After two years of only being able to order takeout and having to wear a mask when not at the table, restaurants are poised to bounce back in 2022. The National Restaurant Association projects restaurant sales will hit $898 billion this year -more than $200 billion more than in 2021.
Diners are ready to re-embrace their favorite restaurants, as well as try some new places that opened in the past couple of years. For your restaurant, that means competition. How will you be getting more diners to eat your food this year?
Answer: restaurant advertising and marketing.
Dining habits and options have changed in the past two years, and restaurant advertising needs to change in turn.
Whether you feel like you've tried every advertising tactic in the book, or 2022 is the first time your restaurant has had a dedicated marketing budget, you can implement our restaurant advertising ideas to attract new customers and turn one-time visitors into loyal customers.
On-Site Restaurant Advertising Ideas
Don't underestimate the power of in-house advertising at your restaurant. If you don't think you need to advertise to the customers who are already at your restaurant, you're missing out on a huge revenue opportunity.
Twenty percent of diners, a.k.a. regulars, generate more than 80% of a restaurant's total revenue. Use these on-site restaurant advertising ideas to keep your customers coming.
1. Maximize Foot and Car Traffic
Take advantage of your real estate to get customers in the door. Does your restaurant have a sign out front? Is it easy to see and read? Is your restaurant's name on an awning or window?
If you answered no to any of these, it's time to make some updates.
Make sure that passers-by know that your restaurant exists with obvious signage and restaurant posters, that's both eye-catching and consistent with your brand.
Digital signage has one huge advantage over traditional printed signage: it can be changed. Price changes, new items, new deals, new hours - all of it can be adjusted as your restaurant grows. Check out this guide from ScreenCloud for some creative ways to use digital signage.
Old-School Neon-Style Signage
Neon signage has been in style for decades for good reason - it just looks cool. It's a bright, attractive way to grab attention for your restaurant. Neon signs beg to be photographed and can create a ton of free advertising from excited social media posters.
Similar to neon signs, large wall murals or banners can help your restaurant stand out among the crowd. Like Neon, they beg to be photographed - likely by excited diners who will post them on Instagram.
2. Hang Your Restaurant's Menu in The Window
Some of the simplest advertising opportunities are the easiest to miss.
Display your restaurant's menu in the window by the front door, or by the entrance of the restaurant. If people like what they see, they might just come in.
If potential diners are curious about your restaurant and don't know what you serve - but your menu isn't in the window - they'll be more likely to check out a neighboring restaurant with a menu on display rather than walking inside your restaurant to ask to see a menu.
Additionally, if your restaurant offers takeout, place some takeout menus by your entrance to entice customers who may not be looking to dine in.
3. Advertise Specials in Your Windows
Taking the prior idea one step further, use your immediate outdoor space and windows to promote specials.
If your restaurant is in an area with high foot traffic and a good amount of locals, make a point to promote your list of specials on the door. If the menu changes by the day, it gives those walking by your restaurant encouragement for impulse dining should something savory catch their eye. Perhaps Rovolu Taqueria promotes details of their Taco Tuesday on their windows (and if they don't, they should).
If you have a fixed, rotating list of specials (i.e. Monday is roast beef, Tuesday is eggplant parm, etc.), post that list outside on your window to reel in the customers who would rather plan. Maybe tonight's special won't appeal to them, but tomorrow's might!
4. Take Advantage of Your Sidewalk
If your municipality permits you to use the sidewalk for promoting your restaurant, take advantage of this extra real estate (just note you may need a restaurant permit for this one). Sidewalk chalk signs are an affordable, fun, and effective way to advertise specials - and to make jokes to get the attention of passersby.
Create a Fun Chalkboard
In tight business districts, you may not be able to have a giant mural or neon sign outside your restaurant. But where you can get creative is on the sidewalk chalkboard. Try fun drawings, jokes and riddles, or colorful artwork. Note how the restaurant below uses a chalkboard to make beer consumers feel a little healthier about their choices.
Other Restaurant Signage Ideas
Another way to take advantage of the sidewalk is to put out an easy-to-read menu for people to read and get excited about. These can be professionally designed or made in-house to promote specials, events, or even a classic riff like the “Free Wifi, Cold Beer” sign found outside many-a-bar.
5. Maximize Indoor Real Estate with Signage
Use your restaurant's interior to upsell to customers, ask people to sign up for your email list, tell customers to follow your restaurant on social media, and more.
For casual establishments, consider putting promotional signs on the backs of bathroom stall doors and at the silverware stand. Restaurant table advertising, like tabletop signs or flyers, is also effective. For upscale establishments, be more subtle by placing promotional materials in the guest check holder.
More appropriate at fast food, quick-serve, and casual dining establishments, floor graphics use arrows and guides to bring people to the right place in your restaurant with creative floor signage. These could be directions to the bar to increase drink sales or to the dessert display, for example.
Decorate your windows with decals that evoke what your business is all about! Imagery appeals to some diners more than words, so these visuals will be more eye-catching than a menu or a clever chalkboard for them.
Table Top Signs
Another option well-suited for casual eateries, tabletop tents and displays highlight the specials, deals, and new menu items that restaurants want their guests to know about.
You have two options here. First is a display case where you can swap out printed promotional designs. Second is custom-printed, folded table tents. You can get these professionally designed and printed through sites like Primoprint.
6. Take Social Media Offline with A Selfie Photo Op
Encourage customers to advertise your restaurant to their friends by creating a photo op for customers. Put up cool wall art and include information about a hashtag and your restaurant's social media accounts so that users know what to tag.
Sit back, relax, and watch the likes-and new customers-come rolling in.
Instagrammable Restaurant Examples
In the past few years, we've seen restaurant interior design adapt to consider “Instagram-ability.” Donut walls, bright lights, and bold, exciting bathroom designs. The more there is to take a picture of, the more they'll post your restaurant for free on social media. For some inspiration, check out this list of Instagrammed restaurants from Vogue, including The Gallery in London.
7. Display Your Brand Proudly
When customers leave your restaurant with a coffee cup with your restaurant's name on it, they become walking advertisements for your business. Prominently feature your restaurant's name on takeout bags, coffee sleeves, plastic cups, and more.
Custom branding doesn't have to be expensive. Rather than ordering completely customized paper and plastic products, you can order a roll of stickers with your restaurant's logo on them and affix them to takeout containers.
Takeout Cup Design Ideas
Do you want a customer to leave your restaurant with a to-go cup that's blank? Or one with a bold color or design that catches the eyes of others, making them ask “Where's that from?” We guess the latter.
This tactic is so effective that every year, fans eagerly await Starbucks' holiday cup design. Even when the reactions are mixed, the commentary can be seen and heard around the world - for a cup design.
Takeout Bags and boxes
Ditto goes for takeout bags and containers. Plastic or brown bags could have anything in them-but a bag that has your branding can only be yours. Plus, bags can be a great way to promote your menu to those who just ordered. Notice how Steak ‘n Shake highlights the many reasons one might order a milkshake next time they come on their bags.
If someone lives near your restaurant (and we know they do!), they might be proud to share it with tote bags, t-shirts, hats, bandanas, and more. Restaurant merchandise allows your brand to be given as a gift - either to or on behalf of some of your restaurant's biggest fans.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the demand for merch is breweries. Selling pint glasses like Rebellion Brewing keeps your brewery top-of-mind whenever a past patron reaches for a glass in their own home.
8. Fish Bowl Business Card Giveaways
A restaurant marketing tactic so common that, you'll see this in many different establishments.
The fish bowl business card giveaway is simple: diners in the restaurant drop their business card into a giant fishbowl. Once every month, your restaurant picks one at random in a lottery-style drawing, where the winning entrant earns a prize from your business. It could be as large as office catering for ten employees or as small as a free appetizer.
By limiting customers to one entry per visit, this tactic could incentivize repeat visitors who are eager to get their name drawn. Plus, the more people you include in the winnings, the more people will try your restaurant for the first time.
Online Restaurants Advertising Ideas
With so many online advertising tactics at your disposal, it can be difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, you don't have to pick just one. The more digital marketing tactics you use-paired with offline advertising-the more effective your restaurant's marketing will be.
9. Run Social Media Contests
Getting an organic audience on social by posting nothing but food and staff pics can be tough. That's why some restaurants have embraced running contests to grow an engaged and interactive audience. The idea is to encourage existing followers to tag friends and share the page's content with them.
For example, Cambridge Brewing Company often hosts giveaways for free beer and merchandise on Instagram. To enter, people need to follow the page, like the post, tag a friend, and share the post on their own accounts. All of these actions help the account gain traction and get more eyeballs.
10. Embrace Email Marketing
Restaurant email marketing goes hand-in-hand with a loyalty program. You can encourage guests to sign up for email notifications on your website and social media pages by promising initial and ongoing rewards for doing so, like $10 of credit for signing up.
Email is an assured way to reach your audience by offering coupons, automatically sending reorder emails, and reminding guests of upcoming events and specials.
Unlike social media posts, which won't reach all of your followers' feeds due to limiting algorithms, newsletters are guaranteed to make it into every subscriber's inbox.
Send updates to subscribers about specials, events, bestsellers, and more. Create newsletters on a regular basis, but avoid spamming customers. We recommend sending no more than one newsletter a week.
11. Create a Snapchat Geo-Filter
When customers share Snapchats from your restaurant, make sure their friends know where the Snap was taken by creating a geo-filter for your restaurant. Custom geo-filters are easy to make and surprisingly affordable. Use restaurant table advertising in the form of tabletop signage to encourage customers to Snap from your restaurant and use your custom geo-filter.
12. Reach New Customers via Social Ads
Facebook's advertising platform lets you target existing and potential customers based on behavior, location, and interests, making it a powerful restaurant advertising tool to showcase visuals and send people directly to your website, menu, or online ordering page. Check out how Moe's entices Facebook users with tasty ads like this one.
Want to lure in your competitor's customers with a coupon? Serve ads to people who like your competitor on Facebook or follow them on Instagram. Facebook owns Instagram, so you can manage Facebook and Instagram ads from the same platform.
Facebook Location Ads
You can also target diners in your area with Facebook location-based ads. Since these ads are geographical, you'll be able to target those who are visiting your area, even if they don't fall into the criteria for your other ads.
Use great photos of your food to entice potential diners with Instagram ads - learn more from our guide to Instagram marketing.
Reach New Customers via Google Search Ads
Google Ads can help your restaurant appear higher on search engine results pages - especially when competition is tough for your area. Going after words like “burrito” or “pizza” and setting strict geographical rules so that your results only appear to those in your local area help your ads perform better. Check out how to start using Google Ads here.
Despite early speculation, TikTok is not a trend. It's a full-fledged social media staple used by one billion people each month. That's a hard stat for restaurant owners to ignore, especially with food content blowing up on the platform. That's why major brands like McDonald's have hopped on the bandwagon.
TikTok can be used to showcase food challenges, highlight staff, promote menu items, and more in a minute or less. The visuals are key here - and if your restaurant has spectacular-looking food, it's a missed opportunity to not be promoting it on TikTok.
Top Performing Restaurant Ads for Inspiration
KFC's FCK Apology
In 2018, KFC faced supply chain issues that resulted in several of their UK stores having no chicken to cook for guests. Naturally, customers, employees, and franchisees weren't too thrilled about this situation. However, instead of brushing the situation under the rug or posting a quick tweet about it, KFC went above and beyond to earn back their customers' trust and respect.
Shortly after the crisis, the company issued the above advertisement in several newspapers to own and apologize for the mistake, as well as thank customers for bearing with them. The cheeky but sincere tone of the ad campaign was lauded, which resulted in the campaign being considered one of the best of the year.
This example shows that advertisements don't all need to be about customer acquisitions, tempting discounts, or catchy jingles. KFC spent its marketing budget and used resources to apologize for this mishap and pledge to do better, which likely strengthened the company's bottom line so much more in the long run than moving forward with other ads might have.
Domino's Pizza Turnaround
Flashback to 2008. Domino's Pizza wasn't exactly the financial success or beloved favorite of many that it is right now. And at the dawn of social media, tweets and comments criticizing the chain's pizza came pouring in. Rather than ignore the public disapproval — Domino's embraced it. Not only did the company go back to the drawing board with many of its concepts, it also made advancements in its technology to improve the user experience, resulting in it becoming the company we know now. Domino's documented its journey in the 2009 “Pizza Turnaround” campaign.
Domino's used this campaign to let customers know they were heard and valued. When it was easier to stay stuck in their ways, Domino's launched a phase of customer-focused innovation. Looking at their stock growth in the years following this campaign, it's safe to assume it was effective.
Wendy's “Where's the Beef” Commercials
Sometimes, a catchphrase just sticks — and this was the case for Wendy's with a series of TV commercials in the 80's featuring a woman asking “where's the beef?”.
The ads mocked fast food competitors that — according to Wendy's — were all bun, no beef when it came to their burgers.
At the time, the catchphrase was a mainstay in the United States and Canada, immediately conjuring up images of an old lady and delicious-looking burgers. The phrase inspired a board game (yes, really) and played a surprisingly integral role in the 1984 Democratic Presidential Primaries, when it was used by one Presidential contender to criticize the substance of his opponent's policy proposals.
“Where's the Beef” is one of the most influential restaurant television advertising campaigns in history. It has been credited with the 31% increase in annual revenue the company saw - alongside the fact that the company is currently the third-largest fast food burger chain in the U.S.
15. Use Influencers to Maximize Your Reach
Do you want your restaurant to reach cult status? Engage influencers (bloggers and social media users with large followings) to spread the word about your restaurant to their loyal followers. You can find them by simply Googling “food bloggers near [city]” and seeing who pops up. Reaching out to these individuals and offering them a free meal when they review or post about your restaurant can expose your menu items to a wide and loyal audience.
Once you've made contact with an influencer, you could even offer them an exclusive preview of your new menu in exchange for coverage on their feeds. This guide to vetting influencers will help you identify what to look for in an influencer to increase your chances of a successful collaboration.
16. Optimize Your Presence on Google Maps
Your restaurant needs a presence on Google so that anyone searching for your restaurant (or restaurants near you) can easily find your hours and location.
Ensuring your restaurant appears on Google Maps is actually quite simple. Check out the video below, or read more in this guide on optimizing your Google Maps presence.
17. Creating a Great Restaurant Website and Online Menu
A website is the one thing your restaurant has complete control over online. When building a restaurant website, the key thing to keep in mind is online ordering, as a clear way to place an online order increases the chance that potential customers will do just that. Notice how on Pavement Coffeehouse's website, the top action on the page is a callout to place an order.
Recommended Reading:Simple Restaurant Marketing Plan for 2022 [PDF Template]
Offline Restaurant Advertising Ideas
Traditional advertising methods like magazine ads, billboards, and TV commercials are pricey, and it can be difficult to measure their effectiveness. Here are some offline advertising alternatives that won't break the bank and will give you a return on your investment.
18. Encourage Word-Of-Mouth Advertising With a Postcard
Print custom postcards for your restaurant and give them to customers with their check. Encourage customers to fill out and address the postcard to a friend - you'll send it to their house! This fun restaurant advertising idea spreads the word about your restaurant to a receptive audience while delighting current customers.
19. Don't Overlook Direct Mail
Think mail is dead? Think again. More than half of consumers say they'd spend money at a business that was new to them if they had a coupon.
Direct mail is a quick and easy way to hit almost everyone in your community. Mailing menus with coupons gives potential customers something tangible when it comes to your restaurant. It's a great tactic to try at least once a year as people move in and out - especially if your restaurant is in a city or near a college campus.
20. Take Your Food Outside Your Four Walls!
Partner with local businesses to spread the reach of your restaurant.
Do you serve healthy food? Set up a table at the gym next door and serve samples of your green smoothies. Are you located near a college campus? Sponsor an event by catering it.
You'll spread the word about your restaurant to receptive audiences who may not have known where to find you otherwise.
21. Become a Coworking Space
Some people are taking dinner-only restaurants and opening them up to freelancers, entrepreneurs, and students during the daytime to use as workspaces. Participating in a program like this will expose your restaurant to new customers and create an extra source of revenue during a time when your space would otherwise be unused.
22. Digital Billboards
Renting digital billboard space is a great way to catch the eyes of those in cars or on public transit. Companies like Blip allow you to rent space on a digital billboard that rotates through different ads. For example, at a cost of just 13 cents per blip, Jack's Donuts earned nearly 400,000 impressions with billboard ads near retail locations.
Takeaway Ideas For Restaurant Advertising In 2023
- Use a combination of online, offline, and on-site advertising to reach new customers and turn current customers into regulars.
- Concentrate on social media - specifically on visual sites like Instagram and TikTok. When guests can see you and your staff, it makes it easier for customers to connect with you.
- Maximize real estate by using signage to catch the attention of passersby, and spread the word about specials and promotions to current customers.
- Get creative with offline advertising. Partner with local businesses, reinvent word-of-mouth advertising with postcards, and turn your unused space into profit and promotion by leasing it as a coworking space part time.
What innovative methods are you using to get customers in your seats this year?
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AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.