The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing (2024)

  • Brandon Boushy by Brandon Boushy
  • 4 weeks ago
  • Blog
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Two restaurant owners—one with a plate of food truck fare, the other leaning on a stack of pizza boxes—with the words "Restaurant marketing the ultimate guide" hovering overhead

The restaurant industry is highly competitive. Restaurant marketing is no different—you’re competing against restaurants in your niche and in every niche.

There are so many ways to promote your restaurant that you need a well-laid marketing plan. We’ll explain the goal of restaurant marketing and provide restaurant marketing tips, sample marketing plans and budgets, and software recommendations.

Click on any of the links above to learn more about how to promote a restaurant, or just continue reading.

What is restaurant marketing?

Restaurant marketing focuses on identifying the ideal clients for a restaurant, getting them to try your restaurant, collecting data, and creating loyalty. It can increase your restaurant’s brand reputation, revenue, and profits.

How to market a restaurant

Restaurant owner surrounded by marketing icons using a tablet in an empty dining room

The four Ps of marketing are product, price, place, and promotion. So essentially, marketing should have a role in nearly every decision you make as you start a restaurant.

To effectively market your restaurant, follow the following steps:

  1. Dream up your restaurant.
  2. Choose a restaurant marketing strategy.
  3. Create a marketing plan.
  4. Prepare a marketing budget.
  5. Market your restaurant.

Let’s look at each of these steps to understand how to market a business in the restaurant industry.

Step #1. Dream up your restaurant

Before your restaurant is even open, you’ll need to make decisions that affect your restaurant marketing, like:

  • The type of food you’ll serve
  • How much you’ll charge for food
  • The location of your restaurant
  • Your menu design
  • Whether you’ll provide dine-in, carry-out, drive-thru, delivery, or other methods

These decisions will impact everything you do. It’s essential to think about them before you start spending money.

Once you’ve thought about the big picture, you need to narrow it down to the restaurant marketing strategies you want to use.

Step #2. Create a restaurant marketing strategy

You can choose a combination of traditional and digital marketing strategies. Some restaurant marketing strategies include:

1. Style of restaurant
2. Brand
3. Location
4. Pricing
5. Menu design
6. Visually appealing dishes
7. Online food delivery system
8. Online booking platforms
9. Customer loyalty programs

10. Coupon-based discounts
11. Promotions
12. Paid advertising
13. Print/free-standing inserts
14. Events (like soft openings and a grand opening
15. Search engine optimization (SEO)
16. Local SEO
17. Influencer marketing
18. Social media marketing

Let’s look at how each of these restaurant marketing ideas helps you market your business.

#1. Style of restaurant

This decision is more of a business decision than a restaurant marketing strategy, but you’ll need to decide it before you do anything else. This will help you do competitor research and target market research.

Of course, if you have a themed restaurant (like Noah’s Ark, a former St. Louis-area restaurant shaped like a massive wooden boat), your style of restaurant will be closely related to your marketing.

#2. Brand

Restaurant owner brainstorming brand ideas at his laptop

It’s essential to establish your brand. A restaurant brand includes:

  • Restaurant values and mission: Your values and mission statement should explain how and why you do what you do.
  • Restaurant name: Your restaurant’s name will be on countless marketing materials, including its logo, website, and social media accounts. It will appear on ordering apps as well.
  • Restaurant logo: The visual representation of your restaurant will be used just as much—if not more. If your logo becomes iconic—think the McDonald’s Golden Arches—you won’t even need the name for people to know what company it is.
  • Color palette: The colors you use help create a brand image. Think of some of your favorite restaurants. What colors do they use? The colors can be used for everything from uniforms to marketing materials and even the restaurant’s interior. Dig into color theory here.
  • Font: Different fonts are interpreted in different ways. Learn more about font psychology here.
  • Communication style: How does your restaurant communicate with the public? A bar or neighborhood grill might want a friendly vibe, while a fine-dining establishment may use more formal communication.
  • Slogans: Is there something you want your company to be known for? These are commonly used with fast food. For instance, what restaurant comes to mind when you see the words “I’m lovin’ it”?

#3. Location

Your restaurant location doesn’t inherently seem like a marketing decision, but it is.

The placement of your restaurant can make or break it. It could be in an area with a perfect vibe, or it could be a mismatch for your target audience.

Make sure the restaurant location is:

  • Easily accessible from all directions
  • Near your target market
  • Convenient for employees who need to ride a bus

Learn more about choosing a location.

Note: Many modern-day point-of-sale (POS) systems make it easy to implement restaurant marketing strategies #4 through #9.

#4. Online food delivery system

An online food delivery system is a marketing strategy that connects you with outside companies such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.

Lightspeed HQ expects a 20% or higher compound annual growth rate in food delivery between now and 2030.

You can’t really afford to ignore these restaurant marketing channels anymore, but you need to be aware that each delivery company has different commissions they take for their services.

You should assume that 30% of the total ticket price will be spent on delivery. That means if you need to make $15 on a meal to stay in business, you need to charge $21.99 for the meal to cover the delivery costs.

Failing to factor in these costs could cause your restaurant to fail, as the average restaurant has a slim 9.08% net profit margin. Make sure you get this right. Hire a restaurant consultant if you need help.

Hear from a restaurant consultant below:

#5. Online booking platforms

In addition to online deliveries, you can also take online orders or reservations through marketing channels like OpenTable, Resy, and Reserve with Google.

These restaurant marketing strategies increase your digital footprint and make it easier for customers to book reservations and orders. They might also increase productivity by reducing incoming phone calls.

#6. Customer loyalty programs

Another marketing strategy that every restaurant owner needs is a customer loyalty program. Rewarding loyal customers encourages people to keep coming back. It also helps you gather data about your customers to create better customer avatars.

Whether you’re using branded punch cards or digital rewards programs, business owners who implement loyalty programs could see up to 67% increased customer spending.

#7. Coupon-based discounts

Customer using discount QR code

Offering physical or digital coupons is another of the restaurant marketing ideas that may be included in your point-of-sale system. You can use coupons as a way to bring in first-time clients, encourage birthday meals, or reward loyal customers.

Make sure to calculate the cost of the discounts and include them in your restaurant marketing budget plan. As a good rule of thumb, don’t make coupons greater than the expected gross profit from the purchases.

#8. Running promotions

Promotions are similar to discounts but cover a broader range of strategies. They might include discounts, buy-one-get-one, giveaways, or other restaurant marketing strategies that help increase awareness of the restaurant on social media and other marketing channels.

#9. Pricing

Restaurant owners need to get the price of the food they are selling right. Too expensive, and you’ll scare off most customers; too inexpensive, and you may lose money with every item sold. The sweet spot will attract customers and allow for profit.

#10. Menu design

Your menu is part of your restaurant marketing strategy. Will it be professional looking in a leather-bound protector or laminated with lots of pictures? Maybe it will be on the wall.

Consider what your competitors do before making a decision. It would be weird to go into fine dining and see a fast food-style menu above the hostess stand.

#11. Visually appealing dishes

Smart phone showing a restauranteur holding a gyro and a plate of pasta and a lentil dish on the surface next to the phone

While you might not think of the plate layout as part of marketing, impressed customers might share photos of their dishes on social media. Take a food-styling course, plan out your food presentation, and train your employees to duplicate it with every dish. Just remember to be reasonable.

#12. Paid advertising

Restaurant advertising can take on many formats. In a search engine, you might have text-based advertisements, while you might prioritize pictures or videos when advertising on social media.

Make sure that you are narrowing your restaurant advertisement to people who live near the restaurant or travel to the location consistently. Otherwise, online advertising platforms can become prohibitively expensive.

#13. Events (like soft openings and a grand opening)

A great restaurant marketing strategy is to host soft openings and a grand opening. New restaurants can use these to get a lot of attention, especially if you combine them with promotions.

A soft opening also acts as a low-pressure environment for your staff to prepare for the grand opening by only serving friends and family. The grand opening is a more formal event that should include media and influencers.

Talk to people with PR credentials in your area to maximize the results.

#14. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Optimizing your restaurant website for search engines is a great way to bring more awareness to your business. You’ll want to research keywords for your type of restaurant, create pages that describe each item, provide an online menu, and make it easy to place online orders and provide reviews.

Check out TouchBistro’s blog about restaurant SEO.

#15. Local SEO

You’ll need to use local SEO techniques and directories, including:

Learn more about starting a Google Business Profile for your restaurant.

#16. Social media marketing for restaurants

Laptop showing Odd Pizza owner holding two boxes of pizza surrounded by social media icons including X, Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram

Social media marketing will require you to:

  1. Create a social media restaurant profile on all social media platforms.
  2. Add your business information.
  3. Invite your friends to like the page.
  4. Share posts about the food and restaurant.
  5. Use QR codes to make it easy for guests to find your socials in your restaurant.
  6. Encourage people to share pictures and tag your business.
  7. Ask people to provide reviews. You can even offer incentives or discounts to provide reviews.
  8. Consider using social media ads.

Suppose you don’t love being on social media. You might find a friend or family member who enjoys social media and have them manage it. Alternatively, you could pay a restaurant marketing company to manage your social media marketing.

#17. Influencer marketing

Another social media marketing strategy is inviting influencers to eat for free. If they enjoy your restaurant and provide a stellar review, it can help drive new customers.

There are keys to making this marketing strategy effective, including:

  • Brand goals: Before hiring any influencer, define what you want to achieve by hiring them.
  • Target audience: The influencer should share your target audience.
  • Engagement rate: An influencer’s engagement rate, or how many people interact with posts, is more important than how many followers they have. Customer engagement is a sign that the influencer isn’t buying followers.
  • Content alignment: If the influencer style and content don’t align with your brand identity, it could turn off potential customers.
  • Cost: User-generated content helps attract customers, but the prices for influencers can range from free products to a percentage of sales to a flat rate per post. Learn about influencer pricing.
  • Platform: Make sure your restaurant has a presence on the platforms the influencer works on.
  • Reach: Pricing may be partially based on how many potential customers will see the user-generated content. If you take online reservations, you can use a promo code to tie the influencer directly to the revenue and then pay them a percentage.
  • Search and discovery tools: How does the platform allow the content to be found by your target audience? Some platforms are more successful at bringing in new customers than others.
  • Influencer vetting system: Each influencer has their own requirements for who they work with. You should also have requirements because digital marketing for restaurants can have unintended consequences if the influencer is involved in a scandal.

Klear and Traackr are influencer marketing tools that match influencers with businesses.

#18. Restaurant email marketing

Restaurants use email marketing to offer discounts, offer birthday gifts, notify people about new products, or confirm online orders. The more ways you use email marketing to communicate with your audience, the more you’ll stay in their mind.

Step #3. Create a restaurant marketing plan

Cafe owner working on a marketing plan at his laptop while having an espresso

Restaurant owners need to create a marketing plan (a document) for handling each of the marketing efforts (time and resources put into marketing), including:

  1. The marketing strategy (the goals and process), including a step-by-step process
  2. How much to spend on the marketing efforts
  3. The restaurant marketing software that will be used
  4. Who is responsible for implementing the restaurant’s marketing strategy
  5. Metrics to measure the marketing strategy success
  6. How often to optimize the marketing strategy

These will help provide a restaurant marketing plan that drives your marketing decision-making and efforts as you run your restaurant.

Steal restaurant marketing ideas from the big guys

There are two lists you might want to look at to get an idea of what the most successful restaurants do:

  1. Independent restaurants
  2. Chains
Independent restaurants

Restaurant Business estimated the earnings of the top 100 independent restaurants. Below, we did some calculations with the figures to help guide your goals.

Independent Restaurants
  Sales Average Check Meals Served
Sum $1,505,018,003   30,220,154
Average $19,802,868 $50 302,202
Median $19,102,119 $70 241,289
Minimum $11,155,420 $18 32,786
Maximum $45,298,122 $230 1,001,254

To be one of the top 100 restaurants, you’d want to serve $20M in food at a price between $50 and $70 per person. Not feasible to start, but something to shoot for.

Look at restaurants on Restaurant Business’s list to see which are comparable to your restaurant, then research their marketing.

Chains

We also gathered some data about the top chains in the U.S. You can view the full list on Nation’s Restaurant News, but it’s most important to understand that there are 500 chains with a combined 230,250 locations and that you’ll want to aim for at least $1.5M in revenue to be among the top 50% of performers.

Chains
  Sales Units Sales/Unit
Sum $391,164,100,000.00 230,250  
Average $783,895,991.98 461 $1,698,866.88
Median $136,400,000.00 89 $1,506,060.61
Minimum $47,300,000.00 13 $272,210.53
Maximum $48,672,700,000.00 20,576 $12,612,019.23

You can review our calculations here.

Check out restaurants with Instagram followers

Another easy way to learn how to market a restaurant is to look at what the restaurants in your area are doing. Delicious has a great list of the “most Instagrammed restaurants” by state.

Step #4. Prepare a restaurant marketing budget

Restaurant owner holding a pan of cash in front of a screenshot of UpFlip’s How to create a marketing budget blog

A restaurant marketing budget is normally only 2% of revenue, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). This number is less than 25% of what the SBA suggests.

Based on IBIS World’s industry revenue and number of businesses, the average revenue for a restaurant is nearly $1.67M. That means your marketing budget should be somewhere between the values in the table below.

Budget2%8%30%
Revenue$1,668,571.43$1,668,571.43$1,668,571.43
Marketing Per Year$33,371.43$133,485.71$500,571.43
Marketing Per Month$2,780.95$11,123.81$41,714.29

Some recommend spending up to 30% on restaurant marketing strategies during the first year to help develop brand awareness at a much quicker base. If you decide to take such an aggressive strategy, monitor your marketing campaigns to verify that they are bringing in new customers and increasing customer retention.

If they are not, we highly suggest optimizing the strategies by focusing your spending on campaigns that are outperforming the others.

Learn how to prepare your marketing budget here.

A powerful restaurant marketing plan will encompass many of these strategies. You’ll also need to collect important marketing campaign data to refine your approach.

Step #5. Buy restaurant marketing software

A key component of collecting valuable customer data is using marketing software to collect and optimize marketing strategies. A restaurant marketer will need several hardware and software solutions to serve their customers best.

You’ll need a:

  • Website
  • Social media
  • POS and restaurant management system
  • Customer relationship management software
  • Analytics software
  • Accounting systems
  • Keyword research tools

You’ll want to consider how each tool fits into your restaurant marketing plan, business goals, and marketing campaigns. In addition, you’ll want to consider costs, integration with other software, and online reviews when making decisions on marketing tools.

Website

When you create a restaurant website, you’ll want to consider what new and repeat customers need when they visit your website.

Take a minute to think about what you do when you are researching a restaurant. What did you want when you were a first-time customer? What did you want as a repeat customer?

The table below includes some restaurant marketing tools people expect to see when they visit a restaurant website. Can you think of more?

New Customers Repeat Customers
Pictures of Food Customer Loyalty Program
Positive Reviews Online Ordering
Links to Directions Ability to Order Previous Orders
Phone Number New Menu Items
Menu Saved Account Details
Ordering Platform Discounts
Discounts Promotions

In addition, you’ll want the website to link to your social media, restaurant management software, and analytics software.

Restaurant social media marketing software

In addition to social media accounts, some tools can help with social media marketing for restaurants.

Agorapulse (“agora” means meeting place) helps you track 10 social media platforms, providing analytics, scheduling, and responding. There is a free 30-day trial, and many other features depending on your plan. It’s the preferred social management platform for industry behemoth McDonald’s.

Learn about other social media tools.

POS and restaurant management system

Remember all the marketing strategies that were part of a POS system?

You can use POS or restaurant management systems like Toast to get all those features. Find out how Toast stacks up against competitors. You can get started for free, but the paid packages range from $69 and up, depending on your desired features.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software

OpenTable, Upserve, Toast, and Sugar CRM are some CRM software for restaurants. Many CRM software platforms will also serve as POS and online ordering systems. Before you mix and match software, make sure it works together.

Analytics software

Posist and Restaurant365 are top performers in small restaurant analytics software. Analytics software combines revenue, employee scheduling information, and food inventory to help local businesses and major corporations in the restaurant industry manage their costs more effectively.

You may be able to access analytics with your POS system, but make sure to check each provider to see what is included.

Accounting systems

Restaurant marketing tips are great, but you’ll have no idea how well you’re doing unless you can tie the marketing to financial results.

Most small businesses use QuickBooks, but restaurants can also use the POS systems to monitor financial performance for quick managerial decisions.

Keyword research tools

Another helpful tool is keyword research software. You can use software like SurferSEO or Ahrefs to find online search keywords.

A good rule of thumb is to go for high-volume, low-difficulty keywords, and as you increase your authority, progress to high-volume, high-difficulty keywords.

Step #6. Implement the restaurant marketing strategies

Odd Pizza owner holding two stacks of pizza boxes with website, internet, and social media icons in front of him

During this phase, you will set up all the software, create your restaurant marketing campaign, and monitor it to see whether it meets the goal of bringing in potential customers.

Even the most effective marketing strategies require time to work. In our courses, Joshua Brown explains that you’ll generally want to start email marketing and paid ads between one and three weeks before you want to earn revenue from new or existing customers.

Should I hire a restaurant marketing agency?

Restaurant marketing agencies can be tremendously helpful. They can help you establish your restaurant’s brand identity, advise you on the best software, set up effective marketing strategies, and monitor and optimize your campaigns.

Despite the benefits of hiring a restaurant marketing agency, a local restaurant may be better off hiring them for specific tasks than to manage everything.

When a single company does all your restaurant marketing, they might claim ownership of assets, like your Google Business Profile or website. If you want to fire them, you must find new, effective restaurant marketing strategies.

Be prepared to spend over $1K monthly if you’re looking for full-service marketing agencies. You’ll want to check their online reviews to see what their customer base likes and dislikes about the company.

Step #7. Optimize your restaurant marketing strategies

When you market a restaurant, you’ll adjust your marketing budget for each channel’s spending based on how well they attract customers. Most small restaurants find local online and Google Ads to be the most effective.

Approximately once per month, you’ll want to adjust each marketing strategy for restaurant operations. But another business owner warned us:

You can’t throw $100 at ads for a month and decide it didn’t work. Give marketing for a restaurant a few months to adjust how to market your restaurant.

When you find that marketing ideas for restaurants are not getting the results you want, you have a couple of options:

  1. Change the call to action.
  2. Change the offer.
  3. Reduce the spending on the marketing channel.

Brandon told us you must track everything to see where you lose your customer base.

Suppose you get many potential customers from a source, but they aren’t ordering food at the same rate as other restaurant digital marketing campaigns. In that case, it’s probably not the right marketing channel.

Stop wasting money marketing a restaurant to the wrong people. Likewise, shift the budget to restaurant ads you know work.

The best restaurant marketing campaigns will be able to scale and attract more customers. No matter how well the campaign attracts customers, there will be a point where your returns start to drop. When this occurs, you’ve hit the point of diminishing returns and should stop increasing the allocation to those local ads.

How to advertise a restaurant

Restaurant owner creating a Google Business profile on laptop

Advertising a restaurant should use a combination of traditional marketing strategies, paid digital ads, and customer retention methods. Restaurant advertisement examples will normally include:

  • Google Business Profile: Provides location in Google Maps. This will help people see your food, restaurant, business hours, and location.
  • Google Ads: Run paid advertisements on Google Ads. Help people find your restaurant when they search for the type of food you serve, or simply “food near me”.
  • Social Media: Social media ads are the best place to increase brand awareness because you can narrow your audience to people in your location and show them videos.

On any of the platforms, you’ll want to:

  1. Create a business account.
  2. Sign up for ads.
  3. Specify your goals.
  4. Create the ad copy and/or designs.
  5. Specify your budget.
  6. Monitor the performance.

Restaurant marketing companies can help you market your restaurant online to help remove the learning curve, but the saved time comes with higher upfront costs.

How to promote a restaurant

There are numerous ways to promote a restaurant. Consider some of the following ideas:

  1. Schedule a grand opening and publish it in places that announce local events.
  2. Run local online ads with a promotional offer or discount for new customers.
  3. Make it easy for people to provide positive reviews.
  4. Respond kindly to negative reviews to show you care about the customers’ experience.

What are your favorite restaurant marketing ideas?

At this point, you should know what to do to prepare to market your restaurant. It’s up to you to choose the best strategies for you.

What restaurant marketing appeals most to you? Let us know in the comments.

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