According to the National Restaurant Association, the average restaurant should spend three percent of their total revenue on marketing each year. This number could be much higher or much lower than your current budget but when it comes to marketing, it’s not only about the dollar amount. Expensive campaigns can fail while close to free campaigns can bring in waves of new customers.
Here’s a prime example. A new radio station in Scotland was trying to drum up interest but their marketing budget was tight. They began to promote their station by setting up empty guitar racks next to signs reading: “Free Air Guitar. Take One.” The campaign was affordable but more importantly, it worked. The station received several mentions on local blogs and, thanks to social media, photos of their campaign traveled quickly.
With a little creativity, you can drum up local interest for your restaurant with a minimal budget. Feel free to be inspired by the following suggestions.
Everyone appreciates a little charity. Choose either a local charity or a well-known public option. Start advertising in-house and on your social media platforms that you will be hosting a donate-to-charity day where you donate a certain percentage of your profits to said charity.
If you want to take it a step further, start a 50/50 raffle or secure a prize to give to the highest guest donation (these can sometimes be donated). You’ll be doing good in your community and creating a buzz that’s sure to bring in new faces.
Before you start a Facebook contest, you’ll want to take a look at the rules. But assuming you have a decent Facebook following (you do have a business page, don’t you?), a contest that resonates with your fans can grow your base and reputation quickly.
If you’re a pizza shop, run a contest that allows entrants to invent their own pizza. If they win, they’ll earn a gift card and their pizza will be featured on the menu for a weekend. If you’re a diner, ask participants to come up with a new omelet. The possibilities are virtually endless with Facebook contests. Your biggest investment will be time.
Start a Newsletter
Newsletters are a great way to pop into pasts guests’ minds from time to time, reminding them that you’re still around. To get guests to sign up, offer a free item that’s not going to be detrimental to your sales. Most establishments go with an appetizer or dessert.
Have servers offer these free items to guests with the single catch of an email. To entice more guests to accept the offer, don’t print out a coupon and make them come back. Give them their goodies now.
Then send out newsletters once a month letting guests know of upcoming specials and events. Always use holidays and current events to your advantage.
Create a Partnership
Partnerships work in nearly every industry, including restaurants. Reach out to local businesses and see if there’s room to strike a partnership that benefits both parties.
For example, if you’re a full-service restaurant near a hotel, see if you can include coupons in the hotel’s welcoming packet for their guests. In return, send desserts or appetizers for monthly employee meetings.
See if the local gym is willing to give your employees a discount if you do the same for theirs. Look for ways to boost your credibility with local businesses while also making it easier for their employees to promote your establishment via word of mouth.
Host a Cooking Class
Here’s a fun idea that can create plenty of social media material for your restaurant as well. Offer a free cooking class (be sure to have a cut-off) to local community members.
You can do a couple’s theme, a mother/daughter theme, or a girl’s night out if you are trying to target a specific clientele.
Show participants how to cook a generic dish and then something specifically from your menu if time and the cost of ingredients allow. Classes will have to be held when you’re closed so this could be difficult for restaurants that have long hours seven days a week.
But if you can swing it, you’ll have several locals telling all their friends and family about the great time they had at your class and you’ll have plenty of pictures and stories to promote on social media that should drum up enough interest to get another class scheduled.
This is probably one of the most expensive tips on this list but it’s well worth the investment. If you’re not using professional photography for your menu or marketing, you’re doing more harm than good.
Visuals sell, and mediocre representations of your top dishes are turning people away instead of bringing them in. Secure a professional photographer, have them properly visually represent your establishment, dishes, and staff, and watch your brand grow.
This marketing tactic will take a little fishing, but you’ll get a bite sooner than later. Whether you think sponsoring a local youth baseball game will give you the most exposure or providing ingredients for the local Boy Scout’s spaghetti dinner, you’ll be putting your name out into the community in a more positive manner than print or social media advertising.
There are bigger fish to try and catch, like local marathons or conventions in need of food but these could end up costing you quite a bit. Start small, make a note of the return, and advance this tactic if there’s potential.
Find Local Food Bloggers
Whether you find them in your local newspaper or online, food bloggers hold serious power. Make a list of those who are local and reach out to them for a review. Your only cost will be their meal, but this is a risky tactic. You’ll want to make sure you can deliver your absolute best dish with the best service or you could experience the backlash of a poor review.
In the restaurant industry, there are very few marketing ideas that deserve to be immediately taken off the table. Depending on your location, the type of restaurant you own, and how much work you’re willing to put into your marketing, it’s possible to have a successful campaign with a small budget.
Whether you decide to spend the recommended three percent, 40 percent, or a tenth of a percent of your revenue on marketing, the end result is all that matters. If you’re able to fill the seats for less money, you’ll know you’ve come up with a marketing idea that resonates with locals and that is priceless.