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Restaurant contest

Restaurant Contest Ideas Your Guests Will Love

Ryan GromfinAuthor

Contests can be an effective way to accomplish different goals for any restaurant marketing team. From boosting sales, to building your brand, to getting more advocates for your business - contests do it all.

These contests can be as simple as sending a one line tweet to existing followers or as complex and combining multiple mediums over different platforms that require specialty software and services. The important thing to remember, though, is that you have to start somewhere!

This article is going to share with you the 7 coolest restaurant contest ideas to utilize for promotion. They are simple, effective, and able to be run without worrying about the technology.

If you are not running contests right now, pick one from this list that seems best suited for your concept and skill set, and do it!


Restaurant Marketing Plan


Before We Begin: The Two Goals for Any Restaurant Contest

Generally speaking, a restaurant contest will help you accomplish one of two different goals, Lead Generation or Engagement.

Lead Generation

Lead Generation contests will do exactly that - create leads for your business. These leads might come in the form of new likes to a Facebook page, new subscribers to an email list, signups for a loyalty program, downloads for your restaurants mobile app, new Twitters to tweet…you get the idea.


Engagement contests are designed to give a shot of adrenaline to a group of people who already know, like, and trust you, but have maybe been taking a nap for the past two years. You just need to wake them up and bring them back to your business.

When run effectively, both of these will directly or indirectly lead to higher sales!

The 7 Best Restaurant Contest Ideas

Without further ado, here are the 7 best restaurant contests you can run for little cost in your business.

1) "Help us With our Next Item!"

Goal: Engagement
Timeline: Whenever you want!

All you need to do is ask one question on your most responsive social media platform. For example if you have 12 taps of beer and it’s time to change things up a bit, take a picture of your taps and ask: “What would you change? Winner gets a pint on me."

Now watch the comments pour in as people argue about what beer should be on your wall. When you finally decide on the beer, post the message in the comments and send a private message to everybody who suggested that beer about the pint you owe them.

You can easily modify this for menu items, whiskey, wine by the glass, etc…

This is my favorite type of contest. The easiest way to sell anything is find out exactly what your customers want, then give it to them. This contest does exactly that.

2) Fan of the Week or Month

Goal: Engagement
Timeline: Weekly or Monthly

Create your own hashtag (you don’t have to do anything here except make one up). For example, if your restaurant is called The Crazy Chicken, your hashtag can be #Crazy4Chicken. Now encourage your guests to post why they are the biggest fan using this hashtag on their favorite social media platform. Each week or month. a winner will be selected to receive a free meal.

To find the submissions, just go to and enter your hashtag.

This is a great contest that you can always have running. I would suggest getting your servers involved in the promotion as well as table tents or posters within your restaurant.

3) Like to Win

Goal: Lead Generation
Timeline: Bi-Weekly

Send out a message letting people know that anybody who likes your Facebook page this week will be entered in a drawing for a free round of drinks for 10 friends (or whatever you want). A contest like this is best with a deadline and a larger prize to get the most engagement.

This is actually a very simple contest, but to get the best results I would suggest promoting on different platforms. For example, if you want to increase your likes on Facebook, I would send out emails, tweets, and snaps for this.

4) Pick a Name

Goal: Engagement and Lead Generation
Timeline: Daily or Weekly

Daily or weekly, randomly pick a name and broadcast this out on your favorite platform. Anybody with that name gets something special that day if they come in. To keep this as simple as possible, keep the prize valuable enough that people want it, but something that is an add on to your core offer like a free appetizer or dessert (not an entrée). Anybody with the name selected for that day, who is also following you on that platform, can come in that day to redeem their winning.

What will start to happen is that people who check in daily (and don’t win) will forward the message to friends with the winning name. The friend is then required to follow you to redeem the prize. This will blow up your social media presence.

This is a fun way to get people to check in on your social media daily. If you can keep up with it, it will prove to be very effective.

5) Why Should You Win?

Goal: Engagement and Lead Generation
Timeline: 1-2 Times Per Year

Offer a pair of tickets to a very popular concert or event coming up soon. Then ask people to tell you why they should win on your social media pages. This is a bigger contest, but you should see bigger results. I suggest partnering with a radio station or traditional media outlet for this one.

Generally, I would say in the rules and conditions that the submission must include some of your branding and must use the hashtag you select. You will get submissions from people filming videos in front of your restaurant, snapping pictures while eating your food, and more. The reason I say partner with a traditional media outlet is that due to the expense of your tickets, this is worth investing some real money in advertising.

6) "It’s Time for Another __________ Off!"

Goal: Engagement and Lead Generation
Timeline: Weekly or Monthly

If you have a signature item on your menu, this is a great way to keep it fresh and exciting!

A client of mine had a small breakfast place in small town. Every Wednesday he would post "It’s time for a Waffle Off, GO!" Then he would post the rules to the contest and watch the submissions pour in.

The rules were simple, tell us what kind of waffle you want this weekend and the submissions with the most likes wins. Winner will receive your specialty waffle on the house.

Seven or eight people would submit ideas…not that big of a deal. But then they would share them with their own Facebook page, and the votes would be in the dozens on each waffle. The engagement of people reading the post was in the thousands. For a small restaurant, those are insane numbers of people seeing your stuff weekly.

7) No Peeking

Goal: Engagement
Timeline: Holiday Season

Simply place a note in an envelope. Each note will contain some: 10% off, a free appetizer or dessert, 50% off, or even a free iPad.

The only limit is your creativity, but every note is a winner, and the most expensive the prize - the less notes the prize should be printed on. Then place your notes in a nice decorative envelope and seal them with a sticker.

Have the expiration date printed clearly on the front of the envelope with your restaurant's information. If you are running this during the holiday, expire the coupons a few days before Valentine's Day.

Here is the catch. Your customers cannot open the envelop, your staff must open them on their next visit during the promotion window. If they envelope is opened before, its completely void.

The goal is to give customers during your busy season a reason to come back in your slow season. For most, their busy season is the end of year holidays and their slow season is January/February - but this can differ for you.

The Legal Stuff

So here's the thing: contests and promotions of this nature can be regulated by states and local governing bodies. While these types of promotions are easy enough to be DIY, please check with any governing bodies to make sure you are posting the correct rules, following all regulations, and not breaking any laws. Facebook, Twitter, and all the social media platforms will also have their own rules and regulations regarding contests and promotions, please be sure to check those as well.

Important Takeaway 

I don’t suggest trying to do all of these restaurant contests at once.

I also want you to be realistic with your expectations at first - while these are all proven techniques, the results are going to vary based on your list size, quality of promotional materials, the offer, and how your brand is currently perceived in the marketplace.

But remember: Don’t give up! Just keep doing more and more. You will get better and better at running restaurant contests, and the results will start to show up after some time.

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