How To Market Your Restaurant as a Graduation Destination

Cash in on the graduation crowd with party packages and strategic advertising.
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Offer graduation merchandise and hang banners ahead of time to get the message out about your upcoming graduation specials. (Photo: Studio2D/Shutterstock)

High school and college graduation ceremonies bring family and friends together to celebrate from all over — and these groups of excited celebrants can mean big business for your restaurant.

According to Jay Bandy, president of Atlanta-based restaurant consultancy Goliath Consulting Group, added business from graduation parties and group dining can incrementally increase revenue for area restaurants.

“Graduation season is a great time to support the local community by celebrating graduates,” he said. “Restaurants should plan for a 10 to 20 percent boost in sales on graduation weekends.”

Get your establishment in on the pomp and circumstance with these ideas for marketing to the graduation crowd.

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Jay Bandy, president of Goliath Consulting Group, suggests optimizing your website for party planners by using terms like ‘celebration’ and ‘graduates’ on the event page of your website. (Photo: Jay Bandy)

Build awareness in-house

Most high school graduations take place in late May and early June, but colleges and universities will often host ceremonies at the end of each term. Start by checking school calendars to find out when prime graduation season is in your area, so you can start campaigning early to your existing customer base. That way your restaurant is top-of-mind as a possible location when families start party planning.

“In-store merchandising the month before is an effective tactic to getting current guests aware of your graduation marketing,” Bandy explained.

He suggested hanging banners or using your marquee board to congratulate local graduates and get the message out about any upcoming graduation specials.

Optimize for online search

For your restaurant to become known as a celebration destination for graduates, your brand must be easy to find online — both in search and social media.

Start by optimizing your website to show up when parents and party planners are searching for ideas online, said Bandy. Include terms like “celebration,” “graduates,” “graduation,” “party” and other relevant keywords on the events page of your website or on your About Us page.

“If you have private dining rooms, be descriptive on the what your offer. This will drive traffic to your website and then to your restaurant,” he said.

Related: How to List Your Restaurant at the Top of the Google Search Page

Get social with graduates

Social media is a great tool for reaching upcoming graduates and younger audiences, said Bandy. He suggested using trending hashtags and including the name of the school and class year in social posts to congratulate students and communicate your offers.

Also, he said, “advertising on Instagram and Facebook with a focus on graduation celebrations is effective for reaching new and existing customers.”

Related: Why Social Media May Not Pay Unless You Do

Target parents with email marketing

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Market to parents by sending out congratulatory emails and explaining why they should celebrate at your restaurant. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Often, parents and grandparents are the ones making graduation party preparations. To get your restaurant’s message in front of these audiences, Bandy advised using email.

Email marketing is most effective with consumers 40 to 65 years old — perfect for reaching parents and grandparents,” he said. “Send out an email congratulating upcoming graduates and [explaining] why they should celebrate at your restaurant.”

Reaching parents who are already loyal customers gives you a better opportunity to be their destination for graduation parties and other celebrations.

Advertise locally

To increase awareness of your restaurant’s promotions to area graduates, Bandy also advised taking out ads in university newspapers and local event websites, “where a lot of students get their information on restaurants and social activities.”

You can also drop off coupons or fliers at student unions or even purchase ads on school websites, and in graduation programs and yearbooks.

Related: Why Your Restaurant Should Offer Student Discounts

Create a party package

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If your restaurant has the bandwidth, graduation party packages are a great way to get customers to celebrate at your establishment. (Photo: Milleflore Images/Shutterstock)

If your restaurant has space for hosting special events, putting together a graduation party package is another smart idea, said Bandy.

“Typically these packages should be priced less than your corporate packages and be ‘family friendly.’ List the graduation party packages on your website so your customers and people looking for venues know that you understand their needs,” he said.

Does it make sense for you?

As with any discount or promotion, “make sure that marketing to graduates fits with your brand and business strategy,” Bandy warned.

For restaurants that host and cater a lot of special events, focusing to much on graduation scene could cut into potential profits from larger, more lucrative opportunities.

“If you have corporate clients, you could be trading down for your event and catering services for these weekends,” he said. “Weigh the demand versus the available space you have to make sure marketing graduation packages make sense for your restaurant.”

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