How to choose a restaurant marketing agency

Editorial Team

9 min read
restaurant owner behind counter with laptop

Today, most people don’t find restaurants by driving by or through a friend. Often, people find places to eat online.

A June 2023 study by PYMNTS found 62% of restaurant consumers use Google to search for restaurants, making it the top online source where people find dining information. Your restaurant’s online presence is key. Research from payment global analysis firm PYMNTS shows in May 2023:

  • 37% of diners found restaurant information on social media, with even higher numbers for younger generations (42% for Generation Z and 46% for Millennials).
  • 57% of consumers looked at restaurant reviews.
  • 20% of consumers follow content creators who review restaurants.

Digital marketing efforts like social media, email marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and search engine optimization can help you build a strong presence online. When someone’s searching “Mexican food in Phoenix” on Facebook, or “best Italian food in Milwaukee” on Google, restaurants with strong digital marketing efforts are more likely to appear at the top of search results.

Digital marketing also helps you build stronger relationships with your current customers. Using platforms like email, you can send loyalty deals, special offers, and restaurant news that keeps customers coming back.

As a restaurant owner, you likely have a lot on your plate. A digital marketing agency can learn about your restaurant and create a strategy that helps you improve your reach for target customers.

Before you invest in working with a digital marketing agency, use this guide for restaurant marketing ideas and tips on what to look for to select the best one for your business.

Understanding your restaurant marketing needs

Before you start talking to digital marketing agencies for a restaurant marketing plan, it’s helpful to identify your specific marketing goals and objectives for the restaurant. Some things to present to digital marketing agencies that you’re considering include:

  • Who your target audience is and whether or not you’re currently serving them
  • What your unique selling propositions are that make you stand out among the competition
  • Your brand identity and values, how your currently communicate them, and whether you need to refine/improve them and/or make them a more prominent part of your marketing

With this info, a digital marketing agency can present you with a proposal of restaurant marketing strategies for how they can help you grow, based on where you are and where you want to be. Whether you have goals of increasing business at your current location, or you want to expand into new locations, a clear vision of what you hope to achieve with your digital marketing and what your current efforts look like will help a digital marketing agency understand the value they can provide you.

How to choose a marketing agency for your restaurant

There are diverse types of digital marketing agencies in the U.S., from small boutique firms, to agencies with large global clients. The number of digital marketing agencies to choose from are increasing, as IBISWorld reports a 15.6% increase in digital agencies in the U.S. from 2022 to 2023.

What motivates you to choose an agency out of restaurant marketing companies can vary widely. Some restaurant owners choose a restaurant digital marketing agency because they like the team and look forward to collaborating with them. Others look at results an agency has brought similar businesses. 

The following are some factors to consider when you’re searching for a marketing agency for restaurants.

Budget and affordability

To make money through marketing efforts, you’ll have to invest money into marketing. Think about what a realistic budget is for marketing your restaurant business. That will help you narrow down your choices.

Many agencies will offer tiered levels of service offerings, so you can stay with the same agency as you scale and your marketing budget increases. Ask about any potential additional costs that may not be included in the scope provided. For example, pay-per-click ad services may not include the budget you’ll have to allocate for the ads themselves.

An important question to ask digital marketing agencies is, “What kind of return on investment can I expect?” Established agencies will be able to draw data from past clients and present you with reasonable figures to expect and ways to measure success. This can help you keep the agency accountable and can also assist you in determining whether or not to retain the agency in the future.

Services offered

Some marketing agencies specialize in a particular area, like content marketing, while others are more like one-stop shops where you can get most of your marketing needs met in a single place. Some of the digital marketing services you might be interested in include:

If you’re already working with a specialist in one of these areas, let the marketing agency know what your current capabilities are and what you need to enhance them. You may already have a food photographer you love working with, for example. If so, you’d then provide their photos to the agency to use in channels like social media.

Restaurant marketing relies heavily on attention-grabbing visuals, so prioritize visual marketing like photography and videos. You’ll also want to ensure you’re targeting the right local customers, so make those marketing aspects a priority as you talk to potential agencies.

Industry experience

It makes sense to work with experts who have knowledge and experience in your industry. A marketing agency that specializes in B2B technology products likely won’t produce the same results as a digital marketing agency for restaurants.

Many agencies do have diverse client rosters, though, so don’t let a lack of specialization deter you. Ask about the specific results for restaurants or hospitality brands to get a clearer understanding of the agency’s potential.

Portfolio evaluation

Related to industry experience, an agency should have work examples available so you can see what kind of content they create, as well as have case studies so you can see the results they’ve driven. When you ask to see a portfolio or examples, ask for examples in digital marketing areas you’re also interested in for your restaurant, as well as examples of work for clients that are similar to yours.

Keep in mind, newer agencies or agencies that have limited hospitality experience may not have a substantial portfolio of examples to show you. But if proven success matters to you, you’ll want to look for digital marketing agency for restaurant examples when you evaluate your options.

References and reviews

Another way to research digital marketing agencies is to look at reviews and ask for references. Any reputable agency should feel confident and comfortable in providing you with a reference to a similar client who can talk to you about what it’s like to work with the agency.

You can also look online to find reviews and testimonials to learn more about the agency’s reputation. Consider tools like:

  • Searching for the agency on LinkedIn to see what people are saying about it, and asking connections what their thoughts are on it
  • Looking at business reviews on sites like the Better Business Bureau, Glassdoor, and Yelp
  • Googling the name of the agency,to see if it’s featured in any news articles
  • Searching the company’s website to view testimonials

If you notice negative reviews, but you’re still interested in the agency, you can ask the agency about what working with the past client was like. The agency may have a very different viewpoint compared to the past client, so do further research if you’re still considering the agency.

Communication skills and transparency

The digital marketing agency you work with should be a true partner for your business. Their success depends on your success.

Ask about what kind of communication you can expect from the agency. Some will do weekly face-to-face meetings if you’re both in the same area. Others will offer email responses within one business day. Think about what your realistic needs are when you want a question answered, or you want the agency to work on a last-minute promo.

Clear communication in the proposal and consideration stage before you choose an agency can help you learn more about how the agency would work with you in the future. Take early communication into consideration as a sign of what may come, so you can make an informed decision.

Transparency also matters, especially when an agency is posting on behalf of your business, interacting with customers as your restaurant, etc. You’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the agency’s team working as representatives for your business.

Ask the agency what kind of reporting you can expect so you can monitor marketing efforts, as well as what kind of control and permissions the agency expects to execute its marketing duties.

Contractual agreements and terms

Before you sign any contract, it’s a good idea to have a legal expert review it to ensure you understand all the terms and conditions. These may include:

  • Contractual timelines
  • Hourly rates or other forms of payment
  • Content deliverable expectations and timelines
  • Termination clauses

Work with a lawyer to refine your terms in the contract and to ensure there’s a clear understanding of expectations on both sides.

Marketing success starts with your POS system

Working with a digital marketing agency can supercharge your business results. Digital marketers are experts in sophisticated digital marketing tools and techniques. It’s their job to stay on top of trends that might include evolving algorithms, new social networks that are rising in popularity, and other helpful digital marketing tools. A benefit of working with an agency is that they can apply everything they’ve learned from past clients directly to your business.

When you’re shopping for a digital marketing agency, remember to:

  1. Understand your goals, objectives, and budgets.
  2. Look for agencies that offer the services you want.
  3. Inquire about experience, case studies, and testimonials.
  4. Clarify communication and timeline expectations.
  5. Make sure you’re comfortable with contract terms before you sign with an agency.

Did you know your restaurant point of sale (POS) system may also have built-in marketing features? With Clover restaurant POS, you can engage customers through loyalty programs and gain sales insights and customer data that help you optimize your marketing efforts. You can also use your Clover POS to send customer promotions through email or text.

Clover POS scales with you as your business grows. Why wait? Get started with a Clover POS system today to elevate your business.

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