Looking for innovative restaurant promotion ideas to grow your business? You’re not alone.
The landscape for restaurants is extremely competitive. As a result, restaurant owners are constantly looking for innovative ways to attract new customers and strengthen loyalty with their existing ones.
We hope the following 25 unique ideas and tips to promote your restaurant will help your restaurant boost sales and thrive for years to come.
1. Visiting Nearby Businesses
Personal contact with potential customers is very important and keeps your restaurant’s visibility up. This is increasingly important in an ever-crowded market. Start in your own backyard.
Promoting your restaurant starts with a basic human connection. Personally visit companies in your area and offer them special promotions. You can drop off a handful of coupons, special offers, or maybe even a plate of appetizers. The employees from these businesses may become your most valuable and loyal customers.
Let them know you offer catering and that takeout and delivery are also an option. The key is showing them you care and that you want their business. The personal touch, in that regard, goes a long way.
2. A Sparkling Restroom
This may not be a “restaurant promotion”, but we had to include it. You would be surprised at the word-of-mouth you’ll get by having a spotless restroom. Locals and people from out of the area, who happen to drop by, will make a point to visit again. Just make sure you keep it that way all the time.
According to a survey by Zogby International, more than 80% of consumers would avoid a restaurant with a dirty restroom. This is a staggering statistic. People assume that if you don’t clean your bathrooms, you probably don’t clean your kitchen either.
3. Open Mic Nights
An open mic night is a more creative restaurant promotion.
Open mic nights are a great way to get an extra-large crowd into your place one or two nights a week. These events are often standing room only, and only costs is a couple of microphones and a speaker. Open it up to music, poetry, or stand-up comedy.
To organize performers, create and post a sign-up list an hour before show time. Soon you will have a reputation as a happening place.
4. “Internal” Special Events
Does your restaurant have something no one else offers? Perhaps a unique selection of soups, salsas, marinades, or a chef with special training?
Organize special closed-door events and give customers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the unique features of your restaurant.
A huge part of restaurant promotion is using what’s at your disposal. We know an owner of a Mexican restaurant who holds regular tequila tastings. They charge $30/person and sell out weeks in advance. The buzz it creates is unbelievable!
5. “External” Special Events
The most successful restaurant promotions often rely on your willingness to “get out of your building”. A lot of communities have special events throughout the year that are great opportunities for restaurant owners.
Summer concerts or movies in the park are very popular. Get involved with these events. You can try to setup a booth or use a food truck to cater at these events. It’s a great way to drive revenue and boost brand awareness.
Allow others to help you with your restaurant promotion strategy. Selling merchandise, like t-shirts, hats, mugs, pint glasses, and other apparel can transform customers into walking billboards. It can also be a nice way to generate additional revenue. Printful is a great tool for custom designing apparel.
7. Birthday Marketing
Do you collect customer information? If so, taking advantage of birthdays can be a great way to increase restaurant sales.
By using a service, or loyalty program, you automatically send customers a Happy Birthday message with a customized restaurant promotion.
Automatically triggered promotions, emailed to each customer before their birthday, can be really beneficial. The promo can be simple or something more complex. Usually, birthday promotions should be pre-configured to expire on a specified date.
The best thing about implementing this type of system is that restaurant owners can “set it and forget it”. If it’s tied into your online ordering service, the system should automatically manage the promotions and redemptions.
8. Food Trucks
A food truck can give your restaurant the freedom to reach customers where they’re at and increase sales.
Food trucks allow you to easily leverage special events, such as golf tournaments, fundraisers, and other functions. When your food truck is not being used at a special event, you can strategically position it in high-traffic areas.
Buying and operating a food truck can be expensive. But, if done properly, it can generate significant revenue and serve as a great way to promote your restaurant.
9. A Restaurant Promotion with Emotion
It’s easy for customers to focus on themselves. When it comes to marketing and restaurant promotions, create a way to attract customers by pulling on their heartstrings.
Creating emotional triggers will increase a customer’s likelihood of noticing your promotion. Brainstorming these methods can be fun because it requires you to dig deep to make a connection with your customer’s inner core.
Unruly, which ranks the most viral ads each year, found that the most-shared ads rely heavily on emotional content. Specifically: friendship, inspiration, warmth, and happiness. Examples include Android’s Friends Furever and Kleenex’s Unlikely Best Friends.
As you can see, these brands really connect with their customers on an emotional level.
10. Capitalizing on Non-Peak Hours
Many restaurants focus on getting more people in the door for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is no need to compete with those meal times when you can create unique offerings for non-peak hours.
According to Technomic, more people are choosing to snack throughout the day instead of investing in large meals, so create specials and food options for the mid-afternoon and late night dead periods.
Have a different drink special every day for Happy Hour and offer new appetizers to bring people in. For late night, you can have drink and dessert specials and promote your restaurant as the ultimate late-night social outing.
11. Collaborate with Delivery Services
The pricing structures for services like GrubHub and DoorDash are often cost prohibitive. But, if you negotiate good terms, and you don’t currently offer delivery in-house, you may be able to expand your reach and increase revenue.
Frequently, as a way to promote new restaurants to their users, the delivery service will run a promotion for a restaurant. If you’re joining a local delivery platform, ask them to run a restaurant promotion for you. They may be willing to run a promotion to get you to join their site or app.
12. Social Media
According to Statista.com, Facebook has 1.44 billion users and Instagram is at 300 million users. That’s a lot of potential customers. Maintaining social media profiles and using them to communicate with customers should be an integral part of your marketing and restaurant promotion strategy.
13. Targeted Advertisements
Consider using digital ads as a part of your restaurant promotion strategy. The great thing about online advertising is that you can geo-target your ads.
This means you can make sure only people near your restaurant see your ads. You won’t waste money on ads that are shown to people not likely to visit your restaurant.
You can effectively target people nearby who are likely to visit your restaurant or order takeout/delivery. Facebook is just one of the platforms that does geo-targeting well. Online ads can help you reach a ton of new people without much effort on your part.
14. Bundled Items
AA high margin menu deal could be a 5-5-5 deal where a customer could order three dinner meals (normally priced at $7) for $5 each.
Bundling pays off in three ways:
Quantity: Bundling increases the number of total menu items sold.
Margins: Bundling makes the supply chain more predictable which can lower overhead and increase margins.
Awareness: Marketing campaigns promoting bundled packages are a highly effective way to strengthen and promote your brand.
15. Meal-Kit Services
Meal-Kits have emerged as a new opportunity in the food industry and could make their way into your restaurant promotion strategy.
A meal kit is a subscription service where a company sends customers curated food ingredients and recipes intended to be assembled into home-cooked meals.
These services save customers time and energy of planning, prepping and shopping for their meals.
Two of the more prominent meal-kit services, Blue Apron and Plated, both founded in 2012, have raised $58 million and $21.6 million of investments respectively. Hello Fresh, a European company, just closed $126 million in Series E funding.
Some dubious experts counter the sudden sucess of meal kits. They argue that meal-kit services only catering to a tiny niche market that is likely to wane as the novelty wears off.
Should restaurants be concerned about meal-kits eating away at delivery profits? Let’s consider…
Takeout is always going to be the most convenient choice. With respect to convenience, there is a marginal difference that shouldn’t be a threat.
Meals-kits cost about $10 per person and portions are tightly controlled. Takeout offers larger portions with the welcomed benefit of leftovers. Again, we’re going to give takeout a slight edge here.
Meal-kit components must be shipped, prepared, re-packaged, and then re-shipped to the end user. Multiple links in the production and delivery chain can hamper quailty control.
It’s hard to tell whether meal kit services will trend into something much larger or fade into darkness. All we can say for now is it’s worth keeping an eye on.
16. Free Product Giveaway
A quick way to get free advertising is giving free product away. Customers love participating in giveaways or any events that involve free items.
A study found that that customers who received a coupon for $10 off a product experienced a 38% rise in oxytocin levels and were 11% happier than those who did not receive a coupon. Furthermore, their respiration rates dropped 32%, heart rates decreased by 5% and sweat levels were reportedly 20 times lower than their peers. Consequently, they felt more relaxed and less stressed.
Customers love receiving free items and restaurants benefit from an increase in brand awareness and engagement.
For example, if a customer orders a large pizza, they can receive a free dessert with their order. The costs associated to the free dessert would be minimal and the loss wouldn’t be significant since the ROI would be associated to the amount of large pizzas purchased.
Free item giveaways help spread your restaurant’s name to other people with will hopefully convert to new customers. Have fun with the process and identify and try rewarding your best customers with free first tastes of new menu items, discounts and other incentives in exchange for their feedback.
17. Restaurant Promotion by Season
People love celebrating the seasons and you should do the same at your restaurant! Depending on the time of year, offer specials that match the weather or special menu items that will only be around for a couple of months. Here are some examples:
- Winter is the time to promote warm drinks and comfort food.
- Spring is for fresh herbs and emphasizing flavor pallets.
- Summer is for delicious poolside beverages and snacks to match.
- Fall is for apple and pumpkin flavors that make everyone nostalgic.
18. Loyalty Programs
“Acquiring new customers is incredibly expensive,” said Logan LaHive, founder and CEO of a loyalty program developer in Chicago. “Because you get 80% of your revenue from 20% of your customers, rewarding loyalty is the best tactic.”
If you use or are thinking about implementing a loyalty program, here’s some useful information:
- A recent study revealed that 33% of consumers view loyalty programs as very important during tough economic times.
- The same study reveals that consumers spend 17% more on visits that include a loyalty program.
- Loyalty programs are not viewed as giving away products or providing heavy discounts, which may cheapen your restaurant in the eyes of customers.
- When a customer enrolls in a program, you officially establish a relationship, as opposed to someone using a coupon that you may never see again.
- Refrain from asking customers for all of their information at once. Start with a name and email address. Later, you can ask for their mailing address, phone number, and more.
- A loyalty program that works in unison with a recognized charity is often viewed favorably by customers.
19. Online Only Deals
If you are actively posting on social media (which you should be!), you can create online only deals. Customers can find these deals by following your restaurant on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Social media presents an excellent opportunity for restaurant promotion because of how seamless it is to connect with your potential customers and get noticed. As many as 61% of customers find restaurants from various social channels.
This can be a great way to increase your following, which then allows you to communicate more readily with your customer base online. For example, your restaurant could begin offering a one-time only 15% discount on a customer’s first order if they begin following you or “liking” your social media pages.
20. Complimentary WiFi
Restaurant promotions can happen on a subtle level. The longer customers are sitting at your tables, the more money they spend.
Offering free wireless access to customers with WiFi enabled laptops or smartphones will add even more sales to the bottom line. Plus, it will make customers more loyal to your brand. Word spreads, too. This is something that reaches across the demographics, from college students to millennials to business people who need someplace they can eat and do a little business.
The most common form of a loyalty program for a restaurant is offering punch cards. For example, for every order placed, a customers gets a hole punch or stamp, and after the 10th purchase, they are eligible for $10 off their next meal.
Loyalty programs have evolved where you can apply a similar concept via online ordering. Using a tool to simply manage these efforts is key to growth and retention with your customers.
21. Local Food Bloggers
Promoting your restaurant doesn’t happen alone. Utilizing the community and important local influencers can help a restaurant get ahead of the game. Some of the most experienced individuals in the restaurant industry are local food bloggers. According to TechnoratiMedia, blogs are the third most influential digital resource people use when making purchases, just behind retail and brand sites.
Before reaching out to a food blogger, do the research to find the best fit for your restaurant. You also want to make sure that you are comfortable teaming up with this individual for fun and engaging marketing content. You can brainstorm ideas with the food blogger – maybe giving them exclusive insight into a new menu item or an upcoming food festival that you are going to be a part of – anything that will excite their readers.
A Note on Guest Blogging
Quality content is a never ending need for all business and There are several benefits to behind posting to another blog, the biggest being that your post can tap into that blog’s readers and audience.
Readers who might not have known about your restaurant could venture to your website to learn more. Something as simple as a guest post can potentially translate into sales if you do it the right way. Tap into your network of peers and write a guest post for a popular local blog.
You could offer some insights into a marketing campaign that worked for your restaurant and recommend that other restaurants try it.
In 2017, 66% of marketers reported using blogs in their social media content. An article could also be written on how online ordering has worked for your restaurant and then give some useful information on how they could leverage that technology.
Once you post on another blog, that blog can share the post to others and could then be picked up by additional blogs, companies, and businesses. You never know what the butterfly effect could be.
22. Reviews To Motivate Potential Customers
Word of mouth marketing is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. According to a Nielsen study, 92% of consumers believe suggestions from friends and family more than they do advertising. Customers are also more confident when they read reviews on a product.
Take the time to set up a process that will encourage customers to review your restaurant. While you might be cringing at the thought of this idea, it is important to put the decision-making process into the hands of your customers.
Consider having a landing page on your restaurant’s website that pops up, asking a visitor to review the restaurant (with a receipt as proof), to receive 20% off their next order.
Not only will this encourage a customer to write about their experience for others, it will also increase the amount of reviews your restaurant has as a result. Having lots of positive reviews can bring in new customers. On the flip side, negative reviews do exist, but it shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. It’s always important that brands remember to always be open to constructive criticism, and accept it as an opportunity to improve.
23. Using Yelp To Your Advantage
Here are two Yelp stats that will catch your attention – 200,000 and 250,000.
According to Yelp, during a recent business quarter, consumers called businesses through Yelp’s mobile app 200,000 times a day and generated over 250,000 directions a day. These numbers refer to all businesses, but as we all know, restaurants represent a sizeable chunk of Yelp’s listings.
These aren’t numbers to ignore. There are a variety of mobile apps available and some of them can play a big role bringing in business. Here are some tips on how to make the most of them:
Find out where customers are hearing about your restaurant
Yelp is the 800-pound gorilla of restaurant search/review, but there are others, both locally focused, as well as broader reaching apps. Have your wait staff survey customers to identify your top three sources of referrals. You should monitor your listings on those sites regularly.
Use what’s available to help you promote your restaurant
Each site is different, but many of them allow photos (which you should include), the opportunity to make special offers, and a place to add a business description. According to Yelp, people stay on a business page two-and-a-half times longer when it has photos.
24. Restaurant Promotion Through User-Generated Content
According to the Nielsen Consumer Trust Index, 92% of consumers trust organic, user-generated content more than they trust traditional advertising.
With this in mind, you should come up with a fun and creative way to take content that is created by your customers and promote it. You can have a ton of fun coming up with an innovative way to engage your customers. Do you need a name for a new menu item? Run a “Name that sandwich!” contest.
Are you willing to give away $50 worth of food? Encourage customers to post funny photos and pick the funniest photo as the winner. Running familiar engagement events such as contests and giving away prizes like gift cards can increased social media referral traffic.
25. Little Billboards With Your Logo
Does your restaurant use branded takeout packaging or have you ever thought of using takeout bags with your restaurant name and logo on it?
This a proven and effective way of making sure your brand follows the customer. And, of course, it’s a nice little billboard for everyone else – the folks in the parking lot, coworkers, the neighbors, etc.
Good food is always essential to the success of a restaurant, however, many restaurants with mediocre food easily outperform those with better menus because their branding and marketing are better.
When people see your logo on a bag, they remember your food, but they also remember the experience you offered them. Or, if it’s their first time seeing your takeout bag, and learning about your restaurant, it sets the stage for that person to have a great experience. You can also hope it will be intriguing enough for them to come visit.
This goes beyond just having the brand on the bag and packaging as well…it’s the packaging itself–the texture; the way the handles work; how the box folds together; if the box is recyclable or compostable etc.–that also influences the perceptions surrounding your brand.
Along the same lines – pictures posted on social media pose an interesting and similar opportunity for restaurants and their branding.
When a customer takes a picture of themselves or their food at your restaurant, there is a good chance it may end up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
What’s in the background of those pictures?
There needs to be something recognizable and preferably branded. For instance – coasters with your logo might be in the background of a picture showing off your food. How about on the walls? Is there something recognizable that would stand out in a picture? Think of pictures posted online as little billboards for your restaurant.
It would be great if everyone who saw a picture of their friend at your restaurant could immediately recognize where it was taken, what they were eating, and wanted to be there.
These are important things to pay attention to, and an excellent new opportunity to win over more customers. Own these micro-moments and your brand will win over the long-haul.
A Concluding Note
We all know restaurant promotion is important, but don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Allow yourself to integrate a little bit of “you” into your marketing strategies.
Being you, doesn’t necessarily equate to being funny, but a little humor never hurts. Funny content has a higher potential to be shared than dry forms of content. Find a style and approach that allows you to effectively communicate your restaurant’s mission, tone, and style. We are all human – let that shine through to your customers.
Adding a certain realness to your restaurant’s brand will payoff in the long run.