13 Creative Restaurant Marketing Ideas that Work

Creative Restaurant Marketing Ideas that Work

In today's digital world, marketing your restaurant can be tricky. But it is essential. Thousands of times each day, customers visit the Internet to discover new restaurants, write reviews, browse menus, and make reservations.

To stand out from the crowd, you need creative restaurant marketing ideas that entice customers and keep them coming back. As part of this blog, we offer 13 tips that will help you achieve that goal.

Before you offer the first tip, however, you must answer one huge question: What group is your target audience?

Do you seek to market to millennials? An older clientele? Families with children? Young, single, urban professionals?

Whatever group you select, you need to use relatable jargon that helps to align your brand with your customers. After your target audience is clear, follow these 13 steps to drive home your point and successfully market your restaurant:

1. Create Social Media Challenges or Contests

Everyone loves winning free food or merchandise, and a social media contest is an effective way to promote your brand. It's also a lot of fun. Possibilities include a giveaway contest in which customers are asked to tag their favorite dining buddy on Facebook or Instagram. This will boost brand visibility and help you gain more followers.

2. Understand How Hashtags Work on Social Media

Hashtags are a great, cost-effective tool that you must include in your social media marketing arsenal. They help build brand awareness, increase engagement, and get customers walking in your doors. And, as a common practice on social media platforms, they don't cost anything to implement.

If your restaurant consistently uses a hashtag in its marketing efforts -- something like #TonysPizza or #ColdestBeerAnywhere -- it will encourage your followers to use it as well. This increases engagement and builds a community of customers. Once your hashtag gains popularity, you will begin to grow your customer base and get your online followers walking in your doors!

One suggestion: Use niche hashtags combined with popular hashtags in marketing your restaurant. If you only use popular hashtags your post will get lost in the mix. Use local hashtags so that your posts show up in your geographical area. Examples: #Funkytown, #DeepEllum or #Uptown. Just make sure you don't overuse hashtags. Too much of a good thing defeats the purpose.

3. Seek & Feature User-Generated Content

As a marketer, user-generated content posted by your customers and followers is a must. Not only will it save you time and money, but 92% of online shoppers trust recommendations from other people over branded content. They consider it more honest feedback that a self-serving sales pitch.

So lean heavily on content that customers share to promote your brand. As a restaurant, you will more than likely have tons of user-generated content because people love to take and post photos of their food. Not only is that content free to use, but user-generated content is typically an indicator of a trustworthy or reliable brand.

When other people are promoting your brand, this is the equivalent of them giving you a great review!

4. Focus on Local SEO

Of all the marketing tips in this article, this one ranks at the top in terms of positioning your restaurant for success. Local SEO is essential for a restaurant's success. If you are not showing up when potential customers search in their local area, using terms like "best restaurants near me," you can’t expect to get much business.

Your goal should be to rank in your local pack -- also known as the top three Google map spots -- when users search a specific keyword like “best pizza.” These top three restaurants are going to receive the most traffic simply because they are the first results a user sees. But you need more than creative marketing ideas to get your restaurant to shine in the local SEO rankings. Some tips include:

Get reviews from customers. Encourage people to review your business on Yelp, Google, Facebook, and other platforms to make your name known.

Use Google My Business and local listings. Your Google My Business shows customers when you are open, your address, and contact information. Make sure all information listed there is accurate. Also, get your business on review sites like Yelp and Foursquare. This boosts your chances of appearing in a local search.

Be consistent. Keep your restaurant name, phone number and address consistent across social media platforms, making it easier to find. Even the slightest discrepancy can confuse customers or search engines.

Update your website regularly. Fresh content on a daily basis will keep both customers and search engines happy.

5. Create a Top-Notch Website Design for Your Restaurant

Having a top-notch restaurant website allows you to begin the dining experience before customers walk through your door. Use your website to show diners the atmosphere, drinks, and menu items. Offer them online coupons and discounts to entice them to visit. Also: Make sure that your site is compatible with mobile devices to entice mobile customers. Most potential diners already are on the go and will use a smartphone to quickly find a restaurant.

6. Boost Social Media Posts or Create Sponsored Ads

In addition to posting on social media, you will need to create advertisements or pay to boost your posts to maximize your online impact. Platforms like Facebook are “pay to play” sites. While some followers may see selected free posts, you need an advertising budget to spread the word to a larger audience.

When you pay to advertise or boost your posts, you can choose your target audience, location, and more. This helps to make sure your message is seen by the audience you desire. Even better, boosted posts and ads allow you access to analytics information about customers that can help you grow your business even further.

Some tips that can help you outshine competitors on social media include:

Highlight your menu with a video ad. Videos allow you to go more in-depth when engaging potential customers and make it easier for them to consume information.

Use emerging technologies. Customers like new technologies. Utilize them as much as possible to increase engagement and make the ad experience fun.

–Create an app. Grow your mobile app user base with app install ads. This encourages users to download your app and use it the next time they order.  

7. Monitor Posts & Reviews on Social Media Platforms

Social media monitoring consists of checking your reviews on various platforms, as well as keeping track of public comments and tagged posts. It is important that you catch spam comments ASAP or correct posts that contain the wrong information. If you don’t have time to monitor online comments and posts from your followers, you should hire a social media management company to do it for you.

8. Establish a Loyalty Program

Creating a loyalty program is a great way to boost sales and obtain customer emails that allow you to create a powerful direct-marketing campaign. Create the campaign through your website, or on a landing page, to encourage customers to keep coming back to get that free dessert or coupon. By encouraging customers to be part of your “inner circle” or receive a “$10 off just for you” discount makes them feel like they are part of an exclusive club. This builds loyalty and regular customers.

9. Write a Blog

Posting blogs is a great way to share recipes, tips, and tricks or to share the story of your restaurant. Such content helps you get found online and builds your name in your local community. Tell customers about local events -- particularly charitable events -- that you participated in, or other activities you have done in the community. When people read your blog, they are spending time on your website. This tells search engines that your website is relevant and useful, which will boost your ranking in Google searches.

10. Use Pinterest to Pin Your Best Food Photos

Pinterest allows you to pin photos of your food that you can link to your website or social media platforms. Pins offer an endless marketing cycle for your restaurant. When you pin your best food photos, they will most definitely get repinned by customers and elevate your brand. Make sure that your name and brand is attached to your pins. That way when people discover them, they know exactly where to go to enjoy those dishes.

11. Use Email Marketing for Restaurants

All business, and particularly restaurants, should use email marketing campaigns to boost sales. Whether you are promoting a free appetizer, an upcoming happy hour or a wine tasting event, these emails intrigue customers and get results. But first, you must build your list first. A loyalty program with a link on your website or landing page is a great way to collect customers' emails. Eventually, you can craft email campaigns that include automated email messages with minimal effort.

If you are wondering what types of messages to include in your email campaigns, some examples include:

  • Email customers your menu if it changes or sends out the weekly specials
  • Tell them about events you are having
  • Make a customer appreciation day that’s exclusive for subscribers where they get a discount
  • Share your restaurant’s story or history

Remember, not every email should be selling your restaurant. Provide your subscribers with quality content -- great recipes, discount coupons, etc. -- so that they will continue opening your emails and engaging with you.

12. Work with Social Media Influencers

Influencers are people who already have a huge following on social media. That means customers typically listen to their advice and suggestions. Invite those influencers to try your restaurant and ask them to post photos or opinions about your food for their followers to see. If you can get a food influencer into your restaurant and generate some positive feedback, it can give you the upper hand on your competition.

13. Make your Food "Insta Worthy"

Many people, especially millennials, photograph the food they eat and post the pictures on social media platforms. If you post beautiful photos on your Instagram page, you can draw in this target market. Create unique entrees or drinks that set you apart from the competition, then post amazing photos of them to maximize the impact.

When taking photos, remember these tips:

–Use only the sharpest images. When you post photos of your food, the images must be clear, clean, and sharp to generate interest.

–Post unique photos. Employ a mix of close-ups & wide shots of your food, coupled with images of happy diners in action, to keep readers engaged. The more diverse you can make your photos, the better so you can keep people interested in your content. Also: change the images regularly so they do not get stale.

Insist on quality lighting. Figure out which windows allow in the nicest light during the day and take photos in front of them. You will be amazed at how this natural light can enhance your food photos.

Post content from your followers. Search for online photos from your followers that make your food look inviting. Then, repost them on your page! Just remember to give them credit for taking the photo. This makes other people want to try your restaurant in hopes of getting their photos reposted, too.  

Important Final Thought

Perhaps the most important restaurant marketing idea we can offer is to stay flexible. Don’t get stuck on one idea. If something isn’t working, change it. There are plenty of creative restaurant marketing ideas out there. You just need to find the ones to appeal to your customers.