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Running a restaurant comes with many challenges—continually crafting the perfect menu, assembling and maintaining a kick-ass team, and running the day-to-day operations so smoothly that it would bring a tear to Gordon Ramsay’s eye. 

Whether you’re a seasoned restauranteur or just starting out, getting butts in seats and ensuring they keep coming back is one of the main hurdles most restaurants face. Luckily, you don’t need to shell out bank-breaking cash to purchase food truck fleets, bribe influencers, or flood Instagram feeds with days of paid ads. 

We’ve whipped together an actionable list with 12 tactical restaurant marketing ideas to elevate your restaurant’s profile - not your expenses.

1. Make Your Website Scream Customer-Friendliness

Let’s start with the basics - your restaurant’s website needs a fresh design for both desktop and mobile devices. Most importantly, ensure visitors can easily find the menu from all landing pages

Fill your site with high-resolution, high-quality images of your cuisine - image quality can be a significant deciding factor in whether or not your potential client books your restaurant or the more photogenic joint down the street. Provide social media integrations so clients can seamlessly hop over to your Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages. You’ll want to ensure your location, hours of operation, and contact details are simple to find.

Not web-design savvy? No worries. You’ll be relieved that several super-simple tools like Wix, Squarespace, and Adalo exist for the average tech know-nothing. These intuitive platforms can quickly build websites; some are specialized for restaurants. 

2. Optimize Your Site for Local Search Traffic

You don’t need to be an SEO prodigy to optimize your company site for local traction; you can still drive traffic to your site with a few simple adjustments. All you need to do is follow three easy steps: 

  1. Claim your business profile on Google’s “My Business” feature.
  2. Add an accurate description of your restaurant - including its location, hours, food, and menu.
  3. Upload a few pictures of your restaurant’s exterior and some of the cuisine you sell to your Google Business listing. 

Google conveniently links its My Business profile to Google Maps. Once you complete your My Business profile, you’ll literally be on the map

3. Write a Unique Blog 

Beyond good design and a sprinkling of SEO, you might also want to consider creating written content on your website’s blog section. Over time, doing so will help boost your local search traffic position and illustrate your restaurant’s value. Here are some topic ideas to get you started: 

  • Nearby attractions you can swing by after a visit to your restaurant, like a museum
  • If you serve seasonal specials, like pumpkin pie in autumn, write about it!
  • Tell the captivating history of your food, like the pasta sauce your great-grandma made in Sicily.
  • Do you source your cheese from a local creamery that uses its dairy cows? Feature local businesses you work with
  • Your oat milk latte satisfyingly washes down every bite of your buttery scones—so write about your unique food and beverage pairings.  

Educating readers about interesting things your restaurant offers may increase your number of patrons.

4. Network with the Right Food Influencers

Getting your restaurant the broad brand exposure that would incite jealousy in Coca-Cola executives should be every restauranteur’s goal. To get exposure, you need popularity. To propel your brand, you should connect with local influencers—influencers in your area, not those 5,000 miles away.

Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are chock full of restaurant influencers. Even micro-influencers command dozens of foodie followers, just waiting to indulge in the next delectable or uncover the newest Michelin-quality hole in the wall. 

It’s possible that behemoth food influencers with followers by the tens of thousands live in your area, but trying to contact them initially may be fruitless. Begin with a progressive outreach strategy that starts small and gradually builds momentum. 

Spend a little time researching food influencers found in your area; conduct hash-tag research on social media to narrow down the influencers you’re looking for. Short-list the micro-influencers in your area that are a good fit for you. Reach out to them via direct message (DM) and invite them to your establishment. Offer them a discount in exchange for social media posts—on all their social media accounts— and a review. 

The exposure of many popular food influencers goes beyond social media. Crucially, keep an eye out for food influencers who write their own food blog or publish articles in a food-related publication. Getting an influencer to write an article featuring your restaurant will provide an in-depth review helps in two ways:

  1. It will intimately review your restaurant and food at the cost of a free meal or two. 
  2. It will provide your website with a link from the influencer’s site to your site, helping it rank higher on certain search engine results pages. 

You can also recruit guest bloggers by posting an open invite on your social media, website, and a physical sign in your restaurant.   

*Pro-tip: Actively maintain a relationship with the influencers that enjoy your restaurant! Give them VIP status, and always invite them back to your restaurant whenever you unleash new culinary creations. 

5. Create a Custom App Streamlining Your Operations

How awesome would it be if you could create a customized app modeled in your brand’s name, image, and likeness? Your app could offer some of the following

  • Build your own takeout menu.
  • Manage your bookings. 
  • Sit-down orders in advance. 
  • Push notifications informing your loyal customers of new dishes, events, and sweet (or salty) deals directly to customers’ phones.
  • Customize your app to your own preferences, color schemes, and layout.

Does creating an all-encompassing app sound intimidating? Relax—it’s 2023—and you can seamlessly create your own app using no-code software compatible with any budget on Adalo. You’ll also be able to publish it on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, allowing your customers to download your app to their phones easily.

An app-building platform like Adalo gives you complete control to open a take-out line. Use Adalo to design the contents and aesthetics of your take-out menu. Food options on Adalo are easy to upload, so customers can easily select and purchase them. Customers can purchase food using any payment system–like credit card payments from Stripe or Paypal. 

You can give customers the convenience of ordering food hours in advance and send push notifications informing them of new menu items, specials, or when they can expect their order.

A customized app catered to your restaurant and built by Adalo will sustain your restaurant’s brand. You’ll be able to change the app’s appearance simply and seamlessly. Changing the theme to green and red holiday colors or adding a new booking feature demands only a few taps and swipes of the finger.

6. Publish a Snazzy Newsletter Offering Promotions and Benefits

By sending out an easy-to-read newsletter once a month (newsletters going out more than once a month are suffocating), you can keep customers informed about new dishes, menu items, and behind-the-scenes stories. Encourage clients to sign up by offering product discounts or access to VIP dishes.

Initiate sign-ups via social media, your website, and from QR codes.  A visually appealing newsletter with more pictures than words lets customers absorb a chapter’s worth of information in one swift glance. Over time, you’ll have a subscriber list longer than the Amazon River. With so many email addresses, you can occasionally offer limited-time deals and events.

*Pro-tip: Write a catchy subject line summarizing your newsletter’s value—even laggards who don’t read the newsletter will learn something. Also, include an emoji in the subject line - a secret little trick from our back pocket that always helps catch a reader’s eye and gets them to read your email.

7. Themed Happy Hours

A happy hour is more than discounted drinks and appetizers - it’s about offering an ambiance that customers can’t help but gravitate towards immediately after work.
Mix up the theme weekly—sell discounted margaritas and tacos the first week but offer cheap IPAs and gourmet pretzels the next. Blending different happy hour themes, week-over-week will appeal to people with different tastes, attracting the butts of a more diverse clientele to fill your seats.  

A happy hour doesn’t only apply to adult beverage-pouring establishments. Cafes can feature discounted, unique, single-origin coffees paired with scones on Saturdays. The goal is to create a happy hour compatible with your restaurant’s brand

A weekly themed happy hour will benefit from varied content you can prop up on your website, social media, and Google Business profile. You’ll have plenty of new things to discuss on these platforms weekly—like the newly released IPA from the small brewery down the street one week and the tantalizing tamales with chilis from the nearby farm the next. 

8. Collaborate with Locally-Owned Hotels 

Your restaurant and that locally-owned hotel or B+B a few blocks down the street have many things in common. Working to build a business relationship with a local hotel may create a mutually beneficial situation as you may have the same patrons, so propose the following: 

  • Offering discounts for guests and patrons.
  • On your social media and websites, start a joint marketing campaign.
  • Initiate loyalty programs for joint customers.
  • On holidays (Valentine’s Day, Labor Day), offer joint packages.
  • Sell complimentary cookies to come with rooms.
  • Get a few of your dishes on a hotel menu.

Successfully working together will build camaraderie between both businesses. You’ll potentially create a warm working relationship — espousing new business ideas and forming a support network to grow and tackle business challenges–together.  

*Pro Tip: Only first work with one or two locally owned hotels. Collaborating with competing hotels could catch you in the middle of a nasty crossfire. Err on the side of building relationships with hotels slowly and selectively. 

9. Promote Your (non-secret) Recipes on YouTube

An effective way to showcase your kitchen skills is to create YouTube or TikTok content detailing each step of concocting a specific meal. First, choose a popular dish you don’t feel too attached to. Highlight the story behind the recipe creation and why this certain recipe is special to you. You’ll want to build a personal connection with the audience before cooking starts. Gently walk through each recipe step, explaining any unique technique (e.g., “folding” cream into a custard) the recipe requires. Showcasing your skills will earn you serious street cred. 

If you don’t feel comfortable divulging the creation of any of your menu items—don’t fret. Instead, exhibit your culinary skills by creating an “off-menu” item on YouTube, i.e., something not on your menu. You might even want to offer this promoted item on special. 

10. Create Your Own Merchandise

You don’t need unlimited access to Warren Buffet’s checking account to design and create killer merch. A quick web search will reveal abundant attention-grabbing products available for anyone—no matter the budget.  

Figure out what products you want for your merchandise. Use a free design tool like Canva or Snappa to draw up your design. A word of advice to the artistically challenged: outsource your graphic design to someone on Fiverr or Upwork. Ensure that your design stands out and expresses your restaurant brand essence

When you get your mock-ups, google printing or merchandise production companies. Many offer online platforms to upload designs and preview how they’ll look. Helpfully, most merchandise production companies have the “blanks” you need so that you can spare your supply-chain skills. 

After bringing your merchandise to life, put it up for sale on your site and pump up the PR on social media. The branded merchandise that customers tote outside your restaurantlike garments and water bottles—provides free advertising wherever the customer takes it.

*Pro-Tip: Have your staff wear a piece of branded clothing while working—it’s best to give them options to choose from. Uniquely branded mugs, cups, or napkins used in your restaurant will enhance your restaurant’s image.   

11. Host an Epic Open Mic Night

Want to create a lively atmosphere fueled by live music or edgy stand-up comedy? An open mic is your ticket!

Setting up a sound system that outshines the acoustics in Red Rocks Amphitheatre isn’t necessary. All you need to fill your restaurant’s air with crowd-pleasing soundwaves are the following: 

  • 100-watt amplifier
  • Microphone stand 
  • Microphone 
  • Patch-cords 
  • One cheap acoustic guitar compatible with an amplifier
  • Performing space, preferably one with juicy acoustics

Buying second-hand would be an even bigger win. You can snag your performance gear at a local music store, but chances are you’ll find the best deals on Facebook or Craigslist. Always ensure your performance gear functions properly. 

Hold your open mic night at most once weekly. Wednesday or Thursday evenings are ideal because these nights offer patrons a midweek outlet to relax. If you MUST host on a Friday or Saturday, offer your open mic at most twice monthly, as weekend evenings are fickle and packed with events elsewhere. Experiment with dates and times to find your best fit.  As always, advertise on social

Run your open mic like a well-oiled machine. Find performers on social media or by word of mouth—within your pool of patrons, they could quite possibly be the next Doja Cat. Before the open mic begins, assign them time slots, and always allot each performer the same amount of time, no matter what. Doing so will show that you treat each performer fairly, which they’ll all appreciate.

Performers appreciate professionalism and efficiency; many will want to return if you do it right. Always offer them a free drink or food item in exchange for their performance. A free drink or menu item shows the performer your appreciation.  Remember to give performers equal exposure time on your social media feeds! Posting photos of each performer provides new content and interaction opportunities every time you host an open mic.  

12. Cater!

Offering catering services will strategically enhance your brand visibility. This approach allows you to tap into a wider market and heighten your customer base

When considering potential catering projects, a culturally diverse and colorful world is your oyster. Here are just a few catering ideas: 

  • Company parties
  • Social events
  • Weddings 
  • Graduations 
  • Private parties 
  • Holiday parties
  • Quinceaneras 
  • Bar and Bat Mitzvahs 

Catering is an opportunity to display your culinary prowess and approach to cooking.  Every attendee will have a uniquely delectable culinary experience centered around your abilities, creativity, and, quite literally, taste. 

And, you don’t only have to cater for events—you can cater for other restaurants too! If you’re a restaurant, seek out coffee houses, tea shops, and small breweries. Sell them food items from your menu, or custom make something that accommodates their brand. Catering speciality items to other restaurants will boost your brand awareness and swell your clientele.  

Propel your Patron Count with Adalo 

Still thinking about that app idea we mentioned in strategy five? Adalo comes packed with plenty of restaurant-themed templates ready to go. You’ll also find plenty of features, like push notifications and appointment booking, to help you supercharge your restaurant bookings.

Sounds too complicated? Don’t worry, we know you’re more cook than coder! Adalo’s slick, no-code builder is used by hundreds of busy restaurant owners just like you to bring their apps to life without a long learning curve and without the need to know anything about creating apps. 

Start building your restaurant’s app for free.