Good news: Foodservice research giant NPD Group says online reviews, whether glowing or caustic, don’t have much of an effect on a restaurant’s business. What does bring customers in: online deals and offers. No wonder Groupon is mending fences with operators in the wake of this news.
NPD’s new study looks at the influence restaurant online marketing tactics have had on real-world dining behavior. It found that just six percent of restaurant visits made in the first quarter of 2012 were influenced by online marketing activities.
That’s a small number, but the firm expects it to get a lot bigger going forward.
“The influence of online marketing on restaurant demand is expected to continue to increase,” says NPD restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs. “It’s no longer a question of if online marketing should be a part of a restaurant operator’s overall marketing plan; it’s a question of when.”
So which aspects of online marketing merit inclusion in your restaurant’s future marketing plans? Here’s a list of the online and smartphone applications that influenced a restaurant visit in the first quarter of 2012, according to NPD:
• deal/special offer—37%
• menu details—30%
• general information—27%
• restaurant location—13%
• loyalty program—12%
• pre-order online—10%
• nutritional information—10%
• all others—20%
Another plus for online marketing is that it NPD found that it helps restaurants attract new customers; 26 percent of all online marketing-influenced visits were first-time visits to a specific restaurant. Further, online marketing is particularly effective in the casual dining segment. Although casual dining accounts for about one in every 10 restaurant visits, NPD found that the segment received one in every six visits associated with online marketing.
All of which is to say the sweet spot in online restaurant marketing is people looking for deals to eat at casual restaurants. To connect with them, you can handle offers and deals on your own, or use daily deal services such as LivingSocial or Groupon to do the heavy lifting for you.
If it’s the latter, be aware that Groupon, who stock has fallen from $28 to $7 since going public nine months ago, is reaching out to restaurant operators in a new way. The company has launched a new website, www.grouponworks.com, to better help business owners like restaurant operators how daily deals can best be used to boost trial and revenue. Dozens of video case studies feature restaurant operators who have worked with Groupon explaining how, when and why they used the service. If you’ve never offered a deal, this site can help you decide how one might be structured and whether you could pull it off with no outside help.
Deals and special offers are just one part of a restaurant’s online marketing mix. But NPD’s research is suggesting that it’s where you might get your biggest bang for the buck.