5 Creative Ways to Market Your Restaurant

Effective strategies to help you fill tables and eat up the competition.
iiphone photo of pancakes
Food porn works for attracting customers on Facebook and Instagram. (Photo: Perfilyev Ilya/Shutterstock)

In the fiercely competitive restaurant industry, standing out from the crowd is key. Clever marketing is essential to keeping tables full and revenues flush.

Bring more customers in the door without breaking the bank by putting these marketing ideas to work.

Theme nights

Hosting a theme night is an effective way to engage new and existing customers. Brian and Lisa Mantle, of ad agency Mantle Inc., have encouraged restaurant clients to offer date nights or girls’ nights, for instance.

“It has to be specific to the restaurant,” said Brian Mantle. If you have an extensive wine list, consider a wine pairing event. Have a kitschy café? Host a trivia night.

The Mantles are also big believers of rewarding loyal customers. “Invite them for a special menu tasting, as in, ‘If you like one of these items, then it will be on the menu next week.’ They get the feeling of ‘I am an exclusive member of this club and I am having an impact on this restaurant,’” said Brian Mantle.

“Or maybe it’s, ‘We are opening a new restaurant and because you are a loyal customer, you get to try this location before everyone else,’” added Lisa Mantle.

Fantastic foodie photos

On your website and on social media, especially Instagram, food porn works. But don’t just snap and post any old shots. High quality food photography makes the difference.

Brian Mantle recommended hiring a professional photographer and focusing on a handful of dishes you want to showcase.

“When you get your food professionally styled and photographed, it is better to have a small library of great shots than a large library that doesn’t look as good,” he said. “Restaurants like to cram in a thousand shots and shoot all of their food in a day instead of investing some money and getting maybe six shots that are great and that can be used over and over.”

Insider knowledge

Never underestimate the value of customers thinking they have an exclusive beat on something, including a secret drink or meal. This kind of “marketing” keeps customers coming back to share the “secret” with others.

“Some of the restaurants do this very well. They come up with certain things to ‘discover,’ like a menu item that isn’t on the menu,” said Brian Mantle. “But if you have the inside scoop, you will know about it. It is a topical factor where, if I know about it and I bring you there, and you ask about it and receive it, then you are a part of that knowledge. And it keeps going. It’s a bit like a shared secret.”

Tangible takeaways

In the digital age, there’s something comforting about receiving a physical item to take home. Make it something useful that will keep your customers thinking and talking about your restaurant.

For one client, the Mantles created matchbox sets in keeping with the restaurant’s brand and location. “Essentially you want to offer some sort of tangible item that brings to life the characteristic that your restaurant is, or wants to be,” said Brian Mantle.

When customers take the item home or to the office, added Lisa Mantle, “Other people will see it and ask you where it you got it,” keeping the conversation about your restaurant going.

Social media contests

A successful social media contest will get people talking about and engaging with your restaurant online.

For a steakhouse restaurant, the Mantles created a campaign around how to make a great steak. “We had people send in their videos and photos of grilling what they thought was a great steak, and a lot of content was generated that way,” said Brian Mantle. “We also posted photos of the head chef detailing how to grill a great steak. Then finalists were chosen from the photos and videos and were treated to a free lesson from the restaurant’s chef. The grand winner went on to win a BBQ.” The campaign produced a double win: Web traffic and foot traffic.

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