Reaching your guests online is crucial now, more than ever. Your competition is doing it, and you can too. But how does a business stand out online? How does a company show up at the top of the search results list? We’ve got some tips to help you show off everything you’ve worked so hard to create – digitally. We know that running a restaurant doesn’t leave much time for trying to figure out the latest tech, so we’re bringing you a quick crash course in SEO. 


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it simply means: making search engines like Google work in your favor. It’s getting to the top of the screen when someone searches for businesses like yours. Did you know that 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine like Google, Yahoo!, or Bing? How these search engines find and feature a business is something you can learn on the fly – and translate clicks into customers.


So how do you get to the top of the search lists and boost your sales? Keep reading. We’d like to invite you to work through the below points. We hope you find this to be an inspiring exercise that demonstrates just how approachable this stuff is. 


Top Tips:

  1. Work With What You’ve Got. 


All you need to get started is the knowledge you already have and the assets that you’ve built out over the course of growing your business. We’re here to help you identify the resources you already have and help you get them onto people’s devices of choice: phones, tablets, whatever you’re reading this on. This is the heart of this exercise. So let’s dive in.


Let’s start with a quick marketing analysis. Popularly known as the SWOT analysis, break down some things core to your business: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.  Identify your core customers and the customers you want to target. No one knows your business as well as you do. Have an honest conversation about how it is set up in the context of the market in which it exists. This is something to examine on a continuous basis. Doing this will provide a good base for any marketing work and hopefully, get the creative wheels turning. 


2. Brainstorm Keywords


Think about how you’d find your business if you were searching for it as a customer. That’s the meat and potatoes of keyword planning. These are the 3-4 word phrases that will help new customers find you online (“dog-friendly outdoor patio”). As you dive into intelligently managing your online reputation, these will be the building blocks of the language you use to rank your business. 


Brainstorm some terms that people might search if they were looking for a business like yours if they had never heard of it. Think about the offerings you have, the type of restaurant you are and the food you serve, what you might offer to guests with special dietary needs, your location, etc. For example: Say you own a sandwich shop in Charlotte, North Carolina. You might include “takeout food Charlotte”, “Best lunch Charlotte”, “Online ordering“, “Cozy hangout spot”,  “Vegetarian options”, etc. (We’ll talk more about targeting dietary needs later — stay tuned!) 


For now, think about your establishment in broad terms, and then in specific terms. For instance “lunch” and then “gourmet sandwiches”. Think about who your target customers are and what they might search for. For instance, an office might search “Catered lunch options near me.” 


Once you have a good block of keywords, we can build from there. Once you have this list, there are lots of free tools to help you build off of this and see what other searches are popular related to your business, like Google Keyword Planner, Wordstream, SEMrush or Mongools.


3. Get Reviews 


For better or worse, review sites aren’t going anywhere. The impact they have on consumer decisions and boosting your search results is something you can harness for a force of good. For one thing, appearing on multiple sites is good for helping search engines more easily find you, which can help you move up the list of search results.  Also, guests are using this information to make decisions now more than ever. 


Consider incentivizing reviews in your restaurant with signage or a rewards program. Even simply mentioning that reviews help grow local businesses may prompt your loyal customers to want to provide an assist. Then, be sure to stay engaged in review responses and management. Think of a few responses for both good and bad reviews. You want a general template, but avoid copying and pasting as Google can detect this. You can even think of ways to work some of your keywords into your responses.  For instance, “Thanks for helping us become your favorite sandwich shop!” or “We’re sorry you didn’t have a great experience, please email us with more details on how we can work to become one of Charlotte’s best restaurants.”


It’s worthwhile to have a comprehensive plan in place on dealing with reviews good and bad. For instance, some places will offer a small gift card to encourage guests to “give them another shot.” It doesn’t have to be for a full comp, but maybe just 25$ to get them back in the door. Similarly, are you able to incentivize good reviews with a free gift? Perhaps a low cost menu item. Figure out in advance what works for your establishment in terms of costs and values. No matter what, plan to be proactive, not reactive. If a review leaves you angry or defensive, maybe ask someone else to respond to it because nobody wins against a troll. Edit responses to these types of responses carefully and thoroughly. 


4. Build Links


Make sure you’re maintaining some sort of social media presence, if for no other reason than to increase your web presence. The more people talk about you and the more websites that link back to you, the better your search results. This can be a bit more of a time suck, but if you plan in advance, it doesn’t have to be. Make a point to regularly capture menu items with decent photographs. You can highlight specials, give shoutouts to preferred vendors, plan q&a’s, and so much more. The key is to plan in advance to generate regular content between 3-5 posts per week. Once you plan this, you can easily share or repost content across multiple platforms. Plus, there are a lot of great free scheduling tools that will let you put a post together in the morning but have it automatically post later in the evening while you are preparing for service. 


This is free marketing and an opportunity to show off your brand personality over time. Find some accounts that inspire you and plan out how to emulate them. Set regular goals for engagement and followers to keep motivated and consider setting a calendar of potential posts at the beginning of every month to plan to cover any holidays, events, or specialized promotions coming up. You can even use social media to help move product. Perhaps you have a great wine that doesn’t sell a lot. Feature it in a post and watch it move. Ordered two kegs instead of one on accident? Use social media to help move through it quicker with a mention or promotion (Buy One Get Ones usually work great). 


5. Think Local


Nearly 1 in 3 of all mobile searches are local (think “near me”). Nearly 2 in 3 smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps personalize information based on their location.  Make sure your business information is consistent and up-to-date on all of the restaurant directories, search engines, and review sites.  Accurate hours and location should be on your website,  Yelp, Google, Trip Advisor, local tourism boards, Yellow Pages, Bing, Yahoo, and anywhere else you may appear. If your hours change for a special holiday, you must update this. This can seem time-consuming, but again, a strategy is your friend here. Make a point to check on this regularly, perhaps every six months. There are also tools you can use to auto-sync your menu and location data across all platforms.


6. Make It Mobile-Friendly 


Seventy-six percent of people  search on their smartphones for something nearby and visit a business within a day.  Twenty-eight percent of those searches for something nearby result in a purchase. It’s important to optimize your website and menu for mobile to make these searches go smoothly for people. Google uses bots to test this and has statistics on people clicking off a page quickly and can determine if there is a likelihood that this was caused by a poor user experience. That means that things like PDFs and desktop-only website formats will actually hurt your ability to rank well with search engines. Google also wants to see sites load in under 3 seconds, or they will move you down in search results. Remember, they’re trying to give their users a positive, easy-navigate experience. It’s important to know that if your website and menus cause squinting, zooming, or freezing screens, you might be having a larger impact on your ability to rank well online than you know. Be sure to take a critical look at how well your online media works across multiple devices: Test it out on an iPhone, an android and tablets, to be sure everything is easy to navigate and running smoothly. Enlist the help of optimization specialists and professionals whenever possible. 

7. Work Your Menu

Your menu is a huge asset in targeting potential guests. Diners today generally want some idea of what they can order if they decide to try your restaurant, especially in the era of widely varying dietary needs and preferences. 

According to Food Engineering Magazine, results of a recent study revealed 60 percent of Americans say they monitor or restrict the consumption of at least one nutritional component in their diet. You can help attract a diverse diner basis by including language in your menu with keywords like “gluten-free”, “dairy-free”, “vegetarian”, “vegan”, and “nut-free” options available. A smart move might be simply including a small section that includes these keywords and your personal approach to helping diners order with confidence that you’ll look after their needs. This can really boost your customer base in a serious way because these diners are the most likely to do some search engine research before dining out. Help them easily find you among your competition. 

Even outside dietary preference, it’s safe to say diners want to know what you’re offering before they choose you.  If you’ve traveled to a new city, you probably know this experience in analog terms. Most foodie adventurers can relate to traveling to somewhere like New York and wandering by potential dinner spots and peering in the window at a menu, telling you exactly what should entice you to come in and have a meal there. Now, more than ever, people want to know what your restaurant has to offer them before they hit ”get directions” on their GPS or “order now”.

8. Food Influencers

Consider forming a plan to attract, manage and collaborate with local influencers. Food bloggers, Instagrammers, local media, and are other creators are already churning out online content that has a built-in and riveted audience. This is an opportunity to nourish connections in your community, but also in your online presence. Show them how you do hospitality. Directly invite them to check you out, or at least make sure you’re on their radar. Send them a follow request on social media, or tag them in a post. 


Make sure your staff is trained to look out for these types of visitors, and see if you can’t formulate a strategy to really elevate their experience. Maybe it’s a small gift, a visit from a manager, a thank you note, having the head chef give their food a second glance over to make sure it’s the best example of the quality you offer. How you do hospitality is up to you. The important thing is to cultivate a company culture that is smart and welcoming to these important community partners. 



Taking smart steps to manage and improve your search engine ranking is easier than it may seem. The result will be helping you improve what is often guests’ first impression of your business.  It will help you stand out in a competitive and increasingly digital world. Plus, it can help boost traffic through your restaurant and to online ordering. It is smart customer service that allows you to better care for your guests before you even meet them.