Ten top tips for indie marketing

By James Lewis

- Last updated on GMT

Ten top marketing tips for independent restuarants
James Lewis, creative development and marketing director at Gauthier Soho, Tartufo and Gauthier Wines, shares his tips on how independent restaurants can make themselves heard in an increasingly competitive market.

1 The Customer is king
Before John Cleese even thought of writing Fawlty Towers he was staying in a terribly run hotel in Torquay where the pompous, self righteous owner was heard to rant loudly ‘This hotel would run perfectly well if it wasn’t for the damned guests’. He based his entire Basil Fawlty character around this terrible attitude, as if the customers are all an irritation to be tolerated in the process of business. The first and most important rule for all of us in this industry is the customer is there to be looked after with grace however irritating they might be. Begin everything with this rule in mind, including marketing.

2 Appreciate feedback
The elixir, the water of life. Get it in any shape form you can as frequently as possible. Read every review you receive. Make Tripadvisor your first check of the day. Give feedback forms, ask insightful questions, not ‘how do you rate the service out of ten’. This tells you nothing apart from ‘something is wrong’. better to ask: ‘If you could change one thing what would it be?’ this forces the customer to make suggestions.

3 Everybody is the marketing department
You’re a tiny operation without the resources of a fully paid up marketing agency. You just never know who you have there. Ask the chef what they think of the design. Ask the FoH what they think of the food photography. You never know, you might have quiet creative hiding behind the pot-wash with a natural nose for laying out a menu. You don’t know until you ask. Plus it makes everyone feel included. Use everyone and value their opinion.

4 Broaden your skills toolbox
Learn how to do things. Paying an agency £X a month to maintain your website? Guess what, it probably only needs updating with new menu items and the odd picture. Learn basic HTML, CSS and FTP and you can do it yourself. Trust me, if I learned it, you can. The same goes for copywriting. Read books. You’ll be writing content all the time, so learn how to do it well. Also, every time you farm something out to an agency something gets lost. Customers will forgive you for clunky coding, typos and the odd amateurish design as long as it’s from the heart. In fact it can endear them to you. They won’t forgive cynical, overly slick outside agency marketing made from expensive stock photos and design templates.

5 Smallness is your bigness
Big chains are desperate to come across as small and independent. They hate the corporate feel, it’s very unfashionable and hard to give off a feeling of warmth. You have this by default. See independence as an advantage. No committee, total freedom.

"I am a tiny pirate, bobbing around in a big sea

and I must fight with every trick, move,

flourish, prestige I can"

6 Act quickly
One of the oldest sayings in creative industries is ‘A committee is a Cul de Sac where great ideas are taken and quietly strangled’. The thing about big professional serious companies is that they have big professional serious ways of doing everything. I once worked for a hotel group that needed any piece of marketing signed off by three levels of staff, including the hotel manager. It took days to get any decision made. You have the advantage to be able to act super fast. Get content out which reacts to current affairs. Speak nimbly like the little local place you are, to the envy of your big time competitors.

7 Refine your proposition
Think about your USP, and try to condense it into one sentence. Insight: McDonalds is ‘Delicious moments of happiness, made easy’. You need to be constantly whittling it down, boiling the impurities off, like a crucible. Searching for the thing which sets you apart from others. This is the thing you are selling.

8 Think beyond restaurants
One of the biggest traps you can fall into is assuming your customers are as interested in your business as you are. The fact is, they rarely are. What they’re interested in is how it makes them feel, or how it helps their social lives, enhancing a birthday party or forming the backdrop to fun. When marketing the restaurant, remember this. They are not coming to watch a show, they are coming to talk to their friends. Make the restaurant the facilitator of this and don’t be so pompous to think they are they for you or your product. They are there for them, not you.

9 Don’t imitate for safety
It’s easy to look around at your competitors and all the big-swinging outfits out there and think: ‘If I make our stuff look like theirs then we’ll look right’, well this kind of thought will have you reduced to yet another boring ‘us-too’ before you know it. When Hawksmoor started, they went out on their own and actively nurtured the ‘19th century backroom beefsteak club, slightly Hogarthian, engraved Garamond, mahogany and leather’ aesthetic and it went on to be hugely successful. Now there are 50+ indie British steakhouses up and down the country who all look and feel exactly the same. And which one can you name? I can only name Hawksmoor.  

10 Don’t worry about over-publishing
BUT… be innovative, keep things fresh, don’t be lazy. Never repeat things and people will appreciate your hard work. I’m sometimes asked if I ever worry about sending too many emails and annoying people. I probably do, but as a little indie restaurant I am a tiny pirate, bobbing around in a big sea and I must fight with every trick, move, flourish, prestige I can. I will do everything I can to sell my business and keep my customers coming back and If I go to my grave with my biggest crime being sending too many emails trying to sell the company I’m employed to promote, well I’ll rest easy, thanks.

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