Top restaurant marketing trends for 2012


With the battle for market share expected to get even tougher next year, restaurant operators will have to be smarter in how they target “influencers” — people others turn to for restaurant advice — to drive traffic.

So says Carin Galletta Oliver, president of the San Francisco-based world-of-mouth marketing agency Ink Foundry, who predicts six restaurant marketing trends for 2012 — plus one trend she contends restaurant operators should rethink in the new year. Ink Foundry has worked with restaurant brands such as Bonefish Grill, Fogo de Chao, California Pizza Kitchen, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill and Carl’s Jr.

Consumers are growing ever more selective about restaurant choices as they cut back on dining out occasions, Oliver said.

“They’re going to want to feel they’re making a safe choice,” she said. “And that puts more pressure on restaurant operators to make a connection.”

Oliver predicts five key tactics restaurant operators will use next year:

Data. The number of tools that allow restaurant operators to collect information about social media, public relations, e-mail marketing and advertising is growing. Savvy restaurant operators are also collecting data on their customers in various ways.

The key, however, will be how well restaurant operators integrate that data and develop a more holistic analysis across all platforms.

Most restaurants keep data in separate silos, Oliver said, thinking of marketing, public relations and influencer relations as separate departments.

“You need to break down those walls,” she said, and merge that information to more effectively mine insights.

Identifying and activating influencers. Restaurant operators tend to define their customers in demographic terms, but today’s restaurant influencer is likely to defy or transcend more traditional demographic characteristics, like income level, gender or age.

A powerful restaurant influencer today, for example, might be a young woman who traveled through Europe, living in bargain-rate hotels so she could spend more money on high-end restaurants.

“If you looked at her on paper, she probably wouldn’t be on your list” based on demographics, said Oliver. “But if you listen to her conversations, you’d realize she’s in your restaurant five times a month and spends more money” than the average diner.

Those are the people who are driving restaurant recommendations these days, Oliver said, and restaurants next year will be developing tools to encourage those people to spread the word about their brands.