By Rieva Lesonsky

Do you dream of starting a restaurant? Or maybe you already own one. Millions of Americans are enthralled with the idea of starting a restaurant, but the reality can be very different from the fantasy. It takes hard work and a smart marketing plan to succeed—especially in today’s economy.

If you’re looking for a marketing plan to help you succeed at starting a restaurant, you’ll want to check out a recent National Restaurant Association study on what type of marketing works best for restaurant owners. Here’s what the organization found:

Online marketing can boost a restaurant’s brand and attract new customers.

  • Restaurants that use online marketing tools such as emails, daily deals or websites tend to be viewed by consumers as “modern” (67 percent emails, 59 percent daily deals, 65 percent websites) and “popular” (63 percent, 59 percent, 63 percent).
  • Restaurant owners say the most effective ways of attracting new customers are websites (90 percent), TV ads (87 percent), social media (84 percent), restaurant emails (82 percent) and daily deals (77 percent).

Customized marketing messages tailored to the customer’s preferences lead to more sales.

  • Some 87 percent of consumers would visit or order from a restaurant if they got a savings offer; 95 percent of restaurant owners believe savings offers are effective marketing tools.
  • Consumers would go to or order from a restaurant if they received customized marketing messages that: referenced past visits (68 percent), allowed them to make reservations (66 percent), and identified them by name (64 percent).

Restaurant owners know what marketing tools work; they just need to implement them in their marketing plan.

  • 84 percent of restaurant owners think restaurant-specific marketing emails help increase revenue, and 78 percent of consumers said an email from a restaurant would motivate them to visit that restaurant. Some 63 percent of restaurant owners say they plan to use such emails in the next year.
  • 78 percent of restaurant owners think daily deals work to boost revenue for their restaurants, and 69 percent of consumers said an email from a daily deal provider would motivate them to visit the restaurant featured in the daily deal. Forty percent of operators say they plan to use daily deals in the next year.

Online advertising and social media were less effective.

  • I was surprised by this response, but consumers say the least effective ways to get them to visit a restaurant are online advertisements (58 percent), social media (56 percent) and radio ads (56 percent). Apparently, these methods still aren’t perceived as personalized or targeted enough.

If your restaurant marketing plan isn’t getting the desired results, maybe you need to take note of these results.