It's 5:30 a.m. when Jordan and Sam sit down at their favorite cafe with one thing on their minds: figuring out how to get customers through their door.
Sam begins. “I’m drowning in meetings and endless calls from clients. It ’s like I’m running a marathon and can’t catch my breath. Something, somewhere, needs my attention. What should I do?”
Jordan chuckles. “Don’t ask me, I own a restaurant.”
I've co-founded a few restaurants, so I understand this feeling all too well. The concepts I designed run the gamut from cowboy dive bar to New American fine dining; bolo ties to bowties. At one concept, we serve thousands of light beers daily, and at the other, we typically serve 80 people in a night.
I understand that each restaurant is unique, but regardless of the size, running a restaurant can sometimes feel like a game of “How Many Hats Fit On My Head?” Sure, maybe you’re the chef and the manager. But you also might be the accountant. Or act as Human Resources. Or a server. And getting handy with a pipe wrench wouldn’t hurt either, because you’ll probably be the plumber from time to time too.
Marketing. It's easy to forget, what with all the other things on your plate. Getting customers to actually come to your restaurant, however, is an entirely different hat to wear."
Below, you’ll find a few lost-cost or no-cost restaurant promotion and marketing ideas that can help boost your business and encourage your customers to come back for more.
Formulating a plan is an essential starting point for many aspects of your business, including marketing. Marketing plans for restaurants help you identify your target audience, set performance expectations, and establish your brand principles. These elements guide the selection and tone of your marketing content.
But this is where many restaurateurs find themselves stuck in the mud. What should I post? What should I market?
I'd venture a guess you didn't open your restaurant because you love the idea of marketing your restaurant. So let’s keep it simple:
What should you market about your restaurant?
What you love about your restaurant.
Make it easy on yourself. Ask yourself that question: What do I love about my restaurant? Once you have that answer, the tactics to execute your Restaurant Marketing Plan will likely fall into place more naturally.
And when answering — remember, you’ve already done a lot of the heavy lifting. If you made a business plan, you’ve likely made choices to bring that plan to life. Leverage those decisions in your marketing plan. Take a moment and look around your restaurant. You can market all the decisions you see. Market your cuisine, your location, your decor, your staff, and even yourself.
Every choice you’ve made is part of your brand.
Your restaurant marketing should be a strategic display of those choices.
Consider using social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to expand reach and create a sense of community. They’re free, easy to use, and can make a substantial impact on your restaurant’s visibility and bottom line.
Social media allows you to showcase your restaurant's brand identity and personally engage with customers. Using a friendly human voice in your posts may foster strong customer relationships before they step through your doors. After they visit, your social posts should encourage them to come back for more.
Post daily, incentivize visits, and keep it fresh.
Got something new? That’s your post. Restaurants that actively post about their activities on social media can build a strong following among a dedicated fanbase.
Got a restaurant promotion like live music on the weekends? Don’t just tell your customers — show them. Consider bringing your restaurant promotion ideas to life with a free design tool like Canva to create ads, fliers, and other promotional materials. After you’ve designed your ad and posted it to your company’s social channels, sweeten the deal for your employees by encouraging them to repost. Offer a raffle for those who do it.
Want to try some fun restaurant gimmicks like a new specialty cocktail? Don’t just rely on word of mouth. Someone out there is winning a film festival award with a smartphone. Grab your phone and film your bartender shaking it up. As they’re doing it, consider having them talk about their technique, the recipe, or the day's food specials. What’s the story behind this drink? Tell it!
When you’re ready to post, you might want to add a description with a twist. For example, if a customer mentions the post when ordering your new cocktail, they get 50% off the price of an appetizer. Ask your bartender to keep a tally of how many times the discount is used. Little details like this can help you monitor your social media performance beyond likes and reactions. Check those receipts later… you might see a second drink order on most of them.
If this sounds like too tall a task, given your many hats — or if you’re simply not tech-savvy — see if there’s one of your employees who would love to add “Marketing Manager” to their resume.
Remember: Social media for restaurants can help flavor your restaurant's marketing, engage customers, and enhance your promotions.
With today’s affordable online site builders, you can build a website in less than an hour that may look like you hired a Swiss design firm. And yes, you often can do it yourself! (Or ask your new Marketing Manager to take the lead.)
Your website can be a great way to showcase your restaurant’s unique personality. If your restaurant is playful, why not reflect that on your site? If your restaurant is upscale, consider that in your website design. You also may want to integrate color schemes, special typefaces, and other interior design elements into the visual look of your website.
Beyond the basics of your menu, location, and phone number, return to the question we posed about your Restaurant Marketing Plan. Why did you open this restaurant? This informs your other site content.
Are you a family-oriented restaurant with weekly trivia nights? Think about tossing up a calendar of events with all the details and prizes. Feature an image of last week’s winner. Create a digital “Wall of Fame” and immortalize the winning customers on your site.
If your first, second, and third focus is your food, then grab that smartphone again and take pictures of your weekly specials. Snap the shot right when the cheese oozes. Right when the sauce drips. Right at the perfect bite.
Add in a merchandise storefront, a reservations policy, and some testimonials, and you could have the recipe for driving website traffic from your front page to your front door.
And don’t forget restaurant review sites. Your customers may control the stars on OpenTable, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google, but you can control how your restaurant is presented online. Set up your administrator account and describe your restaurant in your own words and with your own images.
Remember: An engaging website can reflect your restaurant's personality and turn digital visitors into real-life customers.
When it comes to running a successful restaurant, building relationships with other local businesses can create shared opportunities and give your restaurant that "good neighbor" vibe customers love. You've felt it. It's tangible.
Teaming up with local businesses that complement your own can be an overlooked restaurant marketing tool. Consider planning collaborative restaurant events, promotions, and coordinate shout-outs on social media. This can help tap into new audiences and creates a mutually beneficial relationship. Plus, there's power in word-of-mouth referrals.
If you're all about farm-to-table fare, reach out to a local farmer's market or community garden. You could create a special menu item featuring fresh, seasonal produce. In return, the farmer's market could promote your restaurant to their visitors. This could end up being a win-win that celebrates the best of local fare.
Do you have a passion for art and creativity? Collaborate with a nearby art gallery or studio to showcase local artists' work. Maybe host a paint-and-sip event. This not only supports the local art scene, but also can add to your brand identity.
Be sure to get your employees in on the action, too. Encourage them to network with friends, family, and acquaintances who work at other local businesses. Who knows, your 16-year-old host’s second-cousin might run the hottest yoga studio in town… and the next thing you know, your best day of the month is your Sunday Zen Brunch.
In the end, the best restaurant marketing campaigns with partners can help build a supportive local ecosystem where everyone benefits. Be a leader in your community and extend a friendly hand to your fellow business owners.
Remember: Embracing your community and collaborating with local businesses can help create a thriving small business ecosystem.
When it comes to marketing your small restaurant, it's essential to not only attract new customers, but also keep them coming back. Rewarding repeat customers often makes them feel recognized and valued. Implementing a loyalty program can help you achieve just that.
Design a loyalty program that aligns with your restaurant's brand and appeals to your target audience. This could be as simple as a punch card offering a free meal after a certain number of visits. Alternatively, many Point of Sale (POS) systems — like Toast — offer integrated POS and Loyalty Programs to reduce tech clutter.
If you’re old-school, though, or looking for a low-cost option, it may be time to get clever. One of my most indelible memories of all things edible is a loyalty program I encountered at a self-proclaimed “Greasy Burger Bar” in the middle-of-nowhere, Arizona.
When I ordered, the cashier handed me a paper that looked like a fingerprint identification card. I took a bite and I was about to wipe my hands when the cashier shouted, “Stamp your thumb!” So I did, and then I laughed. The paper was now stained with a thumbprint — my unique mark of loyalty. Unforgettable (and delicious!).
You could offer access to a secret menu, invites to special events. Or get imaginative with your restaurant event ideas. Consider building a “Wheel of Rewards” where your patrons could win anything from a branded sticker to a dinner for six. Small prizes, big prizes, sensory input, personalization. This variety not only can incentivize repeat visits, but also may help create a sense of community, belonging, and fun among your regulars.
Interactivity can oftentimes create a more unique experience. Unique experiences create memories. Memories might create regulars.
Consider promoting your loyalty program on your website, social media, and in-house signage. Make it easy for customers to sign up and keep them informed about their progress and rewards.
Remember: A creative and rewarding loyalty program can keep customers engaged and build lasting relationships.
As you implement these restaurant marketing ideas, don't forget to consider how you can protect your growth with the right insurance coverage. At Simply Business, we're here to make insurance clear, simple, and affordable, so you can focus on doing what you do best: growing your business.
With growth can come an increased need for insurance coverage. Consider whether workers' compensation, business personal property insurance, and/or general liability insurance is right for your business.
You also might consider a Business Owners Policy (BOP), which can be a great solution for growing restaurants. A BOP typically combines multiple insurance coverages, like business personal property and general liability, into one convenient policy. This can make managing your insurance needs simpler and more cost-effective.
At Simply Business, small business insurance is our specialty. We understand the unique challenges that small businesses face. You can get started on a quote anytime with our handy online quote tool. You tell us a little about your business. We do the legwork.
If you need help or have questions, our licensed agents are ready to help. You can talk with one of them at 844-654-7272, Monday - Friday, 8 am to 8 pm ET.
Remember: A growing restaurant can have growing insurance needs.
Using marketing to build your restaurant brand awareness is all about embracing your passions.
Maybe you opened a restaurant because you love the food you serve. Perhaps it means something to you and your family. Maybe you grew up in a black padded restaurant booth. Have you always loved to cook? Are your earliest memories of food? It can be anything, but regardless of your answer, try to think of your restaurant as an act of giving. You’re passing along your passions, memories, whatever it may be, to your community.
Start by crafting a restaurant marketing plan that focuses on what you love about your restaurant. Next, dive into the digital world with online marketing for restaurants. Flesh out your website with site-builder tools. Show love to other local businesses through collaborations. Build out a unique loyalty program to entice your customers to come back for more.
Get your creative juices flowing when executing these ideas. That creativity got you here in the first place!
Remember it can be essential to have the right insurance coverage in place for your business. Growing businesses can have growing insurance needs. Consider a BOP that combines multiple coverages in one package. That way, you can focus on serving up amazing food and experiences while your insurance has your back if a covered risk event occurs.
Call me Robbie. I’m here to do things I enjoy, do them well, and do them often. I’ve started a few small businesses, and I do my best to live by a couple of axioms: “The worst they can say is no,” and “Stay ready to keep from getting ready.” I apply them to being a father, painter, marketer, and writer for small business owners.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated insurance carrier by AM Best. Harborway Insurance is a brand name of Harborway Insurance Agency, LLC, a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. California license #6004217.