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Creative restaurant marketing ideas to attract new customers

Published September 21, 2021

Learn how successful restaurant owners use unique and creative marketing ideas to attract new customers in competitive areas.

You’ve curated a flawless menu, hired the right staff and decorated your dining space to perfection. Now you’ve just got to get customers through the door. 

This is the point where you ask yourself, “How do I create a marketing strategy for my restaurant?” In the restaurant industry, there's no single right answer. Instead, the best approach involves applying a slew of great restaurant marketing ideas.

5 restaurant marketing ideas to attract new customers

If you’re trying to figure out what the best marketing strategy for restaurants is, you need to broaden your perspective. Why? Because you’ll achieve the best results by implementing more than one marketing strategy.

You can start off small, though. Take one or two restaurant marketing ideas from other restaurant owners and see whether or not you can apply them to your own marketing efforts.

Defined goals for online advertising, a strategic social media marketing plan and a mobile-friendly website with a good online menu optimized for search engines will all help in today's digitally driven environment. 

With this in mind, we asked experienced, successful restaurant owners and operators to share their tips and strategies for great restaurant marketing.

Create a clear brand for your restaurant and a name that lives up to it

Why is marketing important for restaurants?  Because a restaurant's brand identity is as important as the food it serves. 

We heard it from Alex Brounstein, the owner of the successful Atlanta-based, multi-unit burger brand, Grindhouse Killer Burgers. 

“I just watched the Grindhouse double feature (a film by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez from 2007) right when I was coming up with this burger concept. It came from the idea that we were going to grind our own meat in-house.” 

Now Brounstein has multiple locations in the Atlanta area with a clear brand identity and concept that celebrates classic movies while serving up incredible smashburgers and shakes. 

“People now know Grindhouse and it blows my mind. It’s like, I’ll just be sitting somewhere in a park and I’ll hear people talking about how they just had Grindhouse and it was their favorite’s crazy how people get passionate about it.”

Have an open mind about working with lots of different partners

For some restaurants, one of the most effective strategies has been to focus on local partners. This could be partnering with schools or the community – supporting school teams or organizations in different areas.

Focusing on the local community will yield dividends while helping you grow a solid customer base.

At Grindhouse, Brounstein's restaurant marketing ideas focus on local media groups. 

“You just have to position yourself right and network with the right folks...we’re on 92.9 (local Atlanta sports radio) all the time.  They pump us up because they just like us. And we bring food over there sometimes and we’ve definitely paid them over the years to do some advertising, but the relationship kind of evolves.”

Customer loyalty programs are more efficient than ever

The days of adding another card to your wallet are over. 

Customer loyalty programs have gone digital and it’s made restaurant marketing efforts more efficient—all while helping to build your customer base. 

Instead of allocating a print budget on cards that you inevitably have to store somewhere, you pay once for development and server maintenance when you create a restaurant app. 

And when you work with a company that offers software for integrated point-of-sale, digital ordering and customer loyalty programs in one easy payment, it’s one less thing a restaurant has to worry about. 

“I don't track it that closely away a free burger every 10 visits seems like good business,” said Brounstein. “I think the key for us is the integration, you know? You can buy third-party stuff, but if we're using Aloha, an NCR VOYIX product, which we are...they're developing products that work better together so that you don't have to go to a third party for something, right? Then an app order comes straight into your own system, and maybe I can get another third-party app but the customer loyalty program now doesn't work as easily. Or maybe you have to go to another company for loyalty that has to integrate with my app. NCR packages it all well.”

Social media platforms make a big impact for less marketing dollars

Restaurant owners and operators face a tough challenge. Not only do they have to budget for a restaurant marketing campaign, but they also have to determine the best places to spend their valuable dollars. 

In the 20th century, restaurants would’ve been wise to spend money on local business publications and out-of-home advertising. Now that we live in a digital world, your money can be spent even more efficiently on online advertising and social media marketing. 

Additionally, your restaurant's online details, online menu and search results have to be clear, since discoverability depends so much on local SEO. While not everyone loves the platform, having a social media presence—particularly a Facebook business page—is a crucial first step to starting your social media marketing campaign, identifying your target audience and finding new customers. 

Related: The push towards digital adoption is a game-changer in order for your restaurant to succeed

In fact, one of the best ways for new customers to discover your restaurant is through Facebook ads served to a target audience that isn’t aware of your restaurant.

Once new customers with no awareness of your social media presence become engaged followers, Facebook ads will deliver a much higher return on investment than traditional advertising efforts. Your Facebook page will become a good source of information about your restaurant, too. You can use it to link to your online menu, highlight local events near the restaurant on your feed, reward loyal customers with gift card giveaways and more.

With targeted social media marketing campaigns, you can look at people who live within miles of your restaurant as well as people who have searched for similar restaurants or were looking to dine out recently. 

The power of social media—through both organic and paid campaigns—can have a huge impact on your marketing strategy as well as local SEO and search results. 

As you’re budgeting all of the costs associated with running your restaurant, don’t forget about your marketing budget. Spending time and dollars on developing a social media audience is important, but so is focusing on search results and other digital marketing strategies.

A loyalty program is a straightforward way to get more loyal customers coming in regularly. Focusing on your restaurant's online presence instead of print advertising will make a tangible difference in the number of customers you see coming through the door. Make sure your restaurant's brand identity is the one new customers will understand and remember.

And don’t forget about the power of personal relationships—network and identify individuals and organizations who can help spread the word about your restaurant. You never know when a small paid budget with a friendly partner can turn into free promotion for your operation.

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