Like any other industry, the restaurant sector can reap the benefits of creative promotional tactics. Promotional campaigns, if executed effectively, can attract customers in droves. In this article, we’ll teach you the rules of effective restaurant promotion and provide ideas that can be adapted to your business.

Rules of Restaurant Promotion

Before jumping headfirst into any restaurant promotional idea, there are a few key aspects to keep in mind to ensure your marketing campaign is a success. Especially when opening a restaurant with little or no money, it’s important to maximize the effectiveness of every dollar spent on restaurant promotions.

Identify Your Target Audience

Possibly the most important part of a successful restaurant marketing campaign is knowing your target audience; by identifying who you want your campaign to reach, you can tailor its content and form to be more convincing to that specific audience. A teen from Generation Z won’t be convinced by a Facebook campaign pushing higher-cost menu items, and a Baby Boomer likely couldn’t care less about a TikTok campaign on bottomless fries.

Before you start talking, know who you’re talking to. What audience is your restaurant serving now? Do your customers seem to care more about the atmosphere, cheap eats, or exploring new menu items? What platforms and language style are they most receptive to? Let the answers to these questions guide your message and how and where you convey it.

Analyze the Data

Restaurant marketing is data-driven, so all the best restaurant promotion ideas are informed by real-world data. Before discounting an item, take a look at the margins of every menu item and consider how quickly each item moves.

Offering a deal on an item that may otherwise go to waste can help drive up profits, but discounting your most popular items will cut into your bottom line. What low- and high-margin items can you bundle into a “buy x get y free” discount? Are there consistently low-traffic times of day? Consider setting up your discounts and restaurant promotions during these hours to get people in the door.

Set Goals

Lastly, be intentional about what you’re willing to put into a new restaurant promotional idea and think about what you want to achieve. Don’t just dive in – set attainable goals to work toward, and stick to a budget you set out beforehand. This prevents your restaurant marketing from getting carried away and helps you measure your success against your goals over time.

13 of the Best Restaurant Promotion Ideas This Year

1. Have a Food Photo Shoot

One of the more obvious ideas that remains one of the best restaurant promotions is to let your food speak for itself. Take the time to take high-quality photos of your menu offerings – especially higher-priced ones – and then show off these photos!

Frequently posting mouthwatering pictures of your food to your social media is a great way to have a consistent stream of content and keep your followers engaged and hungry for more. Don’t limit these pictures to your socials though; add pictures of your best-selling and highest-margin products to your paper menus and digital menu boards, which will leave customers eagerly anticipating a chance to try these picture-perfect menu items themselves.

Banh in New York City shows us how it’s done with this beautiful Instagram picture of their popular item, Banh Cuon Ha Noi.

2. Let Them in on the Back of House

Once you’ve got your customers hooked on the food, get them hooked on your story. Give a peek into the back-of-house to help foster a sense of inclusion and commitment to your business.

Have your chef make an effort to come out and talk to tables at least once a night. If the chef isn’t a smiling and shining people-person, consider sharing short introductions of the kitchen staff on social media or filming a cooking demonstration for a popular dish.

This allows customers to feel invested in not only the product but the process and the people behind it as well. Putting a face and a story to the food not only increases customer loyalty but feeling included and invested in the process can potentially help customers become understanding of any problems that may pop up.

Guadalajara in Muscatine, Iowa executes this well with their “Get to Know our Family” series, where they share each employee’s favorite dish on the menu.

3. Make Money on Food Waste

Cut your food waste out by signing up for a program like Too Good to Go that allows you to sell any food waste you have at the end of day at a discounted price.

Whether a restaurant’s special idea flopped, or you ordered too much stock of an item, food waste is somewhat inevitable. Companies like Too Good to Go give you a chance to sell this excess instead of throwing it away!

It may be for a cheaper price than what a customer would pay on the menu, but you still get to see some profit on food that would otherwise go to waste. This is also a creative restaurant promotion for new businesses that can help cover high restaurant startup costs because you’re sure to use everything you initially order!

More than that, repurposing your food waste is eco-friendly and supports the health and well-being of your community. With over two-thirds of customers willing to pay more at restaurants with sustainable practices, you’re not only protecting the Earth and your community, but you’re addressing consumer preferences.

Show off your newer, greener footprint and you’ll gain more business because of it!


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4. Try a Pop-Up

Another creative restaurant promotion to try is to take your food outside the restaurant! Try holding a pop-up at a community art festival or other local event and show off any restaurant specials and limited-edition menu items.

By popping up in a new location, you get the chance to meet a whole new audience. More than that, coming to community events demonstrates your investment in the community and encourages community members to invest in you!

If you’re feeling inspired, try investing in a food truck! Having a food truck offshoot that you can drive to community events and populated locations continually exposes your name and your food to new audiences. It’s definitely a commitment, but it can be a great way to expand your customer base.

For instance, JW Summer Shack takes their food truck to community events and beaches all summer, bringing their food to the customer!


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5. Create a Loyalty Program

Punch cards don’t have to be exclusively for coffee. Consider starting a loyalty program – like a punch card that lets you buy 9 burritos to receive 1 free or a simple app program – that rewards your customers for coming back. Many major chains such as Chick-fil-A, Chipotle and Starbucks all offer loyalty programs with various rewards.

This will help with retention and encourage repeat business and a devoted customer base. If you carefully calculate the margins for the item you reward, you can even be sure that the profit your loyal customer brought in on the last 9 burritos offsets the loss on the 1 free one and the promotion doesn’t eat into your bottom line.

6. Leverage Other Loyalty Programs

Inspire some friendly restaurant competition by leveraging your competitors’ loyalty programs. Offer an incentive for customers to turn in their punched or semi-punched loyalty card for a competitor and start one with you instead.

Not only is this a good way to redirect business to your door, it shows your customers that you’re playful, ready to take on a challenge, and confident in your restaurant’s quality.

7. Make a Partnership with a Local Restaurant

If taking advantage of another restaurant’s loyalty program isn’t quite your style, try teaming up with them instead! Create a new restaurant special idea together – maybe you both feature a special that combines popular menu items from both of your restaurants or sell variations on the same menu item and let customers vote on whose they prefer.

Friendly collaboration and competition like this will encourage customers to engage with you and your restaurant. More than that, by teaming up with another restaurant you get exposure to their entire customer base and have the opportunity to widen your audience and learn from their restaurant concepts.

8. Share Seasonal Specials

A great restaurant promotional idea to help keep your customers interested and your menu exciting is to use seasonal, local ingredients in menu specials and post pictures of these specials to social media. Let what’s available locally inform your restaurant special ideas, and show off your commitment to local farmers and the local community.

By posting these specials, you get customers excited to come try them and you reach people you may not have if you had only posted the special on a board at the restaurant. These specials are also a great way to incorporate and use up any excess inventory.

Since specials are also only available for a short period of time, it’s a great way to let employees contribute with any restaurant special ideas they may have. Your employees generally engage with the guests the most, so it’s worth taking their input into consideration.

Seaglass in Salisbury, Massachusetts shows off their specials on Instagram to encourage guests to come in and try them out!


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9. Answer Bad Reviews

It may be tempting to respond emotionally to bad reviews in the heat of the moment or refuse to answer them altogether but try your best to suppress that urge. Reviews are extremely important to potential customers, and bad reviews can actually be a great restaurant marketing opportunity if you approach them carefully.

A higher total number of reviews and responses – even if some of them are bad – means your restaurant will rank higher on Google searches. This means that a negative review (and responding to it) is not always bad.

More than that, responding to bad reviews, explaining or identifying how the mistake was made, and emphasizing your commitment to a positive experience lets customers know that you’re invested in how people feel at your restaurant and committed to offering a great experience every time.

Responding to a bad review not only gives you a chance to set the record straight, but it offers a chance to prove how committed you are to great customer service, making it a great restaurant marketing strategy.

10. Be Intentional about Seating

One of the easiest but most effective restaurant promotional ideas is to be careful about where you seat people. Try and seat your first guests near the window to make your space seem full – seeing a populated space encourages customers to come in and see what the hype is all about. If you can, tailor your restaurant floor plan to look more populated toward the front of the space, and save the seats in the back for a more intimate dining experience.

Check your restaurant licenses and permits too – do you have access to the space outside your restaurant? Set up some outdoor seating so that people walking by on the sidewalk can see how delicious the food looks.

Cafe Zola makes the most of their space by setting up extensive outdoor seating so that people walking by can see lots of happy customers.


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11. Partner with a Charity

Partnering with a charity is one of the best restaurant promotions that also helps give back to the community. Pick a day (maybe even a historically low-traffic day) to give all or a portion of your proceeds to charity or create a special menu item and donate all the profits from that item to charity.

While this partnership might mean less profit for your business on that day, it provides you with greater visibility in the community. It will also grow your consumer base, because consumers prefer to buy from charitable businesses. Plus, it’s just a great thing to do!

Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York City says a thank you to their customers after raising over $10,000 for their day-long partnership with Cathedral Community Cares.

12. Try a Pay What You Can Promotion

If you’re ready to take the next step into being a charitable and socially responsible business, try a pay-what-you-can promotion! By picking a day where customers can name their own price, you give them the power to donate and surprise you.

Name suggested prices for each item, but let the customer decide what they want to pay. This may mean some customers will pay less than the menu price for an item – likely because they are unable to afford food at the full price – but it also means some will pay more than the menu price.

Pay-what-you-can models are an up-and-coming option in the restaurant space, and consumers are excited to engage with them. While it may be difficult to sustain as an overall business model, running a pay-what-you-can promotion is a great way to let customers in on this new experience.

Give your customers an opportunity to support your business as much as they value it – you might end up surprised! Plus, pay-what-you-can models often see the highest profit margins in the first few days, making the model perfect for a short-term promotion.

13. Use Cutting-Edge Technology

Continue to help your customers feel part of something cutting-edge by making your restaurant as innovative as possible. Implementing technology like digital menu boards, self-ordering restaurant kiosks, and new kitchen display systems not only comes with a whole host of efficiency benefits, but it helps the consumer feel like they’re a part of something new.

Consumers are always looking for the next big thing, and utilizing the highest tech available is a great restaurant marketing tool to give your restaurant that ‘next big thing’ status. Plus, this technology can provide next-level customer feedback analysis that you can use to inform your new restaurant promotional ideas and provide a better customer experience.

SusHi Eatstation in Florida saw spectacular growth when they partnered with GRUBBRR to revolutionize their kitchen.


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