Have you ever wondered if restaurant promotions are really worth it? Can you still build a profitable business by giving something away?
Well here’s a classic example: In 1887, Coca-Cola distributed the first-ever coupon, for one free glass of coke. Over the next 25 years, 8.5 million consumers took Coke up on that offer.
Even if this seems like a legend to you, in the online age, consumers naturally expect discounts. Here’s proof:
- 80% of diners are likely to try a restaurant if a deal is available (RetailMeNot).
- 57% of millennials seek out restaurant coupons (Valassis)
Restaurant promotions are usually thought of as one-time campaigns but they actually help you retain your customers, driving up your customer lifetime value.
So let’s take a close look at the exact topics we’ll cover for your restaurant:
- Discounts – Time-based, Percentage based or flat-off
- Events – Chef’s specials, theme-based seasonal events
- Loyalty programs
- Deals – BOGO, Happy hours & free desserts
- Combos and meal boxes
- One plus one offer
- Crafting the perfect offer
- Ways to promote your restaurant online and offline
- Upselling using restaurant promotions
- Promoting your restaurant on a budget
- Promoting a new restaurant
- Your restaurant’s promotion calendar
The psychology behind promotions
Promotions create happiness: They make your customers feel special and happy. Ultimately giving them that last nudge to order something from you.
Time-sensitivity creates an urgency: Promotions usually come with time-sensitivity. This increases the value of the offer in front of the customers’ eye and gets you quick orders.
Ultimately, they influence the purchase decision of your restaurant customers.
Effective promotions do three things:
- Offer a nudge to complete the order.
- Increase spending by encouraging add-ons.
- At times, even increase the spends above a minimum total.
6 restaurant promotion ideas that actually work
1. Discounts: Time-Based, Percentage-Based, or Flat-Off
Direct discounts work in different forms. They can be seasonal or on-going, for new customers or for old customers etc. Time-based discounts could mean x% off during 4-6 pm. Percentage-based include an x% of sum off on your total order amount. Whereas, an example of a flat discount will be $20 dollars off on your total bill.
Further promoting these discounts with SMS or email campaigns leads up to higher adoption i.e more sales.
2. Events: Chef’s specials, theme-based seasonal events
Specials are great for restaurants to experiment and present dishes for which they ultimately are known for. While consumers get to enjoy seasonal dishes or chef’s special items. Think about what your restaurant can do differently in the market and build on that. Involve your chefs closely in this process.
Let’s look at what these restaurants serve in specials:
3. Loyalty programs: a win-win for customers and restaurants
Loyalty programs have existed since 1982, but it is recently that they have caught large interest. Fast-paced restaurants are already using their loyalty programs for restaurant promotions. They give customers a sense of recognition and achievement. Your loyal customers are more likely to convert on an offer rather than new customers.
Here’s how popular restaurants are using loyalty programs:
4. Deals: BOGO, Happy hours and free desserts
Whether it’s “buy one get one”, or offering a free dessert – deals are an important part of the restaurant promotion strategy. In fact, this study shows that options like happy hours increase sales by over 50% at restaurants.
#Tip: Use the data collected in your POS to strategize which deals work better, and what you can improve on. Both from a business perspective and a customer perspective.
Let’s look at some deals from:
From traditional restaurants like Berco’s to QSR’s like Burger King or Taco Bell – the food industry is constantly experimenting with bundles. These work the best when you offer complete value for money and in a very pocket-friendly manner.
Next time you think of curating a meal section for your menu, think of which dishes will compliment each other the best and group them together.
6. One plus one offers
According to the Wharton School of Business, Lifetime Value for new referral customers is 16% higher than non-referrals. When people come to your restaurant upon recommendations made, they’re more likely to trust and like your brand. You can integrate a referral program in your loyalty program or use social media to promote it.
Here’s how NatureBox does it:
7. Crafting the perfect restaurant offer
1. Identify, analyze and understand your customers
Your restaurant promotions should speak to your customers. Ask questions like:
- What audience are you catering to? Office goers, families, mothers, etc.
Example – Crepe Fe, explained how they wanted to capture the key decision makers of a household – the mothers. To get their desserts to enter different meals of a home.
- What motivates your ideal customers set? What makes them happy?
- Where do they hang out on the usual days? What social media platforms do they use the most?
2. Collect insights on what’s working in the industry
The restaurant industry is large. So when looking out on researching the market for promotion ideas, look in your niche. For example – delivery or dine-in. Waffles or pizza. Cafe or a dessert parlour. Get insights on your competitor strategy together to fix your own.
3. Look at your business data
- What are your best and worst performing days?
- What are your most popular dishes?
- Through which platform do your customers order the most?
- What dishes people often order together?
- How many loyal customers do you have? How often they order from you?
- What margin do you want to maintain?
These are just some questions that your restaurant data can help you answer. By analyzing them, it’s easier to decide when to run a promotion, what to run and for which customer set.
4. Take a call
Crafting restaurant promotions is an ongoing activity. With the knowledge from the first three steps, you can curate a list of promotion ideas. You can even take help from a marketing agency/consultant for this. Analyze the performance of your activities, learn and keep iterating.
8. Ways to promote your restaurant online and offline
Social media promotion for brand building
By simply posting the photo of your food online, you can bring in your next customer. According to Zagat, 75% of people who browse food photos say they have chosen a place to eat based on social media.
Use multiple social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. In cases that need more promotion – like a new menu launch or an event – use social media advertisements to your benefit. They’re easy to set up. With the right messaging and visual your cost per click can also be minimal.
Here are some of our favourite restaurant social media ads:
— Five Guys (@FiveGuys) December 28, 2016
Newsletters and SMS for loyalty building
Emails are personal and a great way to interact with your customers. When sending a newsletter keep the main topic that’ll act as your hook to attract attention. These can be specific announcements, reminders, offers or a message.
Two key aspects of sending a newsletter that helps in conversions:
- Timing it right: When your customers are likely to be the most active. Your email sending tools usually give this information according to your email lists.
- Being visually fantastic: Visuals speak. They decide whether your customer will stick or just scroll next. You can access email templates online or do a one-time activity of building your own.
Confused on where to start with newsletter promotions? Here are some SMS and email offers you can run.
Giveaways for quick engagement
Giveaways essentially encourage action from your audience, in lieu of getting a certain benefit or prize. These work well for restaurant promotions because:
- You build enthusiasm and loyalty in the participants.
- Your organic social media reach is boosted.
- You can even drive traffic to your website/online ordering system.
- If you involve influencers in these giveaways, you can benefit from their reach as well.
- There’s a general buzz around your restaurant during and after the giveaway.
- It’s cost-friendly as you decide what the prize and how many winners there will be.
When trying to do a giveaway for your restaurant, get over the old idea of reposts and instead put out fun task to do or questions to answer. Even better if you relate it with a recent trend for more visibility. For example – last season of GOT, would make for a good theme.
Here’s another example from Chai Point:
Events are the most popular way for offline promotions. These can be done in the following two ways:
External events include food festivals, pop-up stores, and different festival markets etc. They help in accessing a new lot of customers, presenting your food in front of them, getting social attention, feedback and industry knowledge – all in one place.
It’s true that you can do a limited number of events in a year. As you select which ones to participate in, consider these things:
- Ask the organizers for the average number of attendees expected.
- Research their past events to see their past successes.
- Get insights from your peers in the restaurant industry as to what worked for them.
- Check the location of the event, you don’t want it to be too far from your restaurant because there will be a lot of to and fro.
- Think about the price point, you’ll need to give a certain fixed amount or work on a commission basis with the event owners.
- Pre-plan the availability of your staff during the event dates. You’ll need some extra helping hands as well.
These offer a great way to build footfall. For in-house events, you can use topical themes and event ideas that your target customers will love the most.
This means if you are catering to a younger audience – open mics and comedy events might work better. If you’re targeting a slightly older audience cooking classes or pop-up markets will be a hit.
Some examples to start with are:
- Game Nights
- Movie Screenings
- Poetry Events
- Karaoke Nights
- Wine Tastings
- Theme Nights (90s, Halloween, Hawaiian)
- Ladies’ Night, Singles’ Night
- Comedy Events
- Open Mic Sessions
- Markets (host local brands for pop-ups)
Holidays and celebratory dates require a lot of planning. For instance, here’s how restaurant’s do Valentine’s day promotions.
So where do you begin? Here are some ideas:
- Host a holiday season kickoff event.
- Announce special gift cards and loyalty discounts.
- Take this chance to promote your catering services.
- Use your email list and send out newsletters,
- Host a giveaway.
- Launch a holiday specific menu
- Update your website with all the latest promotions.
Find a complete list of important celebratory dates at the end of this blog post.
Modern-day restaurants run on great partnerships. From partnering to rent a space together to hosting events, restaurants can partner with other restaurants that can mutually benefit them.
Restaurants can even partner with local businesses, musicians, artists for activities at their location. This is because consumers today expect a full experience from restaurants. And you can even sell tickets or take commissions to earn some extra money.
Here’s how The Piano Man does it:
Another example is Cafe Dori:
9. Upselling using restaurant promotions
“Do you want a drink with that to complete the meal?”
Very often our servers have used this technique to sell add-on products to a customer. And now with online ordering, upselling can be built into your online ordering system without much effort.
So what role do restaurant promotions have in helping you upsell at your restaurant? Here are some examples:
- Visually convince customers – promote your selected upsell items in an Instagram worthy style. People decide what to eat by reading the descriptions or seeing the visuals mostly.
- Have special upsell options for your loyalty users – these are your most loyal customers and can convert with easier strategies. Communicate your special offers to them.
- Offer a discount, above a certain fixed amount of bill – this will encourage people to reach that amount by ordering more for the discount.
- Make it evident on your online order portal – your own online ordering portal is your most direct marketing channel. Make it easy for your customers to order and add-on items. Give them pre-set options and a reminder about the latest offers.
10. Promoting your restaurant on a budget
Running on a tight budget but still, want to promote your restaurant? We’ve got you covered with these tips.
- Know your margins – Decide how much you want to maintain and what you’re in a position to giveaway. Analyze historical sales data from your POS for the same.
- Use your social media community – It’s a low-cost but a very effective way to build a base of loyal customers and catch them with your promotions.
- Use basic SEO for your online ordering website – This will make your website discoverable online and get you direct orders.
- Run a small contest – You don’t need to start on a large scale, a small giveaway with 2 winners for a lunch date or % discount will work well.
- Showcase customer reviews – More than anything else, these reviews are your best selling points. Use them on your website, social media and even offline on your printed menus.
- Start talking about your brand story – A good story attracts and sells. Why are you here? How did you get here? What’s your USP? What’s your motivation? Talk about it.
11. Promoting a new restaurant
As an owner, it can be equally exciting and nerve-wracking to start a new restaurant. Especially when more and more restaurants shut down within a year of operations. So here are some promotion ideas that will help your restaurant with more exposure and orders:
- Set up an online ordering system – This will be your own branded platform that’ll act as a silent server for your customers. To promote your new outlet you can offer special discounts, show visually appealing images, and even include options for table reservation or bulk orders.
- Plan a grand opening – Promote your opening well on social media, invite food bloggers and other stakeholders to it. This is your chance to shine and show everyone what your restaurant is all about.
- Do local listings – It’s important to claim your restaurant profile and keep it updated with accurate contact information, images and description on all local listings like Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Yelp and their likes.
- Build a relationship – If you want your first-time customers to be your lifetime fans, build a relationship with them. Offer a birthday/anniversary discount, tell them about special events, and roll out a loyalty program.
For more ideas, read the full guide to promoting a new restaurant here.
12. Your restaurant’s promotion calendar
Mark, these important days to run topical restaurant promotions in your calendar:
- New Year’s Day – 1 Jan
- National Pizza Day – 9 Feb
- Valentine’s Day – 14 Feb
- National Pancake Day – 5 March
- St. Patrick’s Day – 17 March
- Waffle Day – 25 March
- Easter – 21 April
- Star Wars Day – 4 May
- Mother’s Day – 12 May
- National French Fries Day – 13 July
- World Emoji Day – 17 July
- International Day of Friendship – 30 July
- International Coffee Day – 29 Sept
- National Taco Day – 4 Oct
- Halloween – 31 Oct
- Singles Day – 11 Nov
- Thanksgiving – 28 Nov
- Christmas – 25 Dec
Promotions when done right, can help you generate ROI. You can actually earn something more by giving a little away.
Especially in a highly competitive market, that the restaurant industry is today – it’s important to attract your customers with special efforts.
Hope these ideas sparked some inspiration for you. Remember, this is not a rigid list, you’ve to experiment and use what works for YOUR customers.
We’d love to know what promotion idea you pick up from here and use at your restaurant. Let’s chat in the comments!
If you’re looking for more marketing ideas for your restaurant, head here next.