What Is the Best Way to Market a Restaurant? (Infographic)

May 24th, 2016 by Ted Leave a reply »

After a long day spent helping customers and working with employees, many restaurant owners are exhausted. They simply don’t have the energy left to think about how to market a restaurant, their restaurant, or prepare a plan to do.

Well, the team at Family Hospitality Group is here to help. We’re hyped up and excited about the opportunities for your restaurant. Once you know how much revenue you could make by using the marketing tips and tricks in this article, you might be even more excited than we are.
Today we’ll look at 3 ways to market a restuarant. Why 3? Why not just look at the one marketing method to rule them all?
I’m glad you asked. Marketing is like dieting. A lot of diets will work, if you work the diet. Don’t wait until you’ve found the perfect one. And so it is with marketing. Pick a tactic that fits your restaurant and target market, and start working on it today.

Three Ways to Market a Restaurant

  • Traditional
  • Guerrilla
  • Digital

We’ll also give you three ideas for each kind of marketing. You can put these into practice in your own restaurant right away.

Traditional Marketing

Traditional doesn’t mean boring.

Mad Men by A&E was a huge success and was anything but boring. The show was set in the 1960’s and was a showcase of classic marketing strategies.

Traditional Marketing Examples

What do Uncle Sam, The U.S. School of Music, and VW have in common?

Some companies still do business like it’s 1960. But for the small family restaurant, this isn’t an option. Your marketing budget is small, and you need to squeeze every penny until it screams.

Examples of Traditional Marketing

  • Signs
  • Slogans
  • Holiday Hijacking
  • Billboards
  • Business Cards
  • Coupons in the Newspaper or Local Circular
  • Punch-Style Incentive Cards
  • Flyers

How to Use Traditional Marketing for Your Family Restaurant

Traditional marketing ideas are alive and well. They may not seem sexy or glitzy, but they’ve survived because they work. You may not be able to do business like Mad Men, but you can still make traditional marketing methods work for you.

Enforce Consistent Design Themes

All of your signage, menus, logos, and graphics should use consistent colors, fonts, and styles. Consistent design themes help you establish a brand. Example: Anything written in the Coca-Cola font will remind you of the brand.

Competition is fierce and reinvention expensive. Every time you reinvent yourself, you’re throwing away your previous marketing efforts.

Make Money: People do more business with folks they trust, and consistency breeds trust. Even if your customers don’t realize it, they’ll trust you more, and reward you with more of their business.

Save Money: Anytime you can reuse established design assets like colors, fonts, and even pictures, you’re saving money. You don’t have to spend money or time (which is just money in another form) coming up with a new design. And if you found something that worked, why change it?

Mail Coupons to Your Customers

Yes, you heard that correctly. Snail mail isn’t back from the dead. It was never dead to begin with.

I get coupons from restaurants in the mail all the time. And I use them! Tens of billions of dollars are spent every year on direct mail marketing. Why? Because it works!

Caution: Be smart about the way you word your coupons. Mistakes can add up fast and really hurt your bottom line in the long run.

Make Money: When a customer comes to your restaurant because of a coupon you mailed them, it’s likely they’ll buy more than just what the coupon advertises. Or they may return another time without a coupon and make a full price purchase.

By gifting them a coupon, you’re valuing the relationship. You’d be surprised how quickly word can spread about a great deal. And as they say, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Save Money: Direct mail marketing campaigns can be hyper-local. You can chose to have it sent only to the zip code your restaurant is in. Or you may chose a zip code with the wealthy clientele you’re targeting. This allows you to skip the flashy but overly broad TV commercial or radio ad spot approach.

Invite Your Local Food Critics Over

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Okay that’s not a fair comparison, even if it might feel that way. If you think food critics are your enemy, you’re wrong. In fact, food critics can be your best friend if you’re willing to listen and learn.

Even if you don’t see yourself as the sort of restaurant that has to worry about food critics, you can still learn a lot from their feedback. If they’re good at their job, they can clue you in on what your competition is up to. They can give you an honest review of your chef’s performance, and remind you that the décor needs a little sprucing up.

Now, food critics are generally supposed to review a restaurant’s food anonymously. So you may have to do a little work persuading one to come by.

With the advent of online review sites, everyone has become a food critic, but we’ll come back to that later.

Make Money: Knowledge is power. And in the family restaurant industry, that one gem of an idea (even if it comes from a critic) can make the difference between a ho-hum year and a runaway success.

Save Money: You may think people love the flowers you put on every table. But your food critic can let you know that silk flowers are dated and turn what otherwise would be a good experience into a poor one.

Anecdote: My wife and I visited a restaurant in southeastern Ohio. Their signature dish was called a Camel Back Sandwich. I should have known better, especially after the server (who was a member of the family who owned the restaurant) told us that the dish was invented decades ago. It turned our not to be a sandwich at all. This was warning number two. The name of the dish probably should have been enough to ward me off, but I persisted. It was bland and would have been forgettable if it hadn’t been so bad. I won’t go into detail about the plastic menus that were peeling, the stained drop ceiling tiles, or the hand-off from one staff member to the next (we saw three or four by the time we were seated). Suffice to say, it was a bad experience.

If you’re worried this may be you, you might want to ask that friend (the one who’s super blunt about everything) to come by first and give you their unvarnished opinion. It could hurt. But if it does, that just means it’s working.

Guerrilla Marketing

In 1984, Jay Conrad published a book called, Guerrilla Advertising. Conrad’s idea was to use marketing tactics that were cheap, effective, and creative.

Guerrilla Marketing Examples

Guerrilla marketing if often “sticky” and entertaining.

On the face of it, this isn’t particularly remarkable. After all, who’s going to say, “No thanks. I’d rather have expensive and boring marketing that doesn’t bring in sales.” Nobody, of course.

But Conrad’s point struck home at a time when traditional marketing methods we’re growing stale.

Here are fun examples of guerrilla marketing:

These efforts may seem silly, but you can bet that if Coca-Cola and Oreo are using them it’s because they work.

How to Use Guerrilla Marketing for Your Family Restaurant

Here are three unusual, creative, and cheap ways you can market your business:

Work with Charities

There are thousands of charities and small causes looking for ways to make money. Pizza Hut, Denny’s, and Ruby Tuesday already work with charities to sponsor events in their restaurants.

As the restaurant owner or manager, you supply the location and food. The charities supply the people power. You earn the appreciation of the folks who work for the charities and get to do some good along the way. In addition, the servers who work for the charities will encourage their friends to come in resulting in more business.

This is a tactic you can be active with. Call some of the charities near you, and let them know that you’d love to help them raise money with your restaurant. Even if some of them don’t take you up on the offer, you’ll have built up a lot of good will with them.

Make Money: You’ll make more money because of the good will you’re building up with the charity and the customers who see you more favorably because you’re helping out the charity. One restaurant I know of lets charities give out coupons tied to that charity. When someone uses that coupon the charity gets a percentage of the sale.

Save Money: This is where this tactic really shines. You’ll save money on labor. After all, the charity workers will be providing the labor for free. You’ll also save money on marketing because the charity will be letting their supporters know about their fundraising event for you! They are doing your marketing for you! You’ll also save money because customers will be more forgiving about mistakes because it’s all for a good cause.

Do the Unexpected

We’ve all seen the sign-spinners and people dressed up like mascots hawking everything from pedicures to tax preparation services. These ideas worked better when everyone wasn’t doing them, but they’re still rare enough that you might consider them.

I used to work at a coffee shop. One day while trying to think of ways to market the business, we came up with the idea of the $100 iced-coffee drink. No one’s ever heard of a $100 drink at a coffee shop.

We had the advantage of being a non-profit ministry, so we might have actually sold a few of these things. But guess what. Even if we hadn’t, just being able to advertise ourselves as the home of the hundred-dollar frap would be enough.

Make Money: One of the advantages of thinking like a “guerrilla” is that it forces you to reject the normal way of doing things and focus on something new. Doing the unusual or unexpected has a way of getting folks talking about you. Remember the first time you saw a sign-spinner? You probably told a few folks about it. Your restaurant can be what folks are talking about next if you come up with a creative way to advertise it.

Save Money: Just like the $100 iced-coffee concept, your idea doesn’t actually have to cost anything (other than the time it takes you to come up with it). And if you can get folks talking about you and spending money at your restaurant without spending your marketing budget, those dollars go straight to your bottom line.

Learn to Day-Trade Attention

Gary Vaynerchuk is arguably the leading voice in marketing and customer service as of 2016. Recently, he’s been talking a lot about how marketing is just a matter of “day trading attention.”

Attention is one of the most valuable commodities a person has. It’s limited and can only be spent on one thing at a time. In fact, much of marketing is based on the idea that before you can do anything else, you have to get someone’s attention.

So how do you get someone’s attention? You don’t. You go where their attention already is. If your target customer base gets their restaurant recommendations from the newspaper, be in the newspaper. If they’re online, you have to be online. If they’re retired, you have to be in the retirement communities, Foreign Legions, and nursing homes.

Why fight for their attention when you can get it just be being where they already are?

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing isn’t the wave of the future. It’s the tidal wave of the future. But to take advantage of it, your boat has to be in the water. Yes, that was me trying to be pithy.

Digital Marketing Examples

Digital marketing doesn’t mean it all happens on a computer. For example, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Examples of Digital Marketing:

  • Website
  • Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, etc)
  • Digital Coupons
  • Review Sites
  • Email
  • Blogging

I’m going to share with you the three digital marketing ideas I’ve personally found to be the most effective.

How to Use Digital Marketing for Your Family Restaurant


Email marketing has the highest ROI of any digital marketing methods. According to MarketingSherpa.com, the ROI for email is 2X higher than cold calling, networking, or trade shows.

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Now maybe you aren’t comfortable with emailing your customers. Or you hate spam and don’t want to annoy your customers. Perfect! You’re just the kind of person who should be using email. Keep that fear healthy. It will keep you from sounding “salesy” when you write.

Aside: The opposite of spam is… ham. Who knew?

A client I did marketing work for maintained a very small list of under 1,000 email contacts. They had a small website and no physical location. And they did over $100,000 a year in sales. And the company consisted of two (that’s right, just two) part-timers. I was one of them.

There are a lot of email services out there. Start with something simple like ConvertKit.com or MailcChimp.com. These services are very user friendly and very responsive to customers.

Make Money: Let’s say you had an email list of 500 customers. You could email all of them and say something as cheesy as, “Hey we miss you. We haven’t seen you in a while and were wondering if it was something we said? Please come see us soon. We’ll keep a table open for you.”

It’ll take you maybe 15 minutes to send. Think you’ll get some smiles out of it. I bet people will mention it to their friends.

Chipotle did something interesting enough, it’s worth repeating. I told my wife about their fine print. Yep, the fine print was memorable. It told me to “stop reading the fine-print and go get something to eat.” An email like this will get folks to give you their business. I bet you won’t complain about that.

Save Money: Thinking about snail-mailing your customers a coupon? Why not email it instead? It’ll be way cheaper, it’ll probably show up right on their smartphone You can even track how many of them open the email and click on the coupon (your email service provider should provide you with these details). How cool is that? Just keep in mind the warning we gave earlier about being careful about the way you word your coupons.

Social Media

Who can keep up with all the social media networks these days? It seems like there’s a new one coming out every five minutes (ever heard of WooWoo?).

The tried and true social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Sites like Facebook allow marketers (that’s you and me) to cater our advertising to potential customers using very specific criteria. For example, you can create an ad for your family restaurant that is only shown to users who have kids and who list “Denny’s” as one of their favorites. Or if you’re an IHOP franchise owner, targeting your ad to someone who already likes restaurants that serve breakfast is an obvious choice.

Make Money: Wouldn’t you love to get your message in front of your ideal customer? This isn’t a pipe dream anymore. With Facebook ads, it’s possible to identify your audience by location, employment, buying habits, and interests. It’s pretty obvious that by targeting your ideal customers with a compelling offer, you’ll be able to make more money.

Save Money: Facebook allows you to run several ads side-by-side. It will even tell you which ad is performing the best. You can then turn off the lower performing ad and leave the best performer running. This saves you money, and the results can be traced in ways direct mail and TV commercial can’t.


Blogging is huge. It’s also a longer term play than some of the other tactics we’ve talked about but the payoff is huge. Like, Donald Trump huge. I know what you’re thinking. “But what do I write about?” Write about what your customers are going to find interesting. What will they find interesting? Well, if they like your restaurant, you can write about your restaurant. You can also use services like BuzzSumo to generate ideas.

Here are some ideas you can write about on your restaurant’s blog:

  • Your latest dish
  • Upcoming holiday specials
  • Photos you or your customers took and posted on social media
  • The latest food craze (e.g. raw food, organic food, etc.)
  • How you helped a parent with an energetic child enjoy their meal
  • The last community event you participated in
  • How to prepare Chicken safely (make sure to include a disclaimer)

Once you get the ideas flowing, you’ll find that they come pretty easily.

Make Money: Blogging is a way your customers get to know who you are. You can add value to their life and build your brand all at the same time. You can become the restaurant that provides great food and service and also makes meal time at home more enjoyable because you share food prep tips. When people are Googling, Binging, and Yahoo-ing (do people still use Yahoo?) you want to be the one they find. You want to be the one they come to trust.

Save Money: Blogging is a one-to-many proposition. Think about it like this, if you were able to have a great conversation with a customer in your restaurant, would you do it? Of course. But you can only do that one customer at a time. But if you can multiply your time, energy, and attention by blogging, why wouldn’t you?


Pick one of the ideas in the article, and give it a try.

Just pick one. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ve learned one thing you don’t have to worry about anymore.

But what if it works?

What if you can boost sales 5% by sharing daily pictures from your restaurant on Twitter or Instagram and another 5% by blogging once a week? What if your local food critic gives you a rave review and your business from travelers skyrockets because you’re top of the list on food review sites? What if you increase employee retention because you’re not just their boss, you’re also helping their favorite charity?

Even if it takes you a week or a month (or two) to get comfortable with it, imagine the value these ideas could add to your bottom line.

Time will pass either way. You might as well be improving your restaurant.

Three Ways to Market a Restaurant: Traditional, Guerrilla, and Digital

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