How to promote a restaurant
How to attract more customers to your restaurant
Did you know that you could increase your average number of diners, and your average income, by tweaking just a few things simple things about your menu and your marketing? The difference between a mildly successful venture and a hugely successful one is often the quality of their restaurant marketing and branding. The most successful restaurant owners understand that what you display on your restaurant advertising, and how you display it, could make or break your business. Building on our decades of experience serving the industry, we have conducted extensive research into numerous academic studies in order to find out the most effective restaurant marketing strategies. These restaurant marketing ideas should help to provide a strong background with which you can begin to understand what your restaurant guests want, and how to attract more customers to your restaurant.
The first step in restaurant marketing is to utilise restaurant outdoor signs if you aren't already, such as outdoor leaflet holders, A boards and pavement signs. These will interrupt the path of pedestrians, prompting them to take in your signage and assess your business.
If your outdoor restaurant signs are tempting enough, they might enter your venue, or plan to return later. Make immediate entry irresistible by advertising trending dishes and offering temporary discounts on your outdoor menu display.
An outdoor menu display makes people much more likely to spontaneously enter, as they are able to make an assessment more easily without the pressure of entering the venue first. There are assorted ways to create an outdoor menu display for various hospitality businesses, in a manner that is both professional and attractive. On dry days, pubs, bars and restaurant can write their offers and menus on A-board chalkboard which provides a rustic and homely effect.
For shaded streets and dark nights, an LED outdoor menu display can be used, or we stock LED menu covers for inside dimly-lit restaurants and bars. Whether you choose a freestanding LED menu stand, a wall mounted LED frame, or a luxury LED menu cover, the use of LED illumination really enhances an atmosphere of indulgence, as well as making your menu more eye-catching and easy to read.
'To encourage impulse buying, an effective point of sale advertising should include an 'emotional appeal'' - Miao and Mattila (2013)
Restaurant marketing using the 'self-care' appeal of food
In their 2013 study into the drivers of impulse buying in restaurants, Miao and Mattila explain how impulse buying of food is largely controlled by the concept of indulgence as palliative and soothing. They found that restaurant guests were more driven to impulse buy food when it was posited as a self indulgent treat which could help to make them feel better .
They suggest that this is because people impulse buy food as a 'mood-booster', as they are more able to justify indulging in a treat (i.e. 'I deserve it' or 'I need it to feel better') than succumbing to greed.
Therefore, ensure that your restaurant signage has some emotional appeal to guests, speaking to their desire for indulgence and self-soothing behaviours, rather than encouraging them to simply 'yield to temptation', which is more likely to inspire guilt (Miao and Mattila, p. 463).
Choose your words carefully
Did you know that the words you use to describe items on your menu can affect the perceived value and spending behaviour from your restaurant guests? A study by Michael McCall and Ann Lynn argued that a restaurant's menu should be at the core of its marketing strategy, reporting that 'subtle changes in menu design can increase sales up to 10%' . But what words should restaurateurs be using?
They discovered that increasing the 'descriptive complexity', and emphasising food preparation in the description, would increase the guest's perceived value of those items and positively affect their spending habits (McCall and Lynn, p.444).
These findings are supported by numerous other studies. Tim Dodd PhD reported that wine was often treated as an impulse purchase, in the same way that add-on items are impulsively bought in a retail environment .
Studying the impulse buying behaviours around wine, Dodd found that placing wine on the food menu had a significant impact on the sales of wine. This shows that cross-promotion opportunities are important in restaurant food advertising, as well as in retail.
Furthermore, ADDB and MCA carried out an analysis of the UK’s top 122 restaurant menus, finding that:
'If a restaurant uses more than ten descriptive words including terms such as ‘fresh’, ‘sweet’, ‘warm’ and ‘classic’, the bill could escalate by almost £10 compared to the use of just one word'.
Terms which suggest luxury or high quality (such as "recommended", 'finest' and 'matured') also help to command a higher price point .
This research suggests that creating your menu and restaurant marketing materials using vivid words which conjure an image of the dishes' taste or texture can help to attract customers and increase spending.
Restaurant promotion ideas
We have already discussed the various ways in which you can enhance restaurant outdoor signs and menus with emotional and descriptive language in order to attract more restaurant guests. Another aspect of restaurant signage to bear in mind is tabletop advertising. Display leaflets with your menu or offers, as well as traditional posters, and make sure your graphics correspond thematically with your online advertising efforts.
Nowadays it's essential to connect with customers online, however, plenty of people still prefer to engage with printed materials. Don't underestimate the power of printed matter to persuade and be shared around. If a patron particularly enjoys their dining experience, they may pick up a leaflet or menu simply to pass on to a friend.
Generate some creative restaurant promotion ideas. Loyalty schemes are incredibly popular, but less common in the hospitality industry, so this is one quick way for you to stand out against the competition. 'Happy hour' offers, such as buy-one-get-one-free, are an evergreen option for boosting footfall in bars and restaurants during otherwise-quiet hours. Ensure these are advertised heavily on both social media and outdoor signs to get a broader reach of new customers.
Bear in mind the importance of aligning your online and offline marketing, particularly if you are in a busy area or tourist destination. In these areas, there is more likely to be a high number of visitors wanting to plan their meals ahead of time and you will want to be the first to grab their attention and hold it. Incorporate QR codes for added efficiency in your multi-channel strategy.
If you are in a town centre or busy high street, it's likely that there is a lot of competition all vying for potential custom. Therefore, your restaurant outdoor signs must draw people in effectively.
A 2002 study investigated what information people search for when selecting a restaurant. They suggested that advertisements which highlight prices are a crucially important marketing tool in order for a restaurant to be selected over a competitor, as price is often the crucial decider between two appealing choices .
How to promote your restaurant for next to nothing
A highly effective and low cost method of advertising is to encourage word of mouth (WOM) and user-generated content (UGC), which is basically any relevant content that is shared by consumers online.
Introduce loyalty schemes, competitions and rewards, such as 'get a discount on your next meal when you recommend a friend/leave feedback/review us online'. Print your offers on your receipts as well as on posters, flyers and business cards to display at the bar, bathroom, tabletops and entrances.
Photo competitions are a fantastic way to get customers engaging with your brand online and creating UGC which will inform and impress other potential new customers. Create a unique 'hashtag' that your visitors can mark their text and images with on Instagram or Twitter. This means that anyone who searches for that hashtag will be automatically shown a bunch of unique UGC that relates to your brand. Competitions are also a great way to gather useful data on your target market, such as age, gender, employment, and anything else you may deem relevant to your restaurant marketing efforts.
Attend pop up events
Attending pop up dining events and local food festivals, as well as offering outside catering, is another great way to get your business known. Use the restaurant marketing opportunity to its full extent, offering leaflets, business cards, displaying your restaurant branding on a banner or event flag, and offering free samples.
Give visitors a memorable in-person experience as well as making sure they have something to take away with them, too.
Create an experience
One way to stand out in customer's minds is to include a novelty experience, unique dish or photo opportunity. A "selfie booth", or arcade games section is a great choice if you have an extra bar or long table waits.
This is also the easiest way to convert new customers into brand ambassadors for your business, as an 'Instagrammable' backdrop or selfie area will undoubtedly result in visitors wanting to share the images they capture.
Capitalise on seasons
Capitalise on all manner of seasonal events - any excuse for a promotion! Customers love novelty, like special dishes during St Patricks Day or Halloween.
Seasonal events are also a time to cash in on theme and emotional factor. For example, a romantic, high-end restaurant should be advertising themselves as a great Valentine's Day destination, just as a family-friendly venue ought to be advertising deals around Mother's Day, Father's Day and graduation.
Sometimes the smallest things can stand out and give customers a reason to remember you. Make sure they only remember positive things! Offer free appetisers on arrival and unexpected freebies upon payment, such as complimentary sweets and hand wipes or a fridge magnet with your company logo and contact details. Dessert refill areas are another quick and easy way to be remembered by families, as kids love to be allowed to help themselves to colourful mounds of sweets and ice cream.
Advertise green practices
One study found a significant relationship between customer's intention to return and a restaurant with green practices. The author suggests that 'by utilizing the menu to inform customers of green practices which have been implemented [...] the restaurant would see a higher return on their investment without direct advertisement' . Therefore, restaurateurs ought to utilise all marketing methods to publicise any green practices, which should influence the return intentions of their guests .
I hope this article has helped to develop your restaurant marketing strategies, and encouraged you to think carefully about decor and ambience when you are planning your merchandising and POS for restaurant displays and restaurant advertising. If you are looking for a product guide to help you choose your restaurant fittings and advertising materials, check out our guide to essential point of sale displays for restaurants and bars.
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1. Li Miao and A.S. Mattila, ‘Impulse Buying in Restaurant Food Consumption’, Journal of Foodservice Business Research, Vol. 16 (2013), pp. 448–467.
2. Michael McCall and Ann Lynn, ‘The Effects of Restaurant Menu Item Descriptions on Perceptions of Quality, Price, and Purchase Intention’, Journal of Foodservice Business Research, Vol. 11:4 (2008), pp. 439-445.
3. Tim H. Dodd PhD, ‘Techniques to Increase Impulse Wine Purchases in a Restaurant Setting’, Journal of Restaurant & Foodservice Marketing Vol. 2 (1996), pp. 63-73.
4. MCA Market Insight, ‘Menu & Food Trends report’ (2019), cited in AHDB Market Intelligence, ‘Menu wording adds value to meals’ (2019), https://ahdb.org.uk/news/menu-wording-adds-value-to-meals [accessed January 2020].
5. Marta Pedraja Iglesias and Ma Jesus Yagüe Guillén, ‘Searching for information when selecting a restaurant’, Food Service Technology, Vol1:1 (2012), pp. 35-45.
6. Audrey L. Szuchnicki, ‘Examining the Influence of Restaurant Green Practices on Customer Return Intention’, UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones, 155 (2009), https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/thesesdissertations/155 [accessed February 2020].
7. Booi-Chen Tan & Peik-Foong Yeap, ‘What Drives Green Restaurant Patronage Intention?’, International Journal of Business and Management, Vol. 7, No.2 (Jan 2012), pp. 215-223.