Why data is the top ingredient for restaurants in a downturn


We all love a tasty meal, but as the UK economy lunges through yet more tough times, budgets are stretched, which means Britain’s restaurants need to innovate more than ever.

And, as Chris Pitt, MD at digital marketing specialist Vertical Leap, outlines below, adding a mix of fresh search data to your CRM menu could help keep the tables turning in the hospitality sector…

Chris Pitt, Vertical Leap

With some forecasts predicting a challenging year for the economy, restaurants must tackle the cost-of-living crisis head-on.

As consumers cut back on non-essential spending, eating out is a luxury many either can’t afford or justify on tighter budgets. But help is at hand – and search is the recipe for success.

As we saw during the pandemic, it’s crucial to get the basics right during difficult times.

That means mixing third-party marketing data from online channels and first-party customer data from CRM systems to cope with the challenges.

With this data-driven approach, businesses can focus on three key stages of the customer cycle:

  • Acquisition: Getting in front of more potential diners
  • Conversion: Converting people at each stage of the customer journey
  • Retention: Maximising revenue from repeat customers

Using data to understand your customers

Acquisition relies on targeting the people who are most likely to keep spending on restaurants.

If you’re working with a limited budget, prioritise target audiences who are going to spend with you. Use your CRM data to find out who already spends the most, and the most often.

Analyse what customers were spending pre-Covid, how their spending habits changed during the pandemic and how much the current crisis has affected their budgets.

By analysing this data, you’ll start to see patterns in their spending habits. You may notice some customers order fewer drinks than before the cost-of-living crisis.

They could be ordering a higher volume of less expensive dishes or ordering deliveries instead of sitting in your restaurant.

Using this data, you can revise your menus, pricing and deals to cater for new spending habits and incentivise repeat purchases.


menus- Image by stokpic from Pixabay
Foodie fayre: Restaurants can use data to revise menus, pricing and deals.

Furthermore, you can tailor online strategies to succeed – including the below, and more:

  • SEO: Segment keyword targeting to reach the right audience
  • Content marketing: Adapt your content strategy to prioritise the interests of priority target audiences
  • Local SEO: Optimise your Google Business Profile, target locations, local outreach, and so on
  • Social media: Adapt your content and messaging in social posts to maximise relevance with priority audiences
  • Paid advertising: Use targeting to narrow your target audiences and optimise bids to maximise ROI

Getting people to the table

At the conversion stage, you can use nurturing strategies to keep people moving towards the checkout, even if they’re not quite ready to take action.

For this phase, you must motivate audiences to take action: order a delivery or visit your restaurant.

King’s banquet: How do you get people to your table in straightened times?

Approach this in three stages:

1 – Map out the customer journey

Customers can make decisions quickly so it’s important to understand this process and the motivators that drive action.

Keep in mind that discovery broadly takes two forms: active and passive.

When users are actively searching for restaurants in their area, intent is significantly higher than prospects who discover you through social content.

As the downturn progresses, you may want to prioritise local search and optimise for the related conversion channels (online bookings, phone calls, etc.).

Generally speaking, “near me” searches – e.g. “Thai restaurant near me” – indicate the strongest purchase intent.

But you can also capture leads at different stages of the customer journey with varied query types: location searches (eg: “Best restaurants in London”), category keywords (eg: “Thai restaurant”), branded keywords, etc.

2- Segment your target audiences

This helps you to deliver relevant messages to prospects as they navigate the customer cycle.

Depending on the kind of restaurants you’re running and your target audiences, you could have any number of other segments to work with.

The point is, you want to target each segment with relevant messaging at each stage of the customer journey to motivate conversions or nurture them to the next key step.

For example, you may want to put more urgency in your messaging for prospects travelling in the local area for a short time. Meanwhile, similar campaigns for people living in the area may focus on a longer customer journey and retention.

3 – Nurture potential customers and incentivise conversions

Hunger is a great motivator and restaurants often enjoy a shorter customer cycle than other business types.

When someone wants to eat, they search for a place to eat in the local area and they place an order – done.

Sadly, not all conversion paths are quite this simple, though. To maximise revenue, you have to optimise for conversions at each stage of the customer journey and implement nurturing campaigns for those who aren’t ready to take action.

dining ©mediashotz
Fine dining: Restaurants can use data to analyse the different types of spending customers.

Keep people coming back for more

In difficult times, it makes sense to put most of your effort into regular customers and big spenders.

During the cost of living crisis, this includes customers who are still visiting you regularly and spending plenty of money, even as finances get tighter.

Take a deep dive into your big spenders and break it down into micro-audiences:

  • First-time big spenders: Spent big on the first visit but never came back to your restaurant.
  • Occasional big spenders: Spend plenty when they visit but only return every now and then.
  • Regular big spenders: Consistently spend a lot per booking and visit regularly.
  • Big spenders per visit: Typically spend a lot on each booking, regardless of how often they visit.
  • Annual big spenders: Spend a lot over the course of a year, even if some bookings are smaller.

From here, you can start to consider strategies that re-engage first-time big spenders and bring them back on board. More importantly, you can also look at the regular big spenders and how to maximise revenue from them.

The more customer data you have access to, the more informed your marketing decisions will be. Instead of simply guessing and hoping things work out.

In turn, this will help you hold on to your most important customers for longer, boosting revenues and keeping your kitchen busy with orders.