establishment’s soon-to-be launch.
Also, make sure to have a photographer present to capture the event so you can repurpose them for use on the restaurant’s own social channels: Post images on Instagram, tag influencers who were present, repost user generated content. An increase in localised digital buzz from high traffic blogs and news sites will also increase your chances of appearing when customers engage in localised restaurant searches.
Introduce A New Culinary Concept Online Via Preview Dining For The Public
If you’re introducing a new culinary concept, it is worth considering “preview dining” as a means of education and lowering the barrier to trial for markets that are unfamiliar with the type of cuisine you are showcasing. Preview dining usually involves a discounted menu featuring select signature flavors and dishes from your restaurant. Many fine dining establishments use this soft launch approach to introduce new concepts to an immature market and amplify appeal via digital buzz.
One important caveat is to emphasise a new culinary experience on your online channels, and NOT the discount itself. Avoid any social media paid advertising that explicitly calls out the discount. Sounding overly promotional only cuts away at the integrity and authenticity of establishing an upscale restaurant.
As preview dining customers will be amongst the first to leave online reviews, the kitchen and front of house need to be prepared to deliver an exceptional experience. Studies show that 87 percent of customers look to online reviews to guide decision making when evaluating local businesses. A preview dining experience that can generate stellar restaurant reviews, especially for a more foreign culinary concept, will be integral to generating appeal and trial within the broader community once the restaurant opens.
The concept of hospitality in the fine dining industry is as much physical as it is digital. Utilising digital marketing effectively is the key that could make or break the launch of a fine dining restaurant. What many upscale restaurant marketers don’t realise is the importance of establishing digital presence before the actual opening. Ensuring that foundational digital channels are set up, the unique brand story is communicated and that the right influencers and food bloggers are talking about your experience online will give your new fine dining establishment the momentum it needs to hit the ground running.