The Secret Ingredient Your Restaurant Marketing Is Missing

Restaurant Marketing, Digital ordering, Order ahead, LevelUp, CRM, Mobile Ordering

I’ll let you in on some not-so-secret news. The restaurant industry is oversaturated. It’s hard to stand apart from the hundreds of thousands of other brands who are serving up a similar product to the same groups of people. It’s a struggle.

But you can set your restaurant marketing apart.

Serving a great product is a given. Your food needs to be fresh and prepared properly. Your locations need to be clean and your staff needs to be well trained.

With that foundation set, you can start to build out what makes you different from the sea of restaurants that surround you. At the end of the day, it comes down to your marketing and how you incorporate one important ingredient: empathy.

What is Empathy?

In the dictionary, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Forbes describes empathy in the context of marketing as “putting your audience’s needs before your own, putting yourself in their shoes to understand the challenges they face. In short: empathetic marketing considers your audience before your messaging.”

Why is Empathy Essential to Your Success?

Harnessing empathy to attract and retain guests isn’t a new concept. Even though you’re a marketer, you’re a consumer too. Think of the brands that you love the most: what are they doing to make an awful, inconvenient or unpleasant part of your life better?

Reduce your audience’s pain and frustration, and your brand automatically becomes the hero.”

Here are a few examples:


Restaurant Marketing, Digital ordering, Order ahead, LevelUp, CRM, Mobile Ordering
Boxed is a service that delivers bulk goods right to your door. They took a stand against the “pink tax” which makes female-branded products like razors and tampons significantly more expensive than male-branded products.

Boxed is using empathy by sacrificing profit to show solidarity with its female buyers.


Restaurant Marketing, Digital ordering, Order ahead, LevelUp, CRM, Mobile Ordering

You know them, you love them. Levi’s is a clothing brand that’s famous for jeans. In their recent “Circles” commercial, Levi’s featured people with very different appearances (age, religion, race etc.) dancing to the same song.

The commercial inspires customers to have empathy for one another in an often divided world that’s at the forefront of our politics and media today.

Levi’s understood their customers’ desire for togetherness and delivered their marketing message accordingly.  


Restaurant Marketing, Digital ordering, Order ahead, LevelUp, CRM, Mobile Ordering

I borrowed this one from the marketing gurus over a Hubspot. J.Crew created a guide for how to get (and dress for) the job you want.  J.Crew customers shop for clothing that will help them make a great first impression.

J.Crew is meeting customers halfway by taking the guesswork out of what to buy.

How Can My Restaurant Get On Board?

I’m so happy you asked. It’s scientifically proven that food and emotion are linked, so you’re already primed for success. Let’s talk about other tactics you can use to fold empathy into your restaurant marketing mix and bring your business into guests’ hearts:

Value Their Time as Much as They Do

I am a fast casual restaurant devotee because my time is absolutely essential to me. I love to catch a workout class, catch up on reading or take a walk during my lunch hour. I need my food fast, and I’m loyal to the businesses who allow me to maximize the 40 or so minutes a day I get to myself.

For me, it’s sneaking in some personal time. For others, it might mean getting to talk to their kids on the phone between meetings, or making it to a therapy appointment.

Restaurants who understand the importance of empathy are dreaming up creative ways to give people their meal time back. As you’ve probably heard, Domino’s gives guests more than 15 ways to order pizza. They also brought the 25 steps it used to take to submit an order down to a svelte 5. All of these innovations result in more time back to the customer to spend how they choose.

Brands like Starbucks, Potbelly, Cava and Tropical Smoothie Cafe are also time hacking with technology. By crafting digital touchpoints where guests can place an order and pick it up in-store, you can get customers in and out of the physical location in a matter of minutes.  

Show Your Appreciation

Bestselling author Brene Brown asserts that “empathy fuels connection”. Connection to your restaurant is exactly what you need to convert so-so guests into brand evangelists. A fast track to getting there with restaurant marketing is by showing appreciation.

Think about that last person who took the time to really show their appreciation for you. Maybe it was a heartfelt thank you note from a loved one. Maybe it was a meal out or a gift in exchange for a time you went above and beyond.

You can take the warm feeling that comes with being seen and inspire that in your guests.

For example, Subway ran a promotion for “customer appreciation day” which offered guests $2 subs. Other businesses foster appreciation in a more one-to-one manner. Boston-favorite Flour sends their most loyal patrons a personalized note and swag items to show gratitude for them continuing to visit. 

Tell a Story That Aligns with Guests’ Values

Empathy is understanding and sharing the feelings of others. Your values align with how you feel about and take on the important parts of your life.

I was recently in the market for new glasses. I shopped around and narrowed my choices down to frames from 4 or 5 different companies. I ended up buying from Warby Parker, not only because I loved the style, I loved that they give a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair purchased.

Brands who incorporate empathy into their marketing identify their guests’ values and clearly show that they are important to them too. sweetgreen clearly lists where each of their salad ingredients was sourced, which is important to folks who care about the environment and supporting local businesses.

Another restaurant who appeals to guests’ values is Chipotle, whose transparency about fair pay for employees and focus on management promotion from within brings people in for more than just the burritos.

The most important lesson of all: understand your guests and who they are as humans. When you know that, you can take your marketing strategy to new heights.

Download our guide below to learn what information you should be collecting and how to use it below:


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Jackie Cooke

Jackie Cooke

Jacqueline Cooke is the Digital Content Marketing Manager at LevelUp. She's a firm believer in the power of avocado toast and chocolate chip banana pancakes. When she’s not trying out LevelUp partner restaurants (hello, Dig Inn!) you can find her dreaming up travel plans, trying out a new workout class or listening to her laundry list of podcasts. Read about her latest antics at

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