10 restaurant marketing ideas: Efficient ways to market your restaurant in 2020

You’re competing against other local restaurants, franchise operations, and major national restaurant chains. It's time to step up your game with some of the top restaurant marketing ideas for 2020. These new trends can help you to explore how to advertise a restaurant in different ways that are exciting for you and your guests. Marketing strategies should boost sales, foot traffic, and grab attention, but they should also be engaging and sincere to your brand. 

No matter your budget or brand voice, you can start the new decade off by learning how to promote a restaurant business that will have a long-term impact.

Top 10 creative restaurant marketing ideas 

Everyone owner or manager could use a few good promotional ideas for a restaurant, and 2020 will be full of fun and exciting new campaigns. These restaurant marketing ideas can get the creative juices flowing. Give each suggestion some consideration as you work toward building an advertising campaign for your restaurant.

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1. Face your reviews 

Owners and managers frequently plan their marketing strategies around the elements that they can control. TV ad times, scripted radio commercials, and carefully managed social media pages have taken center-stage for restaurant marketing strategies. These same strategies miss the most effective method of marketing: word of mouth

Your customers, loyal or otherwise, will always talk about their experiences, and dining experiences aren’t limited to casual chatting. Reviews are a form of word-of-mouth marketing, and while you might initially think you don't have control over this aspect of marketing, you do.

Positive reviews 

Yelp and many other platforms allow businesses to communicate with reviewers through direct messages as well as public comments. For positive reviews, thank them publicly and make sure the message is personalized and addresses specific elements of their review. Then, offer a few positive reviewers something privately. Don't do this for every positive review, as that's essentially paying for the positive feedback.

Restaurants spend so much in compensating for complaints or bad reviews online with free meals, complimentary desserts, or discounts that the positive reviews go unacknowledged. Make a more significant effort to thank positive reviews, then to give free things to negative reviews.

Negative reviews 

Manage the negative reviews for your restaurant with grace. Always approach negative reviews with the belief that they’re coming from a place of concern or frustration, not anger.

 Not engaging with a negative review gives the impression that the restaurant staff or ownership didn’t care enough to acknowledge the complaint. For many people reading reviews, a lack of acknowledgment can confirm or validate the issue in the review.

Respond to all negative reviews, and always be genuine. For example, if a negative review is something like “Ew, there was hair in my food,” then let the person know that you’ll work with your management team and staff to boost awareness and use of health safety standards. 

Know your platforms 

Yelp! is not enough; you need to engage with the platforms that your customers use. For example, when you take steps to market a restaurant to tourists, you need to handle reviews, comments, and feedback on alternative platforms such as TripAdvisor.

While Yelp! and Google Reviews may be prominent in America, Asia’s top food review platforms include Burpple and OpenRice. Zomato is quickly grabbing attention throughout many areas of the world.

A restaurant marketing and advertising plan should always focus on the platforms that matter most to the customers. Restaurant owners often forget or turn a blind eye to review platforms. 

2. Host influencer events

An influencer is a combination of a critic and a model. Their followers highly respect their opinion even though most of their work is through paid advertisement. New restaurants advertisement ideas based on influencer presence mostly revolve around getting them to say something positive about your restaurant online. 

When working with influencers, remember that their loyalty is to their followers, not a paycheck. You must provide influencers with a rave-worthy experience; treat them like food critics to get a good review. 

Why bring in influencers?

  • A ccording to tribegroup.com 82% of followers are likely to follow an influencer’s recommendation

  • Influencers deliver authentic insight into your brand and product

  • Burgerconquest.com claims that 71% of customers are expected to make a purchase because of social media referrals.

When hosting an influencer event as part of marketing a restaurant, you’ll want to establish a few details:

  • Focus on local food influencers. Invite 4 to 6 influencers

  • Set goals for your event focusing on direct response KPIs such as email signups, and coupon use.

  • Reach out to the influencers and make sure to explain what you’re offering for them. 

    • Networking opportunities

    • Engagement with other influencers

    • Free or discounted food 

    • Opportunity to interact with their followers

    • Payment

  • Layout what you expect from them

    • Honest reviews

    • A certain number of posts pre-event and post-event

    • Engagement goals 

    • A great time! 

  • Set a date and time restriction for the event and make sure to announce a capacity for all non-influencers who might attend.

  • Promote the event.

An influencer event should not be a free for all or feeding frenzy. You should be inviting a small group of influencers and keeping the remainder of your tables open for your usual customers. Make sure that regular customers benefit too, with limited time offers that the influencers can promote in their posts.

3. Give ongoing foodie photo awards

Promoting your restaurant on Instagram should be one of your top priorities because of its unmatched impact on the food and beverage industry. Contests are among the best ways to get your customers to interact with your page, posts, and participate in your marketing strategy. Ongoing contests mean that you’re encouraging people to join in on the fun whenever it’s convenient for them. 

69% of millennials take pictures or videos of their orders before they start eating. They contribute to the 250 million posts with #food added to Instagram every month.

A few restaurant marketing tips for ongoing contests include:

  • Have a theme that is "season-proof"

  • Use particular hashtags that include your business name

  • Use the contest to address a specific performance challenge (E.g., Tuesday night slump)

  • Set dates for awards 

  • Alert your winners via email (requiring them to be on your email list).

As restaurant marketing trends change, you may need to update your contest's rules or structure. By starting with a foodie photo award, you're simply giving away a prize to whoever took the most “gram-worthy” food photo. Consider requiring users to cite the geolocation, tag the restaurant’s profile page, and use a specific hashtag.

Always be careful with social media contests, and make sure you're within the terms and conditions of the platform. For example, when hosting a contest on Instagram, you need to acknowledge that your contest is not associated with Instagram/Facebook, sponsored, or endorsed in any way.

Contests allow restaurants to continue to spur engagement while planning well in advance for their rewards. An ongoing restaurant contest can take the spotlight between holidays or significant events. 

4. Partner with businesses for holidays and community events 

Restaurants are usually busy through the holidays because dining and drinking are social events. When you know that people are looking for a place to gather and have a good time, you want to make sure that your restaurant is the go-to spot.  You can do a lot more than holiday reminder marketing. Instead, take a more active approach in getting ready for the holidays.

Make a change in your community and help build up other local businesses by making business friends. Host a two-part promotion in a way that benefits both stores and gives the customer a fantastic experience.

Most Valentine’s day marketing ideas involve dining out and flowers. What if you connected with a local flower shop to get your Valentine’s day diners a discount when they bought a bouquet and dined with you. Both businesses would likely see higher sales through an already busy season. 

Look through your local businesses, attend networking events, and find ways to help each other succeed. Getting involved is just the first step to building long-term business relationships that can come in for marketing purposes often. 

Some Christmas marketing ideas for restaurants which involve other local businesses could include a promotional code with a Christmas tree purchase, or for attending a local holiday parade. Thanksgiving day service ideas could focus on giving, where you match donations to a local food bank or for every "X" dinners sold, you'll provide a meal to a family in need.

Restaurant promotional ideas often rotate around the holidays, and it can be difficult for companies to understand how they can have the best impact. You can have a massive impact with a two-part promotion between you and another business


5. Offer a worthwhile loyalty program 

Loyalty programs aren't necessarily something new, but they definitely should not be forgotten. Yes, loyalty programs take time to build, and there are plenty of other obstacles involved, but the rewards are worth the effort.

QSR Magazine found that 60% of diners use a mobile device to decide where to eat. Being present on that mobile device through email, apps, and text notifications with a loyalty program can bring more people into your doors. 

Closed-loop reward systems

The most effective loyalty program method seems to be the closed-loop system. These systems deliver personalized, single-use offers based on information from the restaurant’s POS system and used within the restaurant’s POS system.

A “loop” would look something like this:

  1. A customer signs up with the loyalty program builder within the POS system

  2. You create a point or discount-based program 

  3. Monitor the customer’s activity and spending

  4. Issue personalized rewards through SMS, email, or an integrated App based on their buying and spending habits.

  5. The customer redeems the personalized reward through the POS system

  6. The customer receives another (different) award based on their spending behaviors.

Email marketing in the restaurant business can build customer loyalty and boost the mid-week business. It can take a while to see results, especially as you need to build your contact database, but this type of marketing can come with big payoffs down the road.

The average ROI on email marketing campaigns is about $38 for every $1 invested for small restaurants that can mean a substantial return even on a thin budget. 

Restaurant marketing ideas and trends for loyalty promotions:

  • Provide referral incentives that new users can redeem on their first visit.

  • Give real-time incentives for signing up, such as a free dessert or beverage.

  • Build promotions that funnel more points in short periods.

  • Try to make every.

Starbucks has one of the most well-known loyalty programs with well over 16 million active users. They use a points-based system with ongoing promotions that require purchases to be made within small time windows for users to redeem extra points. 

When building a high-engagement and high-return loyalty system, you should carefully consider what your guests want and how to reach them. Build the rewards around their past purchases and buying behavior by relying on your data and using all of your restaurant marketing tools, including your POS. 

6. Invite your guests behind the scenes

Movies such as "Waiting," along with popular shows that "expose" restaurant habits, have made people skeptical about what happens in the back of the house. Tear down that barrier in an engaging way by inviting your guests behind the scenes. Well, not technically, as that could be a huge safety hazard and potential legal risk. But, what you can do is to open up about what happens in the kitchen and with management.

As we see the popularity in Instagram Stories, Facebook Live, and YouTube rise, it’s clear that restaurant owners could give diners real insight into how a safe and sanity restaurant kitchen operates.

Video advertising 

While most restaurant advertising ideas focus on promotions or discounts, new approaches to video advertising concentrate on building trust and loyalty. Host a once a week Facebook Live, or go live on Instagram and chat with followers about what’s going on in your kitchen. 

Facebook videos receive about 135% more organic reach compared to Facebook posts with images. Videos grab more attention, and on average, viewers remember 95% of a video's message while that's only about 10% when it's reading content.

Always keep complete control in these situations. Yes, you want a candid experience, but you should set up one activity for viewers to watch.

Wolff College Roasters posts videos showing how to create latte art, the history of their brand, and industry hacks. This Australian based coffee roaster offers classes, cupping sessions, and even subscription boxes. They promote all of their products on their channel that has over 65,000 subscribers by exploring behind the bar tasks. 

Do a live event while one of your new cooks is receiving training from a manager. Or, ask one of your top cooks to walk followers through a tutorial on one of the most ordered dishes in your restaurant. 

Blog posts

Video has a time and place, but for those that prefer to read or if you're looking for something with much less maintenance, there's always blogging. Blogging can still be entertaining, interactive, and highly informational

To blog about what's going on behind the scenes in your restaurant, invite your staff to share their stories. Successful cooks might share what drives them to keep cooking, or a manager could write a blog about how they plan out their menus for holidays.

Blog posts should deliver a lot of information but still feel conversational. Whether you choose to blog, post videos, or a balance of both, this is a great way to recognize your back of house staff while also building trust with your customers. 

7. Run a weekly theme night to boost midweek business

This is where a lot of advertising ideas for a restaurant show up because midweek business slumps are a severe issue for nearly every restaurant. Weekly themes are a massive hit with regulars and locals, meaning that it's a chance to cultivate long-term and loyal customers.

Get creative with your weekly theme nights with these new trendy ideas:

  • Themed Show Night - The Office was recognized as the most-watched show on Netflix. Instead of sitting on their couch, create menu items and drinks that are only available on theme nights that specifically fit the show. Focus on binge-worthy shows that people already know and love, such as The Office, Friends, or one of your favorites.

  • Networking Tuesdays – no one enjoys formal networking events. However, you can invite local business people from nearby offices to stop by for a quick drink and a small meal on Tuesdays. Create a "no-stress" networking environment and arrange your floor plan for smooth interaction. Have open tables setup for Human Resources, and another for Sales, or Quality Assurance.

  • Family Game Night – If you're a family-friendly restaurant, then cash-in on your concept. Put out small versions of well-known board games on the table. Yes, families will probably sit for longer, but you'll still have more people than you usually would on a slow weeknight.  

  • Roleplay Nights – From murder mysteries to fantasy lore, you can have ongoing roleplay nights. Limit the activity to each table, or allow people to roam around, the scale of the event is entirely up to you. Help new guests out with premade character cards, fact sheets, and guided-play boards.  

  • Arts-Based themes – Wine and Paint nights are relatively well-known throughout the U.S., but you can make a splash with local artists in other ways. Host a gallery night and invite local artists or at-home artists to show off their work once a week. 

Theme nights offer the novelty that people witness on TV but don't usually get to experience in real life. The great thing is that every one of these events can be made into a huge occasion or something small that isn't disruptive to any of the other guests.

8. Create a campaign based on user-generated content 

Feel stumped when planning the next marketing idea for your restaurant? Don’t worry because sometimes the best marketing campaigns put the users in charge. User-generated content allows your guests the chance to explore their creativity and feel like they're genuinely part of your brand.  

Coca-Cola raised the bar for user-generated content campaigns in 2014 with its "Share a Coke" campaign. In the first year, there were over 500,000 photos shared with the hashtag "#ShareaCoke." 

The Share a Coke campaign has continued to be to such a great success because it hit on a few vital elements of user-generated content:

  1. A clear call to action

  2. Personal connection

  3. Prompt to generate online media content

Finding the right restaurant social media marketing strategy is tricky; just be sure that you have your best practices and brand voice in place. Small businesses can build up a brand voice through the actions of their best customers. 

9. Cultivate awareness and transparency with food-quality facts and insight

While we're not looking at another massive trend in health foods where people will line up for quinoa and kale power bowls, customers are still making health-oriented demands. Consumers want to know about product sources, the handling they go through, and nutritional information.

Marketing a restaurant business is rough in information-driven days, especially when it comes to nutritional information. Any diner could pull out their phone and go through the process of looking up sugar content, saturated fats, and more. But they shouldn't have to. Use your marketing materials, online presence, and even your POS system.

Arm your servers and fill your website pages with all the available information about each dish and ingredient. If your sources vary, then explain that you order ingredients based on the best quality source rather than one in particular. When it comes to things such as allergies or commonly avoided ingredients such as sugar or gluten, that information should be easily accessible through your staff and online.

Many grocery stores are turning to SmartLabel, which allows a consumer to digitally access extremely detailed product information straight from the food manufacturers. Hopefully, something similar will appear in the restaurant industry soon where owners can create detailed information and make it easily accessible to guests.

Promote your transparency with apron pins, table tents, and even your social media accounts. Get the word out that you’ll answer any health or nutrition question about your products to the absolute best of your ability.

10. Work with your community to engage your target market

How often have you seen a flyer for a 5K, marathon, cancer awareness event, Red Cross blood drive, or something similar? Your community probably has numerous events that you have never seen, and that is a massive hole in your marketing plan. Restaurant advertising may be mostly online these days, but restaurants need to target their community specifically. 

Community involvement adds value to your company, builds your reputation locally, and provides unique marketing opportunities. Not to mention, it boosts employee satisfaction and team morale.

To get involved, you'll need to reach out to your local town government. Nearly all of these events require some coordination with town or city government, and they can point you in the right direction for upcoming events. 

What is critical for restaurant owners is to ensure that they're doing good in a way that allows them to impact their guests. Identify where your target market needs the most support and then get involved. For example, if your store gets a rush of teenagers every day when a local high school gets out, then consider giving back to the local schools with a scholarship or by sponsoring a local sports team.  

Start out by creating a target customer profile and then break down what day-to-day elements impact your target customer. The best restaurant promotional ideas let your brand shine while making your customers feel involved and appreciated.  Community involvement does precisely that, even if you're working in a non-volunteer capacity as a food stand in a holiday event, Carnival, or local fair.

Learning how to market your restaurant business will always be a little trial-and-error. Even when you have a solid plan that you can use year-round, there are external factors that change. Users switch social media platforms, other companies bring in marketing campaigns that may outshine yours, and ultimately, customers get bored of the same thing over and over again. Set clear restaurant marketing goals and then rely on these ideas to market your restaurant:

  1. Respond and manage your reviews regularly

  2. Host an influencer event to stir some buzz 

  3. Give away Foodie Photo awards to your best photographer customers

  4. Establish ties with other local businesses

  5. Create a loyalty program that people will enjoy

  6. Let your guests see what goes on behind-the-scenes

  7. Run weekly theme nights

  8. Build a user-generated-content campaign 

  9. Be transparent with your food quality and nutritional information

  10. Get involved in your community to engage with your target market.

Establishing a 2020 marketing strategy now will allow you to plan and collaborate as necessary with plenty of time throughout the year. Start 2020 off by getting your restaurant's name out there, cultivate loyalty and build your reputation as well as your brand.


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