26 Restaurant Marketing Ideas: How to Market a Restaurant
The competition among restaurants is fierce, and you’ll need to give your all to be successful. We’re helping you out with 26 restaurant marketing ideas and strategies that promise to help you improve your business and get attention from growling stomachs everywhere!
Note: If you're looking for restaurant marketing strategies specific to COVID-19, head here.
1. Foodie Photos
If you’ve ever logged onto Instagram, you’ll understand that food porn is alive and well.
Arguably the very best way to promote your restaurant online is with high-quality, drool-inducing photos. Visual content is in high demand online these days, and having delicious looking photos on your website and across various social media outlets is essential for drawing hungry eyes.
Consider hiring a pro to take some top-notch photographs, or try it DIY style with your smartphone. Be warned though – taking really great food photos can be tougher than it looks, as lighting is often a key factor. Learn more about snapping your own A+ food photos in this Gizmodo article. Some nice advice in this Udemy post as well. We have more ideas to boost your business here.
2. Loyalty Programs
Partnering up with online food apps should definitely be a consideration as part of your restaurant marketing plan. Partnering with online apps encourages visitors to check out your restaurant through gamification and customer loyalty programs, which offer visitors a free purchase or discount for visiting a certain number of times.
Popular foodie apps that offer integrated loyalty programs include:
You could also kick it old school and hand out punch cards. They aren’t quite as cool as apps, but they still show that you value customers and appreciate their loyalty!
Need more ideas? Download our free guide for 69 Creative Marketing Ideas to Boost Your Business here!
Yelp has tremendous power in the restaurant industry, and having a strong backing of positive Yelp reviews is like having a flock of golden geese – reviews from Yelp can do wonders for your business. I’ve written an entire blog post devoted to helping you get more Yelp reviews, so peruse that at your leisure.
The most important thing to understand about Yelp is that people can and will review you, even if you don’t set up an account. For that reason, as a restaurant owner you should absolutely be proactive and dress up your Yelp account so it works for you, rather than against you.
This means adding as many details as possible, such as:
- Photos, and lots of ‘em
- Store hours
- Price Range
- Wi-Fi/Outdoor Seating/Parking/etc.
Do your best to add as many details as Yelp will allow.
The other big thing to keep in mind when it comes to Yelp is how you handle feedback. It’s great to thank Yelpers for their review, whether positive or negative.
If you get negative feedback, always answer in a polite, professional manner. I have a whole section in my Complete Guide to Yelp post about how to handle negative reviews, but the nutshell version is to always play the gracious host.
If you’re responding to the negative review publically, thank the reviewer for the feedback, apologize for the incident, and promise to improve in the future. You may also want to consider contacting the reviewer privately for more information about any negative incidents. Some business owners offer to send gift cards to Yelpers who have had less than favorable experiences, hoping to get them back in the door for a second chance. I’ve seen this work in favor of many businesses, as reviewers are often flattered at the consideration shown and are more generous in their critique knowing the restaurant owner values their opinion and is working hard to improve.
4. Set Up Your Google+ Account
Setting up your restaurant’s Google+ account is as important (heck, maybe even more important) as setting up your Yelp account. Here’s why:
When you search a business within Google, Google’s Knowledge Graph provides the business’s details in the sidebar. Google’s Knowledge Graph gathers a large chunk of its info from Google+, so having your business set up on Google+ is a huge bonus, as having your restaurant appear via Google’s Knowledge Graph allows for more prime search real estate (for free)!
Also encourage visitors to review you on Google+, as Knowledge Graph loves to aggregate Google user reviews.
5. Geo-targeted Ads
For most restaurants, local is the name of the game. Most folks are looking for good eats close to home, and you’ll get the most value out of your online marketing efforts by investing primarily in geo-targeted ads. Geo-targeting ads help you save money, ensuring that only users in certain cities or within a specific radius see your ads (eliminating non-relevant clicks, which can cost you big ad bucks).
Many online advertising services, from Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords) to Facebook and Twitter, offer geo-targeting ad options (at no extra cost). Be sure to take advantage of these handy targeting features to get your best ads in front of your best customers. For tips on Facebook advertising during COVID-19, check out this post: 5 Ways Restaurants Can Use Facebook Ads During COVID-19.
6. Be an Insta-Ham
Having a strong Instagram presence is another semi-obvious (but too important to ignore) restaurant marketing tip. Use Instagram to promote your business’ best visual content.
Show off your storefront, get up close with your top dishes, and use this social media main stage as a place to play around with your brand identity. For example, an all-natural health food store might try snapping pics of people kayaking, cooking, farming, or other activities you think your fan base will enjoy.
Also be sure to have some fun with hashtags – whether jumping on the hype of existing popular Twitter hashtags like #ThrowbackThursday or inventing your own, hashtags are a great way to have some fun with fans.
Instagram is a no-brainer for those in the food business – learn even more about Instagram marketing here.
7. Send Out an Email Newsletter
Remember, your restaurant newsletter doesn’t have to be weekly – in fact, users will probably appreciate a less flooded inbox if you simply send them a newsletter every month or so.
Use your email newsletter as a chance to celebrate your success, discuss new menu items, or share special discounts. Need some email newsletter templates or layouts? No problem!
8. Promote User-Generated Content
User-generated content (lovingly dubbed UGC) is a great way to develop personal and intimate engagement with users. Host a photo contest by asking customers to share their favorite meal at your establishment, and share the entries on a dedicated content page (and/or share submissions across your various social networks). Consider awarding some random lucky contestants with a free appetizer or other prize!
Hosting and promoting user-generated content shows customers that you appreciate them, turning occasional visitors into die-hard devotees.
9. Show Off Your Staff
In an age of robotic customer service reps and soon to be self-driving cars, the human element is severely lacking. Show off your 5-star staff doing what they do best! Seeing happy, smiling employees does wonders for your reputation, as customers long to be served by joyful workers.
Showing off your pleasant employees also provides major reputation points – happy workers say a lot about a business, and fans are sure to take notice.
10. Monitor Your Social Media Presence
Social media marketing strategies are an undeniable force in today’s world. Pamphlets and delivery menus slipped under doorways simply won’t cut it anymore.
Often, the restaurants with a strong social media presence as part of their restaurant marketing plan are the ones that fare the best, and in the competitive food industry, ignoring social media is a death sentence.
Of course you’ll want to create a Facebook business page and a Twitter account to share special discounts, exclusive coupons, photos of your newest dishes, and promote your own news accolades. But setting up your accounts is only half the job – it’s also essential you keep up with activity happening on your social sites.
There are many great free and paid social media management tools – a few popular free options include:
- HootSuite: A one-stop dashboard for keeping tabs on all your social media networks. Create custom streams, schedule posts, and more.
- Buffer: Buffer makes it easy to find, schedule, and share articles across your networks. Staying active and posting valuable articles (that your fan base will enjoy) is key for social success.
Also check out this list of easy Facebook marketing ideas for any type of business.
11. Share Positive Press
Another major restaurant marketing tip – when you’re mentioned in a news outlet or magazine, be sure to show off your good publicity on your website and via social media. Fans will spread the word, and newcomers will be encouraged to visit in person when they see trusted sources celebrating your restaurant.
12. Set Up Google Alerts
Google Alerts notify you when your business name (or other designated keyword term) appears in a new piece of content on the web! This makes it easy to keep tabs on who is talking about you and your accolades. (If Google Alerts aren’t working for you, try Mention, another web monitoring application.)
13. Start a Blog
Starting your own blog is a great way to build community and engage with your customers. Blogs offer the chance to experiment with your restaurant’s voice and personality. Share your successes and struggles, funny stories, recipes, and anything else you think might interest your customers.
A blog can be a huge project, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep your blog as simple or complex as you’d like. You don’t have to be constantly posting (quality over quantity), but it’s good to have your restaurant blog set up for when you have an announcement or news you want to get out to the world. If you’re serious about taking over the world, check out more blogging tips here.
14. Food Blogger Outreach
When you’re a new restaurant, you may find it difficult to generate reviews and hype about your business. One great way to get reviews and press on the web is to invite food bloggers to your restaurant to give you a try, and consider offering a free meal or appetizer to get them in the door. Politely ask if they’d be willing to review your restaurant and share their experience online.
You can’t outright ask for a positive review, as that would be dishonest, but it’s fine to simply ask them for an objective restaurant review. Some bloggers might decline your offer, but the more you ask, the better your chances are of getting some positive feedback and generating more interest online.
Some food bloggers have big followings, and getting their attention can have a huge influence on your restaurant. Even just one write up or mention from a major foodie can be a huge for restaurant promotion efforts. For more ideas, check out what we've come up with here.
15. Verify Your Restaurant’s Online Details Are Accurate
Eaters love to do research online – in fact, 89% of consumers research a restaurant online prior to dining. This is why it’s of vital importance that all your restaurant details are online and up-to-date, including address, phone number, hours, your current menu, etc. The stronger and more accurate your online details are, the better.
16. Develop Your Restaurant’s Brand Identity
Building your restaurant’s brand identity can have a big affect on your social media performance. Your goal should be to build you restaurant’s identity around your target customers.
Does your food target patrons who prefer healthy eating? Or does your restaurant have a more beer-and-wings kind of vibe? Understand who your target patrons are, then build your brand around what they are interested in. Reflect these interests on your social media platforms and in your promotional material.
17. Time Those Tweets
Twitter can be a true treasure for restaurants, and timing your tweets can have a big influence on hungry stomachs. Try crafting and scheduling tweets at different times of the day to specifically target the breakfast, lunch, or dinner crowds (depending on your offerings).
18. Have a Sleek, Functional Online Menu
Users love to do research online before ordering from or visiting your restaurant. Don’t make users scramble to find your menu – publish a high-quality, easy to read menu that is up to date and accurate. Not sure how? Some delivery sites like those mentioned below offer to publish your menu online for free. Open Menu is another great site that can help you get your menu looking sleek and stylish (it even offers some handy social integration, for both paid and free users).
Still, you’ll want to make sure to have your menu published on your website, since that’s often the #1 piece of information users are looking for when visiting your site (along with hours, location, and contact info).
If you don’t have a good menu online and available for customers, most of your other restaurant marketing strategies are basically useless! In this day and age customers need to have access to an online menu, otherwise they’ll simply look elsewhere.
19. Partner Up With Delivery Services
In today’s online-driven environment, ease of use is the name of the game. Many online delivery services streamline the ordering process, and internet-savvy patrons often love taking advantage of such delivery services.
Consider partnering with services like:
Some customers may even discover you for the first time through services such as these!
20. Offer Coupons and Discounts
Providing coupons and discounts for your restaurant is always a surefire way to bring customers running. Offer a free dish to your new email newsletter subscribers (we can show you how to get more of those too).
Alternatively, you can try advertising a discount through Groupon or Living Social – if you go that route, you’ll get a TONS of exposure, but you’ll end up paying a hefty portion of sales to the deal website, so keep that in mind.
21. Online Reservation Tools
One fine dining restaurant marketing idea is to consider signing up for Open Table. Open Table is an online reservation tool that lets customers book reservations for your establishment online! Patrons love it when you make life a bit easier for them, and Open Table already has a base of loyal customers you can tap into.
22. Use Mobile Ads
It’s predicted that this year, half of all paid clicks on Google will come from mobile! Restaurants are one the best candidates for mobile ads, as users are often looking for nearby dining options while on the move. Mobile ads tend to be cheaper than desktop ads, and mobile boasts impressive conversion rates.
What’s really cool is that Google Ads allows for all kinds of mobile customization and targeting options that let you get the most out of your bids. For example, you can increase your bids around dinnertime, when users are often looking for fast food on their mobile phones. Boosting your bids during the dinnertime period increases your chances for showing up for a specific query. This means you could be the first ad to show up for a “pizza” search when pie-hungry users are on the search for a slice. If you’re a restaurant marketer, don’t miss out on digging into a slice of the mobile ad pie (we’re talking deep dish).
23. Fish Bowl Business Card Giveaways
Let customers drop their business cards into a bowl for a raffle. The reward can vary – a lunch for the winner and 10 friends, a 2-hour happy hour with discounted drinks, whatever you feel like!
Not only are these raffles fun, but you can also make use of those business cards by emailing customers. Let them know that while they didn’t win this time, they can sign up for your newsletter to be notified of their next chance to enter, plus the opportunity to hear about discounts and other offers they’d enjoy. Then tadaa – you’ve got yourself a bunch of super valuable new newsletter subscribers!
24. Start a Food Truck
Starting a food truck isn’t for the faint of heart – it’s a tremendous endeavor and, depending on the kind of truck you want to buy, it can be very pricey. However, starting a food truck enables you to dish out your food to folks you might never normally come in contact with.
You can greatly extend your reach, build more press, and acquire new fans who might love you so much that they become patrons of your brick-and-mortar location as well!
25. Source Local Ingredients
Customers love to hear that they’re eating local, and sourcing local ingredients from nearby can do a lot to boost your fan base and give you a positive reputation in the community. If it’s not out of your budget, definitely consider this option!
26. Provide offers, content, and events based on monthly observances
There are dozens of awareness causes and observance days throughout each month of the year that are restaurant-friendly. Here are some, just to name a few:
- National Food Safety Month in September
- National Pizza Day in February
- International Beer Day in August
- National Baked Scallops Day in March
- National Picnic Day in April
And the list goes on. And on. And on. We're talking, National Corn Chip Day, National Glazed Spiral Ham Day, Chicken Tetrazzini Day. You can have a field day with these. Here are some local marketing ideas based on months of the year (with plenty more to come):
How to Market a Restaurant [Summary]:
- Hire a professional photographer (or DIY) to create beautiful photos that appeal to foodies.
- Create a customer loyalty program, using apps such as Belly, LevelUp, LoyalBlock, or Perka.
- Set up and maintain your restaurant’s Yelp profile thoroughly and politely respond to negative feedback.
- Set up your Google My Business/Google+ account and encourage reviews.
- Create geo-targeted restaurant ads with online advertising platforms like AdWords, Facebook, and Twitter.
- Use Instagram to promote your restaurant’s best visual content.
- Send an occasional email newsletter.
- Promote user-generated content on your restaurant’s website. For instance, create a photo contest.
- Show off your staff to humanize your business.
- Monitor your restaurant’s social media presence. Tools like HootSuite and Buffer help.
- Share any positive press your business receives on your website and social media.
- Set up Google alerts for your restaurant’s name to keep tabs on who’s talking about you online.
- Start a blog for your restaurant. Share successes, struggles, funny stories, etc.
- Reach out to food bloggers who might want to review your restaurant.
- Verify the details of your restaurant like phone number, address, and business hours online.
- Understand who your restaurant’s target patrons are and use it to develop a brand identity online.
- Send out regular tweets. You can even schedule them in advance.
- Make sure your online menu is sleek and functional.
- Make use of online delivery services to get your food in the hands of hungry customers.
- Offer coupons and discounts online, through your website or through services like Groupon or Living Social.
- Set up online reservation tools like Open Table.
- Use mobile ads in AdWords, since patrons often search on mobile devices.
- Create a fish bowl business card giveaway.
- Start a satellite food truck for additional exposure.
- Source your ingredients from local vendors and farms. Patrons love restaurants that are a part of their community.
- Provide offers, content, and events based on monthly observances.
That sums up our restaurant marketing and advertising ideas. Hopefully you can put these restaurant marketing tips to good use!