Google Ads For Restaurants: Profitably Grow New Customers Now

by Toby

May 8, 2024

Google Ads for Restaurants

Tired of Ads That Don’t Profitably Bring in Customers? 

Restaurants have it tough:
Tight marketing budgets, overwhelming digital tools, and it's hard to know if your marketing efforts are actually paying off. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone.

If you’re a busy restaurant owner or manager lacking the time or expertise to tackle Google Ads, this post outlines the strategy for profitably driving customers through your doors. 

Want proof this works?

Let me share a quick success story. In just one month, we helped a trendy chic restaurant get 210% more Friday and Saturday night reservations and orders (see chart below). 

The secret?

A smart Google Ads strategy reached the right diners at the right time, focusing on the desired conversion actions (reservations, in-store visits, phone calls, driving directions). 

Want to know how we did it?

Keep reading as I lay out the strategy we use (along with other success examples).

Google Ads for Restaurants

Google Ads for Restaurants: Conversion Data

In this post, I will demonstrate how to set up winning Google Ads campaigns that increase sales and profitably bring in new and repeat customers. 

I will cover:

  • How to set up Google Ads campaigns that bring in profitable new customers
  • The simple strategies that ensure your ads turn into actual sales
  • How to track your results and understand what's driving your success

I will cover a bit of strategy, but then drill down to practical implementation of how to implement successful campaigns for your restaurant with real example cases. 

Ready to turn your Google Ads into a profit machine? Let's get started.

Why Google Ads Work for Restaurants

Remember this about Google: It's one of the first places people go to find a restaurant near them. It’s also the number one search engine and the number one navigation and maps app for everyone.

Why would you not want to show your restaurant to these people? 

No other marketing tactic or channel provides access to a constant stream of pre-qualified leads 24 hours a day, 7 days per week quite like Google. 

The fact that a potential customer must type in search phrases, like “pizza near me,” or “nice restaurant near me” or "vegan restaurant" that is specific to your restaurant means they are a warm, pre-qualified leads. What other marketing channel provides access to customers who have self-selected themselves as wanting food and service from your restaurant?

But without the correct implementation, it’s easy to waste your time and money.

Google Ads Wants You to Succeed

Understandably, many people unaware of how Google Ads works don’t realize that the platform offers many tools to achieve success, however you define success—usually, that means, am I profitably generating sales from my ads?

Consider that one of Google Ads’ campaign objectives is designed to maximize conversions - such as, store visits, online orders, reservations requests, driving directions, phone calls, and any other action you define as a conversion for your restaurant. (related post here on conversion tracking in Google Ads)

Through machine learning, the campaign optimizes to achieve the goal and reduce any ad spend that doesn't achieve that goal, which means efficient and effective campaigns. 

Google has far more data than we will ever know about potential customers and it uses that data to identify who is most likely to achieve our goals. What that means is, more sales and more profit for you as a restaurant advertiser. 

How Do Google Ads Work? Campaign Types

Google ads work in two basic ways - Search and Display:

Search Ads

These are text ads that show when searchers type keywords into Google search, Google Maps (or Google search partners).

Google Ads for Restaurants Best Practices PDF Guide

Chock full of insider secrets and tips to make your restaurant campaigns a smashing success! 

Here's an example...

Google Ads and Google Search Results for "Pizza Near Me" Search Results

Google Ads and Google Search Results for "Pizza Near Me" Search Results

Toby Danylchuk, 39 Celsius Web Marketing Consulting

Toby Danylchuk

Why Your Digital Plumbing Set Up Is Essential

Tracking key actions taken by your customers - such as placing online orders, click-to-call, driving directions, Open Table reservations, and viewing your menu - is necessary to create profitable campaigns. Customer actions can then be passed back to your campaigns to deliver even more sales. You can read more in a related post here

For Google Search ads, you, as a restaurant advertiser, bid on keywords you choose that are specific to your business.

Here’s another example:
 the keyword phrase: “Best hamburgers in San Diego,” or, “Mexican restaurant near me.” For each niche, there are dozens and hundreds of keyword variations. And Google's Keyword Planner - a free tool inside Google Ads - helps you identify the most valuable search terms.

Take a look at the example below for "Mexican Restaurant near me." There are more than 4000 keyword variations! All those variations allow you to find your ideal customer. 

Google Ads Keyword Planner - Restaurant Search Terms

Google Ads Keyword Planner - Restaurant Search Terms

When someone clicks on your ads, you are charged the cost-per-click (CPC), and the searcher is taken to your website, or a call is initiated to your restaurant, or even driving directions, for example.

Here’s an example of a search ad on a mobile device:


Google Search Ad Example With Sitelinks, Location Extensions

With mobile ads, customers can take a number of actions - click-to-call you directly, click for driving directions, or click through to your landing page or website where they can learn more or order online. 

The above ad also highlights an important benefit of Google Ads over organic non-paid listings: ads often have the best screen real estate at the top of a mobile device. 

Remember that the majority of your customers are searching on mobile devices, not desktops.

Now that doesn't mean the organic listings below the ads don't matter, they do. And your most effective strategy is one that uses SEO to rank your restaurant in non-paid listings combined with ads at the top of the page. 

After all, the more spots on the first page that you occupy (paid and organic), the more likely that you win a new customer - the equivalent analogy is like the shelf space at a grocery store: the more space you occupy, the more likely you win the sale, and the less opportunity a competitor has.

Display Ads

These are ads that are images, videos, or text that show on other websites or within other Google channels outside of Google Search or Google Maps. 

The best analogy for Display Ads is that they are like billboard ads on the highway - people see them while browsing other sites. Display Ads are not targeted based on search keywords, but instead use other signals - interests, behaviors, demographics, and machine learning - to decide who to show your ads to.

Here’s an example of a Display Ad on Yahoo Finance:

Google Ads Restaurant Display Ad Example

Google Ads Restaurant Display Ad Example

With Display Ads, as in Search Ads, you are also charged on a per-click basis and only when someone clicks on your ad.

Here’s a list of the other Google channels ads can show with Display campaigns:

  • Ads on other websites
  • YouTube
  • Gmail

I do not recommend running stand-alone Display campaigns (i.e. a campaign that only runs your ads on Display, or only on YouTube) unless it’s for remarketing purposes and you’re retargeting people that have either purchased from you in the past, or visited your website and not purchased.

So, enough of the background on Google Ads. The two must-have core campaigns that produce measurable results in the form of sales and profit are Search and Performance Max, which I cover below. 

Your Proven Google Ads Strategy for Restaurants 

What’s most important to most restaurateurs is that advertising profitably increases sales and grows bottom-line profit. 

High-Level Overview - Two Campaign Strategy

Our approach to Google Ads for restaurants prioritizes a proven dual-pronged campaign strategy for maximum reach (brand awareness) and increased sales and profit. 

We don't just attract new customers - we create pathways to turn them into loyal regulars that have a lifetime value greater than one sale. And to squeeze the most value out of our ad spend, we run two campaigns together - Search and Performance Max. 

First Campaign: Keyword-Focused Search Ads

First, we leverage targeted Search campaigns designed to capture new diners actively searching for restaurants like yours. Hyperlocal geotargeting and carefully researched keywords ensure your ads appear when hunger strikes and diners are seeking options in your area.

Search ads appear in Google Searches and Google Maps. What’s most important to understand about why Search campaigns are effective is that the intent of the customer is very clear - we know the person searching is interested and ready to act because they used keywords to find us, such as, “restaurant near me,” “pizza near me.” 

Second Campaign: Performance Max

Simultaneously, we employ Performance Max campaigns to amplify visibility and drive both new and repeat business and leverage its machine learning to drive more people through the door. 

This powerful campaign type uses machine learning to optimize ads across Search, Display, YouTube, Gmail, and Discover (Google Discover - this is part of Google Search but shows content based on the searcher’s interests, or web and App - learn more here about Discover). 

We carefully segment audiences to tailor messaging, re-engaging past customers with enticing offers while reaching similar potential diners.

Using this two-campaign approach is what we refer to as a full-funnel approach - we’re targeting people at the top and middle of the funnel with Performance Max (ads that show across many Google channels where the intent is not as strong as Search), and then also at the bottom of the marketing funnel with the Search campaigns that target only people actively searching using keywords. 

Here are all the campaign types available in Google Ads - you need Search and Performance Max for the strategy we’re recommending (read our related post on Performance Max vs Search):

Google Ads for Restaurants - Campaign Options Types

Google Ads for Restaurants - Campaign Options Types

Important Campaign Tactics

Hyperlocal Geotargeting: Putting Your Restaurant on the Map  

Zero in on diners in your immediate area using advanced location targeting. Often this means a 3 - 5 mile radius. This ensures your ads are seen by people ready to order takeout, make a reservation, or find a nearby place to eat. 

Google Ads for Restaurants - Geotargeting Ads

Google Ads for Restaurants - Geotargeting Ads

Toby Danylchuk

Discover How Our Agency Can Drive More Leads and Sales To You

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Paid Ads - Google Ads and Paid Social Media

Dayparting for Maximum Impact: Reaching Diners When They're Hungry  

There's no point advertising breakfast specials at the evening rush hour. Identify the peak times for meal searches and schedule your ads accordingly, maximizing your ad spend. Or, if you only do brunch, for example, set your ads only to run right before and during brunch hours. You can also set your campaigns to run ONLY on certain days of the week. So if you’re busy on Friday, don’t run ads then. (more here on dayparting in Google Ads https://www.39celsius.com/google-ads-scheduling-dayparting-increasing-your-leads-sales/)

Google Ads Dayparting Strategy

Google Ads Dayparting Strategy

Ad Extensions to Drive Actions (known as Assets as well inside Google Ads): More Than Just Text 

Supercharge your ads with clickable phone numbers, location extensions for easy directions, menu links (sitelinks), and special offer promotions. These turn passive viewers into customers. Location extensions are particularly important to add as they allow people to click to find you and call you. Plus, with location extensions enabled in Assets, your campaign will report on in-store visits from your ads.

Google Ads for Restaurants: Ad Extensions

Google Ads for Restaurants: Ad Extensions

Google Ads Campaign Jumpstart

Want us to jumpstart your Google Ad Campaign? We'll handle all the setup

Customer Lists and Retargeting 

Leverage the customer data you have from your POS and online orders to retarget past customers. When loaded into Google Ads Audiences, Customer lists are matched to profiles Google has of your customers for retargeting. Retargeting campaigns can be used to promote your latest LTOs (limited-time offers) to bring people back to your location. You can also retarget past website visitors too.

Add Negative Keyword Terms: Avoiding Wasted Clicks 

Removing unwanted search terms in your Search campaign will further refine your campaign and improve its effectiveness. You can do this by running a Search Terms Report and adding negative search terms from that report to your Search campaign. 

Google Ads for Restaurants: Adding Negative Keywords

Google Ads for Restaurants: Adding Negative Keywords


Estimated CPCs (cost per click) For Restaurant Search Terms

Success Stories - Case Studies

Healthy Fast-Food Restaurants

This first case study is of a healthy fast-food chain that we work with that has multiple locations. Average order is $15. 

We ran both Search and Pmax simultaneously for one location as a test. 

Running both campaigns simultaneously is a full-funnel approach, and the campaigns work together to produce the most leads at the lowest cost. 

Search is bottom-of-the-funnel driven by keyword searches, and Pmax is broader awareness (mid to upper funnel) targeting both new and repeat customers, along with searchers from the Search campaign.

Search Campaign Results
Google Ads for Restaurants - Search Campaign - Fast Food Conversions

Google Ads for Restaurants - Search Campaign - Fast Food Conversions

Performance Max Results
Google Ads for Restaurants - Performance Max Campaign - Fast Food: Performance Max Conversions

Google Ads for Restaurants - Performance Max Campaign - Fast Food: Performance Max Conversions

Interpretation of the Results

Both campaigns are generating a nice volume of conversion actions coming from Google Ads. 

One thing that stands out is that the cost per conversion for the Search campaign is much higher than it is with the Performance Max campaign, but this makes sense because Search is more competitive since we’re bidding only on keywords that searchers are using. 

In comparison, Performance Max can show ads in Search as well, but much of the results are driven from other Google channels, such as showing the ads in YouTube, Display (i.e. on other websites), Gmail, and the Google Discover mobile app. Access to a larger amount of ad inventory allows the campaign to lower costs in many cases. 

Also, you will notice a column for View Through Conversions in the PMax campaign. View Through conversions count conversions where a customer only saw the ad, did not click on the ad, but converted at a later point in time. Google Ads keeps track of this to show that the ad was effective in getting your attention and encouraging you to buy, even if it wasn't immediate. This helps businesses understand the value of showing you ads, even if you don't click right away.

And because the Pmax campaign has broader exposure to many types of ad inventory across Google channels, it’s more likely to record a view-through conversion than a Search campaign. 

Should We Only Run Performance Max if the Results Are Better Than Search?

This is a logical question, but remember these campaigns are working together, not in isolation so I typically see better overall results from running the campaigns simultaneously. 

Search captures people searching now, while Performance Max is leveraging machine learning and other signals to find your customers across many locations. But as always, test to find what works best for you.

Trendy Chic Casual Dining Restaurant

The second case study focuses on a single establishment known for its chic casual dining ambiance, specializing in curated cocktails and exquisite cuisine. Average order is $45, and the average table is approximately $120. 

For this restaurant, we are running both Search and Pmax at the same time to promote brunch, and then two separate campaigns of Search and Pmax to promote Friday and Saturday Night promotions.

Brunch Campaign Results - Performance Max Results 
Google Ads for Restaurants - Performance Max Campaign - Brunch

Google Ads for Restaurants - Performance Max Campaign - Brunch

Brunch Campaign Results - Search
Google Ads for Restaurants - Search Campaign - Brunch

Google Ads for Restaurants - Search Campaign - Brunch

Friday / Saturday Night Campaign Results - Performance Max Results
Google Ads for Restaurants - Performance Max Campaign - Friday Saturday Night Conversions

Google Ads for Restaurants - Performance Max Campaign - Friday Saturday Night Conversions

Friday / Saturday Night Campaign Results - Search Results
Google Ads for Restaurants - Search Campaign - Friday Saturday Night Conversions

Google Ads for Restaurants - Search Campaign - Friday Saturday Night Conversions

As a side note, you can configure Google Ads to focus only on certain conversion actions and not others. So, if you wanted to focus primarily on reservations sign ups, you could focus the campaigns on just that conversion action.

Interpretation of the Results

Similar situation as the fast food restaurant in that we had the campaigns complement each other to produce results. 

The Search campaign was set to target New Customers, while the Pmax was set to target New and Returning customers. 

The Search campaign results are more costly, but this is a competitive time of the week and the restaurant is competing with other higher-end trendy restaurants for customers that are going to spend $125 plus on dinner and drinks with friends. 

And even though the cost per conversion in the Search campaigns is quite a bit higher than the Pmax campaign, we have still introduced the brand to new customers with a high lifetime value. 

Customer Lifetime Value

While it’s easy to focus on the immediate cost per conversion, one factor not included in the tables above is the lifetime value of a customer. A certain percentage of your customers come back to buy from you again so they are worth more than a single purchase. 

The lifetime value (LTV) is: Average Purchase Value x Purchase Frequency Rate x Average Customer Lifespan.

In more competitive markets where the cost per lead may be higher, you want to ensure you are factoring in LTV, otherwise you could make incorrect assumptions about the success of your campaigns based on the cost per conversion. 

Lifetime Value can also be improved through retargeting ad campaigns with Google Ads and Facebook Ads, along with other tactics such as email marketing, SMS, and perhaps traditional marketing tactics. 

Conversions Are All That Matters - Tracking Campaign Performance is Essential

None of the aforementioned analyses or successes are possible if you are not tracking conversion actions and sending that data back to Google Ads. 

Setting your campaign up for success means ensuring your digital plumbing is set to track meaningful actions, such as:

  • Reservations on OpenTable
  • Phone Calls
  • Order Online
  • Menu Views
  • Driving Directions

If online orders are important to you,  you have to ensure you are tracking those orders coming from ad clicks and then feeding those data back to Google to act on. The more data Google has, the better the campaigns will perform and deliver more of what you want.

You set up effective conversion tracking using Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Google Analytics (GA4). You can read a related post to learn more about how to use GTM for your restaurant. https://www.39celsius.com/unlock-the-maximum-profit-potential-hidden-inside-your-google-facebook-campaigns/

Other Factors That Affect Success

  • Landing Page Experience: This is crucial for conversion rate optimization. A good landing page must be relevant to the ad, load quickly, provide a great user experience, be mobile-friendly, and have a clear call to action (CTA).
  • Remarketing Lists: Utilizing remarketing lists allows you to target users who have purchased from you in the past or previously interacted with your website. In Google Ads under Tools and Settings, Shared Library, then Audience Manager is where you can create retargeting lists of past customers (downloaded from your POS), or website visitors. (read more on Remarketing/Retargeting below)
  • Age of Campaign: Over time, Google Ads campaigns collect data that help in optimizing ad performance. A well-aged campaign, with continuous optimization, tends to perform better as it can more effectively target the right audience.
  • Quality Score: Quality Score is influenced by factors such as the relevance of the ad copy, landing page quality, and click-through rate (CTR). A higher Quality Score can lead to lower costs and better ad placement. This ensures Good advertisers are rewarded.
  • Website and Page Speed: Your website's overall performance and page loading time can significantly impact your campaign's effectiveness. Faster websites provide a better user experience, reducing bounce rates and potentially increasing conversions.
  • Mobile Optimization: With the increasing use of mobile devices for internet access, your website must be optimized for mobile. This includes responsive design, fast loading times on mobile devices, and easy navigation.
  • Ad Scheduling and Geographic Targeting: Ad scheduling is sometimes referred to as dayparting - showing your ads only on certain days and times. If you run lunch specials, don’t show your ads in the middle of the night. And focusing on geographic locations where your audience works or lives, can enhance campaign performance. For example, if the majority of your customers are within 5 miles, limit your geotargeting to 5 miles.
  • Continuous Testing and Optimization: Regularly testing different elements of your campaign, including ad copy, landing pages, images, and calls to action, is essential for finding what works best and improving ROI over time.

Don’t Forget Retargeting 

Don't let hungry diners who visit your website or browse your menu online slip away! Retargeting allows you to recapture their interest with targeted ads across the web through Display.

Imagine someone searching for "best pizza delivery near me" and checking out your menu, but ultimately getting distracted. Retargeting lets you show them enticing ads later, reminding them of your delicious pizzas and prompting them to finally place an order.

Google Ads offers different retargeting options: 

  • Customer Lists let you upload email addresses and phone numbers from your POS system to target past customers with special offers.
  • Website Visitors lists can be created based on who browsed your site, allowing you to re-engage them with ads specifically highlighting dishes they looked at!

Now the match rate of your restaurant customer list to one that Google can use to retarget is typically around 70% - 80% or higher from our experience. 

Google states that the typical match rate ranges from 29% to 62% - but that’s across all types of businesses. Restaurants often have high match rates since the data is collected from POS systems and online ordering data.

Restaurant Google Ads Retargeting List

Restaurant Google Ads Retargeting List

Below are retargeting lists for a small chain of restaurants we work with. We created the following retargeting lists:

  • Customer Lists: 79,000
  • All website visitors from Google Analytics (GA4): 29,000
  • Adwords Optimized List: 10,000 - 50,000
  • All visitors from Google ads: 7,700

There are thousands of past customers, or customers that did not convert on a first visit that we’re able to get the brand in front of again, and thousands more that have purchased in the past - this is a very effective tactic.

Google Ads for Restaurants Retargeting Lists

Google Ads for Restaurants Retargeting Lists

Final Comments

In the dynamic world of online advertising, Google Ads stands as an effective tool for restaurants seeking to profitably grow sales with ads.

By harnessing the platform's sophisticated targeting capabilities, compelling ad formats, and measurable results, you can position your restaurant for success in the digital marketplace. 

Your Next Steps:

  1. 1
    Schedule a no-pressure 15-min introductory call to discuss your restaurant's biggest marketing needs
  2. 2
    If you'd like us to work for you to produce more sales profitably, we'll prepare a custom proposal for you based on your needs.
  3. 3
    Then, we'll schedule a kickoff meeting and begin work on implementation of your digital strategy.

About the author 

Toby is the co-founder of 39 Celsius. He has over 20 years of digital marketing experience and has started several companies throughout his career. He's an expert in SEO, Social Media Ads, Google Ads, Marketing Automation, and more. He has a BA in Chemistry/Biochemistry from UC San Diego and an MBA from SDSU.

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