There are better options to spread the word

10 ways to market your restaurant that don’t include Yelp

Looking for novel ideas to promote your restaurant? Tired of that guy from Yelp trying to convince you to give him money to market for you? Here’s 10 ways to market your restaurant, as well as 5 advanced marketing ideas to help you out.

1. Social Media Followers Copying

Instagram Marketing for Restaurants

Bill's Sandwich Palace is a master class in Instagram Marketing for Restaurants

That’s an awkward phrase, huh? What I mean is that you find people who follow similar restaurants or places in your area and follow their accounts. That’s it, it’s that easy.

Why does this work? Because you’re directly targeting and interacting with people who are probably potential customers. People on Instagram will notice if they get a new follower (unless they’re Kim Kardashian or someone, I’m talking about normal folks) and then they will probably check out your profile, which better be full of beautiful pictures of your delicious food, and consider eating at your place.

That’s the idea at least.

Close to my house, the seafood restaurant didn’t renew their lease during COVID (RIP Rudy’s Seafood and Sausage, you were gone too soon) and the restaurant space was available. Right next to it is a coffee shop that I like, and I follow them on Instagram.

A few months after that seafood restaurant died, I noticed a Thai food restaurant was trying to follow me on Instagram. And it was going into that restaurant space by the coffee shop. And they followed a lot of other people that I know that follow that coffee shop’s Instagram account.
So we ordered some Thai food!

Now, granted, I live so close to there I would have noticed the Thai place anyway, but what about people who don’t drive by that building daily, but follow that coffee shop?

By following the followers of local shops and restaurants at all similar or close to yours, you’re getting in front of potential diners for free essentially, and starting a bit of a relationship even before they come into your building or place an order online.

There’s some risk here, though. My wife was followed by that Thai place and thought it was kind of creepy. I didn’t mind because I understand marketing and also like following restaurants anyway.

And beyond that, Instagram can punish you (or even lock your account! Eek!) if you do this too much, so you might want to do it with a secondary Instagram account. It works on Twitter too, and Twitter is way less likely to slap your hand for doing this sort of thing.

This works, and it’s a super cheap marketing method. There are tools to automate it, but keep it manual to stay out of trouble with Instagram!

2. Custom Shirts, Obviously

Sell restaurant shirts to diners

Sell your diners a shirt, and let them be part of your marketing plan

I’m the owner of a screen printing company that loves writing about marketing, so obviously I’m going to suggest custom printed t-shirts as a marketing method, but hear me out!

Shirts are pretty cheap and screen printing prices can be pretty affordable. Even nice shirts with nice quality printing can be real affordable, like $8 each, so it may make sense to either sell shirts as part of your income and marketing campaign, or even give them away to repeat customers or as part of a loyalty program (I talk more about that here in the article 4 simple restaurant marketing ideas to get people back for more).

T-shirts can be walking billboards, and get your name out there pretty effectively. Even on my way to work today, I saw a lady with a Dino’s tote bag (a local bar) and then I thought “oh I need to get to Dino’s soon.” It works.

3. Cross promoting with other businesses

I just spent a week at the beach in Edisto, South Carolina, a charming little island, complete with a great selection of local restaurants.

If you’re in a location with a lot of independent businesses, you should partner up with some to cross promote.

For example, in Edisto we went deep sea fishing, and had to check in at the bait shop. They could have partnered with a restaurant and put a card holder at the front that said “Didn’t catch anything? Come get dinner at the Briny Swine and get a free dessert by showing this card.”

And in exchange, the Briny Swine could have cards that offer $50 off a chartered fishing expedition for 3+ people.

This may not excel in all markets, and you’ll have to pick your partners and figure out the real details, but it can be an awesome way to help generate business for yourself as well as others in your area.

4. Targeting travelers’ searches

Google restaurant search results

"Be where you can be found" is a great marketing maxim

Speaking of beach trips, if you’re in a touristy area, how can you target travelers who are unaware of the local offerings? How can you be found when they look for the good local places?

If you Google “Edisto restaurants” (replace Edisto with your town name!), you’ll see Tripadvisor and perhaps the town’s official website, and probably local summaries of recommended restaurants from blogs or a local Chamber of Commerce or similar. If at all possible, get listed on these sites with your competition! Reaching out to the author and asking them to include you can work, or just add your own listing if possible.

5. Claim Your Google My Business Listing and Utilize it

When people Google your restaurant, the Google My Business listing will show reviews, contact info, and pictures.

But did you know you can also submit updates from your business?
You can add photos and little text updates (like with your drink specials, or featured menu items) that show up for a week at a time. It’s an easy and free way to get a little advertising spot, basically.

6. Chalking

If you’re in an area with a lot of foot traffic but sort of tucked away from the main thoroughfare, get out and draw an arrow towards your place with a simple message like “Cold beer this way @ Jonny’s” or “best burger in town, behind the tattoo shop” or whatever just to promote your place to people who are walking and may not otherwise see it.

This can be especially effective in touristy areas, where the people walking around aren’t going to know about you (yet) but your chalking efforts could give them enough awareness to draw them in.

7. Google Maps

Many good restaurants survive decades, and it’s normal that they may not know all the modern marketing needed to thrive. That includes listing yourself on Google Maps.

You very well may already know that you should be listed on Google Maps, but you’d be surprised how many restaurants aren’t on there, or if they are on there, they haven’t taken advantage of their listing and made sure it’s optimized as much as possible.

Ask your happy clients to add a review. Make sure the pictures on their look good. Link to your Menu. Link to your website. Have your phone number.

You may have automatically gotten added to Google Maps, but you need to verify yourself as the owner so you can really optimize the listing and make it convince people to check you out.

8. Encourage those annoying picture takers

Giant chair outside restaurant

It may not look like it, but this chair is huge, 7 feet tall maybe. And so many people get their picture taken in it on vacation, and post it.

I always feel kind of lame when I want to take a picture of my food, but I still do it.

And you might roll your eyes at millennials or Gen Z kids taking pictures of their beautiful plating, but they’re part of your marketing effort, so you should embrace it.

Have a sign up front saying “post a picture of your plate and tag us!” You could even make it a contest, like one person per month that tags you on Instagram wins a free entree or smoothie or whatever you sell.

But those people sharing a picture of your food / coffee / ice cream / restaurant / whatever, that’s huge, because other people (probably even in your area) will see those pictures and get awareness of your business. Perhaps hundreds of new eyeballs a day on a cute picture of your cappuccino froth, or a handsome sandwich, or beautiful breakfast spread.

And beyond photograph-worthy food, what else can you do?

Try having something quirky that’s "good for the ‘gram.” A restaurant I like in Orange Beach has this huge Adirondack chair outside, and it’s so large that it’s cute and silly when kids sit in it, so people take a picture. The owner of that place could and should go further by having their logo on it and asking people to tag them in any posts.

You gotta plant that seed of an idea. “Take a picture of this and post it online.” That’s why having a gentle little sign about it can help, or turning it into a contest.

Nashville has a ton of murals, so many that you can take mural tours and go see them all. And the Instagram generation lines up to get their picture made with them.

In LA, there’s that simple giant pink wall people want to get their picture taken in front of. It’s so popular that other places now have a giant pink wall also, and it’s not the pink wall, but some accept that and substitute it.

So what will you do to encourage social media sharing like that? Food photo #hashtag contest? A giant chair? A whacky face cut out? Murals? You’d get a ton of exposure for very little money, if it’s done right.

9. Make sure your website is the best salesman possible

I’ve seen a lot of comically bad restaurant websites. And it seems natural for it to happen. Restauranteurs aren’t web design geeks. And sometimes the websites are still the same ones they had when the restaurant opened in 2005, when the web just looked different (simpler times!)

But it’s crucial to have a decent website for your restaurant, because it acts as a marketing channel for you, a salesman that should convince people to come eat your food and pay you for it!

What’s it take for your website to be a good salesman?
- Be mobile responsive. 90+% of website visitors may be on a cell phone, and your website needs to look good and actually be readable on a phone.
- Make the menu legible. So often, a restaurant website just links to the PDF of a menu. That works fine on a desktop, but on a mobile device, it can turn people off and they may just go look at some other place’s menu instead.
- Attractive pictures of your food and establishment.
- Clear information on your hours and location (this seems obvious, but sometimes it can be hard to tell even what city the restaurant is in, and if it’s a common restaurant name, people may not be sure they’re looking at the correct one)
- A phone number, and one that is actually a link so that people on their mobile devices can just tap it to call you

Essentially, your website should be what convinces me to go from the “researching your restaurant” stage to the “getting in the car and heading over for dinner” decision.

10. Build an Email List and SMS List

If people really like your restaurant, they may not mind getting emails from you, so don’t be scared to try it.

The great little local pizza place by my office, I don’t even know how I ended up on their email list, but you know what? I love them so I don’t mind.

Use your email list to send out specials, new menu items, whatever you think is noteworthy to get people back in the door.

In these stupid Covid times, email lists have been a great way to let people know what your protocols are, and any new hours or dine-in options.

For a fairly simple email list, Mailerlite is one that I like and it’s very affordable and pretty easy to use. For more advanced email lists, there’s Klaviyo, which you could tie into your POS, and it can send out emails more intelligently, like after a customer’s first visit they could get a certain email, and if they haven’t been by in 60 days you could send them an email saying “we miss you! Here’s a coupon for a free soda” or whatever you think could draw them back in.

You definitely should not email or text people who are not yet your customer (the restrictions around SMS marketing are stricter than email, so be mindful of any local regulations) but for those who have been to your place yet and given up their email address or phone number, you might as well use it!

With texting people, you can get more direct with them in order to retain them. In the article 4 simple restaurant marketing ideas to get people back for more I talk about a different pizza place (I have a lot of pizza restaurant examples because I like pizza, who doesn’t??) that will text me around 5pm and offer me a discount if I order pizza via text.

Sending a well timed text to encourage someone to order from you, especially for take out, is so brilliant because you’re not just selling them food, you’re offering a solution to the constant question “well, what’s for dinner tonight?”

Have you made a real connection with your restaurant clients? Give (or sell!) them a shirt!

Any restaurant with a passionate following should be selling shirts to their clients.

Shirts are “walking billboards” and should be part of your marketing arsenal.

They’re cheap enough that you can give them away to your VIP diners, or as part of contests or reward programs.

And they’re cheap enough that you can have a nice margin on them if you do sell them to diners!
And of course they make handsome, affordable uniforms for your staff.

Vacord Screen Printing prints quality shirts using soft inks for reasonable prices. And we now offer private merch stores which makes it super easy for you to re-order the shirts you need for your restaurant.

Interested in using Vacord for shirts, hoodies or tote bags for your restaurant? Check out our site, talk to us for pricing or see an example merch reordering store.