Building a loyal following is an essential part of establishing a legitimate restaurant. But like many other restaurant tasks, it’s easier said than done.
Even when a loyal following is built, you should always be seeking to attract new customers and diversify your clientele. This takes a lot of work and can be easy to neglect especially when business is good.
Being proactive on this front can help you down the road and ease the burden during less busy times. Attracting new customers doesn’t necessarily mean giving away free stuff or investing in expensive promotional campaigns, there are many options for all types of restaurants.
Marketing doesn't need to be expensive. When most people think of “getting your name out there” the ideas that come to mind are costly and short-term focused. Whereas your goal should be the exact opposite: cost-efficient with a focus on sustained awareness and promotion.
The internet and smartphone have opened up many new areas where businesses can market themselves but we’ll also discuss some classic promotional strategies which can be just as effective. Regardless of whether you’re promoting online or offline, you want to increase your restaurant’s sales and get new customers in your door or order from you online.
Online marketing options
1. Social media presence
Starting various social media accounts, producing, and maintaining quality content is a big undertaking, but it can be produce results when done right. Instagram, Facebook, and others are free to start, but you’ll spend a lot of time following, posting, captioning, and taking photos. It’s a great way to connect to people in your local area and show off your best menu items and news. Assigning the job to someone – whom you trust – proficient in social media is a great time saver.
2. Behind the scenes
Show what really goes on in your kitchen if it’s suitable for viewing, and give your potential customers an idea of what they could order when they’re hungry. Give short lessons on simple cooking skills to help customers cook at home. They’ll be much more impressed after when they see a professional do it at your restaurant.
3. Free wifi
Offering free wifi at your restaurant can definitely attract more customers than a non-wifi competitor. It depends on your style and atmosphere and mostly works better for casual coffee hangouts and restaurants in tourist-heavy locations.
4. Offer delivery
Jumping on to a third-party delivery site can boost your restaurant’s awareness and connect you with the order-in crowd. There are heavy fees charged by third-party companies but you can also offer your own delivery service.
5. Establish a quality website
Your website may be a customer’s first glimpse of your business. Make a good first impression and have the things they’re probably looking for (menu, business hours, phone number) in plain sight. Make sure you have an adequate mobile version. When accessing via smartphone, the last thing you want is a potential customer getting frustrated, giving up on your site, and looking elsewhere.
6. Email marketing
With their consent, use customers’ emails to send reminders and updates of what’s new at your restaurant. Don’t email too often, or customers will unsubscribe.
7. Reach out to local influencers and food bloggers
Local social media influencers and bloggers are often looking for new content and fresh new restaurants to check out. Reach out to them and impress them with your presentation— your food could be seen by thousands of followers with just one of their posts.
8. Reach out to local news outlets
You can’t run ads on TV without paying but local news stations are always looking for a scoop and you could be it. Highlight what makes you unique and why your story is worth telling. With a few emails, you may have some free advertising and a favorable story told about you to a large, local audience.
Offline marketing options
1. Cooking classes
Find a spare hour during the week to offer an in-house cooking class to local residents. You don’t have to give away your secret sauce recipe but showing a few tricks will create some interest. In any case, participants will be impressed by the professionalism and knowledge that a real chef possesses.
2. Show sport events
Depending on your atmosphere, sports fans are always looking to share big moments with other people. Turning a game on could attract a few extra groups or couples walking by.
3. Holiday/theme parties
Seasonal promotional events keep things fresh and give you something to promote when there is not much other news with your restaurant. A different event every week will get old but strategically placed, it can be enticing.
4. Get to know regulars
Friendliness goes a long way in the service business and regulars are always loyal to those who are loyal to them. Be welcoming and show your appreciation.
5. Gift cards
Offer customers the ability to purchase gift cards for their friends and family. Sure, gift cards are not always the perfect gift. But they lead to shared experiences and fun times with the people we love – and they’re great for business.
A vintage tactic that has modern-day value. Flyers are often cheap and easy to make. Be sure to post them strategically where your target market will be looking.
7. Live music
Again depending on your restaurant’s vibe, a band could be a great special promotion. The right band is an important step, so you might want to listen to a few songs or see them live beforehand. If you want quality, you’ll likely have to pay. But some bands are just looking for a chance to play and grow their reputation as well.
8. Happy hour
Offering deals during the slower hours of the day can help boost sales strategically and cut down on losses. Make sure you crunch the numbers diligently.
9. Birthday deals
If customers are willing to give you their date of birth, you can wish them a happy birthday via email and gently remind them that you are there if they wish to celebrate. Attracting groups for special events often leads to higher-than-usual spending.
10. Loyalty programs
Offering deals and discounts to encourage loyal and returning customers. For example, stamp cards have been around forever because they are subtle reminders in purses and wallets that you’re always there for their hunger needs.
11. Grand opening
A combination of ideas listed here can occur at a grand opening and it’s always a good idea to invite a few distinguished guests. Offering deals or marketing yourself as a local business is sure to turn a few heads.
12. Sponsoring a local event or team
Get in contact with a local team or event planners about sponsorship opportunities. Target one that reflects your desired market for maximum return on your investment. Local events are often looking for more people to have around and would be happy to let you sell a limited menu or hand out flyers or merchandise. Some local sports teams will ask for money in return for promotion but others are may suggest mutually beneficial deals.
Reach out to local businesses in your area to see if they would like to take on projects where you promote each other’s brands. You might not have a whole lot to offer in the beginning, but fellow entrepreneurs are often willing to help others get off the ground and chase their dreams. Providing you’re not competing for the same market, there is enormous potential in word-of-mouth reputation. Very few methods of promotion can top a restaurant recommendation from a friend.
14. Use and market locally grown foods
Supporting local businesses around you will help build important relationships in your community. Food suppliers when asked where their products go, can cite you as a buyer and potentially send customers your way. Establishing yourself as a trustworthy and hard-working entrepreneur who supports locals can go a long way especially in a close-knit community.
15. Separate yourself from the competition
Don’t be afraid to be bold and show your passion for your craft. Customers like to support someone whose heart and soul is in their work. Being an independent restaurant owner requires a lot of dedication and conveying that to your customers might make them think twice about visiting a chain restaurant instead of you.