19 Restaurant Marketing Ideas

Gone are the days when TV spots, radio and print ads were the only ways to generate brand visibility. Restaurant marketing has evolved into a two-way conversation, requiring a keen sense of awareness as to what drives and motivates your guests while communicating with them, not to them. Measurable increases in revenue can be achieved with the following restaurant marketing ideas and examples, designed to help you interact with your guests and appeal to their shifting behaviors regardless of your budget.

1. Be Present

A study conducted by SinglePlatform at Constant Contact found that 90% diners visit a restaurant’s website before heading out to eat. With 81% of mobile users researching restaurants on their phone and 84% checking multiple sites before making a decision, it is imperative that a restaurant have a strong web presence to drive traffic and sales.

2. Overshadow the Competition

You can’t start a digital dialogue with guests if no one knows you exist. You might have a website, but it’s buried on page 8 of search results where no one will find it. Learning the basics of search engine optimization can give you a huge bump in leads and conversions.

3. Embrace Emerging Technologies

Quick response codes — those blocks of square dots — are a great way to get guests to engage with your brand by offering them insider info, incentives, or a fun way to pay.  For example, The Melt, a chain of gourmet grilled-cheese restaurants, gives guests a QR code when orders are paid for online. With this code, they can skip the line and receive their meal. 5-10% of all transactions at The Melt are made online.

The Melt QR code buying process

4. Yelp Is On the Way

Yelp is a powerful tool for restaurants. A one star increase in rating translates to a 9% gain in revenue. With the new Monocle program in Yelp’s app, it is even easier for guests to check up on a potential eatery. This augmented reality app displays ratings over a live view of the world and allows guests to read reviews with one touch of the screen. Take the reins of this free publicity. Register your restaurant for this site, so that you are in control of your own online reputation.

Streetview with the Yelp! Monocle and restaurant reviews

5. Oh, the Google Places You Will Go

Google’s free marketing tool, Google Places, lends your business visibility to the growing trend of guests researching restaurants before their visits while simultaneously providing you important analytics, such as what sort of food your guests were searching for prior to choosing your restaurant or where your guests are coming from if you are considering opening another location. Make sure you’re not missing any valuable visibility.

6. Get Trendy

Local food is taking the industry by storm. 72% of adults say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that has locally sourced ingredients. Pioneering this trend is what allowed the Purple Carrot Truck, a food truck offering meals made with locally grown ingredients, to become Red Haven, a full farm to table restaurant.

Red Haven poster thanking guests for voting them best new restaurant

7. Keep Mouths Busy

Word of Mouth is the most sure-fire way to get customers through your doors. Unfortunately you can’t buy this kind of advertising. Loyal guests are bound to come back – and bring their friends, so focus on creating an outstanding customer experience as well as making your restaurant something people want to buy into. For example, In-N-Out Burger in California boasts fresh fast food and a fun secret menu. Guests feel “in the know” when they order Animal Fries or something “off” the menu.

In-N-Out Double Double with fries

8. Have a Cause, Not Just a Promotion

In a recent Edelman consumer study, 83 percent of those surveyed said they would change their buying habits to a cause-related brand. As such, Jersey Mike’s makes a point to give back to the community every year. In their most successful campaign, Jersey Mike’s raised $1.1 million for the Susan. G. Komen for the Cure organization. This campaign of charity has garnered them free national media coverage and a loyal following.


9. Define Yourself

Find your signature, whether it’s the Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse or Chipotle’s principle of “Food with Integrity”, then carry it through your food to your receipts, take-away packaging, napkins, etc. Treiber Bakery is founded in the idea of sustainability, which they carry through to their eco-friendly packaging.


10. Start Your Own Media Party

Press parties aren’t just a great way to generate some viral buzz when opening a restaurant. Established restaurants that could use a publicity boost have many excuses to host influential media and foodie bloggers from their community. These events are great ways to promote new entrées, wine selections and drinks. Here’s a free blueprint on how to put together your own restaurant press party.

11. Get Coverage You Can Count On

While anyone with a checkbook can buy an ad, not just anyone can get media exposure − and customers trust what they see in the media. A well-placed interview or guest post on a prominent news site can blow-up your social media followings and even help with website SEO, if orchestrated properly. This is why fundamentally sound restaurant PR should still play a pivotal role in your marketing mix, even though we’re well into the social age.

12. Socialize

Social Media is a powerful tool for any restaurant. Between Twitter and Facebook, you can announce food truck locations and daily specials while interacting with current and potential guests. Foursquare is a creative platform to announce promotions and increase foot traffic, while Instagram allows you and your guests to showcase your tastiest dishes. All of these are free to use and reach millions of users every day.

13. Say the Magic Word

Guests love the word “free”. Whether it’s samples of your restaurants best dishes or a meal for the birthday boy or girl, customers flock to free. According to the National Restaurant Association, 70% of people celebrate their birthday with a dinner out, usually with a group of people. That’s a small price to pay for an increase in revenue and the possibility of attracting new guests.

14. Make Their Day

Pick a slow food day and flip for the check.  Loser pays.  Of course, you win no matter what, as your loyal guest shares the joy, creates more business, and buys more food since there’s a 50 percent chance the meal is free.

Rock, Paper, Scissor for the Check poster

15. Let Them Have It Their Way

Make it easy for your customers to enjoy your food, even if they don’t want to come inside to enjoy it.  The average Outback Steakhouse sells $655,000 from their curbside program, or about 19% of total sales.  Want to watch revenues rise? Curb their appetites.

Outback Curbside Parking sign

16. Look Busy

Nobody wants to go to a restaurant that looks empty. As long as you have a staff, nobody needs to see an empty parking lot.  Ask your employees to park in front until your tables fill, then have them move to less desirable locations as you reach capacity.

17. Welcome the New Neighbors

People who move into your neighborhood are five times more likely than the average Joe to become your loyal regulars, so don’t miss out.  Use services like Moving Targets to say you’re glad they’ve come.  Welcome letters and gift certificates get higher engagement rates than most collateral, so make the most of those new neighbors.

18. Celebrate the Slow Days with a Theme

Forget Meatloaf Monday and Taco Tuesday. High-end restaurants are getting into the theme night game.  Sausalito’s restaurant, Poggio, started a “Porchetta Night” on Mondays where the chef debones a whole pig, stuffs it with pork sausage, and cooks the whole thing over a spit. Sales have been 30-40% higher, year-over-year.

Porchetta roasting over a fire

19. Don’t Forget Your Canine Clientele

There are 70 million dog owners in the US alone.  It’s no surprise restaurants are not only allowing dogs, but, in some cases, are catering to them.  The Dining Dog Café in Edmonds, Washington “has a full service menu including doggie cocktails, appetizers, entrees and desserts”.

The Dining Dog Café & Bakery facade

We hope you found some of these examples useful and can incorporate them into your restaurant marketing plans. There is a near-infinite number of ways to engage directly with your customer base and drive sales.