Google Ads for restaurants: beginners guide

google ads for restaurants

When was the last time you called to book a restaurant? If it was recently, then you’re old school. With all the apps and booking forms on the website, calling the restaurant seems like a thing of the past. And how you market the restaurant also changed. If you’re not using Google ads, you’re missing potential reservations.


When you use Google Ads right, it’s like having a magic wand that drives traffic, pumps up your brand awareness, and boosts sales faster than a double espresso on a Monday morning. So, buckle up because we’re about to dive headfirst into the wild world of Google Ads for restaurants. We will explore its superpowers and give you the secret sauce for squeezing every last drop of potential out of it.


Importance of digital marketing for restaurants

We live in a world that’s all about the internet and social media, right? And if you’re running a restaurant, you’ve got to be in on this game. It’s not just about cooking up killer food or having a cool spot anymore. You’ve got to be online. You’ve got to be digital.


Digital marketing, it’s like this beast that can help your restaurant reach out to more people, connect with them instantly, and even tailor your message to the right crowd. And the best part? It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. It’s a smart way to get your name out there, attract new customers, and keep your regulars returning for more.


So whether it’s posting mouth-watering photos on Instagram, getting awesome reviews online, or using targeted ads, digital marketing is a powerful tool that can help your restaurant thrive in this crazy, competitive world.


It will help you to:

  • Reach More People
  • Quick Interaction
  • Targeted Messaging
  • Cost-Friendly
  • Attract and Retain Customers

If you don’t want to loose your customers, sooner or later you will have to include digital marketing into your daily life.



Understanding Google Ads

Before we jump into strategies and “how tos”, let’s quickly go over what Google Ads is. It’s a robust advertising platform that allows businesses to create targeted ads that appear on Google’s search engine results pages (or SERPs) and other Google properties. It mainly operates on a pay-per-click (PPC) model, meaning you only pay when a user clicks on your ad. Although it has other bidding strategies as well. We will get into that later.


When some one enters any word or phrase (called keyword) into Google search you get results. Some of them are ads and the other ones are organic. If you have searched something on Google, and I’m sure you have, you definitely saw how Google Search Ads look like.

Here’s one example:


Organic results are the outcome of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This is when you optimize your website to get higher positions. This gives you free traffic, but depending on the competition it might take a lot of time. And at the end of the day it’s not entirely free as you need to spend some money and hire a person.


Ads are marked by a Sponsored word next to each. And they can be shown for any keyword entered into Google Search. For example, you can choose to bid on the keyword “fish and chips near me”. As soon as someone enters that phrase, your ad might come up.


There was (maybe still is) a saying that if you’re not on Google you’re invisible. And even though there are other channels like Facebook and TikTok, Google still packs a powerful punch. There are about 99 000 searches per second on Google or 8.5 billion a day. Can you imagine that volume?

You definitely need to be a part of it.

Look at all the people searching for “italian restaurants in new york” and related terms:


italian restaurants in new york

You can capitalize on that, and make sure your ad is in front of those users. And the competition is low.


What I like most about Google Ads is that you can measure your success. You can track the most important actions that people do on your website. These actions are called conversions and you can see what keyword and what ad drove that conversion. It makes a lot easier to see if your ads are working or not without spending a fortune.


I should mention, that within Google Ads account, you can create many different campaign types: Search, Display, Youtube, Shopping. This article focuses only on Search campaigns.


Benefits of Google Ads for Restaurants

If you’re still not convinced of how Google Ads can help your restaurant business, here are some of the benefits:


Targeted Advertising
Google Ads allows you to target your ads based on specific parameters. For example, you can target ads based on keywords that potential customers might use when searching for a restaurant, such as “Italian restaurant” or “best pizza near me.” You can also target ads based on geographic location, ensuring that your ads are seen by people in your local area. Additionally, you can schedule your ads to run during specific times of the day, such as during lunch or dinner hours, when people are most likely to be looking for a restaurant.


With Google Ads, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. This pay-per-click model ensures that your marketing budget is used efficiently. You can set a maximum bid for how much you’re willing to pay for a click, giving you control over your advertising costs. Plus, you can track the performance of your ads to see which ones are generating the most clicks (or conversions) and adjust your strategy accordingly.


Measurable Results
One of the key strengths of Google Ads is its measurability. The platform provides detailed analytics that allow you to track the performance of your ads. You can see how many people have seen your ad, how many have clicked on it, and how many have taken a desired action (conversion), such as making a reservation or placing an order. This data can help you fine-tune your ads and make informed decisions about your marketing strategy.


Increased Visibility
Google Ads can significantly boost your restaurant’s online visibility. When a potential customer searches for a restaurant on Google, your ad can appear at the top of the search results, making it one of the first things they see. This increased visibility can help attract more customers to your restaurant. Even if the user did not click the ad, they might have noticed your brand name.


Competitive Advantage
Google Ads can give your restaurant a competitive edge. By bidding on keywords related to your restaurant and your competitors, you can ensure that your ads appear when potential customers are searching for dining options in your area. This can help you stand out from your competitors and attract more customers.



Getting Started with Google Ads


Setting up a Google Ads account

Google Ads account is free, and you can create it at any time. Let’s walk through how to create an account and how to add your payment details so you can pay for the ads.

Since Google Ads is a part of Google products, you need a Gmail account. You can use your existing personal email or create a new one just for the Ads account. There is no difference, but some people keep their personal email separate from stuff like ads, social media profiles, etc.


If you change your mind, you can transfer your Google Ads account ownership to anyone if you change your mind.


Go to and click on Start now. You will be taken through many steps that will eventually end up being your first campaign. This is because all new accounts default to what is called a smart mode, which is a lightweight version of Google ads. It will start with this question:


creating google ads account

I’m not going to put every step here as there is no point in that. Also, Google often changes the way you create your first campaign. You will go through ad creation, keywords, adding your website, budget, etc. When going through the steps, select or pick anything to proceed further. We won’t be using that campaign anyway.


There is one thing you should know beforehand, payment methods.

There are three main payment options: automatic, manual, and monthly invoicing. Larger companies usually use the latter as there is a $5000 minimum spend for three months.


Manual payments. You pay your desired amount up front, and then you can run ads and spend that amount. Once you’ve finished it, the ads will stop running until you add more funds by making a manual top-up. It’s pretty straightforward, but you have to log in to your account to do that.


Automatic payments. After you start your ads, you will get charged automatically. Google charges you either on the first day of each month or when you reach a threshold. This threshold starts low but increases with time if you reach it before the next month. Google sort of adapts to your spending to adjust the threshold.


The critical difference between those two methods is that with manual payments, you must keep an eye on your account to notice when the budget is running low and top up the account.
You must pause the ads with automatic payments if you don’t want them running. Otherwise, they will keep running until you have funds on your credit card.


You can set up a monthly invoice if you are eligible. Usually, it is done by an account manager. I wouldn’t worry about it now since you have to grow your spending and your business to spend more than $5000 per month.

You will need a credit card or bank account, except for invoice payment. The payment methods can differ by country as well.

Once you’re done with all the steps, you will end up on the overview screen.


google ads overview screen


On the right side top menu, find Settings, click and select expert mode. But remember, you can’t go back to a lightweight version.

After doing that, go and create another campaign. Should be a big plus button in the All campaigns view.


Understanding Google Ads interface

You probably won’t be using all the features Google Ads offers. On a daily basis, you will spend your time managing your campaigns, going through keywords, creating ads, and, once a month, getting your invoice.


But you need to understand how to navigate your account and how the whole thing is structured.

When you log in to your account, all your settings are on the right side top corner. When you click Tools and Settings, you will get a bunch of options:

google ads account settings


I highlighted the ones you will use most.

You will also notice that these options are grouped into columns so that you can easily find what you’re looking for.

For example, the common question is, “where can I find my invoices or make payments?”. Well, that’s under billing. You see transactions and documents.You can also add/change a payment method there.


I will also reveal a little tip. You can use the search option at the top. I think Google did a pretty good job of making it work. Just enter “billing” or anything else, and you instantly get results:


search in google ads account


You might have also noticed Reports in the menu. This is where you can create various reports. But to be honest with you, I don’t like it that much. Between Google Analytics and Looker, both free, I’m not sure why you would also need it here.


Creating Your First Google Ads Campaign



Choosing the right keywords

Keywords are the key here. Because your ads will be shown only if your keywords match users’ search queries. In other words, if what users enter in Google search match what you have in the account, your ads might be shown.


It is very important to think about your keywords carefully. Start with the most targeted keyword you can think of. For example, let’s imagine you have a Sushi restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. One of the main keywords would be “sushi restaurant in Brooklyn”. It has location in the phrase, since people are most likely to go the restaurant near where they live or work.


Additional keywords might be anything with an adjective:
“great sushi restraurant in Brooklyn”
“cheap sushi restraurant in Brooklyn”
“expensive sushi restraurant in Brooklyn”


Sometimes it works if you have a street name as well, like “sushi restaurant on Atlantic ave”. Most likely there won’t be a lot of people searching like that, but it’s worth to try it.

What you have to avoid is going to broad. For example, using the keywords like “sushi restaurant” or “sushi restaurant in NY”. The first keyword is just to broad. You can only use it if your campaign location is Brooklyn. Otherwise, your ad might be show in the whole state or country and this is not what you want. “sushi restaurant in NY” is a bit better keyword, but still, New York is very big. And you might get people living in Newark and searching for that phrase. Are you sure they will come such a long way? Unless if your restaurant is in the top 10, then maybe.


Start small. You don’t have to pick a lot of keywords. Your goal is to get some traffic flowing and see how it goes. You can always add more keywords later. This way you will not blow your whole budget at the start.


Writing compelling ad copy

Making sure a potential customer sees your ad is just the beginning of an effective campaign – you must also capture that person’s attention and convert them into a click. To do this, we spent time carefully selecting keywords as they trigger ads in search results; however, it requires much more than keyword optimization to make someone take action!


Take a look at this ad. I searched for “sushi restaurant in New York”. This is what I see when I scroll down:



Look at what you have to beat. These results above the ad are organic results, meaning they are not ads. But to a user, it doesn’t matter. It’s all competition in their eyes.

Then look at the ad it self. I searched for “sushi restaurant in New York”. The ad does not tell me that it’s in NY. At least not in the title (blue text). But that is important to me. My eyes are scanning for NYC, NY or New York, because this is where I want to go.


The picture near the ad. Compare it to the result just above. Which one to you looks “sushi’er”? The one above, correct.

It is hard to compete against all of the results, so you have to craft such ad that draws attention. And even though you don’t pay if no one clicks, your goal is not to avoid payment for clicks. Your goal is to get a click and turn it into a reservation.


It can be hard in the beginning to write great ads. You don’t know where to start, what are the requirements and it all looks overwhelming. I get it. Start with something you may already know, your unique selling proposition (USP). Or basically, why are you different?


Here are some points to consider:

Identify What Makes You Stand Out: What does your restaurant offer that others don’t? This could be anything from a unique menu, a special cooking technique, a distinctive dining experience, or a particular theme or ambiance.


Understand Your Customers: Who are your target customers? What are their preferences and needs when it comes to dining? Understanding your customers can help you tailor your USP to meet their expectations.


Consider Your Location: Your location can also be a part of your USP. For example, if you’re located in a historic building or a scenic spot, this can be a unique selling point.


Highlight Quality and Value: If your restaurant sources high-quality, local, or organic ingredients, or if you offer exceptional value for money, these can be strong selling points.


Exceptional Service: If your restaurant prides itself on providing exceptional customer service, this can be a part of your USP.


Chef’s Expertise or Reputation: If your chef has a strong reputation or unique skills, this can be a major selling point.


Awards and Recognition: Any awards or recognition your restaurant has received can be highlighted as part of your USP.


Remember, your USP should be something that sets you apart from your competitors and makes you the preferred choice for your target customers.

I think you’ll do quite good her. I have faith in you.


Now back to Search ads and how to create them. Creating ads is not difficult. They are short text based ads. 3 headlines (30 characters long) and 2 descriptions (90 characters long). That’s a bare minimum.

Your ads have to reflect your keywords. If you want to remember just one thing, this is it.

I don’t want to expand on ads here as I have written a post about Responsive search ads, that contains everything you need to know.



Creating Google ads campaign

When you log in, you should see no campaigns. Find a big plus sign and click on it.


Proceed to create a new campaign, and you should see this next step:


new google ads campaign


This is a template that Google built around your objective. Each of these objectives has pre-defined settings to save you time. I never use it, and I prefer to select my settings. Since you are learning, I recommend doing the same.


Select to create a campaign without any guidance, the last option.

Here you can select your campaign type. Remember earlier we talked that Google Ads has many types, including Youtube, Display, shopping, etc. We now focus only on Search campaigns.


Once you select Search, you will see additional options appear below.


additional setttings


These are the conversion goals you have in your account. You might see none since your account is new. In the future, if you have several, you can remove them from this particular campaign by clicking on the three dots on the right. This removes the goal from the campaign but does not delete it from the account.


If you don’t see anything, don’t worry, you can create (and we will) a conversion later.

After clicking Continue, you will see yet another set of settings. You can skip the first part. Then, you have your campaign name. You can input something that relates to your keywords. The name does not impact the performance, it’s only for you. Otherwise, skip it and rename the campaign later.


Next, you have network selection and locations. Even if you have selected the Search campaign type, you have to unselect the Display network here. It’s a bit confusing, but text ads can appear on some placements in the Display network, so here you can either allow it to happen or not. And you should not. These are two different networks, and you should never mix them.


Moving on to locations. Simply select in what area you want your ads to be shown. Usually, it’s a country. But in the case of restaurants, this should be a city or neighborhood, even a zip code.


location settings


After clicking Next, we’re going into creating an ad group. Your keywords and ads are going into an ad group. Paste here your keywords, or just one keyword. You can add more keywords later as well and rename the ad group if needed.


ad group keywords


Same goes for the ads. You can create ads right in here or write them down just before creating a campaign. It’s up to you. You can see how the ad looks like, also get suggestions from Google.


restaurant ads


Once you’re done with the ads, you will be asked to add assets. Skip it for now.


Then you will be asked to enter a daily budget. It’s up to you, I would say $10-$30 a day should be fine. You can increase or reduce it later. Also, it does not mean that Google will spend all of it everyday. It depends on how many clicks you get and what is the cost per click.


You’re done. Click publish and your campaign will be reviewed. Which usually takes few hours. Maybe a day at most.


Setting up conversions in your account

There are two ways how you can do that. You can either import them from your Google Analytics account or other third parties or you can create a conversion manually and add a code snippet to your website. First, let’s look at how you can manually create a conversion.


Click tools and settings on your top menu and select conversions.



You will be presented with four selections: website, app, phone, or import conversions. At this point, we need to select a website.


conversions type


Next, Google will ask you to enter your website, and it will scan it and try to find any existing conversions. If it finds any, it will recommend importing, which you can do.


conversion domain


For now, let’s imagine you don’t have any conversions created. Scroll down further and select add conversions manually.


no conversions


After selecting to add conversion manually, you will have to select the conversion category.


conversion name


The conversion names or categories are self-explanatory, so I don’t think you’ll have any problems here. Just select a category that is closer to the conversion you are creating, for example, a purchase or a registration. This is just the name, it won’t impact your campaigns.


After selecting the category, click on a blue link that says conversion action optimization options.

This part is very important because you have to choose which of the conversion is your primary action. You can have many conversions in your account, so it is best to select one that is primary, and the rest would be secondary. For example, you can have a purchase conversion and another conversion that is an e-mail subscriber or a registration. Your primary conversion is a purchase, and your e-mail subscriber should be a secondary conversion. This is important because by default all campaigns are optimized toward your primary action. Select which conversion you are creating, and let’s move on.


The conversion name will be pre-filled depending on the category you selected, but you can edit it and input any name you like. It doesn’t change or impact anything in the account it only helps you understand what kind of conversion it is.


conversion value


Conversion value is important if you can track it. You can use either the same value for each conversion; for example, if you have an e-mail subscriber or registration, you can usually assign the same value to all the conversions. If you have an e-commerce store where each purchase has a different value, then you can select the second option that says to use different values for each conversion. The last option is not recommended, so you never leave the value empty.


Next, we have count, which tells Google how to count your conversions.


counting conversions


Once you’re done with the settings, just click save, and you’ll be taken to a screen where you have to select how you’re going to add your tracking code. Google needs to “know” that the conversion happened, which means that a specific script or code snippet will have to be added to your website.


If you select every, then Google will count all the conversions that happened, even those done by the same user. So a good example of that is a purchase because you want to know every purchase that happened, and it doesn’t matter if that was done by the same user or not.


If you select one, then Google will only count one conversion. A great example of that is registration because usually, you have one registration per user. Or a newsletter subscriber.


The last settings should be left as they are because it’s a bit more advanced options.



Once you’re done with the settings, just click save, and you’ll be taken to a screen where you have to select how you’re going to add your tracking code. Google needs to “know” that the conversion happened, which means that a specific script or code snippet will have to be added to your website.


adding conversion pixel


If you know what you are doing, you can add it manually. Google gives you a piece of code that you can insert at the point where conversion happens. Let’s say after someone purchased something, and they’re on a thank you page, or after someone signed up, or after someone subscribed to e-mail. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, and I mean you’re not a developer, you can send instructions to your developer by selecting a different tab. Or you can use Google tag manager, which is another free tool that Google suggests using because it makes adding these types of scripts and conversions a lot easier.


Optimizing Your Google Ads Campaign


I always say that no campaign should be left without optimization. It’s a sure way to loose some money. There are many optimization techniques, but I will focus on the ones that any beginner can do.


Adjusting bids and budgets based on performance

I always suggest to select manual CPC bidding strategy. The reason for this is that you can adjust bids for every keyword. And it works great with lower budgets. However, Google always pushes to try their automatic bidding strategies. Avoid it unless you have at least 200 conversions per campaign. In any case, revisit your keywords and increase or decrease the bids based on their performance. If after a month (assuming you have less popular keywords) a keyword has about 100 clicks and no conversions, you should reduce the bid and keep it for a while longer.


A/B testing for ad optimization

Testing deserves a post on it’s own. But what you can do is to create several ads and see what performs better. You can start with just one ad, but don’t leave it running for a long time as you might be missing potential conversions. Google Ads have a built-in testing capabilities. It’t out of the scope of this post, but you can poke around and find it. Go to All campaigns, and in the midle menu section fine Experimentation.


Yours ads by default are shown on all devices. Click on Campaign and select Devices. You will see how your campaign is performing on each device. You can adjust the bids for any of the device, lowering or increasing the percentage. Check your spend, clicks and conversions. If one of the device is underperforming turn it off or reduce the bid.

With a smaller spend, these methods will help you out a lot.


Common Mistakes to Avoid


Ignoring negative keywords

When you start, you tend to focus on the keywords that trigger your ad. But Google also has a possibility to exclude keywords. For example, you are bidding on the keyword “pizza place in NY”. But Google will also show your ad if someone searches for “cheap pizza place in NY”. But maybe your restaurant is not cheap, meaning that you serve amazing Italian pizzas that cost more than the average. You don’t want customers that are not ready to pay more for pizza. So you can exclude the word “cheap” from your campaigns. By adding it into negative keyword list. Along with any other words you want to exclude.


Go to Campaign > Keywords > Negative keywords



Overlooking ad scheduling

Does your restaurant work 24/7? If not, then you might need ad scheduling. You can save a decent amount by not showing ads when you’re not working. Google Ads allows you to create your own schedule. For example, Monday-Saturday, from 10am – 8pm.

Just got to Campaign > Ad schedule, then add days and hours you want your campaign to run.



Not tracking conversions

You can run your campaigns without knowing if the people who come through ads are bringing you any value. But that would not be very smart. Any business owner wants to know if each dollar they spend has a return.


Adding conversions helps you to answer that question. You can see down to each keyword if they bring value.

Sure, adding conversion tracking for a newbie might be a daunting task. But if you have a website, then you should also be in touch with someone who made it. And they can help you out with conversion tracking.


There should be no excuse NOT to do it.



In the competitive restaurant industry, effective marketing can be the difference between success and failure. Google Ads offers a powerful, cost-effective way to reach potential customers and drive business. By understanding the strengths of Google Ads and implementing the suggestions provided, restaurants can harness the power of this tool to increase their visibility, attract more customers, and ultimately boost their bottom line.


While Google Ads is a powerful tool, it’s important to remember that it’s just one piece of the marketing puzzle. It should be used as part of a larger, integrated marketing strategy that includes other digital marketing tactics, such as social media marketing, email marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO). By leveraging the strengths of Google Ads and integrating it effectively into your overall marketing strategy, you can set your restaurant up for success in the digital age.







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