No Money? No Problems! Restaurant Marketing on a Shoestring Budget – Part 3

If you’ve been working in the restaurant industry for any length of time, you’re probably somewhat aware of the Burger Wars and what it meant for restaurant marketing and advertising during the late 1970s and 1980s. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to come up with phrases like “Where’s the beef?!” and to promote novel menu items like the McDLT (those commercials featured acclaimed “Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander back when he had hair).

With what feels like Burger Wars 2.0 on the horizon, we have a ton of great opportunities to learn from the biggest names in the industry and peek into how their marketing machines function. Although you and I don’t have millions of dollars to spend on a full-scale advertising campaign, we can draw from many of those same marketing elements and put them to use on a much smaller, local scale.


For example, Burger King’s recent “Real Meals” rollout alongside Mental Health Awareness Month is an excellent example of a company partnering with a charity to raise awareness for a very serious cause, but also to humanize the brand in a way that may stick in customers’ minds. Was the campaign rolled out perfectly? Eh, but I would venture to say BK’s move did a lot more to help people than hurt them.

On the flip side, when Wendy’s uses Twitter to roast fans and trolls alike in 280 characters or less, it’s just a very visible version of engaging with your customers online, whether the comments are good or bad. This is something restaurants and businesses in nearly every industry do, or should be doing, it’s just Wendy’s does it with some flair.

Restaurant marketing may seem incredibly difficult at first, but when you look at it more closely these grand tactics can be summed up pretty easily. With that in mind, here are a few more helpful tips to market your restaurant with a few dollars and a dream!

Advertise Your Restaurant on EVERYTHING

We’ve already talked about why having a good online presence matters. By making use of all the services Google provides, making good use of social media and associating yourself with review sites like Yelp you can get noticed on a local scale. However, don’t forget about the real world around you and how important engaging people can be.

Have you ever taken a minute to look at the boxes and bags you’re sending customers out the door with? Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful types of marketing any business can do, so why wouldn’t you want people to see where their friends and family just got done eating at?

Getting your brand plastered on everything from carryout bags and boxes to plastic utensil packets isn’t the cheapest advertising you can do, but there are some benefits to doing this. Once customers pick up their food or walk out with their leftovers, others, including people who may have never heard of you, will see where their dinner came from. Nielsen statistics suggest more than 90% of people trust the opinions of their friends and family more than any other type of advertising, so keep that in mind when bagging up a customer’s food!

Take Advantage of Community-Based Restaurant Marketing

If you’re looking for an interesting and quick way to share your restaurant with an entire city full of people, consider exploring the possibility of joining or creating a “Taste Of…” event. A simple Google search for “Taste of” resulted in hundreds of events across the United States from Cincinnati to San Francisco and from Vail to Savannah. Not only are they great ways to share your food with the locals, people from out of town will sometimes make the trek to attend these events.

Case in point: according to the United States Census Bureau, there are only about 145,000 people living in the city of Syracuse, NY, but during the city’s 2018 “Taste of Syracuse” an estimated 225,000 people checked out the two-day festival. The cost of registering for this type of event will likely depend on where you’re located, but by serving your best samples and giving people a reason to seek out your restaurant once the event is over the cost can be made up.

For those who may not have access to a “Taste of” event or a local restaurant week, you can still use the power of the community by registering and being active in your town’s Chamber of Commerce. You’ll have to pay some cash to join the Chamber and will likely be on the hook for annual dues, but there are several benefits associated with joining.

Whether it’s a ribbon cutting, groundbreaking ceremony, anniversary or other milestone, you can look forward to your Chamber representatives making an appearance (and likely bringing a couple members of the local media along for the ride). Not to mention, your membership with some Chambers may include other opportunities like advertising discounts for TV, radio and newspaper ads.

Your local Chamber of Commerce can also keep you in the loop when it comes to government issues impacting your restaurant, while giving you the opportunity to network and build relationships with other businesses in your area. Maybe you can work with the craft brewery down the road to host a tap takeover at your restaurant once every few months, and they can shoulder some of the burden to promote the event and hype up your food.

Online Restaurant Marketing – What to Include on Your Website

Just because you have some real estate on the internet doesn’t mean you’re doing everything you can to delight your customers. If you’ve got a website, there are several things that need to be on-point to make sure visitors are getting the information they need as quickly as possible.

First of all, make sure your address, phone number and hours are prominently seen. Preferably, this information should be on your homepage and “above the fold,” so customers don’t have to scroll and dig around just to find out when your restaurant is open. Try to keep these features of your site consistent and make sure they’re on every page so people never have to search for them.

Once a visitor knows your restaurant is open, the next thing they’re likely to check out is your menu. While it might seem like a great idea to just scan a copy of your menu and toss it up on your webpage, keep in mind what you’d want to see if you were looking for information. Chances are a PDF file you need to download isn’t going to cut it, especially if you’re on your phone.

In cases like this it’s best to build out a responsive menu. A responsive menu eliminates the need for people to download the PDF file and gives your website a cleaner, more polished look. If you do decide to try a PDF file, make it a separate tab that quickly opens when people click on the link.

Outside of those four critical components, try to add some well-shot photos to your page (getting a professional is a worthwhile investment) and, if you can, a video or two. Posting some breathtaking pictures of your food shows prospective customers what you’re capable of and gives you some powerful visual assets to share on social media!

Other factors to consider adding to your website may include, but are not limited to: testimonials, a Google map with some directions, links to review sites, online ordering, online reservations, catering information, a riveting and enticing “about me” page, links to your social media pages, and loyalty program information. Think of it this way – whatever questions you have others will probably have too, so try to answer as many of them as you can without droning on forever.

One last thing to consider with your site is the importance of a responsive layout. Just like your responsive menu, a responsive layout ensures that visitors to your site have the same experience no matter what device they use.

Any Other Restaurant Marketing Tips?

The tips included in this portion of our ongoing series are understandably a little bit more expensive and technical than what was included in previous posts. However, investing where it matters and being thoughtful with your messages will put you in a better position to increase your return on investment and start building toward the next step in your process.

Maximizing your web, social media, traditional media and in-person presence can do wonders for a fledgling business, especially one opening its doors in a crowded market space. When these marketing and advertising stars align, it’s nearly impossible to not be successful!

Hungry for more? Check out this post about adapting your restaurant to meet customer demands.

How do food trends start? We pull back the curtain on the kale and low-fat phenomena that have taken the U.S. by storm!