One of the hardest things about starting a restaurant (and keeping it running) is attracting new customers while keeping the regulars coming back. Restaurant promotions – if done right – can help you do just that.
In this article, we’re going to be talking about the different types of restaurant promotions and how they can be utilized to help boost restaurant sales.
Restaurant promotion ideas include:
However, it's important to strike a balance between offering promotions and maintaining the integrity of your brand. While discounts and deals can drive traffic, relying too heavily on promotions can cheapen your brand and ultimately cut into profits.
We'll explore the benefits and drawbacks of promotions and how to use them effectively to boost your restaurant's success, while offering some important disclaimers along the way.
Offering limited-time menu items is a great way to generate interest. Seasonal dishes, holiday specials, prix fixe menus, and chef's specials can all be used to create a sense of exclusivity and urgency that encourages customers to visit your restaurant. Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, for example, has become synonymous with autumn for a cohort of Gen Z and Millennials – and that wouldn’t be the case if it ran year-long.
Limited-time menu items can also showcase your restaurant's creativity and culinary expertise, which may help boost employee morale and even cut back on food waste. It also provides an opportunity to test new dishes and gather feedback from customers. By promoting these menu items through social media, email marketing, and in-store signage, you can drive traffic to your restaurant and increase sales during specific periods or occasions.
Having a fantastic online presence is essential for any restaurant. According to TripAdvisor’s “Influences on Diner Decision-Making,” a jaw-dropping 94% of customers base their decisions off of online reviews. By engaging with customers online, you can increase the chances that they leave you a good review.
Social media promotions are a cost-effective way to increase brand awareness and engage with customers. Two popular methods are contests and influencer partnerships.
Contests can encourage customers to make content around your brand and share it with their friends. This could be anything from a food challenge (like Big Texan Steak Ranch’s “72 Ounce Steak Challenge” or Hell Pizza’s “Pizza Roulette,” which caused the New Zealand Restaurant to go viral in 2012) to an Instagram giveaway for a gift card. This gets customers talking about your restaurant and sharing it with their friends. As we mentioned above, though, it’s important to keep the larger context of your brand in mind when designing these promos. A massive two-pound grilled cheese sandwich challenge might work for a local diner but not a high-class steakhouse.
Influencer partnerships can also attract new customers who fall within the influencer’s niche. Ultimately, influencers build a brand by getting other people to trust them, which means they already have a built-in audience. If you can convince the right influencers to promote your brand, you can see an influx of traffic — but, influencers do not come cheap. Ensure that you have ample budget set aside before reaching out, or opt for micro-influencers who often charge substantially less.
By leveraging social media and influencer marketing, restaurants can reach a wider audience and build stronger relationships with their customers.
Think Taco Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Trivia Nights, and Family Nights.
By creating special deals for certain days of the week, restaurants can entice customers to visit during slow periods and create a sense of excitement around their offerings. These deals can also encourage customers to try new menu items, while building loyalty by creating a consistent and memorable experience.
Happy hour specials can be an effective way for restaurants to attract customers during slower periods, while increasing sales of high-profit margin items like alcoholic beverages. By offering a discounted menu during a specific time period, such as Sunday afternoons or 4 - 7 pm on weeknights, restaurants can fill seats that would’ve otherwise been empty.
Happy hour specials are also a great way to create a festive atmosphere that promotes socializing and relaxation. According to Technomic Consumer Brands Metrics, the most lucrative time for happy hour is between 5-7 pm on weekdays, when people are just finishing up with work, with 67% choosing Friday as the ideal day, since the weekend is right around the corner.
Email marketing campaigns are a great way to personalize offers for customers. Something as simple as sending an email a week before a customer’s birthday to remind them about their free dessert can go a long way. Offers can also be based on previous orders or customer preferences, making content feel more personalized and relevant.
This, however, comes with a big disclaimer — avoid becoming Big Brother. Some customers don’t like feeling like they’re being watched, and that you’re analyzing their meal patterns to try to manipulate them into coming back. A happy birthday email should be received positively, but a detailed discount on their favorite menu item could come off as a bit creepy.
Offering rewards for repeat customers, such as discounts, free meals, or other exclusive benefits, allows restaurants to encourage customers to return and spend more money over time. Loyalty programs can be designed to fit the needs and preferences of the restaurant and its customers, such as point-based systems or tiered memberships. They can also be integrated with mobile apps or online ordering systems for added convenience and engagement. Effective loyalty programs are easy to understand and use, provide tangible rewards that customers value, and create a sense of exclusivity and recognition for repeat customers.
Hosting fundraisers for local charities or community organizations is a great way for restaurants to give back to their community, while also increasing brand awareness. By donating a portion of the proceeds from a specific day or menu item to a special cause, restaurants can show their support for the community, while engaging with customers who share those values. Fundraisers can also help to generate positive publicity and word-of-mouth marketing for the restaurant, which can lead to increased customer traffic and sales.
Delivery is king. The market for food delivery has more than tripled since 2017 to over $150 billion – and it more than doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s shown no signs of slowing down, so this is a trend that successful restaurant owners and managers need to pay close attention to.
By offering discounts or specials for customers who order takeout or delivery, such as free delivery, combo meals, or loyalty points, restaurants can incentivize customers to order from them instead of competitors.
There are many different types of restaurant promotions that can help boost sales and attract new customers. By using limited-time menu items, social media promotions, happy hour specials, email marketing, and loyalty programs, restaurants can increase sales and traffic. It’s important to remember, though, that not all ideas work for all brands. Make sure that your promotion is on-brand for your restaurant and helps you to achieve your revenue goals. And when in doubt, a little A/B testing can go a long way!
“In the labor numbers, we were reporting about a $300 to $400 difference than what we were getting through Push!”
-Tara Hardie, ZZA Hospitality Group, 16 locations