7 Ways To Turn Your Restaurant’s Online Visitors Into Paying Customers

I’ve spoken/written many times before about the absolute need for businesses to build online visibility to drive conversions and credibility. And yet, digital marketing isn’t just for online businesses; brick-and-mortar locations can benefit from the power of digital marketing as well to build new business and generate repeat sales.

This is especially true for restaurants.

According to a recent Hubspot report, 97% of consumers use search engines to find information about local businesses – restaurants included. With more and more people researching restaurants before visiting them, having a robust online presence is crucial for just about any restaurant.

And yet, the question remains: 

How do restaurants turn their online visitors into paying customers?

Traffic alone only goes so far. If your restaurant is struggling to turn online visitors into paying customers, it’s time to rethink your conversion strategy. In this article we will take a look at seven simple and proven strategies that you can implement today to easily turn your online traffic into loyal diners.

Let’s dive in.

1. Offer a Compelling Online Experience

Due to the recent surge in delivery and takeout, a compelling online experience is more crucial than ever.

However, you can’t just have a website and call it a day. As the main point of contact for potential diners, your restaurant’s website should give prospective customers a sense of what they will experience once they walk through the door.

To begin, your website should be attractive, simple, intuitive to use, and easy to navigate. According to Website Builder Expert, 38% of users will leave a website with poor design and navigation. A poorly designed website makes it a chore for visitors to find the information they need, often resulting in a frustrating experience and negative perception of your business. 

When in doubt, apply the three clicks rule – i.e., it should only ever take visitors a maximum of three clicks to get to any part of your website.

Website speed plays a critical role in converting online visitors. Slow load times kill conversions. In fact, 47% of customers expect a web page to load within two seconds. The longer your website takes to load, the higher the bounce rate will be. For instance, even just a three-second delay in load time could result in a 7.9% drop in conversions

When in doubt, keep the experience simple and fast.

2. Create and Grow an Email List

Email marketing may sound like an outdated marketing strategy, but it remains a valuable marketing tool for restaurants. According to a study by Marketing Sherpa, 72% of U.S. adults prefer email as their primary method of communication when it comes to hearing from businesses.

Email allows you to target a “warm audience” – i.e., visitors who have recently visited your website and demonstrated meaningful engagement with your brand. Email marketing is also a very personalized form of correspondence, something that many customers appreciate. 

The best part? Email marketing costs next to nothing, especially when compared to traditional marketing methods.

Here are some quick ways to grow your email list:

  • Use a landing page – Landing pages are one the best ways to capture your customers’ email addresses and grow your list. Offer an irresistible incentive to encourage signups, perhaps a meal discount or free beverage.
  • Use a lead generation tool – When it comes to lead generation, it’s about quality over quantity. Lead generation tools such as OptinMonster can quickly grow your email list and help convert website traffic.
  • Create an offer – Specifically, you should create a forwarding offer. For example, if you have upcoming restaurant events or deals (e.g., restaurant week), you can ask your subscribers to forward the message to their friends. Make sure you include a new link to the signup form on your website or landing page.
  • Offer free content – A content upgrade for newsletter signups is another excellent way to provide added value. For example, you could write a quick blog post on a topic (i.e., “best scrambled eggs recipe”) and then offer subscribers an upgrade to a more comprehensive guide on the same or related subject (e.g., “top 10 breakfast recipes”). 

3. Focus on Mobile-First

With 3.6 billion mobile users worldwide (a number on pace to increase to 4.3 billion in 2023), neglecting to optimize your restaurant’s website for mobile would be a severe oversight. 

Need more convincing? Google has recently moved to mobile-first indexing. This practice means that the search engine giant will now predominantly use the mobile version of a website for indexing and ranking purposes

Being “mobile-friendly” means, first and foremost, focusing on responsive design. 

Responsive websites can deliver multiple content layouts to different devices based on screen size. When mobile users visit your website, it should automatically change to fit their devices. With more than half of your visitors coming from mobile, showing them a page designed for desktop is a losing strategy… unless, of course, your goal is to lose business. 

A mobile-first approach also enables you to add features like:

  • Mobile ordering
  • Mobile reservations
  • Mobile loyalty programs

Lastly, the data collected from mobile customers will go a long way in helping you enhance future targeting efforts and provide visitors with a personalized and tailored experience.

4. Claim Your Business Listing

When a user searches for food that you offer, an information box known as a Google Knowledge Panel will appear on the right side of the search results – Google My Business powers that listing. Google My Business (GMB) is a free business tool that provides all the relevant information about your restaurant, including name, website, address, operating hours, images, phone number, etc.

Having a GMB listing is one of the first major steps you can take to ensure that your restaurant acquires a Google Knowledge Panel.

Claiming your GMB listing is a straightforward process that requires you to provide your business information and verify that you’re the owner of the business. Once you have claimed your listing, you can then turn to optimizing it.  

Below are several ways you can optimize your restaurant’s GMB listing:

  • Keep all information updated
  • Upload new and relevant photos (restaurant logo, food, interior, exterior)
  • Set preferred ordering channels
  • Pre-populate the Q&A section with your own list of questions
  • Manage and respond to customer reviews

5. Develop Content Optimized for Search Engines

Yes, content marketing does matter, even for restaurants.

When it comes to content, most restaurants stop at the basics – i.e., menu, photos, and contact information. Blogging typically ends up on the back burner. And yet, consistent blogging and engaging content has the potential to improve leads by as much as 67%

However, just starting a blog won’t cut it; you need quality blog writing that caters to your audience.

There are three core pillars of great content that you need to keep in mind.

  • Content Planning
  • Topical Relevance
  • Grammar and Spelling

Content Planning

Optimized content begins with keyword research and content planning The goal of this research is to find words, terms, and topics that will appeal to diners when they are searching on Google. These terms and topics can relate to the type of food, cuisine, services you offer, and your area of operation.

For instance, if you want to boost organic visibility for your restaurant via the topic “what are the best Mexican dishes,” you’ll need to create a list of appropriate keywords. Fortunately, there are many keyword research and content planning tools that you can use to streamline this process, including:

For more keyword research tools, make sure you read our content planning tools guide.

Topical Relevance

Also called Topical Authority, Topical Relevance refers to the relevance of your site content in relation to a particular topic or keyword. It’s a concept used by search engines like Google to assign your website a score that represents how relevant it is to a specific search query.

Simply put, the more relevant and original the content you produce, the higher your chances of ranking for it.

Your website rank is based on several factors (but not limited to): content depth, keywords, backlinks, and originality. If your site has excellent topical relevance, it means that you’re following a set of best practices in content production – from the development of topic clusters to the use of anchor texts.

Once you have built a high degree of topical relevance through compelling and value driven content, the next step is to diversify that content by adding value to it. Micro content is a great option to consider. Not only is it mobile friendly, but it does wonders for engagement (especially on social media).

Spelling and Grammar

According to a survey by the Harvard Business Review, 81% of the respondents agree that poorly written content is a waste of their time. Your restaurant’s website is one of your greatest marketing tools, and everything on it reflects on your brand. A blog riddled with grammatical and spelling errors isn’t going to give anyone a good first impression.

Not a grammar expert? No problem! 

Lucky for you, there’s no shortage of excellent tools to ensure that your grammar and spelling are on-point. One favorite tool that we use is the free online writing assistant, Grammarly.

6. Master Social Media

From Facebook reviews to mouth-watering foodie images on Instagram, more diners are making their decisions based on what they see on social media. In fact, a recent survey by MGH revealed that 45% of American diners have tried a restaurant because of a post on social media.

Not only does social media can play a critical role in providing stellar customer service, but it can also drive engagement (re: micro content). 

A fantastic example of this is the national chain, Chipotle. Despite a tumultuous few years due to food safety issues, the chain has successfully made a comeback on TikTok. Its first challenge called #ChipotleLidFlip has been viewed over 240 million times on the platform, while the second challenge was even more successful, with 430 million views in just six days.

With the power of social media, owners will not only be able to promote their restaurants, but they can also build their followers, engage with them, and respond to inquiries/feedback (even negative ones).

7. Don’t Forget About A/B Testing

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, A/B testing is a marketer’s bread and butter. 

A/B testing, also known as split testing, is the process of setting up and simultaneously running two versions of a web page to two different audience segments to test which variant performs better. By the end of the test, you’ll know which page version has driven more conversions so you can optimize accordingly for better results.

One way for restaurants to use A/B testing is with their online menu. You could create two versions of your menu page slightly altering elements like menu copy, photos, videos, keywords and phrases, test both, and see which performs better.

For example, you could use different visual cues to highlight a house special. One version could include a star symbol next to the dish indicating that it’s a featured item, while the other variant could provide a label that says “Most recommended on Yelp.” From here, you would be able to test which of the two versions drives the most conversions.

Below are a few A/B testing tools that we highly recommend:

Commit to Putting Customers First

The heart and soul of any conversion rate optimization campaign is the ability to put your customers first. Start by identifying your goals and the needs of your customers, next look to develop organic visibility to help raise awareness for your restaurant, and, finally, convert those visitors into paying customers by implementing the strategies outlined above.

Vincent D'Eletto

Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of WordAgents.com. I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!