Before we get started, I know what you're saying.
“Promotions? They rarely work the way I’d like, and Groupons eat into my restaurant’s bottom-line."
Here are 10 examples of restaurant promotion ideas that work. And if that's not enough we also provide rules of thumb on how to create highly successful restaurant marketing campaigns of your own.
Before we dive into more specific promotions, it is important to call out the obvious – no promotion is successful without thinking deeply about your customer base. Are you located near office buildings? A stadium? Do your customers tend to be older or younger? What motivates your customers, being part of an experience or dollars? Start here and stem outwards.
Any restaurant promotion is about helping your restaurant overcome a challenge that is unique to you. Is there an underperforming area of the business that you think just isn’t getting attention, or a time of day where staff simply never are utilized as much as you’d like?
These are important challenges and while this can sometimes be understood by just asking your team, some more modern restaurant point-of-sales have technology to give you analytics and reporting for all areas of your business including sales, labor, and more.
This may seem odd, as we all tend to default into thinking restaurant promotions are for revenue, but a lot of successful promotions are simply about press. Press can be even more impactful as its value extends beyond the dollars and cents of the promotion itself and help your restaurant at all hours and days of the week, and can even help you get the right types of clients.
It also helps you from having to constantly keep up to date on your social channels, sharing relevant content, as either prospective customers will share about their press-worth experience or a press outlet will. Keeping this in mind is important as you evaluate the total impact of your promo.
Lastly, as we all know, it's important to know the margins of everything on your menu. This helps you create creative bundles of offerings that in aggregate still give you the value you’d like. Generally speaking, it's best to promote offerings with high margins as a lead into the rest of your menu, but it's more important to know these numbers so you know how deep you can discount.
Before moving on, we’ve often seen and heard of successful tactics being as simple as writing down the top 5-10 business challenges you have next to the top 5-10 things that motivate your customers. Then, literally connect the dots to get started and use the below to tailor some fun ideas.
Have a promotion around a nearby bigger event like a local sporting event, concert, or festival. This helps drive business and generates awareness of your restaurant to a much larger audience who attends this larger event. Essentially, you’re riding off the coattails of that event’s marketing as well. Examples of this include offering 5% off to people who have a ticket to a local hockey game, or $5 off any purchase before a concert that is down the street.
Bringing in a bigger name celebrity or well-known local enthusiast may seem like an expensive ordeal, but we’ve seen success in enticing them in by saying a certain portion of proceeds go to a charity of their choosing. This not only gets people into the restaurant, but allows you to generate goodwill, awareness, and perhaps get the celebrity in the door for a lower cost. Examples include having a celebrity bartend from 4-8pm and giving all proceeds from pizzas to your local fire-station or the food bank.
Identify a holiday that you love, make sure no other local competitors do anything around and go from there. Examples include Halloween costume contests where top costumes get giveaways or gifts, or even a different offering for each of the twelve days of Christmas. The promotion not only gets business, but also will have your customers sharing, linking, and tagging you in content they promote on their social channels.
Need more holiday promotion ideas? Download the Restaurant Holiday Handbook.
Offer people who come more frequently a discount. The key is making the loyalty component a high enough number of return visits to make it worthwhile to you and allowing people to opt in easily with the use of loyalty technology.
For a coffee shop, perhaps it's buy nine coffees and get one free, or for a pub or bar it could be drink every beer on your beer list and get 10% off beers for the year. This will get people to return to your restaurant time and again when perhaps they would have chosen elsewhere.
Put together a variety of higher margin offerings, bundle something with other offerings that usually seems out of reach like a higher priced wine, or offer a fixed price menu with one or two extras that someone usually wouldn’t buy – then add up what this would normally cost and discount it by 10-20%.
As a data junky, this is one of my favorites, as it is rooted in understanding your customers and what sells and doesn’t sell. Some restaurant POS’s can help you see what is selling best, worst, and inform this decision with robust sales and inventory reporting. Examples include a reduced price set menu that includes an appetizer, main, desert and bottle of wine, or a set menu for the lunch rush hour.
Another sure-fire strategy is to heavily discount an area of your menu that you know is rarely consumed alone. The thinking here is that someone will come in for the heavily discounted item, but end up purchasing a variety of other items before paying their bill.
Examples of this are discounting salty pretzels that will lead someone to buy beers or offering a free first domestic beer that will lead to the person drinking or buying more. These are often called the “get them in the doors” as they are used to get someone to make their first purchase and pushes them to purchase more.
This is the tried and true type of promotion. Here you can run any assortment of promotions when your hours are light or staff is under-utilized. While your margins may be tighter, it helps you recover some of the fixed costs (e.g. utilities, staff, and more) that may be sitting idle. Getting people in on slow nights like Tuesday or Wednesday, or having offers that start at 4pm and end by 5:30 are classic examples of this to help you get people in right before (or after) they are accustomed.
Promotions that address a community challenge or point of excitement are always a helpful way to generate business. Perhaps there has been a local sport team that has lost funding, a house that has caught on fire, or simply a local organization looking to raise money. Allowing these organizations to use your space taps into their network and – bonus – they’ll do all the promoting for you.
If a consumer buys a certain threshold of an offering they are eligible for a discount or free additional value. Similar to the loyalty promotion, the key here is to know the threshold of the normal amount of spend that someone has for a certain item and then offering a slight discount if they spend slightly more. Classic examples include offering five dollars off your appetizer with a purchase of a $50 or more gift card, or purchase two orders of wings and get a free additional beer.
The last top promotion idea is all about having promotions for new launches of menu items or openings of stores. You have surely invested in these new parts of your restaurant and while the value of them may seem obvious to you sometimes a kick start can help get the new offering up to speed faster, thereby mitigating any lost early revenue.
A great example of this is Chic-Fil-A, which recently offered the first 100 people that order at a new location free food for a year. This not only got people into their store early, but had a huge press impact and resulted in the opening turning more into a party.
These are just a few restaurant promotions ideas to get foot traffic to your restaurant.
Of course, over the years and especially with grand openings, restaurants have experimented with so many different marketing strategies, some successful, some not.
What's worked for your restaurant? What hasn't? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Plus, download your personal restaurant marketing plan template to plan your promotion ideas on a calendar.