Before we dive into specific restaurant promotion ideas, it is important to call out the obvious – no promotion is successful without first identifying, analyzing, and understanding your existing customers and your target customers. Running a promotion that isn't enticing to your audience is a waste of energy and sadly it happens all the time.
Ask yourself: 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 you'll find coming up with restaurant promotion ideas that spur repeat visits will be much easier than before.
Look at Your Business Challenges
Restaurant promotions exist to help restaurants overcome a challenge unique to their business.
Is there an underperforming area of the business that may not be getting attention or a time of day where staff are idle?
This may seem odd as we tend to default to thinking restaurant promotions are for revenue gains, but a lot of successful promotions aim to generate press for the business.
Press can arguably be more impactful for a business than revenue focused promotions as the brand awareness they generate extends far beyond the dollars and cents attributed to one promotional campaign.
Think about it: a revenue oriented promotion where guests are given a discount on a certain menu item or their check during a given time frame will only have an impact on your business as long as the promotion is live; press has much greater longevity and may even encourage traffic to your restaurant weeks or months from the original publish date depending on when someone comes across the coverage.
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 your promotional schedule; try connecting with a local reporter and coordinating a few press opportunities over the course of the quarter.
Know Your Margins
Lastly, as we all know, it's important to know the margins of every menu item – both food and beverage. 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 understand your margins like the back of your hand so you not only know how deep you can discount but so that you can make more informed purchasing decisions and identify ways to make your inventory go farther.
We’ve often seen and heard of successful tactics 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.
2. Charities & Celebrities
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.
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 restaurant 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.
5. Bundling and Fixed Price Offerings
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.
7. Down Time
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.
Tools like OpenTable's restaurant marketing can help you communicate these types of timely promotions to larger audiences. Creating targeted Google ads to reach people in your area, for example, can help get your name in front of potential local guests.
8. Community Events
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.
9. Buy in Bulk and Upsell
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.
How Do You Promote Your Restaurant?
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.
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