How to Improve Restaurant Sales: Focus on Your Digital Journey

By: on April 26, 2018

As a restaurant operator, you should be always wondering how to improve restaurant sales. But if your solution is any variation of “making the best food in town,” you’re:

  1. Probably wrong about your food
  2. Definitely not thinking enough about your digital strategy

It’s 2018, and tons of potential customers are looking for you on the web. You must be there to greet them!

By optimizing customer journeys and digital experiences, restaurants drive more new customers into the business and maximize the value of current customers through generating valuable retention.

And restaurants that continue to disregard their digital footprint and journeys are working against all odds just to stay relevant, not to mention in business, over the next 5 years.

This article covers digital best practices that restaurants can employ and looks at how digital engagement can translate into customer loyalty.

Like It Or Not, Yelp Is The Gatekeeper To Millions Of Potential Customers

I get it. You’re serious about your food and don’t want to see it knocked by someone complaining about your habanero sauce being too spicy, or have someone give you a poor review because they asked for a burger cooked medium and got a burger cooked medium.

But let me ask you a question: where are your customers coming from?

This is an interesting question because there’s the answer and then there’s all other answers.

The answer, of course, is:

Learning how to improve restaurant sales must require crash course in Yelp

Claiming and managing your Yelp profile(s) is the single greatest piece of marketing you can do for your restaurant (“thanks, millennials”).

A Harvard Business Review study found that a 1-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5 – 9 percent increase in restaurant sales.

What would this increase mean to your bottom line? According to statistics pulled from the National Restaurant Associate, if you’re anything like the average restaurant, you could be looking at anywhere from $40,000 to $72,000 in additional annual sales. Not bad.

There’s tons of hugely positive stats I could list here from Yelp, but three that really stand out are:

  1. An average of 142 million users visit Yelp every month—That’s a ton of people.
  2. Nearly half of all ratings for Yelp businesses are 5 stars and over two-thirds are 4 or 5 stars—Reviewers are overwhelmingly positive.
  3. Over 46 percent of U.S. Yelp users have income of over $100K—Yelp users have disposable income.

As for how to get started on Yelp, it’s very easy.

Simply go to and create a profile for your business. In fact, your business might actually already have a profile with user reviews and images. Users can add your business if it isn’t already there so that they can leave a review.

By claiming your business page, you can add the important information about your restaurant like hours, exact location, contact information, menu etc.

Increase restaurant sales by completing the features tab for you Yelp profile

Yelp offers users tons of filtering options, so be sure to provide all the detail possible

The more detail you put into your Yelp page, the more accurately users and potential customers can find your restaurant.

If you need help or are unsure about getting going on Yelp, they have plenty of resources to get you started. Better to jump in and learn than continue missing out on this valuable platform.

Social Media Takes Your Restaurant Where Yelp Can’t

While a Yelp profile is a must-have presence for your digital journey, there’s an intrinsic connection between food and social media, and especially when it comes to the big three—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And there’s also tons of business value to gain from social media strategies.

According to the Toast POS Restaurant Success in 2017 Industry Report, Facebook is the most used restaurant social media platform by a huge margin. Here’s the breakdown:

Most Used Social Media Platform By Restaurants
Increase restaurant sales by completing the features tab for you Yelp profile

Restaurant social media usage via Toast POS report

Before we dive into strategies and use cases for these platforms, it’s important you keep in mind that these platforms fill in the gaps that Yelp leaves behind.

In other words, none of these platforms are better than the other. You might find more value in one over the others, but a comprehensive digital strategy requires leveraging all these platforms simultaneously because your customers are there.

Let’s take a look at profitable strategies for each of these three goliath platforms.


What does Facebook do well? Reach customers multiple times a day whether they’re looking for food or not, and deliver super targeted ads.

Despite some difficult press and budding scandals, Facebook is still home to much of the internet’s attention—especially users exploring business profiles. And those users need to eat, right?

Facebook provides you with tons of potential touchpoints to engage with customers through strategic posts and through Facebook’s ad program.

Black Bear Diner is a great case study for increasing sales via Facebook

Entice viewers to visit the restaurant by featuring limited time specials via Black Bear Diner

In addition to claiming, managing and posting on your profile, Facebook offers highly targeted ads that factor in real-time location of users. They also feature dynamic ads that test different images to find the most successful post. These ads are likely the most honed-in you can get with potential customers in your area.


What does Instagram do well? Tap into a huge amount of user-generated content.

Delicious, wonderfully composed food and drinks just beckon to be photographed—which is where Instagram shines. Owned by Facebook, Instagram is the #foodie epicenter of the world. And again, you can reap the majority of benefits for free, including:

  • Creating your restaurant profile
  • Posting pictures of food, restaurant space and specials
  • Linking to menu/online ordering site in your profile
  • Engaging/”following” local foodies, vendors and general consumers
  • Building a hashtag strategy to gain greater exposure

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Instagram marketing, especially for restaurants, is creating and leveraging a steady stream of user-generated content. User-generated content (UGC) is posts by your customers that feature your brand in some capacity.

Data from Nielsen on the most trusted forms of online advertising all point to UGC as a viable advertising option:

  • 83 percent of online respondents in 60 countries say they trust the recommendations of friends and family.
  • Trust in advertising on branded websites increased one percentage point to 70 percent.
  • 66 percent of survey respondents indicate that they trust consumer opinions posted online.

Starbucks’ iconic #RedCupContest is a great example of UGC. Here’s what they did:

Starbucks decided to switch to red holiday themed cups. People seemed to like these cups, so Starbucks seized the opportunity to encourage customers to post creative photos of their red cups using the #redcupcontest.

Starbucks instagram post for redcupcontest

Starbucks’ early red holiday cup

Starbucks incentivized customers to post their red cups by offering a special gift card. And after a couple holiday seasons with #redcupcontest, Starbucks noticed another of their UGC campaigns was merging with their red cup initiative. And #RedCupArt was born:

#redcupart contest instagram photo

Starbucks listened to customers and combined their #cupart and #redcupcontest into one epic UGC campaign

Obviously you shouldn’t expect to have the same reach for your small restaurant as global market dominator Starbucks. But hopefully you see how simple it can be to start a campaign around your brand and engage customers with it to generate a steady stream of UGC.

You can pretty much pull off a UGC plan for free. But there are some great tools to automate the tracking and reposting of UGC. Software like Hootsuite and Sprout Social can help with this since 90 percent of restaurants have 50 or fewer employees, none of whom are likely a social media manager.


What does Twitter do well? Build your brand.

Twitter is much more than a platform for food trailers to post their schedules.

chef tweet

Twitter is a great platform for building/defining/sharing your brand and engaging with consumers, competitors and the world at large. We’ve seen some wonderful examples of brands harnessing this in the past few years—none better than Wendy’s:

Examples of Wendy’s excellent Twitter presence

These tweets showcase the variety of value Wendy’s can derive from Twitter.

  • They leverage their “fresh never frozen” brand to diss competitor McDonalds on National Frozen Food Day.
  • They break corporate news about store openings and charities, directing readers back to their blog and/or website.
  • They’ve built such a Twitter presence that consumers often fold them into conversations on current pop culture … AND THEY GIVE EPIC RESPONSES.

Again, Wendy’s is a global brand with tons of resources to through at social marketing. You probably have a social media marketing team of one. But no matter, because that’s the equalizing beauty of Twitter.

If you can dedicate one hour three times a week to sitting down and engaging with customers on Twitter, you’ll see followers increase and mentions rise.

Start slow, but start.

We’re all still figuring out social media as a culture. But one thing is certain, each platform provides unprecedented engagement and self-advertising opportunities for small businesses to craft, define and share their brand and products.

And when you put them together with a Yelp plan, you get a well-rounded digital strategy to engage customers and get them into your restaurant. All that’s left is learning how to keep them coming back.

Loyalty and Advocacy Programs Grow Retention and Referrals

You’ve set processes in place to acquire a steady stream of new customers. You’ve captured them—now it’s time to sustain their business.

All the hard work you’ve done is a series of stepping stones to retain customers and get them to repeatedly patronize your restaurant. That’s the end game.

#redcupart contest instagram photo

There are a few different plans for customer loyalty. They all rely on a foundation of positive customer experience, but after that, they vary in strategy.

  • On one end of the spectrum is providing a consistently great customer experience and hoping customers come back for on a regular basis.
  • At the other end of the spectrum is a formal loyalty program that customers opt into and accrue points that can be applied toward rewards.

You need to employ a structured, measurable program if you want to sustain loyalty. Why? Because of data like this:

Research from restaurant software provider Upserve says 57 percent of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers some type of a loyalty program.

Our research on millennial preference for restaurant customer loyalty can help you determine what program is best for your business.

Millennials’ Preferred Loyalty Program Rewards

pie chart of Millennials preferred loyalty rewards

Earning points based on the amount of money spent at each transaction is the most preferred loyalty program method, and receiving periodic discounts after opting into the program is the second most popular.

Revel POS System loyalty point program

Revel POS System loyalty point program

A combination of point earning and strategic (seemingly sporadic) discounts is probably the best structure for a loyalty program targeting millennials.

Equally as important to keep in mind as the type of loyalty programs millennials prefer are the top reasons why millennials quit restaurant loyalty programs.

Top Reasons Millennials Quit Restaurant Loyalty Programs
Top Reasons Millennials Quit Restaurant Loyalty Programs

The top reason millennials quit restaurant loyalty programs is because the rewards take too long to accrue. You don’t want a relationship to sour after all that work to acquire a customer, give them a great experience and get them to enroll in a loyalty program, just because you’ve made them wait too long for a reward.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution—give them a reward immediately, just for signing up.

What’s The Best Next Action To Take Today?

Here’s the deal:

If you want to know how to improve restaurant sales, you’ve got to start thinking strategically about your digital experience.

  • How are you acquiring customers?
  • Where are you acquiring customers?
  • Are you inspiring loyalty/offering rewards programs?

Restaurant operations not optimizing their digital journeys are settling for mediocrity. And mediocrity is no way to run a business.

Part of answering these questions is accessing and adopting/updating the restaurant software. There’s a great wide world of restaurant software out there. We’ve discussed some of them: restaurant point of sale software, food delivery software and customer loyalty software.

There are plenty more systems to sort through—but you’re not alone in your journey. Software Advice helps tons of restaurant business owners just like you every day. Our team of expert restaurant software advisors will help you put together a short list of the best restaurant systems for your unique needs.

And you can check out user reviews from your peers in the space to see what actual restaurant operators are saying about the software in question.

Whatever you do, just don’t do nothing. There’s a restaurant out there acquiring new customers and turning them into loyal regulars. Why shouldn’t yours be one?

You may also like:

Why Restaurants Fail—and How Yours Can Succeed

Why You Need to Take Your Restaurant Food Ordering In-House

Increase Restaurant Upselling and Grow Revenue With Mobile POS Systems

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