The restaurant industry is one of the most competitive in existence, making the search for new ways to draw in business a constant priority. How to attract more customers to your restaurant seems like a never-ending question.
A 2012 study showed that a whopping 70% of new restaurants go out of business within the first three to five years of opening their doors. However, 90% of restaurants that managed to make it past the five-year mark stayed open for more than ten years.
This means that the difference between staying open for the long haul and closing shortly after the grand opening lies in your restaurant’s ability to keep loyal customers and attract new ones.
It’s not enough for a restaurant to serve great food, in hopes that new customers will hear about it and come running (although it’s a start). The fact is that to be successful in the massively competitive restaurant industry you need to be proactive.
Here are 11 actionable, budget-friendly marketing ideas to attract more customers to your restaurant.
1. Inventive Social Media Tactics
First, make sure you’re using each social media site optimally:
- Twitter should be heavy on brief, one-line (or two, with the expanded character limit) promotions and offers.
- Instagram should be where you share photos of your food, your restaurant, your staff, and customers. These photos should be as high-quality as you can manage.
- Facebook is unique in that it allows businesses to create their own detailed pages and offer features comparable to a website. Therefore, you should use Facebook as a second website for your business. Post coupons, announce special events and make sure business details like hours of operation are visible.
Next, make sure posts on each site cover the basics:
- You don’t have to include the address of your restaurant, but keep in mind that social media posts show up in search results. It’s always a good idea to list your location.
- Although Facebook and Twitter involve written posts, people will be drawn to your restaurant’s visual brand first on social media. Ensure that your logos are high-quality and that your Facebook cover art is formatted well.
Most importantly, be inventive with the promotions you offer through social media, and focus on driving customer engagement. One small business marketing blog recommends offering discounts for Facebook check-ins and promoting fun, unique holidays that attract attention to your restaurant.
2. Low-Budget, Time Saving Tactics
Attracting guests to your restaurant doesn’t necessarily have to be time-consuming or expensive. For example, imagine that you happen to meet a local business leader or prominent member of the community. Mentioning your restaurant, or inviting them to come in for a free or discounted meal is a great way to bring in customers without spending excessive time and money on marketing. The same goes for partnerships with other local businesses in the area.
Another way to save time and money acquiring new guests is the tried-and-true strategy of flier marketing. It may seem outdated, but there’s a reason why fliers haven’t worn out their welcome in local advertising. Just be advised that while people still respond to a restaurant flyer, they may react negatively if they pile up, so use discretion.
3. Free Wi-Fi
Many owners fear that providing free Wi-Fi will encourage patrons to stay for hours without purchasing much, taking up valuable real estate in your establishment. These anecdotes are mostly incorrect.
A study showed that 62% of diners spend a longer time at restaurants with free Wi-Fi, which may be expected. A more surprising statistic is that of these customers, at least half of them spend more money than they would have at an establishment without free Wi-Fi available.
Additionally, the times of day when people are most likely to come to a restaurant and stay there for complimentary network access is generally in the middle of the day, when most restaurants tend to hit a lull in business. During these times, it can be beneficial to keep guests in their seats for as long as possible.
4. Offer a Great Happy Hour
It’s very likely that you’re forfeiting potential customers to your competition if you don’t offer happy hour specials. Although many people associate happy hours with bars and nightclubs, restaurants can also benefit from offering daily drink specials.
Happy hours tend to attract all kinds of new customers and spread the word about your establishment to new groups. Local professionals and retirees will often respond to a great happy hour, even if the restaurant is not known for their drinks.
5. Special Tactics Like LTOs and Restaurant Week
A significant key to bringing in new business to your restaurant is building a buzz around the food, service, and atmosphere. Limited Time Offers (LTOs) are a common tactic to attract potential customers because they are regarded as rare and special. If you decide to serve a dish only one day of the week, you’re building it up as something unique enough to draw crowds on that day, and new customers will want to come in and try it.
Find out how to become part of a local Restaurant Week. Typically, these events allow restaurants to offer a selection of courses for a prix fixe price as a way of letting new customers sample off-menu and highlighted items. Here is a schedule of such events nationwide.
It also helps to put yourself in the mindset of the customer. People don’t just use the quality of the food or the cost of a meal to decide whether or not to go to a restaurant, though these are major factors. There are several different motives for trying a new restaurant, and you should be aware of the factors that will bring new faces into your dining room.
6. Leverage Slow Periods of Business
Nearly every restaurant experiences lulls and slow periods throughout the day. For example, fast food restaurants typically don’t do as well after dinner and before the late-night rush. Upscale restaurants tend to be slowest in the middle of the afternoon, while brunch restaurants typically slow down after 3 p.m. on the weekends.
As you know, it can be challenging to find new ways to turn a profit during the gap between peak hours. One way to keep business steady is by offering variable pricing that meets your decreased demand. On a small scale, happy hours, kids eat free specials, and live entertainment can help restaurants ramp up business during slow times. Some restaurants are even dropping menu prices during slow periods to bring in new customers and offset labor costs. To get in on the trend, consider offering special, reduced-price menu options, exclusively available during your restaurant’s slowest times.
7. Capitalize on Local Event Marketing
The main reason restaurants participate in local event marketing is simple: getting your name out there. You can hand out fliers, and if applicable, host a sample stand at various local festivals and other events. Even if people don’t necessarily engage with your team, you’re still building a presence in your community by participating.
Be proactive. Go to restaurant trade shows and local events. You never know what will be the key action that brings in a new wave of business.
8. Engage With Major Events and Begin Hosting
It might seem like a hassle to do something special for New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, and other special days. But little things like acknowledging holidays and special events can make a huge difference in your restaurant’s sales.
Over 100 million people watch the Super Bowl every year, according to Nielsen Ratings. New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day are also very profitable days for bars and restaurants. It’s not enough to simply be open on these days when competition for guests is fierce— you have to plan events in accordance with these opportunities. Print out fliers in preparation, plan food offers and drink specials, and make your establishment one that people will remember.
Strategically planning for holidays, significant sporting events and other major occasions can bring first-time customers through your doors. If the night is memorable, they’re likely to recommend your business to their peers and become loyal customers themselves.
9. Word-Of-Mouth Advertising
Or rather, ‘reviews on a page’ advertising, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook and other sites are massively important to any business. Patrons often review a restaurant’s atmosphere, quality of service and experience, and of course the food.
Consider these facts: a Harvard Business School study on the power of Yelp Reviews found that a business’ average star rating translates into a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenue. This means that Yelp Reviews can make a significant impact on your ability to acquire new business. A report from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business had similar findings.
Word-of-Mouth (WOM) marketing has an amplified influence in the age of social media. People can send these reviews out to hundreds, even thousands of followers almost instantly.
You can’t control what your guests say about their experience at your place of business, the good or the bad, but you can use the negative comments as constructive criticism. Reach out to unhappy customers, and let them know that you take their feedback seriously. Make a habit of monitoring your reviews, and get creative to find solutions that will improve your customer’s experience in the future.
10. Receipt Marketing
One of the simplest ways to build customer loyalty and make one-time customers return is by placing promotions on your guests’ receipts. Offering customers a free appetizer or dessert upon their return makes guests feel appreciated and look forward to coming back.
The best way to do this is using a point of sale (POS) system like ShopKeep’s iPad cash register that lets you create a customized promotional message on your receipts. And in case of customers shoving the receipt in their pocket without reading it, you can encourage staff to tell their tables about any currents promotions you have going on.
For example, your on-receipt promotions can be as simple as 10% off your next visit, or as innovative as a more recent strategy called the Bounce Back model. In the latter, receipts yield time-sensitive deals (10% off if you come back in the next week, for example) that motivate customers to become regulars within the span of a few weeks.
11. Formulate A Loyalty Program With Email Marketing
Formulating a customer loyalty program to tie in with your email marketing initiatives is a great way to keep new customers engaged and existing customers coming back.
A loyalty program is tied in with your POS system and allows you not only track customer buying habits but create campaigns around those habits. For example, let’s say you have a lot of diners that come in and split an entree – one entree, two people. Unless you have a strict policy that enforces an additional charge for splitting an entree, this will undoubtedly drive your ticket averages down.
To remedy this, you might create a loyalty campaign when customers buy 10 entrees their next one is free. This can help encourage those creating their own two-for-one specials to get the reward faster and order two entrees the next time they dine with you.
Email marketing is known as one of the most cost-effective ways to spend your marketing budget.
- The ROI from email is almost 30% more than direct mail.
- It’s estimated that every dollar you spend on email marketing brings you $38 in return.
This means that if you aren’t using email to build customer loyalty, you’re not attracting customers at the highest rate. Promotional emails for customer birthdays and other special events are tremendously successful in getting them to keep coming back to your establishment.
The Key is Creativity
When it comes to finding ways on how to attract more customers to your restaurant, always aim to come up with marketing ideas that allow you to work smarter, not harder. You don’t have to stretch yourself too thin worrying about making sure you get enough business. Simply pinpoint where you’d like to exert some extra effort in your marketing and make a plan that works for you.