21 Marketing Must-Do Tips for Restaurant Owners to Boost Sales ASAP

TO: Restaurant Owners, Marketing Managers, and Restaurant Consultants.

Restaurant Marketing Tips For Improving Business

This post is all about simple steps to restaurant marketing success. This is a longer post and I suggest you read this 2-3 times. These are all ways you can boost sales, create customer loyalty, fill slower times, get more PR, find and book more private parties and much more.

I am an avid restaurant goer, and this is why I wrote this blog. I am passionate about filling your seats, and this post will give you a list of activities you can easily do right now.

1. Ensure accessibility on mobile phones.

Make sure your website has a mobile version, or uses responsive design. This means when someone pulls up your website, they don’t need to pinch and zoom. If they do, you need to make a change immediately and make the investment into mobile.

Here’s why:

  • 61% of your customers will leave your website if it is not mobile-friendly.
  • 61% of consumers also say that the ability to easily call a business is critical to the decision to make a purchase.
  • 47% of people say they will get frustrated if they cannot call a business directly from a phone and will go elsewhere.
    Source: Google.

If your customers want it, do it! Think about what they may be thinking for a second. “I want to eat at Restaurant X, but it’s not easy to order food. It’s easy to order from Restaurant Y, though.” Data tells us Restaurant Y wins this scenario three out of five times.

These numbers are staggering. If you’re not already figuring out how to get this done, hint hint – YOU SHOULD.

The world finds restaurants for their next meal online or on apps. Don’t fight change. Adapt to it. Your business, family and employees will benefit.

Mobile responsive websites make it easy to contact with features such as click-to-call, Yelp review integrations, and coupons or specials to prompt faster purchases, drive impulsive actions and grow your sales. This gives customers a very easy way to buy from you, which is the whole point of having a business.

There are several options to getting a mobile-friendly website. If your website is built on WordPress, it may already be responsive. If it is not, you can install the WP Touch plugin for free.

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: High

If you don’t know how to do this, hire a professional to do it properly. Be careful if you do it yourself – don’t break anything or make a mess of your website. I suggest you test this on a backup server in case you run into issues.

2. Start an email club & build a list of GOLD!

Email marketing is not just for big chains. More and more local restaurants now have an email club.

Do you know why? So they can upsell, cross sell, promote special occasions and more – to MAKE MONEY.

Let your guests know you are there; you can accommodate them for all occasions you offer. You have to constantly remind your customers by staying on top of their mind. They have a lot of other options, from low cost fast food to premium steakhouses and seafood establishments. Make sure they think of you. It is effective and can do wonders for your business.

Here are a few ways to get subscribers:

  • When you give your customers the bill create a short paper form that will ask them simply for the first, last name and email. If you want more customer data, you can ask them for it, but remember: more info demanded = less likely to join.
  • Encourage them with incentives to sign up – for example:
    “I’d like to ask you to join our email club. You’ll receive special offers & promotions, and get info on special members-only events. It is a simple way to get free things from us!” They may be more likely to fill this in.
  • If you are a fast casual or fast food restaurant, ask them at the cash register. If there’s a long line, ask them to fill it in and come to the front. You still have the chance when you give them their to-go meal or in-store meal. Don’t be annoying, however. You have to do it with a smile and not like a bank trying to sell you a new bank account.
  • Have a business card fish bowl. Here you want to still ask customers, but you probably will want to give them an IMMEDIATE discount for dropping their card off or a chance to WIN something – at your restaurant, of course. Think of a possible monthly winner and tie this into a social media campaign as well (more on social media below). If you need more help about building your followers and list, contact me for an appointment – just be in front of a computer.

Email marketing isn’t as hard as you may think. It’s easy with email programs like MailChimp or Constant Contact. (Note – you may need a web master to integrate on your website.)

Learn more about email marketing here…

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: High

3. Get more reviews!

Make sure you have outlets to review sites on your website such as Yelp, Google Plus, UrbanSpoon, or whatever review sites you belong to. There are so many people who decide whether to come to your restaurant or not based on reviews.

  • 90% of buyers said they made the decision to try a product or service as a result of reviews.
    Source: Dimensional Thinking

Ask your happy customers if they can review you on your website. Email your new customers if you follow my tip on email. It’s quick, easy and customers would love to review you, plus it’s a chance to develop a relationship with your client.

Here’s what you can say:

Hi John,

Thank you for coming in the other day, it was great to see you again. I wanted to ask you if you have 2 minutes today or sometime in the future to write a review about your experience at our restaurant.

If you use Yelp, here is our page: [web address goes here]

Or one of our other popular sites:
Google Plus [web address goes here]

Facebook [web address goes here]


Chef Rahul Alim

Just make sure you share the link to the review page of your business profile on whatever sites you choose to share. Make it really easy for your customers. Chances are they will also follow you on social and may engage a little more on your social media sites.

Read more about the value of online reviews…

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: High

4. Online ordering!

Make it even more convenient for your mobile customers to enjoy your food with online ordering for delivery or pick up!

This goes back into point number 1. The more ways you make it convenient to your customers, the more customers you will have, and the more loyal they will be, and the more often they will come to your restaurant and make impulse purchases!

Check out www.forked.com to set up online ordering and delivery.

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: High

5. Get social.

Local people on social media are your customers. You can choose to advertise and get more exposure, or you can join or start a conversation. People love posting pictures of food every single day. You can do the same on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and more.

Since you are busy and there’s a lot to do to run a restaurant, I’d suggest you delegate it to someone who knows social media that works for you. Just set the rules that it’s for promoting the business, not personal use.

You can always use a free service like HootSuite to schedule posts ahead of time for greater efficiency and targeting by hour. A picture of food and drinks at 9:30 AM isn’t as effective for enticing customers to come into happy hour as, say, a picture of food and drinks at 4:45 PM.

Social media also allows you to promote events, parties, marketing messages, special occasions and more. The more quality people you have in your network, the more you can reach your local target audience to come to your location and spend some money!

NOTE: If you are promoting an event – let’s say Mother’s Day, for example – do it a few weeks to 10 days in advance, and start pushing it a little harder as the time gets closer.

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: High

6. Other popular online directories.

There are more listings online than just Yelp, Google and Foursquare. There are hundreds of sites and apps out there.

You want to be in the most important directories so more people can find you. The more relevant the better.

But wait – this takes a lot of time to set up, save passwords, keep it organized and consistent. This is a perfect task to outsource. Check out this post for more information about local listings:

Read more about local listings here…

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: Low to Medium

7. Special events & parties.

Offer private parties, business events, catering – this may seem obvious, right? But make sure everyone knows about it. You will end up booking more events when you let people know.

Great places to stop by are the large companies nearby for holiday parties or executive meetings. The other great ones are companies that regularly offer luncheons to new customers, such as financial advisors, attorneys, workshops, and IT solutions companies. Find out who they are and market to them.

Give them a good price per head and create a relationship – they will bring in their prospects and they will likely be local! New customers – Cha-Ching!

Difficulty Level: Medium to High

ROI: High

8. Lunch specials.

Have an express lunch for takeout customers. People are busy, and depending on what type of restaurant you have, consumers may not think of your location – especially if you are more of a sit-down dinner establishment or considered heavy/comfort food.

Change that. Offer a menu that is quick, lighter, and lower in cost. You’ll keep them coming back more often, and coming back with their friends, colleagues, family, etc. This can lead to more loyalty, more word of mouth and, if you work it right, more catering/private events/parties/etc.

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: High

9. Happy Hour.

Make sure people actually know when your happy hour is. Don’t rely on just a sign and assume. Make sure it is very obvious that no one can miss it.

There’s a bar 100 meters from my office. I have been next to them for 10 years and I am still unclear when they have happy hour. I love a good happy hour, but I don’t go there because I have no idea what the times are.

Sometimes people just want a deal on a drink, but will stay past happy hour, order more food and even stay for dinner. This is a money maker for you.

Some owners think their customers are going to come anyways – maybe that’s true, but I am not one of those guys. I want to feel like I got a freebie by paying less than retail, and I will be happy to spend a lot more if the place has good service, good food, good drinks and other people there so it feels like I am in the right place (even if I don’t talk to anyone else there).

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: High

10. Have a special night.

Ever hear of “Tuesday Wine Lovers?” This sort of thing can help bring people in for the drink and stay for the food. Chances are they will not come alone!

This is especially effective for filling in the gaps on slow days or nights.

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: Medium to High

11. Hit the streets.

Let your neighbors and local businesses know about you! Don’t sell, just take two minutes to drop off a magnet and menu.

I would make a low cost paper menu, but do it in color. Remember point #8 above. You want to let your customers know they can get a hearty quick lunch, and afford it. If the food is good, which I am guessing it is, you will create more loyal customers than you think.

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: Medium to High

12. Offer a lighter version.

This is not a fad or just for health food stores. Everyone loves to see a healthy option, and this could draw a new audience.

“Skinny Options” – not only for menu options, but alcoholic beverages as well. Customers will eat more, drink more and come more often.

Difficulty Level: Low

ROI: Medium

13. Ask your staff for help!

Train your staff to prompt every customer to promote the restaurant upon check out. Make sure the message is consistent across the team. I have been to countless small restaurants where the staff is confused.

This comes from the top. Train the team, and make sure the message is clear. Some restaurants even have the staff promote outside to bring in friends and family from word of mouth and on social media.

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: Medium to High

14. Gift cards.

Gift cards are an awesome way to build loyal customers, and the crazy part is most of your customers will probably not use the full amount. Or, if they do, they will be spending more than their balance.

Contact your credit card processing company for rates and how to set this up.

Pro Tip: Incentivize your customers to buy this. “Buy a $100 gift card and receive $150 of credit!”

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: High

15. Get involved with the community.

Sponsor an event where you may have your target clients do something for charity or host a fundraiser. This is paying it forward. Every business should give back to a charity, be it by volunteer work, service, or money.

Here are some ideas how to help promote yourself while doing good deeds:

  • Get the charity or group to add your logo and a short write up in the program (great for branding, local reach, and immediate potential for business).
  • Ask them to add a link from their website to yours. This could help get a high quality link back to your website (great for rankings and exposure).

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: High

16. Special online offers or coupons.

Everyone likes a deal, and this can be the reason a new customer comes in, or a regular comes more regularly.

There are several areas you can advertise online, you just need to make sure you don’t kill your budget. There are so many FREE coupon sites out there, and a simple Google search can help you find many great coupon advertising resources.

As a restaurant goer, I often use a few things for everything: RetailMeNot, CouponCabin, & CouponSherpa. Then, of course, you have the big ones like Groupon and Living Social.

This is another avenue to get more customers, and there are a lot of eyeballs online looking for coupons. They may pay a little less if they find your coupons, but this helps create a sense of urgency to get to your location.

Don’t feel you are giving away things for free, or that they will come anyway. These are proven to make customers come more, come faster and – depending on how they feel about your location – SPEND MORE MONEY.

Difficulty Level: Low to Medium

ROI: High

17. Public Relations!

Call local magazines, newspapers, news stations, etc. to come for a free meal and do a piece on your location. Build local buzz. Reviews will appear on their publications for their entire circulation/audience.

You can also post those reviews in your restaurant and on social media for a little proof that experts and critics love your place. Even if people have been eating there for ages, statistics show the psychological effect (confirmation bias) produces more money getting spent there.

Fair warning: do a little research and be selective on who you invite. A gourmet critic will probably not bother with a tiny little hot dog stand, but if he does – watch out!

Difficulty Level: Medium

ROI: Medium to High

18. Apply for awards locally and regionally.

Awards are great to post on your website, social media sites, review sites and to hang on walls in your storefront. Consumers respect the quality of food, service and environment, and awards are great feathers in your cap when it comes down to branding. Again, the psychological effect produces greater spends. Why wouldn’t you do this?

Difficulty Level: Medium

ROI: Medium to High


19. Take advantage of paid social media.

To add on to your organic social media posts, it is often worth it to pay for your engagement. This way, you can choose who you want your post to go in front of instead of only targeting your followers/friends. With paid social, you can also decide what locations you want, and get down to the nitty gritty about who your ideal customer is- How old are they? What is their gender? Where do they live? What do they like to do? Do they have kids?  The best thing about this is that it’s cheap! Take advantage before Facebook starts to raise their prices.

20. Use Chatbots

Chatbots are fairly new and are going to take over the online presence of businesses. Businesses use chatbots to inform their subscribers about new things, direct them to the right places on their site, and be their customer service agent 24/7!  The best part is, that it is on Facebook Messenger, an app everyone has already!

For restaurants in particular, you can have customers engage in online ordering or even schedule a reservation! It’s all automated, so you don’t have to do any manual work.


21. Use text messaging

Inform ideal customer of any special events, discounts, ball games, or any messages you want to distribute to pack your restaurant in real time. Text messages have about a 90% open rate! It is highly likely that the receiver will open the message.

People are very busy today and people often get sidetracked. A lot of people sign up to get deals, redeem them, and then when the day comes, they don’t show up. With text messaging, you can remind your subscribers on that exact day!

Final pro tip: hire a company if you need help.

The advantage of hiring a marketing company is that they won’t have the learning curve you may have. The downside is you have to pay and pay their rate. Quality agencies are around $75-150 an hour. Negotiate a fixed monthly price for hours and store credit. You can probably negotiate 75-85% towards cash or check and 15-25% towards store credit.

Good luck, restaurant owners. I hope this serves as great resource for your business. And I want to hear what you have to say – do you have other marketing challenges that I can answer?

What to do next?

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About Custom Creatives:

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Author: Rahul Alim
Custom Creatives was established to serve as your full-service one-stop Digital Marketing Company, offering graphic design, web design and web development agency, catering to businesses of all sizes. Custom Creatives has designed and deployed over 100,000 banner ads, as well as thousands of websites and landing pages and print collateral for small businesses and large international corporations. Providing exceptional quality services and products with a high return on investment is at the heart of everything we do.


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