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Using Facebook Ads To Get A Restaurant Off The Ground

August 24, 2016

Written by: Jeff Kauflin

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In early 2014, Dean and Beth Kessel bought the franchise rights to open a Famous Toastery, a North Carolina-based breakfast and lunch restaurant. To prepare for a successful launch, Dean wanted to start building an audience months before the cafe’s doors opened. He knew his prospective customers were on Facebook — as of 2014, 48% of American Internet users were logging on — and that he could target them precisely with the social medium. Dean first created a Facebook page and started posting on it in March, even though the restaurant wouldn’t open until October.

The Kessels’ goal was to tell a story. “People get so inundated with ads,” he says. “We wanted to make the story about me and my wife. We’re here locally. Local-owned is big in our market.” In early June, Dean posted a picture of the gutted building where his cafe was going to open. “Demolition starts today!” the caption read. A post of Famous Toastery’s (then called Toast Cafe) new sign followed in July. In September he wrote, “The wait is almost over — we’re putting the final touches in,” drawing over 50 likes.

To build a following for the restaurant’s Facebook page, the Kessels each posted on their personal Facebook profiles. Dean promoted it to his LinkedIn connections. Whisk, the cookware store that sat next to the Famous Toastery’s future location, even posted on its Facebook page to promote its neighbor. The Kessels’ page acquired more than 400 fans.

“Facebook did a lot for us early on—it built anticipation,” Dean says. “It showed our momentum and how we were building. Our customer base likes that approachability.” During the construction phase, some people who had seen the posts stopped by to check in on the cafe’s progress.

Dean began running online ads in early August to drive more traffic to the Facebook page. He used social media software company Likeable Local to help kick off and automate the process. In targeting his Facebook ads, the franchisee homed in on ZIP codes located within a five-to-eight-mile radius of his cafe. He also targeted women, since he expected them to dominate his customer base.

Few people in Cary had heard of the Famous Toastery before the opening, since the other locations were more than a two-hour drive away in Charlotte. In the two months leading up to the launch, Dean spent about $2,500 on ads—less than one-third of the $8,000 to $10,000 he says is typical to spend on traditional media for a restaurant opening, and just 2% of his expected first-month sales. About half of his budget went to Facebook ads, while the other half went to Google search ads. Some of his most effective Google keywords were “restaurant in cary,” “cary cafe,” and “cafe in cary nc.” By the time the cafe opened in early October, Dean had doubled his Facebook fans to more than 800.

Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local, adds a word of caution about using Facebook to acquire customers who have never heard of your business. He notes that it takes time—it took Dean’s business months to build a following. The key is to “get people to pay attention before they’re willing to spend money,” Kerpen says. Otherwise, if you need to acquire customers within a shorter timeframe, he suggests using Facebook ads that offer promotional discounts.

Dean’s sales objective for the first four weeks was about $115,000, based on what the other Famous Toastery stores in Charlotte were making. The Kessels beat that goal by 10%, grossing $125,000 in October. On weekends during those first four weeks, wait times were common. Dean thinks Facebook and Google were equally effective in driving customers to his store. He also experimented with Twitter and Pinterest but didn’t see substantial engagement.

He is happy with how the overall business performed last year. It reached $1.6 million in sales, and he expects to grow that number by 20% in 2016. He’s also considering opening another location.

Dean now spends about $300 to $500 a month on advertising, most of it on Facebook. “It’s maintenance right now,” he says. Over time, engagement on his Facebook page has plateaued. “We had a big push in the beginning. Now it’s on us to create good content.” He recently brought someone into the cafe to do face-painting for kids and posted about it on Facebook. “The engagement on that was crazy good,” he says.

But at this stage, word of mouth and customer experience are king. Explains Dean, “The best advertising is current customers recommending our place to friends, family and colleagues, and those current customers continuing to come back.”