23 Restaurant Promotions That Worked

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Last Updated on May 24, 2021

With the advent of the Internet and a customer base who cannot remember a time before Google, restaurants are learning that they need restaurant promotions that do more than get guests in their doors, they need more than a nice atmosphere and great food. Nowadays, to succeed in the restaurant industry, it is imperative that the restaurant marketing approach takes the business to engage directly with their guests: make them feel as if they are investing in something, rather than buying a product. The following are 23 restaurant promotion ideas that reach out to guests in unique and successful ways.

1. Rolled-up Rims Ramps Up Tim Horton’s Sales

In 1986, Tim Horton’s was a relatively unknown brand looking to reach new guests and increase sales. In conjunction with their cup manufacturer, Tim Horton’s launched their “Roll Up the Rim” campaign where guests can win prizes ranging from donuts to cars by finding a message hidden under the rim of their coffee cup.


  • Quarterly revenue increased 4.8%
  • TSX-listed shares rose 4%

Roll up the Rim to Win Tim Horton's Promotion

2. St. Pete Brasserie Has Prayers Answered through Facebook

St. Pete Brasserie in Florida was on the verge of closure. Desperate for revenue, they turned to Facebook and posted a restaurant promotion in the form of a plea to their fans asking for help in a time of crisis.


  • 40% increase in sales
  • Still in business 3 years later

St. Pete Brasserie Facebook wall plea

3. A Tastemaker Calls, Morton’s Delivers

Peter Shankman’s tongue-in-cheek tweet to Morton’s Steakhouse was met with an unexpected reply: dinner waiting for him as he arrived at the airport. For the price of a steak dinner, Morton’s garnered tons of publicity for this smart social media restaurant promotion.


  • Positive review broadcast to Shankman’s 100,000+ Twitter and blog followers
  • Nationwide coverage in the US

Peter Shankman’s Twitter feed after receiving a surprise from Morton’s Steakhouse

4. Butter Lane Bakery: Baking Up Buzz with Class

While most bakeries are using Groupon to sell their goods, an action we at Aaron Allen & Associates do not advise, Butter Lane Bakery offered customers an experience to share a baking class with family and friends in a professional kitchen as a restaurant promotion.


  • 9,000 seats sold, 3,000% of their goal
  • Profits allowed Butter Lane to expand their storefront and hire instructors

Student ices a cupcake at Butter Lane Bakery

5. Ted’s Montana Grill Sweepstakes Sweeps Up Fans

Building on the announcement that Ted’s Montana Grill was voted the #1 burger in America by DigitalCity.com readers, Ted’s set up a social media contest. Customers submitted their photos and videos to enter for a chance to win a Toyota Prius, all-expense-paid trip to Montana, or a year’s worth of Ted’s burgers.


  • 3,000 entries in the first week with 1,500 opting into email
  • 6,622 total entries
  • 40% increase in Facebook fans
  • 394 entrants opted into text message notifications

Ted’s Montana Grill Sweepstakes homepage

6. Restaurant Promotions Leveraging Foursquare

Looking to increase revenue, Angelo & Maxie’s teamed up with Foursquare to drive traffic. They offered a free dessert with every check-in and purchase of an entrée.


  • 400 check-ins
  • 60% of check-ins were new customers
  • Revenues increased 18%

Angelo & Maxie’s Free Dessert Promotion on Foursquare

7. Einstein Bros. Bagels Increases ‘Like’-ability With Facebook Offer

Einstein Bros. Bagels saw their Facebook fan list stagnate. To reach new fans they tried a restaurant promotion that offered a certificate for a free bagel and shmear to anyone who “liked” their page on Facebook.


  • 1000% increase in fans in the first week
  • Gained 296,000 fans in one month
  • Became the 54th most popular business on Facebook

Einstein Bros. Bagels certificate for a free bagel
8. Burger King’s ‘Subservient Chicken’ Serves Up Buzz

To promote Burger King’s new TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich, Burger King launched the “Subservient Chicken” website where customers could interact with a chicken trapped in an apartment.


  • More than 385 million hits (more reach than an ad in the Super Bowl)
  • Visitors spent an average of six minutes on the page
  • Sales increased an average of 9% a week

Burger King’s subservient chicken homepage

9. Chipotle Restaurant Promotions

Customers are becoming more aware of what they eat, so Chipotle developed a restaurant promotion that distinguish the quality of their products over their competition. They created a two-minute short film called “Back to the Start”, featuring a song by Willie Nelson, which highlights the problems with industrial farms and Chipotle’s dedication to local, healthful ingredients. The film aired in the 2012 Grammy’s with a huge reception.


  • 10,000 tweets
  • #1 Country song on iTunes
  • 6 million  views on YouTube

10. Friend or Foe: Burger King Demands Facebook Sacrifices

To channel the energy of social media into their restaurants, Burger King created an app that challenged fans to delete 10 people from their “Friends List” in exchange for a free Whopper. The campaign not only drove customers into restaurants, but also provided metrics such as coupon redemption, up-sell and take-rate, and ROI.


  • 200,000 friends sacrificed in one week
  • 35 million free media impressions

Burger King’s Whopper Sacrifice Burning Portrait Ad

11. Wendy’s ‘Poutitions’ for Dominance

A surge in poutine popularity among Canadians inspired Wendy’s mock petition campaign. “Make Poutine Our National Dish” read t-shirts, buttons, and lawn signs. A YouTube video and television commercials encouraged viewers to sign the “Poutition”.


  • Generated 17 million media impressions
  • 279% increase in Facebook fans
  • Share of voice in social conversation jumped to 63%

12. ‘Finger Cooking’: Boston Pizza Answers Lazy Chefs’ Prayers

Boston Pizza International wanted to increase their take-out and delivery business without cannibalizing in-store sales. Thus, “Finger Cooking” was launched. A father shows the viewer how to “cook” by ordering pizza.


  • Sales Increased in the first year by 21%
  • Sales growth continued into the second year by 19%

13. Applebee’s Increases Lunch Sales with ‘Smart’ Strategy

To promote the restaurant’s quick lunchtime service, Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill launched a multi-channel campaign. Customers are guaranteed their lunch within 14 minutes or the meal is free. To fill that time, select Applebee’s restaurants have provided QR Codes at each table for customers to scan as they wait, directing them to either the Applebee’s Facebook page or YouTube content created by the chain.


  • 9.8% increase in lunch sales
  • 5,900 new Facebook fans
  • 55,000 QR scans

Applebee’s table tent QR codes

14. Fans Go Loco for Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Taco Bell wanted to celebrate with a new, bold product. With the successful introduction of the Gordita and Chalupa in the past, they looked to innovate where no one else had: the taco shell. Partnering with Frito-Lay, they created a fully seasoned chip-like taco shell and fans couldn’t be happier.


  • Over 500 million Doritos Locos Tacos sold in just 14 months
  • 15,000 new employees hired to handle new sales
  • Nationwide media coverage

Taco Bell’s Original Doritos Locos Tacos

15. ‘Oh, Yes We Did’: Domino’s Overhauls Its Brand

With sales stagnating and stores closing due to customer dissatisfaction, Domino’s needed to turn their brand around. They re-invented their menu with new recipes and retrained every pizza maker then got the word out to customers through commercials and a rented billboard in Times Square where customer reviews were presented – good or bad. This was the beginning of a series of unique restaurant promotion ideas the brand leveraged in the next decade.


  • Record-breaking 14.3% increase in same-store sales
  • Revenue increase of 14.5%
  • Quarterly Profit up 55.7%

Customer reviews scroll on a marquee in Times Square

16. Redefining Mobile Marketing: Jack in the Box Takes to the Streets

With the popularity of food trucks on the rise, Jack in the Box wanted to think outside their brick and mortal business model. A 34’ truck dubbed “Jack’s Munchie Mobile” was created with all the kitchen equipment available at their restaurants. The mobilized restaurant has attended over 100 events in Southern California. This can be an answer for many independents asking “how to promote my restaurant”.


  • 6,000 fans on the Jack’s Munchie Mobile dedicated Facebook page with 130,000 active users and 2.2 millions views
  • Over 20 million visual impressions through road travel and event attendance
  • Free national media coverage

Jack’s Munchie Mobile waiting for guests

17. See More Sales: Papa Murphy’s Uses SMS to Reach Customers

In order to reach their customers in unique and effective ways, Papa Murphy’s partnered with Phizzle to start a text-message based restaurant promotion. Three or four times a month, an SMS blast is sent out to participating customers with a coupon for free items.


  • 18% coupon redemption rate
  • 100,000+ opted-in users

Papa Murphy’s Free Cheesy Bread SMS blast

18. Push for Pizza: Red Tomato Pizza creates One-Touch Pizza Ordering

Looking for a way to win out against their large chain competitors, Red Tomato Pizza of Dubai developed the VIP Fridge Magnet. Customers simply set their pizza preferences on the company website, connect the magnet via Bluetooth to a smartphone, and with a single push of the button, pizza is on its way.


  • 500% increase in deliveries within 4 weeks
  • Attracted 97,133 new customers
  • 9,400 international news stories, worth $8 million in free media

Red Tomato Pizza’s VIP Fridge Maget

19. Hot Dog! Nathan’s Fans Eat It Up This Restaurant Promotion

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest began as a small publicity stunt. Their goal was to get a photo of the restaurant in a local paper. Over the past 40 years, the annual contest has become an international spectacle, with the restaurant spending their entire advertising budget on the event rather than television commercials and other traditional advertising media. Events like this one can result cost-effective for promoting a restaurant especially to students and a young audience.


  • 40,000 spectators at the event
  • 1.949 million viewers via ESPN simulcast
  • 93% increase in sales over the past seven years

Joey Chestnut after winning Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

20. Play With Your Food: Domino’s Launches Pizza Video Game

Domino’s leads the market when it comes to mobile ordering for good reason: they are constantly redefining customer engagement  — this time with Pizza Hero, an iPad game that lets customers virtually build their own pizza and then order it. Customers can also apply for work through this game.


  • 3rd most downloaded app in the App Store
  • 7,089,325 pizzas “created”
  • 756 players became employees

Screenshot of Domino’s Pizza Hero game in action

21. Culinary Crowdsourcing: McDonald’s Menu hits the Masses

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, McDonald’s asked their German customers to design a celebratory burger. A web application was created where users could build a completely customized burger, post their creation to a gallery, and vote on their favorites. Thus, the Pretzelnator was born, but not without plenty of competition.


  • 116,000 entries
  • 7 million page impressions
  • 1.5 million votes
  • Reached 25% of the entire German population through social media/news media buzz

Pretzelnator sitting on a table

22. VIP Treatment: Domino’s Rewards Loyal Customers

The first of its kind to team up with Foursquare, Domino’s led the geo-targeting race of restaurateurs by offering a free pizza to the “Mayor” in Liverpool each week. The success of this campaign caused Domino’s to roll this restaurant promotion out to the rest of Britain.


  • Reached 200,000 Foursquare users in Britain
  • 2,764 Facebook posts and 3,714 tweets about the campaign.
  • 9,617 check-ins with 3,000 unique visitors

Domino’s Free Pizza for the Mayor Foursquare Promotion

23. Hell Pizza: Friendship’s Trial by Fire

The Ghost Pepper Challenge was just gaining speed on YouTube when Hell Pizza of New Zealand turned it into a game for their customers. Upon request, the hottest peppers known to man were placed on a single slice of a pizza pie. Friends and family would sit down together to eat, but one unlucky diner would end up with a mouth full of fire.


  • $2.3 million in extra sales
  • 17.5% increase in new customers
  • ROI of 400%

Smoking hot slice of Hell Pizza

Restaurant Promotions Work Best When Built From the Bottom Up

We’ve written before about marketing and how to improve sales with promotions from Valentine’s to Independence Day (across the world) to Ramadan in the Middle East.

However, ramping up sales is better done (more sustainable in the long term and without a deterioration in margins) with a marketing and promotional strategy built from the bottom up and inside out; from store-level merchandising to modernized neighborhood marketing, to national and multi-national product and brand launches, fostering differentiation and innovation to retrofit the restaurant competitive advantage.



Aaron Allen & Associates is a leading global restaurant industry consultancy specializing in growth strategy, marketing, branding, and commercial due diligence for emerging restaurant chains and prestigious private equity firms. We have helped restaurant companies around the world drive revenues, increase profits, and enhance the guest experience through improved marketing, messaging, and menu engineering. Collectively, our clients post more than $200 billion, span all 6 inhabited continents and 100+ countries, with locations totaling tens of thousands.

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