We live in an age where food from all over the world is accessible with the click of a button. With a simple app download, we’re mere button-pushes away from carnitas, baby back ribs, pizza, or even avocado toast. With so many options, restaurant owners find themselves facing overwhelming competition. But with the right marketing, there are tons of ways to leave that competition in the dust. That's where these restaurant marketing ideas come in.
In this post, we explore restaurant marketing ideas that are more on the unique side. You already know you need a user-friendly and well-designed website. You already know that paid advertising and email newsletters are an important part of every marketing mix. And you already know that following SEO best practices should be second nature at this point. But what about those unique strategies — the ones your competition may not have thought of yet or may be doing all wrong?
Keep reading to discover a wide variety of restaurant marketing ideas, tips, and tricks that restaurant owners and staff can use to improve their marketing efforts. After all, if customers can’t see you, they won’t know to come to visit you.
Boost your business with these 28 restaurant marketing ideas:
1. Set up a sponsor tent at area festivals.
Is your area known for hosting outdoor events? Set up small food tents showcasing your best dishes or beverage options at area food festivals, carnivals, and even beer festivals.
Landing a tent spot usually involves sponsoring the event, which will put your logo on festival materials as well. Hand out marketing materials, fun freebies, and even promote your merchandise.
2. Advertise with local tourism offices.
The hospitality and tourism offices in your community exist to bring travel and revenue into the area. Create brochures, postcards, printed coupons, or other small, efficient advertisements to display in your area:
- Chamber of Commerce office
- Tourism office
- Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)
- Welcome centers
- Rest areas
Before creating your marketing materials, visit these locations. See what your advertising options are, what your competition is doing, and create materials that will set you apart from the rest.
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3. Promote your restaurant on Facebook.
It feels like new social media sites are constantly springing up overnight, but Facebook still reigns supreme. Consistently ranked as the top social media site, Facebook had 2.8 billion active platform users as of January 2021. And yet, there are still tons of restaurants that don't take advantage of everything the platform has to offer.
If you haven't already, create a business page on Facebook that showcases your menu highlights, contact information, hours of operation, guest reviews, and so on. But that's just the beginning, and that's where a lot of restaurants fall short. If you have a page, it's crucial that you keep it as up-to-date as you can and that you use it as a hub to communicate and interact with customers. Post regularly, always respond to reviews, create a clear and enticing CTA, and implement any and all Facebook marketing tips that make sense for your business.
4. Use Instagram in unconventional ways.
In addition to showing off the best items your restaurant has to offer, posting regularly on Instagram can also help create a connection with your photography-passionate team members. Ask if any of your employees are interested in taking photos for your Instagram and see what they come up with.
Remember, not all marketing success is the result of a direct campaign. Word of mouth marketing is still an incredibly important part of any business' success. Employees who enjoy being at work, and have opportunities to explore their passions on the clock, are probably raving about the experience to their friends off-the-clock.
Host contests between employees and patrons to encourage posting photos, using creative hashtags, commenting, and sharing your posts.
5. Use social media to enhance cross-promotion with local businesses.
Marketing your restaurant through social media is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to reach mass audiences. When posting, tag local companies and businesses that you cater to, partner with, or visit. When your posts are approved by a business’ page, they become visible to users connected to that page as well. It’s a symbiotic relationship for both parties — just always be sure to ask for permission before snapping a pic or posting it online. As your relationships with other area businesses grow, you should both see the benefits of working together.
6. Highlight employee achievements and recognition.
Use social media as a platform to highlight your employees. Not only will this lead to increased morale and help prevent employee burnout, but it's a great way to show potential customers that you care about your employees and that your business is much more than a business: It's a community. For example:
- Highlight personal achievements like graduations or engagements.
- Recognize employees for achievements in the workplace.
- Announce “Employee of the Month” and other awards.
- Celebrate birthdays.
- Share stories of exemplary employee-customer interactions.
7. Host participatory events.
Don’t let your social media accounts become just another place to spam advertisements. Use your pages as tools to encourage social engagement. Include humor, trivia, and interactive challenges that promote participation. For example:
- Use Facebook to host giveaways and drawings that promote commenting and sharing your posts.
- Encourage in-house guests to snap a picture of their meal, post the photo, tag your restaurant and include the hashtag #MealOfTheDay to win a free lunch.
- Create a scavenger hunt that promotes visiting local attractions and ends at your restaurant. Advertise winners online and include a follow-up post when they claim their prize.
This will increase your social media audience size, encourage activity on your page, and much more.
8. Don't just be "on" Yelp.
Similar to your Facebook business page, having a Yelp account may seem like an obvious restaurant marketing idea. If your restaurant doesn’t already have one, it should be a top priority. Think about it this way: Yelp has more than 178 million unique visitors monthly and 184 million reviews worldwide. But just like Facebook, the difference between a restaurant that simply has a page and a restaurant that utilizes all of the available tools is massive. A few tips:
- Advertise restaurant highlights that customers are searching for: free WiFi, outdoor seating, pet-friendly patio, etc.
- Read and respond to reviews.
- Include menu updates and changes to operating hours.
- Link your Yelp account to your website, Facebook, and other prominent links to increase engagement over various platforms.
- Be cohesive. No customers want to see one menu on your Yelp page and a different menu entirely on your website.
9. Take advantage of everything Google My Business has to offer.
Google My Business allows businesses of all types to create a free account advertising their business profile. This service is immensely helpful for restaurants, as it allows owners or marketers to post business updates, respond to reviews, connect with guests, gauge how visitors are interacting with your business, and so on.
Maintaining this account allows your restaurants to show up in Google searches to help potential customers locate you. Adding an “Order Now” button for delivery or takeaway provides you with another revenue stream. The account also provides analytics services so you can track your marketing efforts and results.
10. Use review responses as an SEO tool.
Not only is responding to reviews a great way to improve customer satisfaction and manage your reputation, but Google has said that responding to reviews can help boost your search engine rankings, too.
"Respond to reviews that users leave about your business," reads an excerpt on the Google My Business support page. "When you reply to reviews, it shows that you value your customers and their feedback. High-quality, positive reviews from your customers can improve your business visibility and increase the likelihood that a shopper will visit your location."
11. Attract groups and event business with Cvent.
Many event management professionals choose accommodations based on area offerings, like restaurants or attractions. Restaurants offering services that make group travel easier, such as group discounts or reserved seating, can take a lot of stress out of group travel and will attract planners to your business. Make sure you’re listed on Cvent’s restaurant directory so that you can be seen by decision-makers.
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12. Utilize offline restaurant directories.
This may be the most "dated" of all the restaurant marketing ideas on this list, but that doesn't mean it's not effective. The most successful restaurants implement marketing strategies that target all demographics. As tech-savvy as many modern foodies are, not everyone enjoys searching for a place to eat online. Especially among older generations or more rural areas, where reliable internet services may not be available, a physical directory may be more appealing.
Advertise your restaurant by including your information in as many local directories as you can, such as:
- College campuses
- Event centers
- Conference centers
- Individual hotels and resorts
- Recreation hubs
Stand out among the other restaurants listed by providing a specialized coupon or offer, only available to those who bring in a copy of the directory. This will help restaurants identify which physical directory sources are bringing in the most business or recommending your location to visitors.
13. Offer catering packages.
Consider adding catering packages to your menu to accommodate business lunches and events. Boxed lunches are easy to create in advance and can provide your restaurant with increased profit margins for items already on the menu.
14. Partner with delivery apps.
If you don’t have your own delivery services, partnering with food delivery apps can be a great source of additional revenue. DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates are popular with users and could expand your restaurant’s reach if there’s a high demand for delivery in your market.
Keep in mind, however, that these services do come with fees. Before signing up to partner with a delivery app, double-check your budget to make sure it’s a financially-responsible decision that will pay off in the long run.
15. Create relationships with local charities to host fundraisers.
Another fantastic opportunity for cross-promotion, as well as a chance to give back to your community, consider partnering with a local charity. Host regular fundraising events for your partnered charity and advertise how the organization will be affected.
Here are two fundraiser promotion examples to help inspire you:
- Every third Thursday from 4-6pm, 10% of food sales benefit No Kid Hungry.
- Did you recently rescue an animal? Show us your adoption paperwork and receive a free meal every month for an entire year.
16. Advertise to Meetup.com groups.
Search Meetup.com to see if there are local groups who are looking for places to gather. Perhaps there’s a book club with a new thriller to discuss but no coffee shop to sip at, or a group of hikers who want a burger and a cold beer after defeating a mountain. Show that your restaurant is a part of the community by inviting your community in.
17. Partner with local hotels.
Travelers often ask for recommendations from hotel staff. Provide your local hoteliers with business cards, postcards, or free appetizer coupons to provide to guests. Consider taking a tasty treat to the front desk staff at your area hotels once a month. A to-go box of fresh rolls or cookies can go a long way with tired hotel staff.
An average of 77% of restaurant-goers trust peer recommendations over what the critics say, so get the staff on your team. If they see you as generous, they will be much more likely to return the favor and recommend your restaurant.
18. Introduce a loyalty program.
Tried and true, loyalty programs work. Consider creating a tiered reward system or membership program that includes exclusive discounts or access to secret menu items. Exclusivity drivers are one of the most effective ways to create enthusiasm for your restaurant.
For more laid-back locations, consider a good ol’ punch card. Punch cards are perfect for coffee shops, diners, and even food trucks — "Buy five and get the fifth free."
19. Start an exclusive wine club.
Consider starting a “wine of the month club” or hosting tastings. Offer exclusive discounts for club members and elevate tastings by bringing in an expert. Partner with local wineries and breweries and advertise your restaurant at their location as well (if you haven’t caught on yet, cross-promotion is a restaurateur's best friend!).
20. Use receipt offers to build repeat business.
We all love a “free gift with purchase,” right? Think about receipt survey requests as a free customer gift. When providing the check, include an optional guest survey for your patrons to complete. Offer a specialty item at no cost during their next visit, a BOGO entree coupon, or a similar value-based offer.
Offering a valueless reward will likely result in a one-time-only guest, so be generous with survey rewards. The feedback is valuable, will help you improve service, and the offer will assist in building a pipeline of future business.
21. Pique curiosity by hosting trivia nights.
Trivia nights have become incredibly popular over the last few years. Depending on the topic or theme, these events are a great way to appeal to different customer groups. Having a great host is vital, and with the right host, a trivia night could fill your restaurant with energy, enthusiasm, and increased profits.
Host themed and topic-specific events that speak to your customer base, such as:
- Sports trivia in a college football town
- Classic country music in Nashville
- Hipster traditions in Portland
22. Invite bands to play or institute a karaoke night.
If you have the space, consider closing off a portion of your restaurant or bar to host musicians or karaoke nights. No matter the establishment location, area attractions, or even customer age demographic, there’s a band for every establishment.
Crowds are often drawn to bars and grills to watch their favorite local band. Classical musicians make a great addition to fine dining establishments as well. Research restaurants that are similar in size and style to gather musical inspiration.
23. Research and communicate with area attractions in your area.
Are there local community colleges or universities near your restaurant? What about a famous botanical garden or world-class spa? Most large attractions include information for their visitors, such as accommodation options or restaurant lists.
For restaurant owners and marketers who aren’t as familiar with their area attractions, contact your local government. Your city or county tourism office will be able to provide you with valuable information, introduce you to others who can assist you, and point you exactly where you need to go.
24. Get your customers involved.
Restaurant-goers tend to frequent places where they feel like family — where the hostess knows their name, or the bartender remembers their drink order. The familiarity is comforting and you can kick that feeling up a notch by hosting a contest that auctions off “exclusive rights” to a menu item. By actually putting a customer’s name on the menu, they’ll feel like a true fixture in the restaurant. For example:
“The customer who shares the most popular photo on our Instagram this week will have a sandwich named after them!”
25. Host a Heritage Night to showcase cuisine, history, and personal stories.
Every restaurant, just like every individual, has a unique history and a story to tell. Host a Heritage Night to help customers get to know your restaurant in a new way.
- Provide handouts that showcase the owner’s interesting experience in the restaurant industry.
- Showcase various types of your chosen cuisine and its evolution through the ages.
- Include a scavenger hunt, life-size crossword puzzle, or other interactive educational activities that explain the roots of your restaurant.
26. Become a Chamber of Commerce member.
For new restaurants and rebranding restaurants alike, your local Chamber of Commerce is an invaluable resource. Become a member of the local chamber to network with local companies, find businesses with F&B needs, and get to know your neighbors.
27. Host chamber events.
Consider hosting one of your chamber’s monthly events, or an event once a year. Hosting the chamber will bring in business owners and community leaders to your restaurant and allow them to see your location firsthand.
Chamber events are also a fantastic opportunity to showcase your best menu items and beverage specials. Not only can attendees turn into regular customers, but they may have catering needs that they are looking to fulfill.
28. Host networking events.
Research and reach out to local clubs or business networking groups. Do they need a place to meet? Someone to provide lunch once a month?
One of the biggest hurdles networking groups or other corporate events face is finding a reliable place to regularly meet. If you’re able to reserve a small section of tables each Tuesday afternoon for a networking group, they will likely come back to your location time and time again.
Put these restaurant marketing ideas to use!
With so many fun and creative ways to market your restaurant, there’s nothing holding you back. Don’t be intimidated by the competition, and don’t believe that a small marketing budget equals limited marketing opportunities. There are lots of affordable, even free, ways to bring in more restaurant business.
Up next, check out 15 of our favorite happy hour ideas.