How to promote your restaurant to local customers

8 min read
Rebecca Coleman

Many industries have been hit hard by the worldwide COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, but the restaurant and hospitality industries may have been hit the hardest. Many restaurants are reporting sales in the range of 20-30% of what they were last year at this time. If you are running a restaurant, what steps can you take to promote your business during these challenging times?

First of all, take heart.

Yes, these are tough times, but much of your local clientele does want to support you.

A little creativity and some fresh ideas can help you with marketing a restaurant now. Here we serve up 15 restaurant promotion ideas fresh from the oven.

Idea #1: Be COVID-aware

This one is pretty obvious, but when customers are looking to eat in restaurants these days, they’re looking for high safety protocols:

  • Sanitized tables
  • Plexiglass
  • Lots of space between tables

Restaurants with higher safety protocols will likely get more business than those without. Advertise your safety protocols and post photos on your website and social media to let people know how seriously you take guest and employee safety.

Scan this post to learn the restaurant safety requirements in your province.

Editor’s note: Need a website? Websites + Marketing allows you to make changes to your menu on the fly from any device. Having a menu online is a great benefit during the pandemic since items can be updated as needed — right from your kitchen.

Idea #2: Beyond just takeout and eat-in

If there’s one thing the pandemic has forced us to do, it’s to become more creative.

Dining table set up on a patio

Can you create other streams of revenue that are not related to just table service and takeout?

Can you offer drive-up, contactless curbside pickup? Delivery? Or a delivery service?

Many restaurants have managed to keep afloat by putting together meal kits that you can make yourself at home. Here in Vancouver, one local pizzeria is now selling at-home cast-iron frying pan pizza kits.

Many are also selling cocktail kits, wine and beer, or even ingredients like yeast and flour, which were challenging to find for a while.

Another local restaurant has started bottling its condiments, jams and spices and is selling them online. Or how about candles that smell like your favorite dessert? Think outside the box.

Idea #3: Get your chef on the local news

One free way to promote a restaurant is to reach out to your local news stations.

News channels, newspapers and other media outlets are always looking for filler. With so many people working and cooking at home these days, it’s a great idea to approach local media outlets to see if they might be interested in:

  • A live cooking demo (in-studio or virtual)
  • You contributing a favorite recipe

This can expose you to a large, untapped audience, and will give you the opportunity to talk about your restaurant. Just head to the “Contact” page of your local TV stations and newspapers, and send emails proposing the idea to editors and producers.

Idea #4: Food porn

Hire a photographer for half a day and have them photograph a large portion of the menu.

Nothing draws the human gaze quite like a delectable plate of food.

Closeup of a pizza

This is called “batching.” In one afternoon, you’ve now created a bank of photos you can use for months.

Idea #5: Delight and surprise your customers

Go the extra mile for your customers. Maybe throw in a free dessert or an extra appetizer with their first order.

What will likely happen is you will get thanked and shouted out via social media, or patrons will tell their friends — both great marketing techniques.

Idea #6: Have a user-friendly website

This restaurant promotion idea is perfect for these times, as it provides touch-free convenience to potential customers everywhere.

Remember most people will be looking at your website on a smartphone, so make sure any website you build is mobile-friendly.

You’ll want to include:

  • Your full menu (NOT in PDF format please)
  • A button that says “ORDER NOW”
  • Clear delivery/take out/pickup options

Another free restaurant marketing idea is to claim your Yelp page. You may not realize this, but you probably have a Yelp page already. Claiming it allows you to be in on the conversation and to monitor the comments and reviews. Same goes for your Google My Business Page and Trip Advisor.

Idea #7: Reward patrons

You can either build your own rewards program, or sign up for an already-built one.

Rewards programs can be low-tech (think coffee shop punch cards—10th cup free), or high-tech, delivered via an app on your phone.

Reward programs are a great way to build repeat business. You could offer:

  • Monthly or weekly specials to encourage your clientele to come back and try something new
  • Two-for-one coupons
  • Specials like a free dessert or appetizer with the purchase of an entrée

Create a three-course “prix-fixe” (fixed price) tasting menu for the bold and curious guest, and then upsell the wine pairing.

Idea #8: eNewsletter

Have a newsletter signup QR code (they’re back!) on the guest checks, but give some value beyond just the weekly or monthly updates. Include a regular contest or discount, or special exclusive tastings or dishes that are just for the eNewsletter list.

Editor’s note: Websites + Marketing includes an email signup form right on your website’s home page, along with an easy-to-use email marketing tool.

Idea #9: Make it really easy for guests to follow you

Another terrific way to promote a restaurant is to list your social media handles on table talkers or on your menus and encourage customers to follow you.

You might want to incentivize them by offering discounts and contests. (“Follow us for a chance at a free dinner!”)

Create a unique hashtag and encourage people to post snaps of their food using the hashtag. At the end of the month, do a drawing for a gift certificate from amongst the people who submitted photos. Then use their photos to fuel your own social media (giving credit to the source in each case).

Idea #10: Livestreams

Woman mixing a cocktail

Have your bartender livestream making a cocktail, or have your chef livestream making a favorite dish.

Video is performing well on Facebook these days, so livestreams are a great way to create content with a larger reach.

Idea #11: Contests

Idea #11 on our list of ways to promote a restaurant is the ever-popular contest.

Everyone loves to get something for free, and running contests on Instagram and Facebook is pretty easy. Post a photo of your giveaway on your Facebook timeline and ask people to comment on the photo in order to be entered.

You could ask them what their favorite dish is, for example, or what dish they have never tried but would like to.

Or ask them to tag the friend they’d bring with them to your restaurant if they won. Just be sure to abide by Facebook’s guidelines for running a contest. Instagram’s are slightly different.

Idea #12: Ads

If you have the cash, why not try local ads on Facebook or on your Google My Business page? These types of pay-per-click ads are fairly inexpensive and you get to control your budget. They also have a good success rate, as you can geo-tag them to target people in your local area.

Idea #13: Share faces

One restaurant marketing tactic that works really well on social media are photos of faces. Maybe they’re employee profiles, maybe they’re loyal customer profiles (with their permission, of course!), but photos of faces tend to perform well online.

Man holding a mixed drink with a sprig of thyme

Idea #14: Hashtags

Hashtags are another fun way to promote a restaurant. Just be sure you use the 10/10/10 strategy in selecting which hashtags to use:

  • 10 popular hashtags (1Million+)
  • 10 medium popular hashtags (100K+)
  • 10 local hashtags (e.g. #yourcitynameeats or #yourcitynamefood)

And don’t forget to geo-tag your restaurant and tag any suppliers, servers or customers in the photos as well for more reach.

Idea #15: Influencers

Last on our list of restaurant promotion ideas has to do with riding someone else’s coattails. Reach out to your local food bloggers and Instagram influencers and invite them to come and try your restaurant for free. The resulting influencer shout-outs will expose you to a new and larger audience.

Related: Influencer marketing on a shoestring budget

Anyone can promote a restaurant (if they’re creative)

Marketing a restaurant, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, can be a challenge. But with the right tools, some creativity and a local mindset, you can succeed. So go ahead — surprise them.

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