Online marketing has become a “must-do” for any bar or restaurant seeking to attract loyal customers. Here’s what you need to know.


SEO ChartCreating a basic website for your bar or restaurant doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time, but it will help you attract a lot of new customers. When looking for a place to eat or go out, many people go online to search for bars and restaurants, look at menus and pictures of mouthwatering dishes or thirst-quenching drinks, and to read reviews.

At minimum, your website should include your bar or restaurant’s hours of operation, phone number, address and a photo of your location. Ideally, add more information such as a map or directions; an email address; multiple photos of your interior and exterior, drink specials or appealing menu items, you and your employees; and your menu. Depending on how sophisticated you want to get, you can add features such as daily specials, coupons or discount codes, the ability for customers to make their own reservations online, information about catering, articles or blog posts, videos and links to your bar or restaurant’s social media accounts.

It is critically important today, particularly for bars and restaurants, to make sure your websites are mobile ready. Consumers are increasingly searching on their smartphones and tablets from home as well as when they’re mobile. This means, among other things, you can’t use Flash on your mobile site. It’s simple (and free) to find out if your site is mobile ready.


Search engine optimization (SEO) improves your website’s position in natural or “organic” search results (as opposed to paid search results). To do this, make sure your site uses words and phrases consumers are likely to use when they search for businesses like yours. For instance, if you own a Thai restaurant in San Francisco, you’d want to use general keywords like “restaurant,” but also more specific keywords and phrases like “San Francisco Thai restaurant,” “best Thai restaurant San Francisco” or “pad Thai North Beach.” Use Google’s keyword search tool to find the most popular keywords.

In addition to keywords, adding content helps drive SEO—especially when you frequently refresh the content. (The “secret” formula seems to be adding new content at least three times a week.) Don’t let this intimidate you.  You can include posts on topics such as food trends or cool new drinks your bar is serving, videos of your chef preparing a popular dish, recipes, or archives of your email newsletters.
Search engine marketing (SEM) includes paid search advertising as well as SEO. You can buy PPC (pay-per-click) ads, where you pay only when a user clicks on your ad, on search engines such as Bing or Google. Advertising on Facebook is another option, and lets you narrowly target your ads. For instance, if your Italian restaurant is trying to attract young families, you could target local moms who have children under 10 and enjoy Italian food.
Use the Google Analytics tool (it’s free) to get information about your website visitors and measure the results of your SEO & SEM efforts. For example, if analytics show that most of your visitors are coming from a particular review and rating site, you can focus more of your marketing efforts there.

Local search directories

Getting your restaurant or bar listed in as many places as possible on the Internet is key to successfully attracting new customers. Local search directories, which feature local businesses, should be an important part of your online marketing strategy. Popular local search sites include Bing Local, CitySearch, Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) and; there are also typically niche sites for bars, restaurants, or your city or region that you’ll want to get listed on.

Visit each site to see if your business is listed; “claim” your listing, making sure the information about your bar or restaurant is accurate and matches what’s on your website. Then optimize your listing with extras such as photos, maps/directions, menus, coupons or special offers—the same types of things you put on your website. Monitor your listings regularly to keep them updated. (Some local search sites also include ratings and reviews; for more on these, read our article about social media.)

Email marketing

Once new customers try your bar or restaurant, use email marketing to keep them coming back. Collecting customers’ email addresses can be as simple as including a form with the check, having a sign-up sheet at the hostess station, or encouraging servers to ask for email addresses. Put a privacy policy on your website that tells customers how you protect and use the emails, and always follow CAN-SPAM laws when sending out emails (learn more at the FTC website).

Email marketing can take many forms. You can send a quick email about an upcoming happy hour at your bar; email an invitation to a five-course dinner at your restaurant; email an announcement about your new chef; email special offers and coupons; or email a monthly newsletter. Provide useful content so customers feel intrigued, not annoyed, by your emails. For instance, a restaurant newsletter could spotlight a new menu item, encourage customers to make reservations for Valentine’s Day, and showcase photos from a recent wine-tasting. Email marketing services (such as Constant Contact, Campaigner or Infusionsoft) can help you send out emails, comply with FTC regulations and provide the analytics you can use to track results.


As more customers go online when looking for bars and restaurants, online marketing can rapidly ramp up your sales.


Depending on your skill set, these tactics may involve a learning curve, possibly requiring outside help, and won’t pay off overnight.

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About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and

CEO, GrowBiz Media