Restaurateurs and bars, like many other businesses, operate with tight margins in typical years, so marketing is always a complicated problem. The old adage that you have to spend money to make money is as true in the food and beverage industry as it is anywhere else, say the operators.

Just reminding potential customers that you are there and open can be a key to success. However, in today’s world of COVID-19 pandemic, you may also need to let them know whether or not you have limited takeaway, takeaway, and delivery seating or not take-and-bake options. With limited financial resources to purchase media advertising, many restaurants and bars have turned to social media and word of mouth for their marketing.

“If you’re not on social media and I hate social media, you are literally losing money,” said Michael Robinson, co-founder of Proof Incubator in Chattanooga. The incubator works with people in the food and beverage industry on many levels, including as part of its restaurant recovery program, which works with up to 20 teams for four weeks to stabilize operations and weather the pandemic.

In addition to finance and customer service, marketing is one of the program’s several focal points.

Robinson said many restaurant owners just don’t know or don’t have time to learn what tools are available to them. They don’t understand social media or how their websites work. Your sites may have hours that were originally published eight years ago and the owner doesn’t know how to change them. Or the website may not make it clear what services such as take-out or dine-in are currently available. Such inaccuracies can be rejected by people.

“It’s a fatiguing factor,” said Robinson. “If you make it difficult for people to spend money with you, they get tired of dealing with it and choose to go elsewhere.” The owners and staff are tired too, he said, adding to the overall problem.

Tiffany Banks spent a lot of time not only perfecting her subs before opening Lil Mama’s Chicago Style Hoagy, but also a lot of branding on social media. She made the sandwiches in a local commercial kitchen and let people know where to get them through her posts.

Before the opening, she asked Kaelan Byrd to deal with the media and to communicate regularly with the restaurant’s more than 2,200 Instagram and Facebook subscribers.

“She did a great job laying the foundations. I’ll just keep doing what she started,” said Byrd.

She also said that she believes Facebook and Instagram audiences are different, so she usually posts each.

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With little money spent on marketing, restaurants are turning to social media

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“I’ve added things like standard logos across all platforms and regular postings,” Byrd said. “I would post something every Thursday around 11 am to make people think [Lil Mama’s] before lunch. We try to address our audience, communicate with our brand voice and inspire people. “

Elise Armstrong, owner of the Black Cat Tap Room on Brainerd Road, uses her Instagram account, which is linked to her Facebook account, to let people know that it is open, as well as any specials or new craft beers, that she offers. More importantly, it is a reminder to people to support local businesses.

“With social media, I get more traction with posts that are more focused on the human side of things,” said Armstrong.

“I post pictures of new inventory or beer features and these are good ways to keep people informed, but when it comes to actual numbers, they take off when it’s more human. People see that I’m not a company. Me am a person who wants to send you home with the best selection of beer? “

Most of Armstrong’s customers are from the Brainerd neighborhood and come in for craft beer to go, she said. She said she usually posts on social media the afternoon before rush hour, hoping to get her customers on the idea of ​​stopping on their way home and picking up new supplies.

However, she doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about a plan or posting at a set time each day.

“I was talking to another bar owner the other day about it and we both agreed that everything is so unpredictable that the strategy of having a strategy is not worth the time,” said Armstrong. “I keep reminding people, ‘Hey, get your beer here.’

“So, in terms of a super dial-up social media angle, no. It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’m your neighbor and we’re all together so come on for support. It’s best to cut the bs and to be in advance. “

Robinson said the human element is very important, but cautions against discussing social media issues with customers, whether or not they are restaurant related.

“It almost never ends well,” he said.

Robinson instead recommended using the platforms to highlight employees or things that other restaurants are doing well.

Perhaps even more important is a 60, 90, or even 120-day plan, he said.

“I know this is really difficult, especially when you are in survival mode,” said Robinson. “This thing isn’t going anywhere, so a plan for the future is important.”

Armstrong said her original goal was to expand her place and provide it with alcohol and food in five years. The pandemic has actually accelerated this to a two-year plan, and it is hoping to start expanding in the coming months.

“I’ll be honest, I’m floating through this situation right now as my situation arises,” said Armstrong. “I have financial security right now, and it’s just me. I don’t have any employees to worry about, so I’ll cut everything down to the bare minimum, but I want to take the opportunity, considering things are for the.” next strange are a couple of months and hopefully [get] ready so I’ll be ready next fall. “

In the meantime, Armstrong said she will continue to focus on buying locals and telling people about their own place.

“I tell everyone. These local places are our neighbors and friends,” she said.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.