How to market your restaurant in Dubai

Living in Dubai is pretty awesome, have to admit. For me with my adherence to a Halal diet, it’s especially awesome because, well, I can eat everything (just about).

I can choose between every kind of cuisine available and not worry about it being permissible. So that’s a huge plus for me. Maybe it’s a foodie paradise, maybe it’s just because I don’t need to think twice about food because everything gets delivered at just about any hour of the day or night.

That being said, food is probably the most competitive space in Dubai. I see places come and go in a heartbeat, some that endure and chug along slowly and of course the multi nationals that come in heavy and are undeterred by any competition. But what I find most interesting is the way all these smaller outfits open and close, often without even making a dent in the market. It’s like, they had every reason to become bigger (not McDonald’s big) but just missed their chance.

Putting aside boring menus, terrible customer service and poor cashflow management, I see huge problems in the marketing department. I won’t go out as far as saying that this is the sole reason why these outlets failed but I will say that I’ll be damned if this was what they needed to fix in order keep their doors open.

See, I base this on the many places I’ve seen in my area that have come and gone like a fart in the wind. Putting aside my beloved Quiznos which belonged to a global chain, there’s been lots of small operators who came in with big ambitions and simply failed to market themselves adequately. They didn’t tell enough people, they didn’t scream loud enough and they were simply content being wallflowers. It’s like they wanted to keep their business a secret or something.

Every outlet needs a website and a rock solid social media presence. So many fail to even get a presence beyond an account with Zomato, and even then they mismanage that. It’s so easy to go online and maintain your website that resto owners have no excuses to get this done.

I firmly believe that Instagram is where a huge focus should go if you’re in the food business. People eat with their eyes and I know people who follow restaurants they’ve never been to but intend on going to, purely because of the photos (ok so that’s just me but I’m not alone I’m sure). You could and should invest in a phone with a great camera and leave that solely for the purposes of marketing your wares online. Save your smudged, cracked celly for your personal life – business is serious and your photos need to be first class.

I recommend going old school with flyer drops too. It actually works, not because I’m an easy target, but because it’s legit. Think about the number of times delivery people have left menus and flyers in your door. My neighbours must love Freedom Pizza a lot because I have their collateral hanging from my door all the time (and so does the rest of the floor). It’s old school but it works! I actually ordered a fair few times because I noticed a different pizza on the front and thought I’d give it a try. I work in marketing so I can see past the fluff (see! not a soft target).

Freedom do have the luxury of some decent financial backing and a large-ish footprint in the local market so they can afford to do all sorts of cool ‘ish but there’s no reason your place can’t do the same. I will say that you should avoid sticking your flyers on cars lest you be thrown into the same bucket with the massage parlour card guys.

Seriously. Look at your humble restaurant. Think about the many reasons why you got into business in the first place. Go beyond ‘fresh ingredients’ because everyone says that they only use fresh ingredients. It’s stale (geddit?).

It’s not hard to just follow the big guns and see how they shoot photos, market their offers and promote their brand. Take a leaf out of their books and actually invest time into selling your stuff. This involves more than just community management on Zomato (yes I know, lots of reviewers are entitled snobs). Actually get the word out and tell people you exist. In fact, here’s what you need to do if you’re going into or are new to the food business in Dubai or anywhere else for that matter, really:

  1. Get your stuff sorted out with the likes of Zomato and Talabat et al. People use them so you kinda have to be there. Just do it.
  2. Get a website together. Keep it very simple, aim to sell with photos and please have both HTML and PDF versions of your menu available. And for the love of all that is beautiful in this world, please hire an SEO consultant in Dubai. Do not leave ‘getting found in Google’ to chance!
  3. Get on Instagram. Facebook is important too and hey maybe even Twitter. Just know that you have to be consistent and fresh with social media. Leave it dormant for too long and it doesn’t make you look good. Got it? now get posting. Sell the sizzle, not the sausage!
  4. Get some printed collateral made up. Every time someone does a delivery, get them to leave it in the building lobby or hang on doors (if it’s designed that way). Don’t litter and don’t break any rules! Hand them out to passersby if it’s allowed and you’ve got the footfall.
  5. Get talking. Tell people about your business. Don’t go all braggy. Just be honest and start promoting the beautiful food you make. Drool worthy photos that are totally Instagrammable are absolutely key. Make people want to come to your restaurant so that it looks good for the ‘gram. Of course, make good food too but right now, it’s all about #instagoals.

If you build it, they will not come. Because they are too busy looking at their phones. So get in their grill and show them what they’re missing out on. You got dis. *fist bump*

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