Tourist Marketing for Restaurants

By Ernest Corder

Restaurant marketing is a challenge in and of itself. There is so much competition. Everyone eats, but it appears just about everyone wants to open a restaurant too! Marketing to tourists as a restaurant can be even more challenging, as you only get one visit from a tourist for the most part.

Here are some goals for tourist marketing:

1. Prime the target market by appearing before they visit your area.
2. Remind them to visit once they are in the area.
3. Gain future visits from new customers by building reviews and referrals.

Again, you don’t get to create favorite customers that come back every week or month. With tourist marketing, you’re constantly building a new audience on the backs of those that have enjoyed their experience at your restaurant while in town.

An assumption – we are not talking about large chain restaurants. People visit Bubba Gump Shrimp Company when in a tourist area because they’ve been there before. We’re talking about a local restaurant or small group of restaurants in areas where travelers visit.

Priming the Audience Before They Visit

There are a ton of ways to make sure your target audience knows who you are before they come to town. This is where we get on their “must try” list while planning their trip.

1. Make sure you show up on maps and searches for specific local areas, like a downtown area or entertainment district. This is primarily based on your GMB (Google My Business) listing as well as other maps. At Redroc, we have built a system called Hyperlistings that makes it easy for us to update your GMB as well as other listings, add photos, change copy, and other edits that Google loves.
2. Focus on SEO geared toward tourists. “Best Mexican Restaurant in Downtown San Antonio” could be a great H1 for a blog. Help yourself show up for very specific key phrases that will be important to tourists while planning their visit.
3. Grow your reviews. We all know this is super important, so create a system that generates 5-star reviews. Don’t leave it to chance. We created a Reputation Management service that helps drive 5-star reviews and gives the 1-star customers a chance to communicate directly before posting. Hundreds or even thousands of reviews make a huge difference in customer choice and search.
4. Design your website for the user experience. SEO is important, but it is what a person actually sees when they visit the site that makes them choose whether or not to visit you. Show food photos, but also show the environment. Your environment creates the destination, not just the food. Help them see what they will experience to build FOMO and get on their “must try” list.
5. Create social proof through social media. Many people will visit your website to see the menu or find directions, but visit your Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pages to see what to expect. This is the real-life proof that drives them to visit. Make sure you are current, that your photos and video represent the “real world experience,” and use third-party references and reviews as proof.
6. Get published in magazines and websites. This is more social proof, even if it is paid advertising or advertorial. Tourist publications, magazines and websites are still very important for visitors planning their trips.
7. Use keyword-targeted ads to reach customers before they come to town. You can target people across the U.S. searching for “Best Mexican restaurants in downtown Austin” by using keyword-targeted ads. Once someone searches for a term like this, we know they are planning a trip to town. We can then run display ads across the internet and videos on YouTube just to this person. It is an affordable way to target people across the country before they visit.


Find Your Customers When They Are In Town Making Dining Decisions

Your tourist customer is in town, so now is the time to remind them of your restaurant with marketing. If you haven’t previously reached them, it is your last chance to create proof points that you are the “must try” place. Some of the same things used to target ahead of time are still used plus some new techniques.

1. Maps and GMB are even more important when proximity becomes one of the most deciding factors. Many people use Google Maps and search for locations near where they are staying or working. You have to show up at this time.
2. While on Google people again look for reviews, so 5 star-ratings and reviews are of the utmost important to the tourist in town. It is a quick deciding factor, (i.e. “Here is a 5-star restaurant!”)
3. Your website and social media again play a huge role in showing the tourist your environment, creating the “must visit” response.
4. Social advertising is important for the tourist in town. People don’t read a lot of websites while traveling, but they do spend a significant amount of time on social media, especially Instagram and Facebook. We use geo-targeted ads on social media very successfully to find tourists. Using precise geofences, we run ads to hotels, conventions, sporting events, tourist events, festivals, or any other building or location of our choice, creating an immediate frequency with an audience. This is extremely efficient, affordable and effective as restaurant marketing to tourists.
5. Do not overlook tourist publications and printed maps found in hotels. This may be an “old school” way of marketing, but it is still effective, especially in walkable downtown areas or entertainment districts.
6. Keyword targeting loses much of its relevance to people already in town, but pay-per-click search/text ads still put you at the top of the list for the visitors searching for “BBQ restaurants near me.” Consider search ads in a very tight radius of your restaurant for visitors, like one mile.

Build Future Customers Through Reviews and Social Content

A tourist or visitor might come to town every month, once a year, or maybe never again, so you can’t bank on return visits. However, you can count on reviews and user-generated content (UGC) to help new visitors discover your restaurant.

Create a Reputation Management system to earn good reviews from your audience for which you capture emails. Build photo-ready settings and of course, beautiful plating, to encourage social video and photo sharing. Acknowledge those who share by liking or commenting on their posts. Generally, do all you can to encourage as much positive user-generated content as you can. You are most likely to get that post while the user is at the restaurant, so encourage people to take a picture, or help them take it. Your service and environment are key to building user-generated content that will live forever online.

If you are a restaurant, or any kind of business, looking to bring visitors to your establishment, please reach out to us to learn more about targeted advertising and marketing that can grow your business and success. Drop us a message at [email protected].

ERNEST CORDER is the founder, President and CCO at Redroc. Ernest provides leadership, creative work, copywriting and media strategy as part of the Redroc team. His passion to create marketing that actually works spans over three decades in the advertising industry.


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