How We Marketed a Restaurant Through Their First Year of Business
Local restaurateur Mike Marcotte had a clear vision for the restaurant he set out to launch in early 2018 and there was nothing like it in town. He created the concept by borrowing inspiration from Italian culture and the way they eat and socialize; he wanted to bring that wholesome, social, simple-ingredient feeling to Lethbridge.
And he did. He created the Italian Table, which has become an award-winning staple in the city.
A Quick Summary
The Concept: an Italian restaurant where people are inspired to socialize with each other as they share good food with great company.
The Challenge: build a destination restaurant that stands out in a saturated market.
The Solution: a four-phased social media strategy.
Phase 1: Establish the brand story through authentic photos, videos, and captions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well as showcasing local vendors who supply the restaurant.
Phase 2: Expanding the reach by adjusting posts on each platform to better resonate with their following and fit the platforms more natively. Additionally, interacting purposefully with local accounts to further establish the brand’s tone and improve reach.
Phase 3: Targeting weak points by working with micro-influencers who speak to the audience segments that the restaurant was missing, gifting free lunches to businesses downtown and posting about it, and launching Facebook ads that were highly targeted to people looking for somewhere to eat downtown.
Phase 4: Developing partnerships to collaborate on social content and reach new audiences by having the partner publish the posts. Additionally, dropping their Twitter account after weighing its benefits with costs.
The Takeaways: with a strong brand identity crafted through great social strategy, the community recognized Italian Table with an award for Best New Restaurant and the owner proclaimed it a very successful year for business.
To bring his vision to life, Mike let one simple message guide the restaurant’s entire concept: Socialize & Share.
It has two meanings.
First, he loved the way that Italian culture is focused on talking with one another during meals, and experiencing the different flavours and textures together. No one gets food envy because everyone gets a taste of each dish, and everyone is involved in choosing what to order.
In this age, it’s pretty apparent that various technologies (OK, smartphones) are taking away from our social interactions. It’s not uncommon to see couples dining together at a restaurant, yet scrolling through their phones instead of talking.
Instead of placing rules like “no phones at the table,” Mike wanted to inspire people instead and give them something to talk about.
So he singled out a portion of the menu where people get to decide on dishes to enjoy together and called them “Socialize & Share” dishes. Now it’s an experience where you get to talk about your favourite foods and oogle over how delicious each dish sounds (beef tenderloin, glazed cipollini onions, pinot grigio, truffle butter, white sauce...).
Not to mention that when the dishes come out, everyone can openly boast about how good their dish is without making others jealous.
Then he put mesmerizing art on the wall, a map of Italy showing where the dishes originated, beautiful reclaimed wooden features, and more (there’s even wine on tap, which sparks conversation in a whole new way). He wanted people to say “wow” when they walk in (and they do).
The second meaning of the phrase Socialize & Share is even more rooted in social causes. Mike believes in supporting the community, giving back, and caring for people who are less fortunate than himself.
He knew he needed to hire a strong marketing company to help give the restaurant a voice in the community and share his concept, primarily through social media.
Italian Table is a unique restaurant with a story to tell. But it’s also situated in a peculiar location: inside a hotel.
And this hotel had been known in Lethbridge for many years under an old name, the Lethbridge Lodge. Around the same time the restaurant was born, the entire building underwent major renovations to become the Sandman Signature Lodge (but many locals still refer to the place by its old name). The restaurant area that used to accompany the Lethbridge Lodge was retired and the new concept moved in.
The team at Italian Table knew it would be a challenge to create branding that was strong enough to make people forget about the building’s previous identity and welcome the new restaurant as a separate attraction, not just a hotel restaurant.
In addition to this, the restaurant industry in Lethbridge was already saturated; we needed to help Italian Table break through the crowd and make a name for itself.
So how did we market this restaurant through its first year of business?
We knew the situation called for a creative solution; we didn’t just create a Facebook page and start posting. We came up with a social media strategy that can be broken down into four phases.
Our Four-Phased Strategy
Phase 1: Establish Brand Story
Months 1 - 3
The biggest focus of Phase 1 was brand awareness; telling as many people as possible about Italian Table.
We started by making content that was really authentic to the brand and the owner, which helped us determine who the ideal audience is.
The very first piece of content we made was a 90-second video of Mike introducing us to the new business and explaining the whole concept of the restaurant. The video did really well with thousands of organic views.
Then we took quality product photos of the food and crafted the tone of the restaurant through captions on social posts.
Lane, the founder of London Road Marketing, remembers when he first met with Mike and asked him what he wanted the tone to be for his restaurant. Mike just pointed to a huge picture hanging in the entryway. It’s a close-up portrait of a stone-faced, straight-lipped old Italian lady with her fists raised and a caption that says, “Less Italian than this, but not by much.” It was clear that he didn’t want to be 100% authentic Italian, but something a little more cheeky and funny.
So we took this tone and used it to craft social media captions that were full of food puns and light-hearted jokes.
Within this first phase, we also wanted to support the stories of the products that are offered at the restaurant, so we produced a monthly video featuring different vendors.
In one video, Mike learned how to make focaccia at the bakery that supplies their bread. For another, we visited the place where the restaurant’s coffee is roasted to shoot a video there. We also worked with the local company that supplies their pasta and the company that installed their reclaimed wood features to hear their stories and share them with our followers.
We did all this in Phase 1 so we could see who this type of content resonated with. We published the posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to experiment with the different platforms and see what worked best for the business.
The most responsive audience was mainly in the 35-55 age range, and more female than male.
Phase 2: Expanding The Reach
At this point we had a core audience, a loyal fan base on social media, and had found the early adopters.
Next, we wanted to expand the reach.
So we used this quarter to adjust their social content to be specifically tailored to each platform. This meant that their posts fit more natively on each platform and therefore reached more people. How?
There’s a careful balance where a company’s posts blend in with other posts on the platform, yet still provide enough value to catch people’s attention. It’s pretty obvious when a business doesn’t understand this and plasters promotional posts all over their feed. Remember that social media is a tool for social interactions — it’s not primarily for selling. For Italian Table, we kept promotional posts to a minimum and began tailoring copy, photos, and videos specifically to each platform.
For example, we altered their copy on Instagram to be slightly more cheeky than on Facebook. It’s commonly known that the audience on Instagram tends to be younger than on Facebook, so we knew this adjusted style would resonate better there.
For Twitter, we created a platform-specific persona and changed the bio to say “I am a restaurant”. We used less images and cut out videos altogether, again to match the natural audience on Twitter and not stand out as a promotional business on social media.
We had also been paying attention to what resonated with their original audience the best and continued to build the brand’s tone based on this.
In addition to establishing the tone in posts, we interacted with local accounts through likes and comments and injected their tone into each interaction.
It’s important to note that we’re not talking about interacting with random accounts here; we’re talking about people who live in Lethbridge (or check-in on visits). It’s important to have a following that’s relevant to the business, instead of having random followers who don’t live in the area and can’t visit the restaurant. By interacting with accounts that have photos tagged in Lethbridge, we grew their local audience.
Phase 3: Target Weak Points
Months 7 - 9
By this time we could identify areas that we hadn’t reached yet but still held potential.
We noticed that lunch times were slow and that certain audience segments weren’t visiting the restaurant, so we created strategies to get better penetration in both areas.
One of those strategies was to inspire user-generated content (UGC) from other people, so we began by working with micro-influencers in the area. Micro-influencers don’t have huge followings (often around 10,000) but their followers are often within a specific niche or location.
A notable micro-influencer we partnered with through Italian Table was Everything Meli. The restaurant gave her and her partner a free evening of great food and service, and in return she shared the experience with her followers. She created a blog, Instagram feed posts, and Instagram story posts that all went out to her following. This helped Italian Table tap into the audience segment that they hadn’t yet reached.
Then to position Italian Table as a lunch spot and tackle the lull, we gave free lunches to different nearby businesses each week and posted photos of each business receiving the gift card.
This earned some great UGC where the recipients of the free lunch sometimes made posts of their own, saying, “Thanks for lunch!”. It helped further establish that Italian Table was a local business that was part of the downtown business community.
To supplement this, we also created Facebook ads to promote lunch traffic even more. These ads prompted people to consider Italian Table for lunch and the images showed more lunch-appropriate offerings like paninis, soups, salads, and the like. These ads were only shown Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and within a mile radius of the restaurant. This meant they were getting excellent value for their ad spend. The campaign was specifically targeted to people in the downtown area to catch them as they were deciding on where to go for lunch that day.
We were able to measure the success of these campaigns by comparing lunch sales as a portion of total revenue from before and after the ads ran. We could clearly see that lunch traffic had increased and more people were thinking of Italian Table as a lunch spot.
Through lunch ads, lunch giveaways, and micro-influencers, we were able to make an impact in the restaurant’s weaker areas and get them a more well-rounded exposure.
Phase 4: Developing Partnerships
For the last three months of Italian Table’s first year of business, we focused on developing partnerships. Where Phase 3 was all about leveraging influencers and encouraging lunch visits, in this phase we wanted to create partnerships where we could reach a different audience again, but in a different way.
Rather than having other people create and share posts about Italian Table, we collaborated on the creation of each video and gave the final piece to the partner so they could post it for their following.
For example, we created a mini video series where Italian Table partnered with a home builder; Mike went to a different show home each episode and cooked an Italian Table dish.
This was advantageous to both companies because it showcased Mike and Italian Table’s food as well as the show home’s beautiful new kitchen. The videos were posted on the home builder’s social media and shown to their audience.
We also cut out Twitter in Phase 4. As we learned about the audience — what works and what doesn’t work — we found that Twitter was only connecting with a small group of people locally. As this was not of enough benefit to the restaurant, we were comfortable letting go of that profile and instead focusing on the ones that were more successful.
The partnerships developed in Phase 4 successfully expanded the restaurant’s reach on social media and gained them more recognition around town.
During Italian Table’s first year of business, they won an award for Best New Restaurant in Lethbridge Sun’s Best of the Best Awards.
Mike was very pleased with revenues in that first year and acknowledges that our four-phased marketing plan helped them get there.
The biggest part of our overall strategy was telling the story of this brand and giving people content that they wanted to see. We took our time to fully understand the restaurant’s concept so we could authentically communicate it to the city.
We went from establishing this brand’s story really clearly, then finding new places to expand that reach, then finding new ways to promote weak areas, and finally developing partnerships to reach a new audience.
As we came to the end of the year and looked back on everything we accomplished, we discovered that our organic reach averaged 98% across all posts that we published.
% Average Reach (by followers) = Total post reach / Total page followers
Ever heard someone say “social media is dead” or “organic reach on Facebook is dead”?
Not true. If you’re creating things your audience enjoys and gets excited about, organic impact is still very possible.
Our relationship with Mike has really evolved in the years since; we’ve been working together since the spring of 2018. The partnership began with Mike wanting social media help, but it has since evolved into a partnership where we are the advisor and overseer of all of their marketing, which is how we work with many of our clients. If this kind of partnership sounds ideal for your business, we’d love to talk.