Is your restaurant struggling to be heard above the clamor of the competition? Restaurants come and restaurants go, but this cycle often has little to do with the quality of the fare being served. Attention spans are short out there. And no matter how good your food is, attracting customers – and making sure they come back often – is an unrelenting process.

Over the past 60 years, the portion of every family food dollar being claimed by dining establishments has risen from 25% to almost 50%. At the same time, restaurant sales can be highly unpredictable and were seen to flatten out across the board in 2016. In an industry that’s nothing if not fiercely competitive, consider these four tips to keep your restaurant firmly in the spotlight.

1. Solidify Your Online Presence

Restaurants no longer have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for customers to discover how great they are: they have to go out and tell them, in as many ways as possible. If you want your restaurant to stand out, take the time to establish a solid online presence – then complement that presence with an effective multi-channel marketing strategy.

Host a Winning Website

There’s nothing like a first impression to set the tone for long-term business success. And the effort you put into your online presence says a lot about how important your customers are to you.

Does your restaurant have a professional looking website?

Is that website informative, up-to-date, and focused on creating value for its visitors?

Can would-be customers easily find the information they need, in terms of:

  • menus and prices,
  • hours and location,
  • ambience and dining style, and
  • customer reviews?

Coming up short against your competitors can be as simple as a website that tells potential diners you don’t care enough to put the time, effort, and focus into what matters to them. Look to past clientele to figure out who your eatery attracts, then – like a well-crafted direct mail postcard – design your website with the images, content, and tone most likely to appeal to your targeted audience.

Make it Mobile-friendly

Did you know that most online searches performed with a mobile device lead to some form of action within the hour? Hungry consumers often make dining choices spontaneously, so it’s important that your restaurant’s website is mobile-friendly, quick to load, and easy to navigate from a smartphone or tablet.

Leverage Social Media

Consider making the effort to develop a social following on the platforms most frequented by your customers. Reaching out and connecting with past, current, and potential diners alike – through Facebook and other social media sites – will help to build trust and encourage new business. Just be sure that what you’re sharing is relevant to those most likely to dine with you – whether it’s an interactive blog post, or coupons for your restaurant.

2. Take Advantage of Local SEO and Direct Mail

In pursuit of the ideal marketing mix, don’t overlook what these promotional vehicles can offer:

  • Take advantage of local business listings

Today’s statistics tell us that 97% of consumers find local business information on the internet, and many online sites – like Yelp and Yellow Pages – host restaurant listings for free. Remember, if search engines have trouble finding your restaurant, chances are good that potential customers will, too.

  • Reap the many benefits of a direct mail campaign

Did you know that the response rate for direct mail is almost 37% higher than that of email? When paired with a targeted mailing list, direct mail postcards and brochures offer a proven way to increase your restaurant’s exposure and promote credibility in the eyes of potential customers.

3. Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Beyond just an opportunity to fill the stomach, dining out is an emotional experience that often leaves an indelible mark on the diner – for better or for worse. The people who eat at your restaurant play a pivotal role in its promotion, so keeping them happy is key.

To ensure your customer feedback is as positive as possible, make it a policy to:

  • respond to online comments and reviews quickly and publicly
  • offer value-driven suggestions to compensate for negative dining experiences
  • show your restaurant cares about its clients, by implementing the changes they most want to see
  • set up and monitor multiple accounts with high-profile online review sites

It can take years for a restaurant to establish a consistent and reliable customer base. And with well over half of all consumers taking the time to read what others have said about your restaurant BEFORE they decide to visit, you can’t afford not to make the most of this word-of-mouth advertising.

4. Invite a Local Food Blogger to Dinner

Think your food is simply the best? Why not prove it to potential customers by inviting a local foodie to dine at your restaurant?

Many restaurant bloggers are trusted sources of local business information, and their opinions carry great weight with diners who may be considering enjoying a meal at your establishment. In fact, many sources cite blogs as one of the top three most influential digital resources for people making purchasing decisions.

It goes without saying that garnering positive dining reviews will rely heavily on your food and service being as good as you claim them to be (if not better). But if you’re confident in what your restaurant has to offer, cultivating professional connections with local food bloggers can be a cost-effective way to help your business grow.