Here are 25 restaurant promotion ideas to get more people in the door or visiting your website. Some are obvious, and some are outside-the-box. Either way, they have worked for various restaurants on the NetWaiter Network, and are valuable tips to keep in consideration as you look to take your restaurant to the next level.
The competition among restaurants is growing. Restaurants are beginning to learn that they need to adopt various forms of restaurant promotions that not only bring guests to their restaurant but create a lasting relationship with their customers.
These promotions are one of many ways for a restaurant to begin engaging with their customers. By offering a discount here and a special incentive there, you are saying “We care about you and your business” to your customers. Here is a list of 7 restaurant promotion ideas to help boost sales.
1. Visit Companies in Your Neighborhood
Personal contact with potential customers is very important and keeps your restaurant’s visibility up, which is increasingly important in an ever-crowded market. Visit the companies in your area and offer special promotions personally. You can drop off a handful of coupons, special offers, or maybe even a plate of appetizers.
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. Just think of how much you’ve been affected when someone has made the personal effort to win you over.
2. A Sparkling Restroom
You would be surprised at the word-of-mouth you’ll get if you having a spotless restroom, some wallpaper, a nice mirror, some distinctive pictures, and fresh flowers. People from out of the area who happen to drop by will make it a point to visit again, just to make sure you keep it that way all the time.
Customers expect to see terrible bathrooms at independent restaurants. Surprise them with something nice. By the way, this will be a big hit with the ladies, and they typically make the decision on where to eat.
3. Open Mic Nights
This is 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 all it costs is a couple of microphones and a set of speakers. Open it up to music, poetry and stand-up comedy.
A word of warning: Have someone set up with a pad of paper and start a list an hour before show time so there is a way to funnel the performers. Soon you will have a reputation as a happening place.
4. Special Events
Does your restaurant have something no one else offers – a unique selection of soups, salsas, marinades, or a chef with special training? Organize special closed-door events where you give your customers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the unique features of your restaurant.
We know of the owner of a Mexican restaurant who holds tequila tastings. He charges $30 a head and they are sold out weeks in advance and there is always a waiting list. The buzz is unbelievable!
5. More on Special Events
Lots of communities have special events throughout the year that are good opportunities for restaurants. Summer concerts in the park or movies in the park are very popular. Sponsorship of these events often includes being able to have a booth at the venue and getting mentioned during the introduction.
Another tactic is to target cars in the parking lot with special offers, suggesting that before coming to the next week’s event, they should drop by your restaurant for a special event package that they can take with them.
If you do any of the above – open mic or special events – or anything else that heightens awareness and boosts the reputation of your restaurant, you may find that your restaurant gains status as the “cool” place to go. If so, sell them t-shirts, hats, mugs, pint glasses, and other apparel.
Your customers will be transformed into walking billboards. Better than that, you charge for these items, so they are paying you for the privilege.
7. Birthday Marketing
Do you collect customer information – names, email addresses, etc.? You should also collect birthdates. Send out a mailer or email a week ahead of their big day and let customers know a special offer is waiting for them. It’s a great feature to recognize your customers and build more customer loyalty. Plus, it’s always nice to hear “Happy Birthday.”In fact, NetWaiter, one of the premier online ordering services for restaurants, offers restaurants the ability to automatically send customers a Happy Birthday message with a tailored promotion.
NetWaiter automatically triggers the promotion, emailing it to each customer before their birthday. The promo can be a simple discount or something more complex, pre-configured to expire at a specified time. The best thing about the system: restaurants can “set it and forget it.” NetWaiter manages the promotions and redemptions automatically.
8. A Food Truck
Food trucks have become very much in demand. There are some fundraiser food events now that specialize in offering samples only from food trucks. Some menus lend themselves to catering. Others do not. Burgers are great when they are hot and juicy, right off the grill, but not too much when they are catered. With a food truck you can prepare food on the scene, and adapt to different seasonal events.
You can offer services for special events such as golf tournaments, fundraisers, and other functions. It’s a mobile billboard and a great way to reach customers that might not otherwise sample your food. It’s not inexpensive though, so analyze your market and determine whether a food truck is a good investment for you.
9. A Branded Online Ordering System
Many industry experts hail online ordering as the greatest innovation to hit the restaurant industry since the advent of the drive-up window. The total market for takeout food at restaurants in the U.S. is an astounding $70 billion per year, according to Business Insider, an international business publication. Currently, about $9 billion, or 13% of takeout business, is ordered online.
Based on the current growth rate, however, experts predict that amount of business done online will surpass offline ordering within the next 10 years. Of course, these online ordering figures are heavily skewed by major U.S. pizza chains. Some of the top pizza purveyors already do 40% of their total takeout volume online, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nevertheless, the power of the online market can’t be ignored.
10. More on Online Ordering
Many restaurant owners rely on multi-restaurant sites, or portals, to bring in their online orders. This can be a costly mistake. Portals position your restaurant along with dozens or maybe even hundreds of others, with no guarantee that you will get the business. They also charge as much as 20% out of each order. A branded, online service that can be designed to match your website, such as NetWaiter, is the best way to go.
11. Partnering with Delivery Services
You’ve no doubt heard about Uber and Lyft and what they’ve done to the taxi industry. Thanks to similar technology, we are seeing a trend in the restaurant sector for delivery services, and customers are willing to pay for it. Research a delivery service in your market.
With NetWaiter, you can work with these services so they receive a copy of each delivery order automatically, making it easier for them to complete the delivery on your behalf.
12. Social Media
According to Statista.com, Facebook has 1.44 billion users. The same source has Instagram at 300 million. Those are your customers. Maintaining social media sites, promoting them, and using them to communicate with customers, should be an integral part of your business. Also, pay attention to who your customers are.
The average age of a Facebook user in the U.S. is 40.5 years. Twitter is 37.3 years. The largest share of adult users of Instagram is in the 18 to 29-year-old bracket, and two-thirds of those are women. Food trucks have been using social media for years to let their customers know where they are on any given day or evening. Make social media work for you too. Many of these Phoenix restaurants use social media to engage with their customers.
13. Online Photography
If you are using social media, you should also have nice, mouthwatering photos of your menu items. Professional food photography is expensive, but you can do wonders with a good cell phone. Use those same photos on your website too.
14. Bundled Items
Consider bundling some of your menu items together. Bundling is based upon the idea that consumers usually save 7-15% more on the value of the grouped package than the individual items when purchased separately. Take a look at some of your more popular menu items and pair them with some items that would go well with that item at a higher price.
You could even create a combo deal that would encourage the customer to order in bulk. For example, a 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, bringing the ticket value to around $15 plus tax. These bundled deals will increase the overall orders and hopefully encourage your customers to try new things.
15. Flash Deals
There are certain times during the day where your restaurant sees a dip in business. During this time is when you can really test and try new promotions. Margins might be a little more tight during this time, but it can help you bring in some extra dollars you might otherwise not see if you don’t try. Offer a quick flash deal during the off hours (maybe 3:00-4:30) to get people ordering food right before/after they normally do.
You will want the deals to be desirable, so a $1 pizza slice or a $3 pita (limiting the options they can choose) will help drive quick sales and maybe bring in some of those snacking customers.
16. Community Events
One of the best ways to generate business is to design a promotion that ties directly in with the community and local events that might be happening. Customers will get excited and engaged with the promotion because the message is already being communicated across other channels in the community.
For example, your community might have a local chili cook-off each Fall that customers line up for. Offer a special chili the week of the event to support the challenge and silently compete. Who knows – maybe you’ll win!
17. New Products
It’s important to keep your menu fresh to encourage customers to keep coming back more more. When a new menu item is added – no matter how big or small it is – promote it. Customers normally aren’t aware of new menu changes unless the frequent a place on a daily or weekly basis, so promoting a new product can come off as a big deal to the average person.
In fact, 40 % would order something else from the menu every time when they visit a restaurant if they could. To keep up with the trends, maybe you now offer homemade ketchup to your menu. This is exciting, new and something worth sharing to all of your customers. More importantly, customers might “ooh” and “ahh” at the idea so much that they’ll be curious to try it or put it on everything.
18. Local Company Support
Don’t underestimate the power of local businesses. Companies that surround a restaurant are very important customers. You will want to determine a way to specifically target these customers, particularly for your lunch hour. If you utilize an online ordering system that can easily take group orders, promote that via flyers to these companies or on your social media channels.
If offices know there is an easy way to group order, they will be more likely to choose your restaurant versus another. You might even want to consider directly visiting with the local companies to give them a few of your restaurant’s flyer, point out deals specific to them, and make them feel like you truly are going out of your way to care for their hungry needs.
19. Online Only Deal
If you are actively posting on social media (which you should be!), you can create online only deals that customers can find if they are following you on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Social media presents an excellent opportunity for you 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 off of a customer’s first order if they begin following you or “liking” your social media pages. Your restaurant will be able to benefit from two positive outcomes – an increase in engaged customers and an increase in short term sales
20. Customer Loyalty Programs
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. Engage 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.
22. Use 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 (merely for the fact that you might receive bad reviews), 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. Partner with Like-Minded Businesses and Cross-Promote Each Other
Find a local business that you want to support and shares your restaurant’s demographic to team up with. This partnership could add trust, value, and growth to your restaurant simply by creating a friendship with another business owner. For example, you might have a local brewery that doesn’t provide food but has amazing beer.
Work with the brewery owner to create a special brew-for-two deal from you to them, and a BOGO (buy one beer, get one meal 10% off) for you. Customers will pick up on the idea pretty quickly that you and the brewery owner are working together. The expectancy of the relationship could grow into something bigger down the road, if successful. It is a powerful and inexpensive approach to generate more sales and expand the marketing efforts of your restaurant.
24. Promote User-Generated Content
According to the Nielsen Consumer Trust Index, 92% of consumers trust organic, user-generated content more than they trust traditional advertising.
Keeping this statistic 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, tagging your restaurant, and pick the funniest photo as the winner. Running familiar engagement events such as contests and giving away prizes like gift cards can increased traffic through social media, local newspapers, and word of mouth.
25. Leverage a Popular Event
Restaurants promote new menu items and/or special deals around the holidays to entice customers to buy a specific specialty item. Is it fall? Look out for any and all pumpkin-flavored food.
Did it begin snowing? Say hello to peppermint everything! There are other ways to get creative around a special event. If your city has a big football game coming up, you could run a special deal where customers can bring in their game day ticket if the team wins. Will Phil see his shadow, and are we going to have 6 more weeks of winter? Post the question online and have customers vote to get 20% off their next order. Utilize an event that appeals to many customers for it to make the greatest impact for your restaurant.