Marketing to tourists. Attract tourists to your restaurant

September 10, 2019 • 11 minutes

Mercedes Diaz
Mercedes Diaz
Independent content creator for business and foodservice niches. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.

Marketing plays a huge roll in the success of your restaurant. But can what restaurant marketing ideas can help you get an edge on your local competition? You can turn a dive, gourmet eatery, boutique bistro, and any other concept into a premier tourist destination with just a bit of marketing effort. Tap into a new client base and attract tourists with a restaurant marketing plan that goes beyond your local reach.

Many restaurants are not only buzzworthy, but well-worth traveling for and many food bloggers and influencers make their living traveling for dining experiences. Since as far back as 2002 when Anthony Bourdain first launched A Cook's Tour people have been willing and happy to travel for food. You can put your place on the map by using restaurant marketing to attract tourists.

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Authenticity: creating a must-visit restaurant vs. a tourist trap

Have you eaten at a tourist trap? By the end of the meal, you feel cheated. Of course, you don't want to deliver that to your guests, which is why you should focus on creating an authentically «too-good-to-miss» restaurant. The defining factors between a must-visit stop and a tourist trap can be quite clear, and a lot of it comes down to a few marketing aspects.

Tourist traps are notorious for gimmicky menus and giant alcoholic beverages. Why? It’s alluring. Tourist traps aren’t planned stops in a vacation. They rely on tourists making impulse decisions and then they sneak in a few underhanded tactics such as adding a tip onto every bill.

One fantastic way to establish a reputation for authenticity is to be the place where all the locals go. Avoid gimmicks, themed uniforms, giant menus, and souvenirs. Instead, give tourists what they hope for, the chance to dine like a local.

It’s enough to translate a few specials on your menu into English and retain original names for the rest to keep the authentic vibe. Your staff can assist customers with language barriers.

Is it possible to market your restaurant to tourists while having a large influx of local business? Yes, if people are still willing to travel for your food, rather than you just being a quick stop between their travel plans like a tourist trap.

To see the stark difference between a tourist trap and can’t-miss restaurant you can look to Eng Ho Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee in Singapore. This stop is famous throughout Singapore and primarily serves authentic Hokkien Prawn Mee. It's a snapshot of post-war Singapore cuisine, and it's not nestled in a very tourist-centric area.

The restaurant has grabbed the position of an authentic must-visit restaurant by keeping a sterling reputation online. Even though it’s out of the way, the reputation they built during peak seasons has helped them last through slow seasons as well.

restaurants in tourist destinations

Foot traffic: plan ahead for low seasons

One of the struggles that tourist destinations always have is seasonal changes. If you bet on tourist traffic, you'll see that through various times of the year you'll be busy, while other times you may struggle. It's the environment of feast or famine.

Well-thought-out restaurant marketing strategies for tourist-friendly restaurants don't exclusively cater to visitors. Tourist destination restaurants need to reach some of their own community as well. Mostly you want to keep your locals as your back-up plan.

Collect data in your customer base to know your local customers, engage them in loyalty programs and keep them coming in during your slow seasons.

It is possible that your tourist destination may only be really busy during a single event or for few holidays that grabs attention from visitors. In this case, your restaurant’s marketing strategy of attracting tourists will be in making the most out of the popular tourist events. Your restaurant won’t be the only one in your area to try and take advantage of this opportunity which is why you need to differentiate yourself from nearby competition.

For example, people from all over the world flock in Japan to see the cherry blossoms bloom. The restaurants in this region must carve out a niche for themselves with locals to stay successful while the tourists are gone.

Saubura no Kami Mbu, or Shijo-Omiya, is popular all year round. To achieve this, they became one of the very few ramen shops in Kyoto that uses niboshi in their dishes and now, locals count on Shijo-Omiya to satisfy their niboshi cravings.

However, they keep the locals happy in different ways too. They use time-limited or seasonal recipes to entice locals to visit when they are anticipating a slow period. These seasonal items are essentially the Pumpkin Spice Latte of ramen. They are also known for keeping their ingredient quality exceptionally high, and their prices set at a fair rate.

Whether you’re handling locals or tourists, you need to explore ideas of restaurant marketing that address price as well. With the right plan, and tools in place to push that plan into motion, you can make your restaurant the tourist destination that is always busy.

Instagrammable food attracts tourists

Tools to help implement your marketing plans

Every restaurant needs help in crafting their marketing plans. Even such small businesses as warungs have Facebook pages and respond to Yelp complaints. Social media can help you create a buzz, launch marketing plan, and get people to step into your restaurant.

Americans only dedicate about 16% of their travel budget for food and alcohol, that means they will spend time trying to find a great meal that is also a good deal. They will likely research that information online before deciding where to eat.

Travelers are looking for good food, but at the same time many of them are looking for specials, discounts, and fair prices. When you combine the power of social media with a deal, you can attract tourist customers while also receiving reviews and engagement from them to obtain more tourist business in the future.

Perhaps one of the best restaurant marketing strategy examples which targets tourists is The Paris Creperie. Not only do they frequently post stunning images on Instagram, but they also use social media to advertise specials. One post showcases fan-art promoting their specialty crepe called the Detective Teakachu. Another post shows a new item, tiny crepes, a bite-sized version of their famous Nutella crepe for less than $1. It’s important that on both posts they included prices and clear descriptions of the specials.

Start with a social media post explaining your specials and deals. Make sure to hit the big three platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Don’t forget about the foodie favorite: Yelp. Yelp does not give you a lot of control, but you can post your menu, business info, and photos. Use these resources to get people talking and planning a trip to your place.

Now, after you get all this hype for your high value and excellent food, and clear Instagrammability, you need the tools to make it all happen. You should expect far more from a POS system for restaurants than the technical ability to process payments.

Rely on a POS that can run specials, deals, and discounts smoothly. Look specifically for built-in features rather than add-ons. Then use that system as the foundation for your marketing plan’s structure.

Ideally, your POS system will allow you to establish restaurant loyalty programs. With these programs you should be able to build up a large customer base, offer discounts, and make it easy to modify the bill with the guest's phone number. These tools work exceptionally well for locals as well. Encourage guests to join your loyalty program to benefit from accumulating discounts or reward points.

Local food that attracts tourists

Restaurants as stand-alone tourist attractions

Hours away from any notable tourist spots? Try turning your town into a tourist destination for foodies. Rely on creative restaurant marketing ideas to draw in tourists that otherwise might pass right through your town.

Accomplish this with influencer marketing, managing your online presence, and cultivating a positive reputation. With these three marketing aspects you could land yourself on a list of must-visit or travel-worthy restaurants.

The foodie scene of bloggers, YouTubers, and celebrity chefs have proven that food is possibly the best reason to travel anywhere. One current example is Mike Chen of Strictly Dumpling who has traveled to numerous countries and regularly reaches an audience of over 2.6 million people.

Over 80% of tourists choose travel agencies, hotels, and other aspects of their travel plans based on influencer opinions.

When creating a stand-alone tourist attraction carefully consider these factors:

  • You have to begin the relationship with influencers by reaching out to them.

  • You can rely on hashtags to collect, track, and respond to influencer experiences on various platforms. Simply ask influencers to tag a tweet or Instagram post with your hashtag to boost your Instagram presence.

  • Boost your «Instagrammability» and be sure to have flattering lighting, and to keep your restaurant spotlessly clean.

Additionally, you will need to manage your service and reputation carefully to keep the customer satisfaction high. You can do this by measuring your traffic, monitoring your social media followers, and constantly improving your visibility. Although this marketing strategy does take a bit more effort, if you're determined to make your restaurant a tourist destination, then it's worth it.

A prime example of a restaurant becoming the tourist destination of their area is Asador Etxebarri found in Atxondo, Spain. What's in Atxondo, Spain? Not much, it is only a municipality in the Biscay province. However, it's won the third spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Tourists are making plans to venture into this forgotten Biscay region of Spain just to sit for this chef’s tasting menu.

Although it isn't entirely out in the open, restaurants have been using a form of influencer marketing for ages. Food critic reviews, awards such as the Michelin stars and the World's 50 Best Restaurant List all come from honest reviews. Influencers allow that level of commentary, insight, and honesty to hit millions of people in a very short time frame.

Outside of influencers, there are other forms of media such as novels and movies. Ideas for marketing a restaurant to tourists don’t usually happen on accident. However, Ibu Oka’s Warung in Ubud is proof that it's possible to become accidentally famous. After an appearance in Eat, Pray, Love they grew into a tourist hot spot, and all this warung did was serve a tourist outstanding babi guling and treat her well.

You have many ways to transform your restaurant into a complete tourist destination. There is no need for built-in tourism, because you can create your own. Invite influencers to get the word out to other traveling foodies. But don't forget to stay authentic. Don't lose your cultural essence in an effort to cater to tourists instead, give tourists a true local dining experience.

While you are looking for tourist-friendly ideas for restaurant marketing, keep an open mind. Restaurants in tourist destinations face different struggles than most ordinary places. They have an exceptionally season-driven customer base. Tourist destinations must dedicate focus on reputation and brand management, especially online. With social media, a solid marketing strategy, and reliable tools in place, you can cultivate a following that will lead people from many different countries into your restaurant.

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