29 Restaurant Marketing Ideas to Guarantee Success in 2024

Restaurant Marketing Ideas

Picture this: It’s a weeknight, and your restaurant is jam-packed with hungry patrons. They’re chatting, passing plates around, and ordering lots of food. To top it off, your reservation list is booked solid for a month.

The scenario above is a restaurant owner’s dream – one that many don’t get to realize. However, don’t believe the urban legend that most restaurants fail in their first year – data from a BLS survey suggests that only about 17% of independent restaurants failed in their first year.

Restaurant management is no easy feat. It definitely takes a lot of hard work for a restaurant to make it past its first five years, but in this article, we’ll focus on arguably the most essential piece: marketing.

In this list, you won’t find common sense items like claiming your Google page or purchasing ads. Those are given. You’ll get seven hard-hitting, creative ideas that are guaranteed to bring life to your business. Let’s jump in:

1. Promote Your Top-Selling Items

Let’s start with an easy one. Pull a report from your point-of-sale system (POS) and figure out what your top-selling items are. Then, take that list and start promoting them like crazy.

Don’t promote what you like or what has the lowest food cost margin. Promote what people love. People keep coming back for your “greatest hits,” so why waste advertising dollars on promoting anything else?

Having high-quality photos of your best-selling items will help tremendously here. Invest in a professional photographer who knows about angles, lighting, and editing. Pay a premium here, and you’ll see premium returns on your marketing efforts.

You can use these photos on your menu, Instagram page, TripAdvisor page, website – you name it. These photos will last you years and have some the best ROI of anything you do.

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2. Create a Talk Trigger

Word of mouth reach is invaluable. It’s the most effective marketing technique, and the best part is that it’s completely free. When your customers are as passionate as you are about bringing people in the door, great things happen.

One of the best ways to spread the word about your restaurant is through a talk trigger, which at its core, just means something unique people will tell their friends about. A shining example of a talk trigger in action is Skip’s Kitchen.

At the counter, the cashier fans out a 54 card deck (including jokers) face down and asks customers to select one. Most cards simply act as table markers so the servers know where to bring food. However, pulling out a joker means you win a free meal. Skip’s Kitchen is packed most days because people love the excitement and the chance to score from free food.

3. Leverage Content Marketing & SEO

If you’re thinking about spending a bucket of cash on your website, then think again. Keep it to no more than $1,500-2,000. Why? Because when people are looking for somewhere to eat, they type what they want into Google.

These days, Google has everything they need, ranging from your hours to your phone number to your menu. It even provides neatly organized customer reviews.

Save your money and spend it on the next best thing: content marketing. If you run a steakhouse in a big city, then you want to show up at the top of the SERPs when people type in “best steakhouse in Dallas.” The only way to do that is through SEO optimized content, and lots of it. If you’re new to search marketing, then it’s worth investing in some professional help.

person using macbook air on white table

4. Invite Food Critics & Bloggers to Your Door

It isn’t just about the food anymore. People want a fun dining experience – something they can enjoy, brag to their friends about, and post on social media. One of the best ways to find great food and experiences is by following various food critics, foodie influencers, or checking food reviews in local publications.

In Lexington, Texas, Snow’s BBQ had a respectable customer base that kept them busy most weekends, but it was nothing to brag about. That all changed when they won Texas Monthly’s Best BBQ award in 2008. Practically overnight, they had dozens – if not hundreds – of people lined up outside their door.

Your restaurant could be the next Snow’s BBQ. Start by figuring out where people find food recommendations in your city and start extending offers for a free dining experience to various influencer types.

5. Give Away Free Meals for Special Occasions

Chances are that you have a go-to spot for anniversaries, birthdays, or graduations – we all do. People create special bonds with the restaurants where they celebrate life events. You want a piece of that action.

Free meals on birthdays is a must for every restaurant. Or a free dessert, at least. It’s pretty rare that people dine alone on their birthday, so you’ll recoup lost revenue and potentially have new regulars. If you run ads on Facebook, you can even specifically target people with upcoming birthdays.

Make it a point to ask people if they’re celebrating anything when they reserve tables with large parties. If they are, then do what you can to make it as memorable as possible. Decorate the table and bring free appetizers or desserts. Have the chef come speak with them about the menu personally. Get creative, and they’ll keep coming back and bring their friends and family, too.

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6. Create a YouTube Cooking Show

Millennial food lovers are a loyal bunch – one that’s fueled an astonishing 280% growth in food channel subscriptions year-over-year. The best part? The barrier to entry to creating your own show is incredibly low these days, and it has the potential to drive serious traffic.

Make videos showing how you make your favorite dishes, how you source your ingredients, and showcase different events that your restaurant hosts. Give behind the scenes access, and your customers will keep coming back for more.

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7. Build a Food Challenge

People love food challenges. The Hot Ones YouTube Channel, where celebrities eat a range of the hottest chicken wings during interviews, has over nine million subscribers. That’s greater than the population of New York City.

Get your staff together to start coming up with some fun or crazy food challenges. Whip up an extra-tall stack of pumpkin spice pancakes with a half-gallon of Pumpkin Spice Latte and call it “The Pumpkin Spice Challenge.” Anyone who finishes every bit gets a free entree on their next visit.

Create extra spicy tacos and invite local politicians to debate while they tear up from ingesting ghost pepper sauce. The potential for creativity knows no bounds here.

8. Go for Paid Online Ads

SEO and content marketing might take time to help you dominate the search engines.

Paid ads are much quicker. Whether it’s through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram or through Google Ads, investing in targeted ads helps bring new customers to your restaurant quickly.

This is not to say you should ignore SEO and content marketing—they are highly valuable for the long-term success of your restaurant. But it might be a good idea to discuss paid ads with your online marketing team and see if they help.

9. Maintain Strong Social Media Presence

72% of customers use Facebook to make restaurant or retail decisions. With billions of active users, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok offer unprecedented access to potential customers.

All you need to do is invest in high-quality, visually appealing content that showcases your restaurant and food.

Also, engage with customers through polls, contests, reels, and stories to keep them interested and coming back for more.

Once your social media marketing kicks off, use user-generated content by reposting customer photos and reviews on your page.

10. Hire Professionals for Product Photography

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and found yourself drooling over delicious-looking food photos? That’s because the food was professionally photographed to make it look irresistible.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, it could be worth a thousand dollars.

Hiring professionals to take high-quality photos of your dishes can significantly improve customer perception of your restaurant. It is also a great way to promote your menu on social media, your website, and food ordering apps.

11. Actively Monitor Review Platforms

You’ve heard about a new Italian place opening near you. You plan to take your wife who loves Italian cuisine there. But what do you do before making a reservation? You search for the restaurant online and read customer reviews.

Review platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google Reviews play a significant role in a restaurant’s reputation and customer decision-making process. A single negative review can cost a business about 30 customers.

This is why it’s crucial to actively monitor review platforms. Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews. Respond to negative reviews in a professional and timely manner, addressing any concerns or issues.

12. Create a Loyalty Program

57% of adult consumers in a survey were more likely to visit a restaurant with a loyalty program in place.

Think about setting one up for your restaurants—offer exclusive discounts, freebies, or rewards points to frequent visits or referrals.

Better yet, tie it in your loyalty program with social media platforms and use it as an opportunity to engage with customers and build a community around your brand.

For example, you could award points to customers for sharing photos of their favorite dishes or checking in at your restaurant on social media.

13. Give Discounts

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about discounts is losing revenue. But discounts are an effective marketing tool when used strategically.

According to a 2022 survey, 80% of consumers said they feel encouraged to make a first-time purchase with a brand that is new to them if they find an offer or discount.

Not only this, but 69% of millennials say they can’t complete a purchase without looking for an offer/discount first.

So, discounts work—just make sure to plan and budget them carefully, so they don’t eat into your profits.

14. Cross-Sell and Up-sell

The chances of selling to an existing customer are 60-70%, while those of selling to a new customer are only 5-20%. What does this mean? Your existing customers are your best bet for growing sales. One way to do this is by cross-selling and up-selling.

Cross-selling is offering complementary items or upgrades, while up-selling is persuading a customer to buy a more expensive version of the same item.

For example, you could cross-sell a side dish—such as french fries—with a burger or up-sell a premium wine instead of a house wine.

15. Get Listed on Food Delivery Apps

Up to 70 percent of customers prefer to order food online.

If you’re not already listed on popular food delivery apps like Uber Eats or Grubhub, you could be missing out on significant sales. These apps have a large user base and provide convenience for customers who want to order food from the comfort of their homes.

Plus, delivery apps offer promotional deals and discounts to customers, making it more attractive for them to order from your restaurant.

There’s a downside, though. Food delivery apps take a commission on each order, which can eat into your profits. Be sure to factor in this cost when setting prices and offering promotions through these platforms.

16. Offer Private Dining Experience

Offering private dining experiences can transform your restaurant into a destination for special occasions and intimate gatherings. Imagine your guests celebrating milestones or enjoying a quiet, exclusive meal, all within the comfort of your carefully curated space.

Such personalized experiences not only elevate your brand but also create memorable moments that customers share far and wide.

It’s an investment in word-of-mouth marketing, setting you apart as a venue that truly cherishes and celebrates its guests.

17. Embrace the Open Kitchen Concept

It might seem counterintuitive to have an open kitchen where customers can see their food being prepared. But this trend is gaining popularity, especially among millennials and Gen Z, who value transparency and authenticity.

Look at Chipotle, for example. Their open kitchen design has almost become a part of their brand identity. Dominoes have also started incorporating open kitchens in their stores, allowing customers to see their pizzas being made.

Why? Because an open kitchen adds to the overall dining experience. Customers get to see the care and attention put into each dish, making them appreciate and enjoy their meal even more.

Plus, an open kitchen serves as a form of entertainment, enticing customers with the sights, sounds, and aromas of their meals being prepared.

18. Become Sustainable

Sustainability has become a top priority for consumers, with 70% of diners willing to pay more for food and beverages that come from sustainable sources. As a restaurant owner, this presents an opportunity to not only reduce your environmental impact but also attract more customers.

There are several ways to embrace sustainability in your restaurant—using eco-friendly ingredients, reducing food waste, and implementing energy-efficient practices.

Just don’t forget to market your sustainability initiatives on your website, social media, and in-store to create awareness and showcase your commitment to being environmentally responsible.

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19. Update Your Google Business Profile

Have you seen the listing that appears on the right side of your search results when you Google a business? That’s called a Google Business Profile, and it’s an important tool for local SEO.

Claiming and updating your profile is crucial as it provides potential customers with up-to-date information about your restaurant. This includes your location, contact details, hours of operation, reviews, and even online ordering options.

Google Business Profiles are also integrated with Google Maps, making it easier for customers to find and visit your restaurant.

20. Enable Tableside Ordering

Tableside ordering is when customers use a tablet or smartphone to view your menu and place their orders directly from their table.

It allows for more accurate orders, reduces human error, and speeds up the dining experience. It also opens up opportunities for online promotions and upselling through digital menus.

Tableside ordering can quickly become a unique selling point for your establishment, bringing in more customers who want to try it out.

21. Give Free Wi-Fi, Get Free Data

Offering Wi-Fi to customers is an excellent idea. It makes them spend more time at your restaurant (and order more food as a result). This is not just a logical assumption—it’s backed by a Business Insider survey.

Offering Wi-Fi is also a good opportunity to collect customer data. Set up a Wi-Fi landing page that asks customers to enter their email, social media account, or phone number to access the network.

This not only helps you build an email list or a database of customer contacts but also gives insights into your customers’ demographics and preferences. You can then use this information to personalize marketing efforts and target specific customer segments more effectively.

22. Be ‘Instagrammable’

Being ‘Instagrammable’ means creating a visual experience that is so aesthetically pleasing that customers can’t resist capturing and sharing it on their social media.

To do this, incorporate Instagram-worthy elements in your restaurant, such as unique decor, visually appealing food presentations, or even a mural or backdrop specifically for taking photos.

Also create a hashtag for your restaurant so that when customers post their pictures, they can be easily found and shared.

Do this and you will get free marketing from your customers when they share their dining experiences with their followers and tag your restaurant.

23. Introduce Interactive AR Menus

Augmented Reality (AR) has become increasingly popular in the food industry, with brands like KFC and Burger King incorporating it into their campaigns.

Why not take it a step further and introduce AR menus in your restaurant? They let customers see virtual, interactive representations of your dishes, making their dining experience more engaging and unique.

They can also provide additional information, such as ingredients and nutritional value, helping customers make informed decisions.

Just like tableside ordering, AR menus can quickly become a unique selling point that attracts customers to your restaurant.

24. Bandwagon Trends

Staying relevant today means staying on top of trending topics and news. Bandwagoning on current trends is a powerful strategy to attract attention and engage with a broader audience.

Whether it’s creating themed dishes around popular events, offering discounts during major sports games, or posting your take on current news on social media, aligning your restaurant with what’s trending keeps your brand in the public eye.

The key is to be authentic and choose trends that resonate with your brand values and your customers’ interests.

25. Collaborate with Local Businesses

Collaboration with other local businesses can be a win-win situation for both parties involved. By partnering with other businesses in your area, you have the opportunity to reach new audiences.

For example, you can team up with a nearby brewery to offer a special beer menu or collaborate with a dessert shop to offer exclusive desserts at your restaurant. This not only adds variety to your menu but also creates exciting cross-promotion opportunities.

26. Participate in Local Festivals and Events

So many festivals and events take place in every community throughout the year. These are a great opportunity for your restaurant to participate and connect with potential customers.

Whether it’s a food festival, music concert, or cultural event, consider setting up a booth or offering special promotions during these gatherings.

This allows you to showcase your menu to a large audience, engage with the community, and potentially gain new loyal customers.

27. Engage with Seasonal and Holiday Promotions

Nearly 60% of respondents in a survey indicated their intention to dine out during the holidays. This presents a great opportunity for restaurants to leverage seasonal and holiday promotions to attract customers.

Consider offering special menu items, hosting themed events, or providing discounts during holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Thanksgiving. You can also create fun and quirky social media campaigns related to these occasions to increase your brand’s visibility and create buzz among your followers.

A great example of this strategy in action is Starbucks with its iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte—a seasonal offering that has garnered a dedicated fan base.

28. Integrate Smart Payment Solutions

Use innovative smart payment solutions to meet the growing demand for convenience and security from customers.

With 53% of Americans now favoring digital wallets over traditional ones, integrating options like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, or Samsung Pay can significantly enhance customer experience (and help you get more word-of-mouth marketing).

What’s more, a survey by Forbes revealed that 51% of consumers would cease shopping at establishments that do not support digital wallet payments, so they might be a necessity now more than an optional marketing tool.

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As we wrap up, it’s crucial that you keep your online reputation top of mind. It’s the lifeblood of your business and is often what will make or break you. Incentivize your customers to leave good reviews, and make sure that you respond to every single review you get across all platforms.

Even if you receive a negative review, be sure to respond calmly, and consider offering a discount for their next visit. Highly rated restaurants will get more business and likely spend less money on marketing. It’s truly a win-win.

Have any other restaurant marketing ideas? Tell us in the comments below:

JD Spinoza

JD enjoys teaching people how to use ZoomShift to save time spent on scheduling. He’s curious, likes learning new things everyday and playing the guitar (although it’s a work in progress).