How to Market a Restaurant: 72 Strategies & Ideas
Marketing for restaurants is getting tougher. As far as consumer industries go, eating out is still one of the most crowded marketplaces. Restaurants and cafes remain one of our favourite ways to socialise and enjoy a lifestyle both inside and outside our working day.
While traditional marketing in your locality is still very important, the advent of the digital marketplace and research-savvy customers means that you need to mix the physical and online marketing in your mix to create the most successful marketing for your restaurant or cafe.
Our restaurant marketing guide brings you over 70 tips for making your establishment the go-to dine-out option for locals and tourists alike.
- Get a website
As a physical business that relies on footfall stepping inside the door, it can be an easy mistake to assume that a website isn’t important in your marketing. However, many people will now Google search for recommendations when it comes to dining out, even in a city they already live in, but especially if they’re visiting as tourists. Existing customers will also check online to see what offers you have on or when you open. Put ‘building a good website’ at the top of your to-do list!
- Mobile friendly
Linked to this trend in online research is the fact that most of it will be happening not from a desktop computer, but from a smartphone (in front of the TV). That means it’s important that your website is designed to be “mobile friendly” (meaning the content will shrink cleanly and load quickly on a mobile phone or tablet device).
- Local Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
When someone searches Google the likelihood is that they won’t go past the first page of results (that’s about 10 websites). SEO works to get you within those top searches to ensure you have the chance of being the solution to their question. So, type “Restaurant + [your cuisine] + [your location]” into the search bar and see if your business appears. If not, invest in help from an SEO marketing company.
- User experience
When building your website, you may hear designers talk about “usability” or “UX.” This is about making your website as simple as possible for new visitors to find their way around. Test your website with friends or staff. Find a family member who isn’t good with technology, and see how easy it is for them to find the most common information such as menus or opening times.
- Up to date
Bear in mind that the work you put into the website shouldn’t stop when it’s built. It’s really important that you always check the information on there is up to date, otherwise you may lose the potential customers who visit your website. The most likely things that put people off include old offers (e.g. Christmas 2014), menus that don’t load or broken links to pages that no longer exist.
It should go without saying, but one of the crucial pieces of information on your website must be your location. Make it as easy a possible for people to come and spend their money with you! Upload a clear map, or even better, link a Google map so people can get SatNav directions on their smartphone. Go the extra mile and provide some helpful tips on traffic issues, nearby parking and if there are any costs involved, or mobility issues for access where a customer is in a wheelchair for example.
- Opening times
As per your location, opening times are a basic piece of information that are too often committed from websites. If you can, go a step further by updating these around holiday periods, such as Christmas or public holidays and include the dates, the way retail stores do, to maximise custom.
- Online menu
Once people know where to find you and when you’re open, the most important factor in their restaurant choice is what they can have to eat there. It’s often the first thing they will look for so ensure you have menus online that are clearly found from the website homepage. You can do this using uploaded PDF versions of your menu or a menu website page. It doesn’t matter as long as it loads quickly and explains options and prices clearly. Try to also include any special offers and set menus. You may not be able to update daily specials but you could give an example of some of the meals you have created as specials in the past.
An online booking form system embedded within your website is fantastic if you can incorporate the technology into your processes. This is particularly good for a growing audience of people who are used to communicating online rather than by phone. It also frees up staff time during the day. However, even if you can’t do this, just be sure to include a clear way to contact you to make a booking on every page of the website, be it email address or phone number (ideally, both!)
While all the factual details are really important, don’t forget the personal touch on your website, just as you would within your restaurant. You can do this with an “About” page that talks about your history if it’s a family restaurant, or your ethos if you focus on local produce, for example. You might include some team photographs or a short message from the head chef about their inspiration behind the latest menus.
- Email newsletter
Email isn’t just a great way to keep in touch in the modern world. It’s also fast becoming one of the most successful methods of converting customers online. Emails cut through the noise on social media and offer a way to get directly in front of people, with a personalised approach. As far as marketing budgets go, it’s also extremely budget-friendly and with new systems making it easier to automate, it is resource efficient on staff time too. However, design and content mistakes could leave you in the Junk folder so…
In order for email marketing to be a successful revenue generator you need to get emails on your send list. Importantly, for data protection, people must choose to do this and “opt-in” as opposed to you just adding email addresses you already have. So offer them every opportunity to opt-in to receive them. Include a sign-up box on your website for example or include a small flyer explaining the benefits of being a member with each bill receipt.
You may notice that larger retail and restaurant chains often ask subscribers for their date of birth as well as their name and email address. This isn’t for legal reasons, but rather to enable you to offer personalised birthday messages and discounts by email! Perhaps offer a free bottle of bubbles if they book a birthday meal with you, or a free dessert and serve it with a candle on top. The small token will pay back dividends in the profit from a group booking.
- Business people
Another core customer base for restaurants and cafes are local business people having meetings or working remotely from the office. In a cafe, you can offer a WiFi password system where people have to sign-up with their email address to use it, simultaneously allowing them to automatically connect every time they return (encouraging repeat custom). For restaurants, it’s a great idea to hold a monthly “business card raffle” where you choose a winning free meal or free drinks from the bowl as people submit their contact details at the checkout. Business email addresses tend to receive less marketing material than personal email addresses so this improves your chances of being noticed in the inbox, too!
Another great way to market your restaurant and gather email addresses from potential customers is to encourage recommendations on your website. A suggestion box where customers can refer friends by entering their email to receive an offer or discount helps them feel good, generates promotion for you from a trusted source in their social circle and grows your email newsletter recipient list.
- Social Media
There are plenty of social media channels to choose from now. As a general rule eateries succeed best on places like Facebook and Instagram. Creating a Facebook Page with geolocation promotes your restaurant to local people as diners check-in on their own status updates, while beautifully-crafted photographs of food are one of the most popular content and hashtag themes on Instagram. Start with where you’re most comfortable and see how much time and effort you can give to do a good job there. Wherever you choose, ensure the profile is fully updated with a professional-looking header image, a logo (so people know they’ve found the right restaurant), address details, a link to your website and your opening times.
- Facebook advertising
While updating Facebook costs only your time, you can use a small budget to run Facebook advertising campaigns. Generally considered one of the most effective advertising platforms, Facebook is highly targeted based on choices such as locality, families-versus-couples, people who are newly engaged or those celebrating a birthday soon. This type of advertising will come in at a much lower cost than local newspaper or radio ads too.
Once your social profiles are filled in, the trick to successfully growing your fan base is to remember that people go to Facebook to socialise, not to buy things. So talk with them, rather than selling at them. Mix up your promotional messages with humour, local news or behind the scenes updates that show your personality and pride in your business.
Another great tactic online is to be topical – to engage in conversations that are already happening. You could chat about restaurant dress code during the red-carpet coverage of The Oscars, or debate modern table etiquette as people watch a new period drama TV show or movie at the cinema. Annual seasonal topics, from Summer cocktail recipes to Christmas turkey tips are all great content, too.
- Up to date
As per your website, it’s important to regularly check your social media profiles to ensure they’re kept up-to-date from an information point of view. So make sure the opening times are still correct, that the menus are available in your photo albums, or that your website, email address or phone number hasn’t changed for people who want to make a booking.
Social media profiles require an administrator to be assigned to manage them, using a password to log in. Make sure you – the owner – are always listed on these management sections, even if you have another staff member running it on a daily basis. This ensures that if staff leave you don’t lose access to your accounts. You might also want to draw up some basic social media guidelines so staff know what’s acceptable in terms of content, how to respond to online complaints, etc.
Restaurants and cafes rely on reputation for future business. People often research these online review sites when deciding where to eat or planning holiday itineraries. So it’s crucial for your online reputation that you control all profiles where your business is mentioned. That includes setting up official profiles on services such as TripAdvisor and Google Business. You will want to claim your listing for each of these, providing proof to the websites that you are the proprietor. Once you are approved, complete all the details just as you did on your website and social media profiles, updating imagery, contact details and your website link.
- Monitor reviews
After that, it’s a matter of monitoring the reviews that come in. They won’t always be positive of course, so think about how you will respond to negativity. Always respond quickly and respectfully. You can offer to speak privately to resolve a complaint, or offer to make amends with a discount on return. However, if the complaint is not entirely factual, do respectfully inform the audience of how you handled the situation on the day while apologising that the customer still isn’t happy and that you want to resolve issues.
- Solicit reviews
Reviews aren’t just a passive activity, though, where you wait to receive good ones or fear receiving bad ones. Take a proactive approach by encouraging all honest reviews with handouts, receipt notes or links to third-party review services on your own website. Know that without incentive, people more often take the time to review when service is bad rather than good. So perhaps offer an incentive to review, such as picking random free drink winners from the reviews left. Grow your email list by encouraging customers to email you a link to their review in order to be entered!
- Website reviews
With good SEO work, your website should rank above the review websites in online searches for your business. This means people should be researching your own website before visiting, making it a good idea to host reviews right there, providing the “social proof” in their decision-making. Include some reviews on your site and even incorporate a feedback submission box to elicit more reviews (and email addresses) if you can.
- Google Alerts
Setting up Google Alerts is free and you can enter as many as you like, to run as often as you like. These are automatic searches, whereby Google will email you with results any time a new piece of content appears on the internet using the keywords you put in your Alert. It’s a good idea to set one up for your restaurant’s name at least.
- Online directories
If you want your restaurant to be found by people researching, then make sure your restaurant is listed in all the places they might search. While Google and TripAdvisor are two key ones, there are many others such as Yell as well as possibly local listing websites in your own area.
- Influencers and bloggers
Modern consumers are hugely influenced by their own peers as well as the new celebrities online – bloggers and influencers – those with large followings on social media for example. Reaching out to them individually to come and sample your menu in exchange for coverage is a good way to benefit from their own reach and reputation. Or you could host a “blogger event” for all those within your local area, with food and drink samples for attendees, a Q&A with the head chef, etc. If they don’t want to attend for free, there is always the option to sponsor content by paying them for coverage (usually at a cost-effective rate, but they will have to tell their followers that they were paid, to remain within the Advertising Standards Authority’s guidelines).
- Local online news
Many modern cities will now have their own popular news websites, aside from the traditional publishing houses of broadcast and newspapers, such as “Belfast Live” or “Lovin’ Dublin”. Their social media channels usually have very large followings and offering them local information and news stories is a great way to be seen by a local audience, online. They will offer advertising packages too, just like print media.
- Local social media
As well as these sites, there are now social media channels that have been set up with the sole aim of informing local residents and tourists about the happenings in a certain city or area. Owners will often accept “promoted posts” as per bloggers, where you can pay for them to publish a sponsored post to their followers.
- Video marketing
Video marketing is much more cost-effective and simple to execute than it used to be, with most smartphones able to record quality footage and plenty of apps to help you easily edit it with sound and graphics. You can host videos for free on social media channels such as YouTube, embed videos in your website, or upload them to social channels like Facebook. Videos are a great way to show people the experience of being in your restaurant, as well as offering fun content like recipes!
While online marketing is very important, on-street marketing remains crucial for restaurants and cafes. Clear signage is first on your to-do list, ensuring people can easily find you. Also ensure your contact details are visible on your signage (such as website and/or phone number) for anyone who walks by, or drives by, and wants to research more about you. Pavement boards like A frames are another useful on-street marketing tool for passing footfall (but check the local council regulations first!)
People love a freebie, but more than that, samples are a good cost-effective way to introduce people to your cuisine without them having to take the risk of paying for a full meal. Handing out samples on disposable cups or spoons is fun, as are bite-size chunks on tooth picks, and you can include your social media profiles or a hashtag so you can follow what people say about it on their own channels.
Restaurants may not want to showcase their wares in a shop-front window the way a retailer might do, but that doesn’t mean windows should be wasted! If you face on to the street, use your windows to display open times, special deals, or a decal logo, catching the eye of passersby.
If you don’t know them already, go out into your town or city and make friends with local hoteliers and B&B owners. Tell them about your restaurant and offer to create a bespoke deal or package for their customers. They will often be asked by people from out of town for recommendations of places nearby to eat and could become heavy referrers of customers for you. If they do, remember to repay their kindness with the odd meal “on the house” as a thank you.
As you’re networking with local businesses in the tourism industry, don’t forget to link up with the actual tourism board covering your area. Get to know the staff in the local information office, as well as meeting with more strategic managers who may be responsible for planning larger events such as food and drink fares or restaurant weeks.
You may not want to hang your whole menu out on the street, or in your front window, but there are other ways to ensure local people can see your offering before coming inside (where they could risk embarrassment having to walk back out if they don’t see anything on the menu they like!) You can display your menu in a glass box by the door or offer some waterproof versions for people to lift and look through from a box on an outside table for example. Research suggests that take-away flyers work best if they are credit-card sized, as they’re easily stored in pockets and wallets, so you could offer a selection of those for people to take as they walk by.
Remember to promote your menu once it’s designed. Regularly post snippets of it on social media, highlighting your most popular meals and including photos that perhaps aren’t on the menu itself to get people salivating!
- Newspaper ads
Newspapers are still an effective way to reach a local audience with your message. Local paid-for papers also tend to attract a more affluent consumer, with the disposable income to spend eating out regularly. However they do have a declining readership, regular readers on a weekly basis, usually an older demographic, and advertising options aren’t always the most cost-effective. Your restaurant will also likely be featured alongside many of your competitors within the same newspaper. So the advice is to invest less often, with a bigger, more eye-catching advert!
- Media competitions
Another way to tap into local media coverage is to offer an experience as a prize for one of the many competitions they run for readers or listeners. This could be a simple meal, possibly on a day when people feel it’s too expensive such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day, or it could be a behind the scenes experience like learning to cook or learning how to make cocktails for example.
- Food critics
Most of the larger newspapers will have food critics within their journalism team, whose job it is to try restaurants and critique them for readers. Rather than worrying about an unexpected visit, be proactive and invite the food critic along for a meal that you can plan for, briefing both the kitchen team and the service staff. However, only invite them if you’re confident you can put on a good show!
- PR stunts
Depending on the restaurant, publicity stunts can work well for gaining coverage in local traditional and online media outlets. It doesn’t have to be a Coca-Cola level stunt, as your budget probably won’t stretch that far. It can be as simple as offering a free meal to anyone who can eat your biggest belly-busting option (ensuring they likely can’t, of course!) For more refined eateries, you might offer a themed menu in praise of a local sporting hero or you could have a “bring your dog for brunch” afternoon in support of a local animal charity.
- Open / launch evening
If you’re newly opened, or you’ve recently renovated or changed hands, then an open or launch event is a good way to attract publicity. Not only is it a newsworthy event for local residents and therefore likely to be covered by local media, but making more of an occasion of it by inviting journalists is a great way to encourage a larger write-up than a simple news announcement. You can sample your food and chat about your plans for the future in terms of employment or expansion. Be sure to have a photographer on hand so you can provide the media with photos.
- Special offers
Special offers on quiet nights or daytimes are one of the best ways to fill empty table settings. 2-for-1 deals, kids eat free, £10 3-course lunches and bottomless brunches are all proven successful methods. Special social media offers and email offers can work too, helping you to test which marketing tool is driving the most new footfall into your establishment.
- Special times
Obviously certain times are easier to fill than others, but a specially designed offer on quiet times can help get bookings when you’re usually empty. Early Bird and Pre-Theatre menus from 5.00-6.30pm are a prime example. Others include special business lunch deals at midday for example, or Sunday brunch offers for early risers before 11am. This also helps your restaurant/cafe look busy for customers who arrive at any time, which is a marketing tool in itself!
- Theme nights
Set menu nights can work well, from curry nights on a Thursday to a Sunday carvery for an easy roast dinner for families. Think about what could work well for your usual clientele as well as what might fill empty evenings depending on your locality (for example if students live nearby then they may eat out at a specially-priced themed night on a Monday or Tuesday).
- Set menus
Set menus and offer deals are a great way to attract customers who may not usually visit your restaurant at peak times, or who are considering trying you out. £3-£5-£3 menus are popular (with set starter, main course and dessert) as are 2 for £25 with a free bottle of wine. Obviously you need to make a profit, but design the deals so you have opportunities to up-sell with drinks, side orders or desserts.
Hosting charity or business events like networking lunches or volunteer parties are a great way to spread the word about your restaurant as well as filling up larger bookings. You can offer set menus and prices or provide bespoke offerings depending on the social event. These organisations will then promote their time with you across their own social media and newsletters which is good marketing for you.
- Live music
Providing some atmosphere and entertainment for diners on a special night, such as weekends, is a good way to set yourself apart from competitors. This could be linked to a theme (such as Indian or Italian) or it could simply be a way to give a platform to local aspiring musicians and, again, benefit from the community goodwill around that.
Restaurant wedding receptions are growing in popularity as people shy away from big hotel events to save money for houses, travel or having children. Looking at ways you could decorate and menu design for such an event is another profit opportunity. Make sure to promote it well on social media and at local wedding fares.
- Loyalty schemes
Loyalty cards are small printed business card-size where staff can use an ink stamp or sign their name each time a customer buys a meal or a coffee, so the customer can receive a free one after say ten visits. It is proven to encourage loyalty in customers and shows a willingness for you to give something back to regular visitors. You can of course set Terms and Conditions so that the freebie must be used at off-peak times.
You can encourage customers to return by offering them discounts valid for a short period of time, given with their bill receipt for example. This can also be used through your email marketing, to target customers who haven’t visited in a long time, encouraging them back with a special offer just for them.
- Gift certificates
People are always looking for voucher and certificate ideas when they can’t think of a physical gift to buy a loved one. Restaurant vouchers are particularly good because it provides a whole experience and the recipient can share it with a loved one or the whole family.
- Take away
If you can do it, think about offering a take-out service from your menu, so that regular customers who can’t come can still buy your food. It’s also a great way for potential new customers to try your offering without spending what may be a rare night out for them on a risky new place. Even the most high-end restaurants can offer take away without cheapening their menu!
- Printed marketing
Leaflet drops to local resident mail boxes is a great way to promote a new restaurant or promote new offers at an existing one. But bear in mind that modern households receive a lot of marketing mail, so it’s important to stand out. Use an unusual design, an attention-grabbing offer, or personalised mail to get noticed.
Get an expert designer to help you craft a professional look and strong sales content for your target audience. They will use bold colours and key messages, perhaps graphic design, photography, or a mix of both. They may experiment with formats (such as a trifold leaflet) or unusual shapes like a pizza-style circle for an Italian restaurant. They can then match the finish to your business branding, meaning a cafe may opt for a glossy finish, whereas a fine dining restaurant may choose a matt or silk finish.
If you plan to deliver your leaflets yourself door-to-door, think strategically about the best time to do this. If you’re a takeaway restaurant, then Monday or Friday before 5pm is a great time, as are Sundays, when people are thinking of alternative/easy dinner options. Also think about timing – people usually get their post delivered in the morning and then clear it away, so delivering in the evening lands your leaflet pride of place on the door mat by itself.
- Delivery companies
Related to the above point is the temptation to enlist the services of budget delivery companies who can possibly reach more homes more quickly than you can alone. However, be mindful that they will be delivering many leaflets to each house, so that lessens the likelihood yours will stand out. Be especially careful to check that they aren’t delivering competitor leaflets on the same drops!
- Menu design
Of course, the actual food and crafting of your meals is one of the key selling points of your restaurant, but the way in which you present it can make or break the decisions for potential customers. It’s important to have your menu professionally designed with clear headings, good spacing and graphics or photos where appropriate.
- Menu covers
For a touch of class, you could add professionally-produced menu and drinks list covers to your menus, incorporating your brand logo. Some outlets will opt for a faux leather cover, a wooden engraved clipboard or a laminated folder. Granted there is an initial cost, but they do last and help to keep your menus clean and crease-free.
Even without fancy covers, you can make a statement simply by choosing the right paper to print your menus on. You will want fairly thick paper making the menu impressive and easier for customers to hold and read. You don’t want to give the wrong impression by handing out flimsy paper (or worse still, handing sit-down diners a fold-out takeaway menu!)
As with all marketing content, it’s important to entice people, motivate them to buy and sell your products. That means using lots of descriptive words, perhaps including ingredient-source descriptions and even some humour if it fits with your restaurant, e.g. “Hand battered freshly-caught fish made with the finest craft beer this side of Belgium, served with [local county] potato-made chips and traditional mushy peas.”
- Top down choices
The way people read through marketing materials (like menus) means that we start at the top and begin to skip and skim read the further down we go. That’s why it’s important to put your best dishes and (for profitability) your most expensive options at the top of your menu list. Another method is to attract attention to your expensive, exclusive meals by highlighting them in some way, like in a box with a border around it.
- Restrict choice
We wouldn’t claim to tell you what meals to put on your menu but from a marketing point of view there are some best practice tips based on what the most successful restaurants do. One of which involves not including too many choices which can take too long for customers to get through and end up making them feel confused or overwhelmed. Shorter menus also make customers feel assured that the ingredients are fresh, not frozen.
- Be expensive
An expensive option works particularly well in among other options as people can choose the middle of the range and think they are getting both good quality and value for money. So offer three options, instead of two, and people are more likely to choose the medium cost than when there are only two options and they will opt for the cheapest one.
- Psychology of money
Psychology like this also comes into play in how you present your prices. We all know that £15.99 sounds better than £16.00 for example. Research also suggests that excluding the £ or $ symbols helps people to worry less about what they are spending, so stick to the numbers only beside your meals on menus
It can be difficult to include food photography and keep your restaurant menu looking high quality, rather than fast food, so think carefully about whether you need it to describe and sell your meals. Test your ideas with potential customers, staff and friends to see which options makes them feel the most tempted. Always avoid stock imagery and photos of an empty restaurant!
- Up sell
Use carefully crafted promotions on your menu to encourage people to spend more at their meal. This can include side dish offers or drinks offers, such as adding a side dish or a larger drink for an extra £2.
- Skilled staff
Your serving team of waiters and waitresses are the next key marketing tool for your business, once you’ve got people in the door and looking at your menu. They should know the meals well; what’s in them, what size they are, if they would be too spicy. They should also be confident in advising on which side options or drinks would complement each meal. Customers will often ask waiting staff for advice and will trust their recommendations. Give your staff the skills and words to really sell each option in an enticing and enthusiastic way.
- Ask staff
Staff are not just the key to selling your offerings and giving customers a great experience. They are often the best people to provide feedback on how you could improve the running of your restaurant operationally. They will know the little things that regularly cause problems, whether its seating layout, difficulty opening bottles, a broken coffee machine. Tap into this knowledge and ask for their feedback. It will also boost staff morale if they feel involved and appreciated.
Honest feedback is an important market research tool to help you constantly improve and achieve more success with your restaurant. You can use online survey systems such as Survey Monkey to get feedback from your website and social media visitors. Printed paper copies are also good, allowing each diner to leave a short reply with their tip after each meal. Again, use this as a way to gather emails and perhaps offer an incentive to leave feedback, such as entry into a prize draw.
- Toilet advertising
Posters on the backs of toilet cubicle doors or above standing basins are a great way to advertise special offers and events because, well, your audience is stuck there with nothing to do for a little while! These are also good advertising spaces to sell to other local businesses and turn the unused space into a small profit generator for your restaurant/cafe.