Why Word of Mouth Marketing is Important for Your Restaurant

Jessica Elliott

Jessica couples her 24 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience with meticulous research to deliver insight into technology, operations, and marketing topics. Her optimized copy helps companies engage their audience while strengthening their communication with clients, employees, and management.

Are you leveraging word of mouth marketing (WOMM) to fill your restaurant seats? For small eateries, the power of personal recommendations enhances your advertising efforts. Positive conversations about your brand is an effective and free way to attract and retain guests.

Male friends in the bar posing for a selfie

But, you may feel that word of mouth marketing is out of your control. It’s not. You can generate excitement, share your story, and compel your customers to spread the good word.

Let’s explore why word of mouth marketing is relevant, how it benefits your restaurant brand, and what steps you can take to use WOMM to supplement your broader marketing goals.

Word of Mouth Marketing in a Digital World

While it’s essential to invest in techniques like sending print mailers or Facebook marketing, you can’t discount how crucial WOMM is to your restaurant brand. After all, folks head to their favorite social channels to talk to friends and post questions in community groups. They ask:

  • Where’s the best place to find a homemade burger?
  • Is there any place that delivers Mexican food?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant for hosting a party?

And people jump into these conversations to recommend their favorite spots! According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of consumers get information about products and companies from word of mouth. Even though you can be blitzing your town with promos, it’s these casual posts by peers that grab attention.

We get so used to looking for (and giving) suggestions that we don’t think about it from a marketing perspective. But you can take strategic action to create a buzz about your restaurant.

Types of Word of Mouth Marketing

Traditionally, word of mouth marketing came from face-to-face interactions with others. It was the stranger stopping for directions and the attendant suggesting a local eatery for a slice of homemade pie. Or a friend sharing details of their latest dining experience at a school event. Of course, as we’ve moved into the digital world, this has evolved.

Now, your friends share experiences by posting food pictures on Instagram or leaving a restaurant review. This type of social proof fuels restaurant visits. Word of mouth marketing examples include:

  • User-generated content, like photos, that showcase your cuisine or atmosphere
  • Reviews on sites like Yelp, Facebook, or TripAdvisor
  • Referrals or recommendations on restaurants or specific dishes
  • Forwarded emails sharing a promo code or coupon
  • Local bloggers or micro-influencers detailing their restaurant experience

Why is Word of Mouth so Powerful?

Quite simply, consumers are fatigued by non-stop advertisements. Increasingly, people want to make purchases that deliver experiences while supporting a company that aligns with their personal values. And they trust opinions from their friends. In fact, “90% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support,” according to Stackla.

Although it’s tough to get the conversation started, once people start talking, then it turns into a cycle of recommendations and peer-to-peer discussions. Stackla also says, “79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions.” So encouraging fans to share their stories is a free way to generate sales and guest loyalty.

Benefits of Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth marketing gives you an advantage in the marketplace by widely spreading the news about your food and dining experience. The key benefits of WOMM consist of:

  • Increased brand awareness. The hype around your company results in people forwarding your emails, tagging friends on social platforms, and sharing your social media posts. As people talk about your restaurant brand, their excitement encourages others to do the same.
  • Free exposure. Unlike other types of marketing, you don’t have to pay people to talk about your brand. Deliver fantastic experiences, and your loyal guests do the work for you.
  • Boost restaurant sales. For every satisfied guest, you have a chance to reach hundreds more through word of mouth referrals. Nurture these relationships to develop loyal fans who spend more at your restaurant and tell everyone about their experience.

How do You Increase Word of Mouth Referrals?

Boost your word of mouth referrals by giving your guests incredible and reliable experiences while providing more ways to engage and interact with your brand. After all, “85% of people would post positive experiences about restaurant dining,” according to Stackla. Help your customers out by creating a word of mouth marketing strategy that uses these eight techniques.

1. Consistently deliver excellent restaurant experiences

Nothing beats authentic, friendly customer service in a clean restaurant. You can have outstanding food, but folks will remember how they felt. Train your teams and model great behavior to deliver dining experiences your guests will remember.

2. Encourage user-generated content

From mouth-watering photos to a memory in your Facebook comments, user-generated content drives conversations about your restaurant brand. TripAdvisor reports, “60% of respondents say online photos influence dining decisions.” So, make it easy and fun for fans to share UGC by:

  • Hosting photo contests to show off fan’s favorite appetizers or desserts
  • Creating a branded hashtag and asking guests to use it when visiting your restaurant
  • Using caption-this giveaways or dish naming contest to gather comments
  • Offering a fan poll to see which menu item is a customer favorite

Once you get UGC, share it all over! Display it on your social media channels, make marketing videos, and add user comments or testimonials to your website.

3. Share your brand story frequently

Everyone loves a good story. Your restaurant website should include some background about why you started your company or the challenges you faced. Showcase your restaurant crew so people can put a name to a face and feel familiar with your staff as soon as they walk through the door.

4. Invest in Word of Mouth Advertising (WOMA)

Word of mouth advertising involves partnering with influencers and micro-influencers. Look online for local bloggers and Instagrammers with engaged audiences. Reach out to them to inquire about rates for sharing information about your restaurant. For this to be effective, make sure the people you work with reflect your brand and market.

Take a look at what they post and who follows their channels. Think about ways they could authentically share details about your restaurant, like writing a review after visiting your eatery or posting photos from their recent visit.

5. Ask for restaurant reviews and ratings

The phrase “Restaurants near me” averages 6,590,000 annual searches, according to Ahrefs. When consumers do this type of search, they may get restaurant websites, Google business pages, and tons of information from review platforms.

And reviews definitely influence diner choices, with TripAdvisor finding, “Online reviews influence 94% of US diners.” So, boost your search rankings by requesting reviews from your top fans. Doing so should be part of your word of mouth marketing strategy and your weekly outreach efforts.

6. Increase guest referrals with WOM tactics

Your diners are decision-fatigued. Include a call to action in all marketing materials, so they know what to do next. Doing so helps generate referrals and increase brand awareness. Examples of word of mouth referral tactics include:

  • Adding a call-to-action in emails for subscribers to forward it to friends
  • Calling on fans to share social media posts about your event or special
  • Sharing a buy one get one (BOGO) coupon with your followers

7. Interact with fans on social media

Your guest experience doesn’t rely on an in-store visit. They interact with your brand online before ever stepping foot in your door. So answer their questions, respond to their reviews, and practice social listening.

An active presence on social media gives your restaurant brand authenticity and proves to people that your company isn’t just another business hungry for money. Building relationships online is a great way to keep the conversation going about the meals and experiences you deliver.

8. Create a robust loyalty program

Reward loyal guests and develop consumer advocates who are thrilled to give personal recommendations. There are many ways to reach fans using a loyalty program from email to mobile applications. A Hospitality Technology report finds, 58% of restaurant owners deploy mobile apps for loyalty program management.”

An easy-to-use program may text diners with a special coupon for birthdays, track those who haven’t visited in a while, or share exclusive offers. Use your loyalty program to identify your active and loyal guests, reach out to them for a testimonial, review, or share a social media post.

Create your Word of Mouth Marketing strategy

Combine excellent experiences with word of mouth marketing tactics to generate a buzz about your restaurant brand. Although it may feel unproductive at first, as interest grows, your guests will keep the conversation going and tell others about their favorite dining experiences. Your ongoing effort pays off by increasing sales and filling your seats.

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