March 22, 2021

For Restaurants, There Are 4 Ways Social Media Takes the (Cheap and Effective) Cake

By Steve Roop

You don’t need a million-dollar media budget to have success on social media. Depending on your restaurant chain’s size, you could stay in front of your current customers and bring in new ones for as little as $50,000 in social spend per year.

Many restaurant marketers think that social media advertising is too expensive. But they’re neglecting to compare social media to traditional media, like TV commercials and print ads. Not only is social media advertising literally cheaper than traditional media — hello, thousands of dollars just for a TV spot —  it’s also more effective in several key ways.

We’re here to chart the advantages of social media over traditional media. Our mission? Prove to you (and your CEO) that social media is a less expensive way to reach more — and the right kinds — of restaurant patrons.

Social Media Is AffordableAdvantage 1: Social Media Advertising Is More Affordable

The bread and butter of our article: You don’t need to be Starbucks to afford social media advertising.

Granted, the more budget you put behind anything the more capabilities you unlock. But even modest social media spending pushes your ads out to thousands of potential diners. And there’s no cost comparison between social media and traditional media.

Take a TV commercial, for example. You have to spend for the network spot, the actors, the crew, the time away from your day-to-day, and so on. You’re thousands of dollars deep before you even enter the studio to film. And close to $50,000 (or more) when all is said and done.

If you think a TV commercial is an extreme example, what about the costs associated with print advertising? Designing and sending a billboard off for production and deployment will certainly run up a big bill.

With social media, you could start your first campaign with just $1,000 a week — no joke! You can probably even repurpose existing food photography to create simple, lovely ads. Unlike TV commercials, social media posts don’t necessarily require much in the way of design or production to be effective. You’ll likely have to increase from $1,000 per month as you see success. Even so, you won’t reach $50,000 in social ad spend for quite some time.

Advantage 2: Social Media Posts Are Unobtrusive To Your Customers

Let’s say you did spend a cool $50 grand on a television commercial. Who’s watching it?

When was the last time you actually took in a commercial? No phone in hand, no bathroom breaks, just consuming a good ol’ ad on the set. Better yet, when was the last time you were even exposed to a commercial? Do you even have cable? Because our Netflix accounts don’t include ads.

Again, maybe TV commercials are too big of an example for you. Do you read magazines? Do you notice the ads in those magazines, if you’re one of the few people who still does read them?

Your restaurant customers have very little patience for people selling them things, and they ignore 99% of what’s presented to them. Social media ads have an advantage over legacy ads because they try their best to blend into the feed. Scroll, scroll, pictures of Fred’s new house, scroll, your taco LTO, scroll, scroll, a cat meme. You see what we mean?

Your restaurant’s ad on Facebook or Instagram will be among organic posts users are seeing from friends. This causes less disruption and means your ads are showing up where your customers are already willingly lingering.

Advantage 3: Reach More of The Right Customers When They’re Hungry

10,000 people might drive by your restaurant’s billboard on a highway at rush hour. That’s a lot of eyes on your brand, which is fantastic. However, if they’re not your target audience, it won’t matter much. And what’s the value of that expensive billboard at 2:00 a.m. when no one’s driving by?

Stay On TargetTargeting is unquestionably powerful on social media advertising platforms. We spend so much time on social media that the internet knows a terrifying amount about our likes and dislikes and locations.

Because of this data, you can pinpoint your perfect customer segment and send them an ad right when they’re getting hungry for lunch. These targeted customers are more likely to buy because the ad is tailored to their stated tastes. Also, you’ll save money because you won’t run that ad at 2:00 a.m. when no one’s “driving by” their social feeds.

You can also reach more people on social media in less time with less money. That’s inarguable. 10,000 people might be driving by your billboard, but do you realize just how many people are on Facebook this very second? It could be millions.

Also in terms of reaching people at the right time, Facebook and Instagram are perfect for quick (and cheap) announcements you need your customers to know now. Say you added a new item to your dinner menu at the last minute because #cheeselover is trending on Instagram. Traditional media would never allow for such a quick pivot, or a quick backtrack if cheese was suddenly out again. But with social media, your new cheese dish is announced before takeout orders start rolling in.

Advantage 4: Real-Time Customer Feedback for Your Restaurant

Beyond targeted advertising, social media activity can serve as an implied endorsement of your restaurant. All of the likes, shares, recommendations, etc. that your customers leave on your restaurant’s page or even on their own feeds tell their friends, “Hey, acquaintance from high school, I’ve enjoyed this restaurant and you will too.”

Customer feedback isn’t always positive, but we don’t need to tell you that. You might get some nasty reviews. Still, try to think of even your worst Facebook review as an opportunity to learn more about what your diners don’t like about your restaurant. Social media feedback is probably the most honest feedback you’ll ever get. After all, your customer might be afraid to yell at her waitress, or even send a direct email. But she won’t be afraid to post a heated Facebook comment from behind her phone on the drive home.

You can also frame this unpleasantness like this: If social media didn’t exist, you might have no idea that you need to change your french onion soup recipe, or fire that one bartender. At least now you can fix issues and attempt to build bridges between your restaurant and slighted customers.

Oh, and of course, you can’t get this kind of instant, honest customer feedback from any traditional media.

Traditional MediaNo, We Don’t Hate Traditional Media

Let’s clear one thing up before we part ways: There is still value in traditional media for restaurants. In fact, it’s often best to support branding.

Go ahead and produce a strategic commercial, or send coupons by mail. Just understand that many restaurants aren’t doing enough to make social media successful, and it has so much potential to drive business. And drive business more cost-effectively.

There’s no denying that traditional media can blow your marketing budget without ever mentioning social media, let alone putting serious money behind it. But starting your social media journey with even a small budget will show you just how many of the right diners you can reach. We suspect you’ll quickly increase your social spend from there.