Restaurant Marketing: The Complete Guide

table full with food

It’s official: Americans now spend more at restaurants than on groceries, a shift that makes restaurant marketing more important than ever.  But, as many local business owners are finding, it’s not always easy to find time to come up with new marketing ideas while juggling the demands of day-to-day operations.

That’s why we’ve created the complete guide to restaurant marketing. Whether your specialty is fine dining, fast casual, or something in between, you’ll find a list of creative restaurant marketing ideas that every eatery can adapt and use.

Download our free restaurant customer loyalty success guide to learn how to drive customers back 2x more.

Restaurant marketing ideas to attract new customers

It’s important to keep new customers coming through your doors, which is why forty-four percent of companies focus more on acquiring new customers than on retaining current ones. To bring in some new faces, try some of the tips below.

  • Give a virtual tour of your restaurant on Google

Google allows businesses create a virtual tour—also known as Business View—by hosting a photo-shoot with a Google-approved photographer. This opportunity is great for catching the eye of new customers, who love getting a preview of the look and feel of your restaurant, and maybe a glimpse of your delectable dishes.

Business View gets uploaded to your Google Places page, which means it’s visible in search results. After customers check out your tour, they’ll likely check out the rest of your business profile. In addition, you can embed the tour on your website and share it on your social pages.

When your restaurant comes up in search results, people see this Google profile:

restaurant marketing


When customers click on “See inside,” they’ll get a chance to see your virtual tour and flip through photos. Here’s what it looks like:

restaurant marketing

Eighty-four percent of customers say virtual tours do play a deciding factor in their dining choice, and 50 percent of customers clicked through the tour to make an online reservation, compared to just 20 percent without the tour.

Google’s Business View page has more information on how to get started, along with a list of pre-approved photographers.

  • Accept online reservations

First: the basics. In our digital world of smartphones and tablets, your online presence speaks volumes to potential customers about the experience they can expect at your restaurant. Especially important is your website, which should be fresh, modern, and mobile-phone friendly, as many of your potential diners will be browsing on their phones.

Another, easy-to-implement feature that can win you customers? An online reservation system. In fact, customers list the ability to make online reservations as the most important online feature that a restaurant can offer.

A variety of services, like NexTable and Reservation Genie, offer online reservation tools that you can add to your website. While most tools charge a modest fee, either monthly or per reservation, new and potential customers alike will love the convenience factor, and you’re likely to see a nice uptick in your reservations as a result.

  • Offer coupons

It may be one of the oldest restaurant marketing tricks in the book, but offering irresistible deals to your customers proves to be one of the most effective, attracting new customers and winning back existing ones. According to RetailMeNot, ninety percent of diners have looked for a coupon at least once. What if your coupon popped up in their search?

For new customers, consider creating a distinctive deal that will encourage first-time visits to your restaurant. Especially effective are deals that encourage sharing, like an offer for a free entrée with the purchase of one at regular price. Your diner will likely want to bring a friend to help finish off his meal, meaning that you’ve got a two-for-one with your promotion as well.

The more searchable and shareable your coupons, the better: post them to your website and social sites to make sure that the people you want to reach can discover your good deals and send them to their friends. An employee-friendly coupon program can help reach their friends and family network too.

As you collect customer information, your coupon game can get even more sophisticated—and effective—by identifying the people who are poised to become your best customers and give them the incentives to keep coming back. Taking the coupon digital (by text, email, or push notification) means that your customers are even more likely to take you up on your offers, and leave with a smile.

  • Make share-worthy moments to inspire customers to spread the word

Social media use is not only widespread—nearly two-thirds of adults use social media, according to Pew Research—it can be uniquely effective as a marketing channel. You might already have a Twitter page, Facebook page, and Instagram feed (in fact, we hope you do—it’s a great way to engage your customers) but you can reach beyond your own pages to inspire your customers to talk about you on their own.

After all, recommendation from a friend or family member is what people overwhelmingly trust when it comes to purchasing decisions. To get them talking, set up small but meaningful experiences people want to share. A great example is the New York-based Chalk Point Kitchen, which welcomes every customer by writing their name on the chalkboard at their table. It’s not only a welcome sight; it’s share-worthy. A celebrity customer snapped this photo near the sign and shared it on Facebook:

restaurant marketing

Share-worthy moments like that can generate the word-of-mouth that catches the interest of new customers. Consider doing something unique that encourages customers to talk about your restaurant on social media. Restaurant marketing can be that simple.

  • Run promotions during holidays and sporting events

Holidays offer a great opportunity for restaurants to capture new customers, as special occasions often encourage dining out, and many diners are looking to try something new. To encourage them to give your restaurant a shot, try offering holiday-themed deals—and bonus points if they go with the holiday, like 2-for-1 drinks on Valentine’s Day, or a Sunday brunch deal on Mother’s Day. And, remember, you don’t have to be limited by traditional holidays. Give your customers a new reason to celebrate by promoting deals for lesser-known occasions, like National Margarita Day or National Fried Chicken Day.

Check out the promotion Applebee’s used on its Facebook page for a unique holiday:

restaurant marketing

Don’t forget: sporting events are also special occasions to some of your customers. Promote your big screen TVs during the Super Bowl or when your baseball team makes the playoffs, and add some drink specials to the menu too.

Restaurant marketing ideas to keep current customers coming back

Restaurant marketing isn’t just about attracting new customers; it’s about keeping current ones. The probability of selling to existing customers is 60-70 percent, while the likelihood of selling to a new customer hovers around 5-20 percent. All the more reason to retain customers with these restaurant marketing ideas:

  • Create a loyalty program

One of the best ways to retain your dining crowd is to offer a restaurant loyalty program.

Set up a reward program that allows customers to collect points can be a simple but effective route. For instance, customers earn a point for every dollar spent. Once they reach a certain number of points, they earn a free dessert, $5 coupon or a free entrée with the purchase of one at regular price.

And customers love their loyalty programs now more than ever before: research shows restaurant loyalty program membership hit 55 million in 2015, which represents a 107 percent increase over the last two years, according to Colloquy.

When setting up a customer loyalty program, it’s important to consider how it’s going to function next to your point-of-sale—you want it to be easy for customers to sign up and redeem deals without clogging up your line. It’s also important to think about how the program might grow over time, and how effective it will be at helping you build relationships with your best customers.

  • Offer delivery

Sometimes customers don’t want to leave their house to get their dinner; they want dinner to come to them. Sixty-one percent of customers say the availability of takeout and delivery options are an important factor in choosing a restaurant, according to a report from the National Restaurant Association. Most of the time, customers order delivery from a restaurant they’re already familiar with.

When you’re marketing a restaurant, you can mention your delivery options as an added benefit to customers. Share links to your takeout menu online and on social media, and hang signs in your restaurant that highlight this feature.

  • Team up with a nonprofit

Consider partnering with a nonprofit in your area to help spread the word about your business, and do a little good in the process. You can sponsor a little league team, provide light refreshments after a charity race, or collect canned goods at your restaurant for the local food shelf.

By teaming up with a nonprofit, both your restaurant and the nonprofit can advertise your efforts. You should also send a press release to your local media outlets to let them know about the upcoming event.

Working with a nonprofit can help build the kind of general familiarity with your name and brand that might be the deciding factor when a customer is deciding where to go to lunch, or where to bring her co-workers for happy hour.

  • Cater a networking meeting

Joining a local business association or chamber of commerce is a great opportunity when it comes to restaurant marketing. It’s a simple way to remind customers about your restaurant and network at the same time.

Consider catering a meeting once a year. It can be as simple as providing a light snack or a few finger-food options, and it can spread both the feeling of goodwill in your community and give people the opportunity to sample what your restaurant has to offer.

  • Support local businesses

Speaking of goodwill, whenever possible, it’s great to support your local fellow local businesses and support the local economy, whether it’s shopping at the farmer’s market, playing local music, or showcasing the work of local artists on your wall. It could also be by recommending complementary (not competing) businesses in your community to your customers, and leaving the door open for those businesses to do the same for you.

When community members see your investment in the community, they’ll return the favor and invest in your business.

Download our free restaurant customer loyalty success guide to learn how to drive customers back 2x more.

Wrap up

We’re at an exciting time for the restaurant industry, as more than ever before Americans are heading out to dinner. The average household spent $3,008 on restaurant meals in 2015, which gives restaurants a great opportunity to share their one-of-a-kind food and drinks with a growing crowd. Through a wide variety of cost-effective marketing tactics, small businesses like yours can capture some of the growing demand.

Lisa Furgison
About the Author
Lisa Furgison

Lisa is a writer at Fivestars, a freelance journalist, and co-owner of a media company, McEwen's Media.

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