This chapter of The Beginner’s Guide to Restaurant Marketing explores some of the traditional ways to market a restaurant. Although digital marketing is an essential part of any forward-thinking restaurant marketing strategy, it isn’t the only way to get your name out there. The restaurant marketing ideas discussed here can be very effective for raising brand awareness.
This chapter focuses on the following marketing options:
- Restaurant PR
- Restaurant Flyers, Signs, and Print Marketing Materials
- Traditional Restaurant Advertisement
- Restaurant Direct Mail Marketing
- Restaurant T-Shirts and Other Branded Merch
- Guerilla Marketing for Restaurants
- Restaurant Gift Cards
- Restaurant Coupons
- Restaurant Loyalty Program
- How to Get Customer Feedback to Grow Your Restaurant Business
- Restaurant Special Events
- Restaurants That Do Fundraisers and Other Community Engagement
- Restaurant Promotion Ideas
Restaurant PR can help an establishment raise its brand profile. Often, it entails sending out press releases and working to get featured in newspapers, on TV, and in other media. Top PR practices include participating in local events and becoming involved in one’s community — and announcing such activities with press releases.
Another important aspect of restaurant PR is getting reviewed by food critics. As you can see from the article “How to Get Your Restaurant Reviewed by a Food Critic,” it’s easier than you’d expect!
Restaurant Flyers, Signs, and Print Marketing Materials
Standard flyers, posters, and signs are important traditional ways to highlight your branding. As discussed in Chapter 1, any branded materials should have a consistent look and personality.
Place signage in areas that customers can easily see within your restaurant. Also think strategically about where to post flyers or business cards — think popular coffee shops or public bulletin boards. Ask employees to post them in public places around where they live. The idea is to spread the word to as many people as possible.
You can also include marketing materials with your to-go orders. Something as simple as stickers on your restaurant’s to-go containers will reiterate your messaging and keep your brand front of mind.
Traditional Restaurant Advertisement
Traditional restaurant advertising includes:
- TV ads
- Radio ads
- Newspaper or magazine ads
As an example, a TV ad might feature a special offer for any viewer who mentions the ad when visiting your restaurant. It could be a two-for-one deal, a free appetizer, or a percentage off their next order. This works well for both new and returning patrons.
Bear in mind that traditional advertising reaches a wide audience, not a targeted one. That is a key difference between older forms of advertising and more targeted digital marketing. Both have advantages, however. Traditional restaurant ads can be effective at increasing exposure for your restaurant.
Restaurant Direct Mail Marketing
Another form of traditional advertising is direct mailing. Direct mail marketing is a timeless way to raise awareness of your restaurant, regardless of your marketing goal.
It’s especially tried-and-true for distributing coupons, and it has also been used for monthly newsletters highlighting positive reviews, menu changes, and specials, although email newsletters are now more common.
Why You Should Use Direct Mail Marketing for Your Restaurant
Despite the growth of digital marketing platforms, direct mail remains an effective marketing method. Well-crafted direct mail can generate as much as nine times the response of digital media.
Some of the factors that make direct mail marketing stand out include:
- Targeted marketing method – With direct mail, you only target the people who have signed up to your mailing list. You’re not just sticking pamphlets on windshields, hoping they’ll get picked up. You’re sending mail directly to the people who are interested in your restaurant and expect to hear from you.
- Builds trust – About 76% of customers trust ads they get in the mail. (This is slightly behind print media ads and TV ads.) Through these interactions, customers build long-term relationships with your establishment by having physical material to look at whenever they want.
- Strong restaurant ROI – Direct mail campaigns generate about 29% ROI, which is slightly behind social media platforms and email marketing. Online display ads generate an ROI of only 16%, while paid search has an ROI of 23%.
- Stands out from the competition – When you post on social media or send an email, you’re one of the many voices a customer hears from on a daily basis. Sending direct mail sets you apart.
- Creative – You can get creative by experimenting with different mail pieces and changing your marketing materials’ lettering, thickness, format, and even texture. The better-looking the material is, the more customers will remember it the next time they’re hungry.
- Stays top of mind – Since direct mail is tangible, it tends to stay front-of-mind longer. It’s more memorable than email because of the touch appeal. Your customer might come across it multiple times on their kitchen counter and read it more than once.
- Complements restaurant digital marketing seamlessly – Direct mail campaigns can go hand-in-hand with digital marketing. You could launch a social media marketing campaign with an announcement about changes to your menu, then send a detailed menu brochure using direct mail.
How to Create a Restaurant Direct Mail Campaign
Step 1: Choose Your Audience
You have two options for your mailing list: send your mailer to all customers, or send a more targeted message to specific recipients. If you do the latter, you’ll need to segment your list. This is the process of narrowing your audience or the people you will target with your mail printouts.
Be specific on the demographics of recipients. Some factors to consider include age, income, gender, and address. The clearer you are with your segmentation, the more likely the campaign will be to succeed.
One important factor to consider is the proximity of customers to your restaurant location. Ideally, direct mail should focus on a radius between 3 and 15 miles around the store. While a larger radius will work for dine-in customers, a closer radius will promote takeout and delivery orders.
Step 2: Choose the Type of Mailer
Your direct mail campaign could fall flat if you don’t use the right mailer type for your audience. The type of mailer you use will have a direct impact on your marketing campaign’s ROI. Here are some options to consider:
- Menus/brochures – These work best for restaurants that offer takeout or food delivery. Printed out as brochures, menus are low cost and don’t need envelopes. Generate a higher ROI by including coupon codes and highlighting your best-selling dishes.
- Postcards – Postcards also don’t need envelopes, and customers get the full view of your message as soon as they come in. Use postcards when you want to send invitations for special events or share your newest menu offering. You could mail out postcards with special coupon digital discount codes, for instance for the holidays.
- Magnets – Bundle magnets with menus inside an envelope. Magnets are a more permanent promotion, as recipients can place them on their refrigerators for repeat viewing. To make sure customers open the envelope, consider printing a teaser on the outside and using attractive graphics. Phrases like “Check Out Our Offer Inside” or “Gift Coupon Inside” will come in handy!
Step 3: Craft the Message
Once you’ve segmented your audience and decided what type of mailer to use, create the message you’ll send out. The message will be based on the specific goals you want to achieve with your marketing campaign. For instance, you may want to tell people about your new location opening, changes to your menu, or even updates to your restaurant’s operating hours.
Some options for restaurant direct mail marketing messaging are:
- Seasonal promotions
- Customer anniversary and birthday offers
- Limited-time-offer promotions
- New item announcements
Direct mail marketing materials need to have a concise message with a clear call to action (CTA). When your audience receives the mailer, they should be prompted to take action. This action could be to dine at your restaurant, place an online order, or make a reservation. The CTA is meant to make sure that every marketing dollar is well spent and achieves the desired results.
Step 4: Design Your Mailer
Next, design and produce your mailer. You could work with an outside vendor who will take care of design and printing. Materials should be branded for your location, including colors and your logo. Customers should know where the mailer is coming from even before reading it.
Make the front of the mailer attractive to the reader. You could incorporate inviting and exciting food to draw in your audience and encourage reading. Try to limit the text whenever possible. Also keep the number of fonts minimal to prevent distraction from your core message.
What to Do After a Direct Mail Campaign
Once you’ve mailed out the materials, your focus can now shift to tracking the effectiveness of your campaign. Train your staff on how to record encounters with mailers. They might keep the mail in the register or enter it into computer software to track progress.
Based on your campaign’s performance, you can determine what works and what to change in the future. You will also get feedback from your customers, allowing you to tailor better messaging going forward.
Restaurant T-Shirts and Other Branded Merch
If your restaurant is a popular tourist spot or a favorite among locals, restaurant T-shirts and other branded items are solid options. Not only will you add a revenue stream for your restaurant, but it’s also good advertising. Anyone who sees the branded items will find out about — or be reminded of — your restaurant.
Be sure to offer a variety of T-shirt sizes from youth to adult, including plus sizes. It’s best to work with a local vendor; read the fine print if you’re ordering merchandise online.
A frequently overlooked way to market your restaurant is with pens and other office supplies. Add your website address and phone number. Every time someone uses your pen, they’ll be reminded of the delicious meal they had at your establishment. Supplies could also end up in someone’s office, building brand awareness among their coworkers too.
Other promotional products you could consider for your restaurant include:
- Tote bags
- Tumblers, water bottles, and other drinkware
- Other apparel like sweatshirts and jackets
Guerilla Marketing for Restaurants
Guerilla marketing is basically word-of-mouth marketing. It involves using unique, modern, and surprising ways to market a service or product. Guerilla marketing typically doesn’t seem too promotional, and often it’s less expensive than traditional advertising.
Guerilla marketing can be slow to get off the ground, but as word spreads, it can be very successful. Not only will awareness of your restaurant improve, but you may end up with more business, new fans, and brand ambassadors who love spreading the word about your restaurant.
There are many effective guerilla marketing ideas for restaurants. For instance, you can paint rocks, then add the tags #localrocks #restaurant on the back of them. Many cities have Facebook groups for hidden painted rocks.
Another idea is to commission a local artist to design bumper stickers or phone stickers. Provide some for free when customers purchase a salad or appetizer.
Restaurant Gift Cards
Restaurant gift cards allow regulars to share their love of your establishment. They introduce new patrons to your restaurant, who could in turn tell their friends and family what a fantastic dining experience they had. Gift cards and word-of-mouth marketing go hand in hand.
On the other hand, gift cards can also help address a poor dining experience. They can act as a simultaneous apology and token of appreciation.
Make sure your restaurant’s gift card program integrates with your POS system. Another smart approach to gift card marketing is to think through the ways your gift card program can be used to upsell your menu items.
Everyone loves a good deal. Restaurant coupons are a highly effective way to increase order counts and profits — all the while marketing your restaurant.
A simple way to implement coupons is through discount codes that customers can use at checkout. An example might be “15OFF” for a 15% discount. These are easy to share via email marketing and social media. They’re also easy to use, which customers love.
Other ways to promote a coupon include print ads and flyers in to-go orders.
Why Restaurant Coupons Work
Restaurant coupons play a critical role in attracting new customers while retaining existing ones. A study from Valassis Communications found that customers using coupons go to restaurants an average of seven times per month, compared to 4.8 times per month for non-coupon users.
As marketing tools, coupons are effective because they:
- Serve as catalysts – Coupons can boost the rate at which customers visit your restaurant. They directly influence the customer decision-making process, encouraging prospects to try your restaurant for the first time or return with a discount code.
- Drive immediate orders – Restaurants that share a digital discount code alongside a link to their online ordering platform often see orders placed right away. For example, a simple email announcing a holiday-weekend discount can generate a fast bump in sales.
- Are universal – Coupons can be used on almost any menu item in your restaurant. They appeal to customers of all ages and demographics.
- Can be shared through social media and email – Integrating coupons with social media feeds increases their usage, while improving customer reach and engagement. Coupons can also be shared through email, for quick-click use.
Before you release a new coupon, tell your staff about it and how it works. If your employees aren’t aware of new coupons and promotions and how to apply them, your restaurant’s customer service may falter.
Be sure to evaluate the performance of your coupon campaign. Your online ordering system will help with this by tracking usage for each coupon, including the total discount amount and average discount amount. Compare your results with the goals you initially set. Were they achieved? Did you make money? Would it be beneficial to run a similar promotion in the future?
Restaurant Loyalty Program
According to Lindsay Kolowich Cox of HubSpot, “It costs a business about 5-10x more to acquire a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one.” In addition, “Current customers spend 67% more than new customers.” Seventy-eight percent of customers say they’re more likely to continue spending money at businesses that have loyalty programs.
Loyalty programs are smart, low-cost investments for restaurants. They keep your customers happy and coming back for more, while increasing your restaurant’s profitability. While your guests are saving money just by dining out or ordering in, the benefits to your restaurant include:
- Stronger customer loyalty
- Higher order frequency and revenue
- Greater brand awareness spread by word of mouth
- Increased competitive advantage
In their article “Why Every Restaurant Should Have a Customer Loyalty Program,” pointofsale.com lays it out:
“Not only will you create more engaged customers who benefit from participation, but you’ll more than pay for the cost of such a solution. … Using modest numbers ($500,000 in annual revenue and getting 10% of your customers to join your loyalty/rewards program), you can bring in an additional $20,000 of sales in 12 months. That’s on top of creating happier, repeat customers.”
Loyalty programs are simple win-win initiatives for both customers and restaurants.
How to Implement a Customer Loyalty Program
Launching and maintaining a loyalty program is simple. Once you decide to have a loyalty rewards program, choose whether to offer dollar- or point-based discounts. You can offer discounts on menu items or even offer free appetizers, desserts, or entrées.
Here are some ways to launch a loyalty program:
- Use your online ordering system – You can use your online ordering system to go live with a loyalty program in just a minute or two. Using your online ordering system to manage your loyalty program also makes it easier to enroll customers, track orders, and measure the program’s success. Customers can earn or redeem rewards and get notifications about special deals. Reward customers for their repeat patronage by offering points based on money spent or orders placed, with optional branded points (like “Monica’s Ice Cream Points”). You can also connect your loyalty program with your coupons.
- Use an app – With a restaurant app, customers create an account and check in or scan in every time they buy a meal from your establishment. Although proprietary apps are expensive to build and launch, they do eliminate the need for a physical loyalty card (as do loyalty programs offered through an online ordering system).
- Offer a punch card – A punch card allows customers to keep track of their purchases, with each punch bringing the customer closer to a special promotion or free item.
- Offer a membership loyalty credit card – Points accrue every time a customer pays with a loyalty credit card; those points can then be redeemed at a later date.
Restaurant Loyalty Program Success Tips
Some tips you might find useful in implementing a loyalty program for your restaurant include:
- Keep it simple: If your points system is too complicated, your customers won’t be encouraged to use it. This is where an integrated loyalty program really pays off.
- Add customization: If you have a specialty restaurant, such as a pizzeria, coffee shop, or bakery, you could create loyalty programs for your specific restaurant type, such as a points-based rewards program called “Pizza Points” for your pizzeria.
- Consider the time frame: Allow your rewards to have a longer time frame to accommodate everyone. You may lose a customer who comes to your restaurant only to discover that her points can no longer be redeemed.
- Offer attainable incentives: The number of points shouldn’t be too low or too high. You want to keep customers coming back, while showing them that they’re getting value by ordering from your restaurant.
- Make sure points can be redeemed on mobile and desktop: Your customers will appreciate being able to access their loyalty points whenever they place an order, no matter how they’re doing that. Make sure your loyalty program can be accessed through both desktop and mobile devices.
- Gather customer feedback: Make sure you’re gathering feedback regularly to understand what customers think about your restaurant. You can do this through your online ordering system or traditional guest surveys.
- Educate staff on your loyalty program: Employees should have a clear understanding of how your loyalty program works. Encourage staff to ask customers if they’re part of the program. If a customer says they aren’t, staff could follow up to explain the benefits of joining.
- Engage with guests in a professional but personable way: Customers will return to an establishment that offers unique, high-quality food alongside impeccable service. Any personal efforts to make your guests feel appreciated will make your restaurant stand out. That applies to your loyalty program too. Train your staff to explain your loyalty program to customers in a way that makes them feel appreciated, special, and like an important part of your restaurant’s community.
Examples of Restaurant Loyalty Programs
There’s no better source of inspiration than restaurants that have succeeded with their own loyalty programs. Some prominent customer loyalty programs are:
- Chick-fil-A One Program – Under this program, the customer signs up online for an account that allows them to redeem points when planning an online catering order. The order may be placed through an app or by scanning a QR code at the drive-thru or register.
- P.F. Chang’s Rewards Program – This loyalty program awards customers 10 points for every dollar spent. Customers are offered a 1,000-point bonus when they join and a free entrée when they get to 2,000 points. Members also receive other exclusive offers like birthday rewards.
- My Starbucks Rewards – The Starbucks program offers customers two stars for every dollar spent. After accruing enough stars, members get access to rewards like free tea or coffee, the ability to customize a drink for free, merchandise, a protein box, or a hot breakfast.
- TJ Rockwell’s Rhino Rewards – TJ Rockwell’s has a simple program offering customers a 10%-off coupon for every $100 spent. Members of the lunch club receive a lunch coupon for every five visits, valued at around $7. After spending $300, customers get a $10 gift card; a free appetizer is offered after every 10 visits. A Mug Club for beer drinkers is also available: Members pay $40 annually to receive a 20-ounce beer mug. They can request that the mug be filled any time they visit the establishment.
- Chipotle Rewards Program – Members earn 10 points for every dollar spent. Once they reach 1,250 points, they get a free entrée that expires after 60 days. Chipotle also offers bonus points on select days or specific menu items.
- Dunkin’ DD Perks – This reward program gives a customer five points for every dollar spent. After spending $40 — equivalent to 200 points — the customer gets a free beverage. In partnership with Shell, the coffee chain also offers 10 cents off per gallon for every five drinks purchased.
- Domino’s Piece of the Pie – Domino’s Piece of the Pie program offers customers 10 points for every $10 spent. Once a customer earns 60 points, they can redeem a free medium two-topping pizza. The program also offers customers the option to continue earning points to cash out for multiple pizzas. Points expire if an account is inactive for 180 days.
- TGI Fridays – TGI Fridays offer instant prizes to customers through their rewards program. Once a customer signs up at a local TGI Fridays, they’re instantly awarded a coupon for a free dessert or appetizer. They then start earning a point for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed for anything off the menu.
- Panera Rewards Program – The MyPanera app provides customers with exclusive menu updates, such as sneak peeks and information on local events. Rewards are tailored to a customer’s unique preferences based on their purchasing history.
- Pizza Hut Rewards – Once a customer joins the Hut Rewards program, their whole family gets access to free food. Every dollar spent earns two points. The points can be redeemed for items such as breadsticks (75 points), a medium two-topping pizza (200 points), or a large pizza (300 points).
How to Get Customer Feedback to Grow Your Restaurant Business
Are you meeting your customers’ needs? The best way to answer that question is by going directly to the source. Ask customers what they think of your restaurant.
You can get customer feedback through a restaurant survey left at the table with the bill. Or you can use your online ordering platform to collect and store customer feedback.
Review sites, social media, and Google My Business are also valuable ways to get feedback. You might learn about an issue that can be addressed quickly for a much better dining experience.
Always express appreciation to your customers. Even a poor experience that you follow up on can result in a long-term customer relationship. This is customer relationship 101. It shows that you care about your patrons and take comments seriously.
Restaurant Special Events
Special events are a popular way to bring in crowds (assuming social distancing protocols aren’t in effect!). Events can be related to holidays, specials, etc., or they can be in celebration of your patrons on their birthdays or anniversaries.
Offer event-specific specials for additional customer interest and appeal. For instance, a restaurant celebrating its own anniversary may have a special associated with its founding year, like a burger place that sells 73-cent burgers because they were founded in 1973.
As an example of a special event that will build customer loyalty, you could advertise a birthday club. Birthday celebrations usually involve several guests, which helps offset the cost. Train staff to ask customers if they’d like to join.
Enter birthdays in your POS or collect them through your online ordering system when guests create accounts. Your birthday offer could be a meal discount, free dessert, gift card, or even a free meal.
Set up email automation to send out birthday wishes and the special offer a certain number of days before customers’ birthdays. They’ll love having a special, personalized gift — and another reason to visit your restaurant.
Restaurants That Do Fundraisers and Other Community Engagement
Businesses that get involved and give back are often community favorites. Restaurants can host fundraisers and participate in activities to support their local community.
Successful fundraising programs focus on a specific topic, such as after-school activities or awareness-raising for those in need. Choose a mission that you connect with on some level.
This is an opportunity to build connections with your community and your staff. Community involvement is great for team-building. When you’re all working together for a cause, the results lift everyone up.
Start with something small, and build your program over time. Consider different types of local organizations and nonprofits. Some options are:
- Host a fundraiser at your restaurant.
- Keep a donations jar at your checkout counter.
- Sponsor a local youth organization.
- Get the staff together to volunteer at a food pantry.
- Participate in a Habitat for Humanity building day.
Some possibilities that combine community engagement and special events are:
- Co-sponsor an event: Get involved with local events like street festivals or community concert nights, or pair up with another business to sponsor one. Co-sponsoring shares costs, introduces your restaurant to a wider audience, and creates an association with another local brand, showing that your businesses care about the same things.
- Run a contest: Team up with other local businesses to contribute prizes for a contest, whether it be through social media, a drawing, or a scavenger hunt. No matter the format, your contest will introduce each business to new customers.
- Date night: Are you close to a theater or stadium? Offer discounts to customers who show you their tickets to today’s game or show. This kind of cross-promotion doesn’t require buy-in from the other business owner, but asking them to promote the deal at their location can amplify the results.
Whichever you choose, you’ll demonstrate your commitment to your community. And your community will show their support for your restaurant in turn.
Restaurant Promotion Ideas
Finally, take some time to brainstorm creative ways to get your restaurant’s name out there. There are many inventive ways to promote your restaurant, and new opportunities are always popping up.
Some options and ideas are:
- Share the recipe for your most popular dish in a book or magazine.
- Consider changing your menu pricing, then publicize the new prices with signage around your restaurant.
- Use signage to promote a special drink, meal, or service your restaurant provides during the holidays.
- Happy hour works for all restaurants, not just those with alcoholic beverages.
- Receipt marketing: Feature an ad or coupon on your receipt.
- Combine non-digital marketing approaches with digital ones, like Google Ads that target local searches.
Brainstorming promotion ideas is a fun way to get innovative. You could bring the rest of your restaurant team into the process too. Collaboration is a sure-fire way to fuel creativity.