Promoting Your Restaurant on a Small Budget

Male Owner Of Coffee ShopOK so you opened your restaurant and you’re trying to get the word out about the new place in town. Or, you’ve been open a while and want to try to drum up some new business. Either way, you’re probably wondering where to start.

Let’s start with the budget. Think about how much your average customer spends. You can calculate that on the average table or you can calculate it based on the customer. Then, calculate how much you make off that ticket. So, for every person or table that walks in the door, you make an average of $x. Of that money, what percent do you feel comfortable spending on advertising?

Another consideration: what percent of your customers come back? You might be able to spend a bit more to get someone to come in the first time if most of your new customers turn into repeat customers. Keep in mind, if you’re offering a coupon or opt to run a Groupon-type special, you’re likely to see fewer customers return than your average. There is always the table/person that is just there because they got a good deal. Don’t let that discourage you – just account for it in the budget.

Don’t stress about a small budget. There are a number of ways to promote your business without breaking the bank. Avoid the big three: TV, Radio and Print – those will bust your budget, and fast! Here are some options for those on a smaller budget:

Think social! Social media is an affordable way to advertise and maintain a relationship with your customers. Don’t feel obligated to post only about specials and deals on your social media. While enticing at first, most customers will bore of the same content over and over. Use this avenue to allow customers to get to know you. Did you see a funny picture? Share it! Did you go to a winery to taste some wines that you’ll soon be carrying? Post a picture! If you notice that a post is getting some good attention (i.e. lots of “likes”, “shares”, “comments” etc) consider “boosting” your post. On Facebook and Twitter, you are able to spend a small amount and share your post with some very specific target audiences – think men and women, in your area, that like your type of food.

Referrals! It doesn’t get any cheaper than word of mouth advertising. Would you believe the cheapest promotion is also the most effective?!  Consider creating a referral program for your customers. Give them “free appetizer” cards to hand out (one for them, one for their friend), offer a free dessert if they “check in” at your restaurant on social media – bonus points if they share a picture of their food, get creative and have some fun with it.

Give-Aways and Sweepstakes! You can run these in-store, online or both. In store, have guests leave a business card, or fill out a simple form with their name and email address to win a free meal. You’ll get a ton of email addresses – that you can add to your email list and keep in touch that way. Online, you can post a pic of a new dessert and have a contest to see who comes up with the most clever name. Use the name on your menu and they get a free one on their next visit. People will share these posts with their friends and boom! You’ve been promoted.

These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. You obviously know your customers better than I do. Choose promotions that will resonate with them. Don’t be afraid to try anything once. Some will work out better than others. Don’t panic if one promotion doesn’t bring a ton of attention, just remember that didn’t turn out the way you thought it would, learn from it and try something else next time. A lot of marketing is trial and error. Failing is ok, so long as it doesn’t stop you. I heard a quote, and I can’t remember where, but they said, “An unsuccessful person will fail. A successful person will keep failing until they succeed!”

One final word of advice. Start somewhere. Don’t think about it for days or weeks trying to settle on the “perfect” promotion. There’s no such thing. Just pick something and try it today!

Tags: GroupOn, restaurant industry, restaurant promotion, social media

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