101 Ways to Advertise Your Restaurant
Owning a restaurant is a tough business and competition gets stiffer every single day. With over 600,000 restaurants currently operating in the U.S. alone, owners have to constantly find bigger and better ways to advertise their eateries.
Looking for new ideas to advertise your restaurant? Here are 101.
1. Daily Deals: If the financials make sense, consider a Groupon or Living Social-type deal to boost new business.
2. Blog: Your restaurant’s website needs a blog! Post weekly on topical, local issues pertaining to your customer base and be conversational.
3. Fix Your Answering Machine: Make sure your voicemail clearly states your hours and location so you don’t miss out on customers you almost landed.
4. Sponsor an Event: A can drive, a neighborhood cleanup, or even a fun run will work.
5. Cater a Festival: Have a booth at a local festival or even set up shop at the finish line of an annual 5K. People will associate you with the good time they had.
6. Tweet: You need to be using Twitter. It’s time.
7. Reach Out to Bloggers: Bloggers in your town will often gladly exchange a free meal for a favorable write up on their blog.
8. Advertise in the White Pages: They’re not dead yet!
9. Partner With Other Businesses: Team up with other entrepreneurs to help promote each other’s businesses.
10. Buy a Local Magazine Ad: Plenty of magazines target local markets like “moms” you can reach easily with a simple ad.
11. Make an App: Apps are fun! Hire a developer to create a branded game people will associate with your restaurant.
12. Create a Loyalty Program: Give customers a reason to come back time and time again!
13. Email List: Sometimes it’s worth it to buy an email list from an online vendor.
14. Give Staff Stuff: Give your staff members branded t-shirts, key chains, and towels. You’ll get free impressions every time they show it off.
15. Talk to Hotels: Hotels and concierges are a great source of referrals. See if you can leave a menu or provide incentives for them to recommend your spot.
16. Swap Services: Approach an unrelated business to swap services (i.e. free food to a dry cleaner who can clean the tablecloths.) It’s cheap and will open up your customer base.
17. Sponsor a Local “Celebrity:” Every town has one! From the Youtube celeb to the local weatherman, make this person your best and most loyal customer.
18. Send Postcards: Why not welcome newbies to the neighborhood with a postcard offering them a discount?
19. Ask for Business Cards: Collect business cards near the door to cultivate a list of valuable contacts.
20. Create a Commercial: Commercials can run locally for a fraction of the cost and most cities have commercial-capable ad agencies.
21. Get on Google+: Google+ may not be teeming with consumers but being there is great for your website’s SEO.
22. Use Facebook Smartly: Be sure you’re listening more than you’re talking on social. And reply to commenters ASAP!
23. Offer a Contest: Contests are great! A $50 gift card can score you literally thousands of new social media fans.
24. Build an Email List: Ask customers for their email address to build a network of interested, targeted readers for your regular email newsletters.
25. Buy Into a Coupon Book: Every town has a coupon book business can buy ad space in, typically sold by schools for fundraising purposes.
26. Use OOH Advertising: Out of home advertising (think: billboards, subway ads, etc.) really work and they make impressions when customers are on the move.
27. Invest in Google AdWords: Targeted keywords can bring customers in your doors.
28. Create a White-Label Media Channel: Can one of your employees edit videos? Create a white label media channel to sell to other businesses that incorporates ads for your restaurant.
29. Consider Digital Media Caddies: Tabletop digital displays can hold condiments, charge phones, and play in-house ads. You can also sell ad space to other local businesses to offset the cost.
30. Hand Out Flyers: Particularly if you’re hosting a special event, flyers are a good way to create instant buzz.
31 Get on Instagram: Instagram is a great place to encourage your customers to post food pics and even use a custom hashtag!
32. Give out Samples: Samples work! On the street, in the mall, or sent to offices.
33. Give Back to “Sharers:” Reward frequent social cheerleaders with coupons or discounts per “share.”
34. Reward Employees for Promoting: Give your own employees incentives to share restaurant posts on their personal social profiles or to write a blog post for the company site.
35. Ensure Online Listings are Correct: Make sure all your online and local listings are correct, from Google Maps to any online directories.
36. Participate in a Forum: If there’s a local college or learning institution, participate in a panel on some topic related to your industry.
37. Tie Into a Local Sporting Event: Host a game-watching party at your restaurant.
38. Front-Door Hangers: Pay a student to place front-door hang tag menus/coupons with in a 10-mile radius (but avoid neighborhoods that don’t allow soliciting!)
39. Advertise on Prescription Bags: Local drug stores print ads right on their prescription bags.
40: Create a Product: Everyone love your signature salad dressing? Bottle the stuff and sell it in the restaurant and in local stores.
41. Invite Commentary Online: Use social as an online suggestions box! Don’t be afraid of criticism…just improve from it.
42. Create an Online Discussion Group: Get people talking online about a particular food-related issue to gain a reputation as an expert.
43. Update Your Website: Your website should reflect modern, pleasing aesthetics to entice new customers. Don’t forget to consider SEO.
44. Use OpenTable: OpenTable provides lots of benefits for participating restaurants including ad placement.
45. Buy Into Others’ Menus: You may be able to find a non-competitive restaurant that actually prints ads on the back of their own menu.
46. Approach Dry Cleaners: Sometimes dry cleaners will display menus, business cards, or even print ads on their bags.
47. Offer Delivery to Nearby Bars: Plenty of bars don’t offer food but would love a restaurant to cater to their late-night patrons.
48. Consider the Newspaper: Newspaper ads are cost effective and hyper-local.
49. Radio Ads: They work. The more info the better!
50. Hire an Urban Graffiti Artist: Dirty sidewalks + stencil + pressure washer = urban graffiti!
51. Invite a Brewery to Pair Courses: Win over a brewery’s fans by offering a special menu paired up with their most popular beers.
52. Update Your Restaurant’s Sign: If the sign people see from the street isn’t appealing, your restaurant won’t be either.
53. Get on Foursquare: Foursquare is a great way to encourage people to come often and tell their (online) friends.
54. Spend Time on Pinterest: Particularly if your food is photo-friendly, Pinterest is a great place to get people to share photos of your offerings.
55. Court Secretaries Around the Holidays: Secretaries usually make the decisions regarding where the company holiday party will be…
56. Partner With Farmers: Feature local farm-grown ingredients on your menu and you’ll get the added benefit of cred within the farmer community.
57. Hand Out T-Shirts: People love T-shirts and every time they wear them, free advertising!
58. Print Coupons on Tickets: Local sporting events? Why not pay to have an ad or coupon printed on the back of the events’ tickets.
59. Start Catering: There’s a lot of business to be had outside the confines of your restaurant.
60. Reward Customers for Posting: Notice the same people posting again and again on your social media pages? Spontaneously give them a coupon to thank them!
61. Invest in a QR Code: You need a scannable QR code to print in small promotions, on fliers, and on business cards.
62. Post a Flyer at Gyms: People are hungry when they leave the gym! Most gyms have free bulletin boards where you can promote your spot.
63. Print Up Stickers: Attach them to your carry out boxes, your paper doggie bags, and any other item that leaves your restaurant for brand recognition.
64. Promote a Lunch Offer: Lunch business lagging? Create a quick, cheap lunch special or two to promote business.
65. Add a Coupon to the Receipt: Print coupons for future visits on the back of your customers’ receipts.
66. Offer to Host Local Meet-Ups: Meet Up groups always need a place to, well, meet up. Give discounts to book clubs, school groups, and clubs that want to meet at your restaurant.
67. Become a Team’s Spot: Become THE Baltimore Ravens bar so you’ll have guaranteed business a dozen Sundays a year.
68. Write for Other Blogs: Ask to guest blog about a particular topic (hormone-free beef?) on a local food blogger’s site.
69. Donate Meals on Holidays: A little good will goes a long way and people will remember your charity.
70. Wrap Your Car: Your car should be “wrapped” with restaurant branding and the delivery vehicle(s) should be too.
71. Give Out Stickers: Why not give out cool-looking stickers fans will stick on their bikes, their cars, or their school notebooks?
72. Get a Mascot: People (especially kids) love mascots and you’ll help brand your restaurant memorably.
73. Hire a PR Firm: That’s what they’re there for!
74. Print Up Coupon Calendars: It works for Chick-fil-a! Give them out around the end of the year to encourage patronage on a monthly basis.
75. Offer Special Meal/Menu on Holidays: Be the only restaurant open on Thanksgiving or maybe pull out all the stops with a massive Easter Brunch menu. People will remember.
76. Create Wine Tasting Menu: Or a coffee tasting or a soufflé sampler…just something people can only get at your restaurant so they’ll talk about it.
77. Make a Mobile Site: More than 75% of dining decisions are made while out of the house. You need a mobile website to attract these customers.
78. Offer Discounts for Service Members: Everyone loves a business that supports military members, healthcare workers, and police and firefighters.
79. Place an Ad on a Digital OOH Channel: Know of another business that’s using digital advertising? Find out how they choose advertisers and work to place your own ad on their screens.
80. Apply for a Reality Show: From the Food Network to HGTV there are dozens of shows about small food businesses you could gain exposure from.
81. Call the Paper: Call the news desk to tell them about something notable going on in your eatery they may want to print on a slow news day. You could be someone’s big break!
82. Promote a Food “Holiday”: There are hundreds of silly food holidays you can borrow – National PB&J Day, National Pickle Day, and of course, Donut Day! Offer something special.
83. Hire a Skywriter: Why not!?
84. Get on the City Council: Not only will you have more say in business affairs, you’ll be able to promote your restaurant to influential members of the community.
85. Work With Cabbies: Many cabs have closed-circuit TV stations or will give out your business card to travelers if you ask them to.
86. Create a Window Display: Have windows? Use that space to set up inviting tables or to display your menu.
87. Connect With Other Restaurants: They’re not just your competition! Trade food, encourage customer sharing, and become part of the local restaurant community.
88. Snag a Superlative: Have the “spiciest,” the “biggest” or the “most expensive” of something on your menu. It’ll build buzz.
89. Make a Viral Video: Get your staff to help create a funny Youtube video. Cover a song, do a skit, or dress up!
90. Sell Something for a Limited Time: People love the McRib, mostly because of scarcity. Create a menu item sure to take off but only offer it for a month or two.
91. Host a Cooking Class: Host a monthly cooking class with wine and take-home recipes.
92. Schmooze Your Customers: Customers love to feel like VIPs so you should try to speak to everyone that comes in, every time.
93. Whisper a Secret Menu: People love to feel like they’re in on something special. Create a “secret” menu and tell the chattiest customers you know.
94. Hire a Digital Marketing Company: Hire a company to jumpstart your digital efforts, from banner ads to digital bus ads.
95. Create a Cookbook: Put out a cookbook with your restaurant’s most-loved recipes. It’s great for gifting and will spread your influence.
96. Go Green: Install solar panels, switch to green plasticware, and start recycling more. People will talk about it.
97. Consider Franchising: If you’ve already got a good following, finding a franchisee may be the next logical step to grow your business.
98. Write a Topical Press Release: Put out a press release on some relevant issue and how your eatery relates, whether it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month or back-to-school time.
99. Put Out a Sidewalk Sandwich Board: They work! The cleverer the sign, the better.
100. Give Out Magnets: Stick branded magnets in the check folders you give out to diners to encourage them to stick them on their fridge.
101. Use Your Own Emails: Your personal email signature should include a link to your restaurant’s website. Think about how many emails you send every day!
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to effectively advertise your restaurant. Persistence and planning are key when it comes to using your budget wisely and efficiently and building your customer base one diner at a time.