don't do this!

7 ways to quickly waste money with restaurant marketing

Restaurant marketing can be expensive, and it's easy to throw money away

BBQ restaurant shirts

Simple yet nice restaurant shirts don't cost much more at all than uncomfortable shirts that are printed poorly.

Every business is concerned that when they finally part with their hard-earned cash and spend it on marketing, that the funds will be spent with nothing to show for it.

And that’s a valid concern.

I’ve seen it happen many times with my own businesses and the ones that I’ve consulted for.

Marketing can be quite tricky. And expensive. And even when you do spend money on marketing, especially with something like Facebook ads, you may have to spend a lot to figure out what you’re doing.

1. Paid ads with no offer or clear mission

If you’ve got the budget for paid ads, they can be quite good. It can be tough to make paid ads work, since your margins are so slim already with a restaurant, and it’s very difficult to track conversions, since your goal is to get people off their phone or computer and into your restaurant to dine.

That is why you have to approach paid ads with a real mission, a real plan, (all businesses should do this, anyway) instead of just willy-nilly running some ads.

Are you driving traffic to a special offer, like a ladies night at your bar? Or a two-for-one deal for Monday nights?

Running ads that are just generally about your restaurant can be good for awareness, but it’s going to be expensive, especially on the Facebook platform.

You need a paid ads plan, with a clear goal, so that you know what you’re working towards, and stay focused on getting results for your ad spend.

2. Not doing retargeting ads

If you’re going to spend any money at all on paid ads, you should probably start off with retargeting ads, which are the ads that your website visitors will see after they leave your site.

They’ve already been to your site, so they’re more of a “warm” audience, so these ads are by nature more effective than ads shown to an audience that isn’t familiar with your restaurant at all.

Your retargeting ads can show to people whether they come from paid ads, or from free traffic sources like Google or Social Media.

If you plan to do any paid ads, even in the future, go ahead and add the tracking code for Bing, Google and Facebook to your site, so that the audiences can start populating.

You can also use these pixels and the data they create to build “Lookalike audiences”, in which the advertising platforms start figuring out similar people to the ones already coming to your site, and it can then show those people ads, which is generally a great way to start expanding your audience with paid ads.

3. Not tracking results

Your website is your online hub, where visitors from organic search results (like Google, Bing) and from social media like Facebook and Instagram come, and it’s important to actually track your visitors and where they come from.

You can’t get specific details of your visitors, like their names or anything, but you can (mostly) track where they come from, and look at that information versus how long they stay, where they look at the menu page or just leave immediately, and so on.

And if you’re not tracking this information, you won’t be able to tell what portion of site traffic comes from ads versus social media versus Google versus your mailing list, and so on.

Google Analytics makes it easy to track a LOT of information about what people do on your site. In order to set it up, you’ll log into with your G Suite or Gmail account (Gmail is free if you don’t have an account yet), and then add a bit of code to your site, or have your website person do it for you, or use a plugin for Wordpress or whatever site creator you use.

If you’re not measuring where people come from, it’s hard to know what methods of getting traffic actually work, free or paid. And if you’re not tracking your efforts, it’s easier to waste money.

4. Paying for Yelp ads

I’m a marketing dork, and I read marketing articles, and chat with other marketers, and hang out in forums with other marketers and with small business owners.

And everyone hates Yelp.

They’re super aggressive when they call. They have, admittedly, very good sales people who are great at selling Yelp services and making it sound like a good idea.

But it’s not.

You can get a lot out of a free Yelp listing. You can gather reviews there, list your website, set up your profile, have a presence. And you definitely should do all that. But once you do, they’re going to call you (relentlessly) to try to get you to pay to do more.


Studies have shown that there’s just a marginal improvement in calls and site visits once you pay for Yelp ads. You can get a lot of results out of the free Yelp listing, so don’t pay for just a little bit more than what you can get for free.

5. “Boosting” posts

Social media can be pretty great for promoting restaurants. But it only reaches so many people.

Facebook and the like, they’re out to make money for their shareholders. That’s their #1 concern. It’s not the health and prosperity of your restaurant.

So when they say “do you want to spend $10 to boost this ad so an estimated 591 people see it?” You should say “Nah, I’m good.”

And why not? Because it’s flushing $10 away.

If you had a real marketer working on promoting your content and pictures with Facebook, they’d be able to tell you who will see the content, and why it’s good for them to see it.

There’s a ton of targeting you can do with Facebook and other ad platforms. You can really dial it in.
But when you “boost”, it’s just a blind boost. You don’t know who is going to see it. It’s not nuanced or focused enough.

When/if you do a paid ads campaign for your restaurant, you’re going to have a bigger budget and spend way more time and thought on WHO should see your ads, and really structure a plan.

With a boosted post, you just fling ten or more dollars at it and hope for the best. That’s not a focused approach, and it’s a good way to lose money.

6. Overpaying for website services

I know a local web designer who charges $4,000 for a pretty basic site. If your restaurant is new, or struggling, $4,000 is a lot of money. How many dinners would you need to sell to clear that?

Hiring an expensive web designer isn’t always worth it, especially considering how much you could do you yourself with a website builder (Squarespace for simple, Webflow for more advanced) and a restaurant-focused template (like these).

All your site really needs is quality food pictures, contact information, hours and your menu.

And it needs to look good on a cell phone. That’s key nowadays, and most website templates are “mobile responsive”, meaning they’ll adapt to whatever the screen size is (so the text isn’t completely tiny on a phone screen).

Another way to waste money when it comes to your website is paying for services from your web host that you don’t need, or that are outright rip-offs. Most hosts don’t do this, but some do, and GoDaddy is the worst I’ve ever seen. Be careful with the upgrade services they offer you. I’ve seen them offer “SEO” as a package for an extra monthly fee, but SEO doesn’t work like that, and it’s not something you just tick a box to get.

If you’re looking to have a Wordpress site for your restaurant and need cheap hosting, I only pay $15 a month to host several sites at Dreamhost, and it’s quite a good deal.

7. Terrible shirts and other merch that no one wants

Nice restaurant t-shirts

Printing on a nicer shirt goes a LONG way on whether someone will actually end up wearing your merch or not.

Shirts can be awesome marketing for restaurants, as well as a way to increase your average ticket price (see my article on this, called Add Restaurant Shirts to Your Menu) but one great way to waste money is to buy shirts that no one would want.

What’s the recipe for a terrible shirt that no one will buy? Take one lousy design, print with thick and rough ink on a stiff, boxy shirt, and voila! Now you’ve got boxes of custom t-shirts or custom hoodies that are sitting around, not moving.

And even if the shirts you ordered are nice, if you’re not trying to sell them, and instead they’re just hidden away in your restaurant space and you’re not pushing them, that’s basically a waste of your marketing spend too.

What’s it take to get a nice shirt to sell to your diners? Well, it’s a similar recipe, just tweaked: Take a good design, print with soft inks on a nice shirt, and voila! A nice shirt that people are more likely to want to buy and (this is important too!) much more likely to wear around town, doing some marketing for you.

And the nice thing is that really nice custom shirts aren’t a ton more than crappy shirts.

(If you want nice shirts for your restaurant, that’s what we specialize in at Vacord Screen Printing. Reach out and we can quote some new shirts for your restaurant, or answer any questions you have.)

Don’t waste your marketing spend

Be smart and make your marketing budget more effective. Don’t waste it.