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Opening and operating a small restaurant is no (small) feat. It takes creativity, business savvy, and a killer menu. Not to mention passion, dedication, and an extra dose of commitment to craft a winning marketing strategy to keep customers coming back week after week.
There are more than 1 million restaurants operating in the United States. For small restaurant owners, this can feel daunting. But when restaurateurs focus on infusing a marketing strategy with their unique brand identity and passion for the craft, they have the power to make a big impression.
To set your marketing strategy up for success, here’s everything you need to know to market a small restaurant — including the ideal budget and ways to ensure your dining room is fully booked every night of the week.
What is a small restaurant marketing strategy?
An effective restaurant marketing strategy is as comprehensive as it is flexible. It should include both long term goals and individual campaigns. It’ll serve as the jumping off point for all of your branding and promotional decisions moving forward.
Just remember, your marketing strategy is a living document. Meaning, you should tailor your campaigns on the fly to correspond with current events and industry-wide marketing trends, instead of remaining committed to a hard and fast inflexible plan.
How much should I spend on small restaurant marketing?
Before you proceed with any initiatives, determine how much of your overall operational costs you can dedicate to marketing.
While your exact marketing budget will fluctuate depending on the location of your restaurant and scope of your strategy, know that the average business spends from 3-10% of their sales on their marketing budget.
Consider some alternative marketing tactics to craft a strategy within your budget. Many are free or low-cost, like hiring a tech-savvy friend or neighbor, or running your social media accounts yourself. The right viral TikTok can put your small business on the map!
Marketing Ideas for Small Restaurants
Marketing a small restaurant can include a strong email marketing program, social media promotions, word of mouth, special events, and keeping your website and online presence up to date. Here are a few small restaurant marketing strategies.
1. Develop Your Restaurant’s Brand Identity
Your brand identity includes everything from your logo to your mission statement. What makes your restaurant unique? What sets it apart from the other restaurants in your community? The food, ambiance, and experience will all be influenced by brand identity.
To develop your small restaurant’s brand identity:
Determine your target audience and ideal customer.
Hone your restaurant’s mission statement, priorities, and purpose.
Establish a brand voice for your restaurant that’s distinct and reflective of your mission statement.
Continue to evolve your brand identity depending on the results of your marketing campaigns.
2. Establish an Online Presence
By the end of this restaurant marketing guide, you’ll be equipped with the tools and tactics needed to create a following of loyal and loving guests.
Your restaurant doesn’t exist unless it has a website. According to Ahrefs, 27 million people search for “restaurants near me” each month — and 21 million of those searches happen in the United States. Establishing an online presence for your restaurant serves many purposes. Your website will serve as the ultimate promotional material for your establishment. It’s where customers can go to read your story and mission statement, peruse your menu, and find your contact information.
As your restaurant becomes more established, your online presence should grow along with it. Redesign your website as your restaurant evolves. To take it to the next level, consider adding a live chat box for customers to get in instant contact, or an online reservation or ordering option. And be sure to always prominently link to your social media accounts, to connect with customers on a more personal level.
Kane’s Donuts in Boston, Massachusetts is known both for their tasty treats and compelling social media presence. Crafting a memorable online identity ensures that by the time their customers walk through their doors, they know exactly what to expect.
3. Embrace Traditional Marketing Strategies
When developing your next campaign, don’t overlook more traditional marketing strategies. Geo-targeted online ads, ads in the local paper, hanging flyers in your neighborhood coffee shops and mailing advertisements right to your customers’ front doors are dependable marketing initiatives.
To make sure your traditional campaigns are resonating with your modern target audience, always infuse your marketing with your signature brand identity, and take industry trends and best practices into account.
4. Create a User-Friendly Online Ordering Experience
Since 2014, online ordering and food delivery has increased by 300%. For restaurants unable or unwilling to offer takeout or delivery as an option to their customers, they’re missing an opportunity to connect with new customers and strengthen current customer relationships.
The best part is, online ordering systems like the Toast Restaurant Online Ordering System makes it easy for small restaurants to increase their sales with minimal effort.
Take Unity Taqueria in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a “digital-first” restaurant, the Unity Taqueria team relies heavily on their online ordering system. Since opening in June 2020, they’ve been able to streamline and perfect their service by focusing all their efforts on quickly and efficiently fulfilling takeout and delivery orders.
How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Restaurant Marketing Strategy and Make Adjustments
Which of your marketing campaigns are producing the best results? Which are underperforming and could use a tune-up? Are any of your marketing efforts going completely unnoticed or unacknowledged by your target audience?
Don’t wait for the end of a campaign to assess the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. By asking yourself questions like these as part of the ongoing monitoring and measuring of your campaign, you’ll be able to tweak them while they are still in progress, to reap their full benefits.
To measure your marketing effectiveness, revisit your short and long-term goals, your predetermined KPIs, and any other success metrics your marketing team decided to track (like social media reach, new customers, or email subscribers). Once you have a refreshed understanding of your goals, you can begin measuring the effectiveness of your marketing strategies.
What are the most common small restaurant marketing strategies?
When brainstorming marketing strategies for your small restaurant, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. The most common marketing tactics are common for a good reason — they work.
Consider using one of these strategies:
Infuse your online presence with SEO best practices to make it as easy as possible for your restaurant to be found online.
Embrace current social media marketing trends to spread awareness of your restaurant.
Add personalization to marketing communications whenever possible (like during your next email marketing campaign).
What are effective marketing strategies for new restaurants?
The biggest challenge facing new small restaurant owners is making a name for yourself in an already crowded industry, and ensuring that folks can find you when seeking out new eats in their area. Your job as a new restaurant owner is not only to attract customers, but to convince them to try your spot instead of one of their usual places. It’s all about making a first impression, so how will you effectively introduce yourself and your restaurant to the community?
To start off on the right foot with your target audience, make sure to:
Take the time to craft a unique brand identity.
Be active on social media to connect with your future customers on a more personal level.
Go all out for your grand opening to attract customers and establish a welcoming and congenial reputation.
Set up your Google Business listing and any other local search opportunities, creating optimized business profiles on sites like Yelp or Foursquare.
Create a Loyalty Program
Consumers who participate in high-performing loyalty programs are 80% more likely to choose that brand over competitors. Consider offering free delivery for every fifth takeout meal or loyalty points that are redeemable for a free appetizer or dessert.
Captain Parker’s Pub in Massachusetts used email marketing and monthly newsletters to create a successful loyalty program. With help from Toast Loyalty, the team at Captain Parker’s Pub was able to sign 250 new guests to their loyalty program in the first two weeks.
Embrace Consumer-Generated Content
Including consumer-generated content in your market plan helps endear your restaurant to the community. Reposting pictures and videos that guests have taken at your restaurant helps translate the experience like no other.
Showcase consumer-generated content across your social media marketing, email marketing, and online campaigns. Just remember to always ask for permission before reposting or sharing,
Think Big When Marketing Your Small Restaurant
It’s time for you to get started launching your next campaign. By staying true to your brand identity and harnessing your passion as an emerging restaurateur, you’ll make a big impact with your small restaurant!