Recently opened your restaurant? ten cheap or free marketing ideas you need to do

Must do cheap marketing for new restaurants

A new burger place opened close to my office (I love cheeseburgers, a whole lot). I’m their ideal market, really… a cheeseburger lover two blocks away who likes to go out for lunch? Who could be better than that? (It's Burger & Co, just to give them a shout out)

But I didn’t know about this place, even though I had recently looked for new places to try. I had to walk by it randomly to see it was there.

That lack of awareness inspired this article. Because as you know, when you start a new place, you don’t want to get slammed right away and stress all your systems, but you definitely need people coming in the door.

And customers don’t magically show up, you gotta bring them in.

So here are ten cheap or free restaurant marketing ideas, for new places, or for existing restaurants to make sure they’re already doing well.

1. Make sure you’re listed on google maps properly

Google maps for restaurants

Do you have your Google Maps working as hard for you as possible? You should consider it a salesman to bring people in the door.

Personally, I will look at Google Maps in an area to find places to eat. And surely I’m not alone.

The burger place that inspired me to write this piece, they didn’t show up on the map when I was looking for restaurants in my area. They do now, but two weeks ago, they didn’t.

So one easy thing you can do when you launch is make sure you’re actually on the maps. Google Maps, Apple Maps, all of them.

And if you’re already established, make sure whatever shows up on the map looks good and is accurate. Your website address, phone number, hours, make sure that’s all proper. Upload your own (quality!) photos of your place and your food.

Treat your map listing like a salesman trying to convince people to pull the trigger and come on in. If they’re looking at your listing, then they’re thinking about it already, so try to push them over the edge.

2. Start an Instagram

A Deli's Instagram account

Mitchell Deli's instagram reminds people to come eat their tasty sandwiches. They're always packed at lunchtime.

Grab your Instagram handle, add your URL and a delicious blurb about your offerings, and start uploading some of your best food pictures.

Next if you’re feeling adventurous, follow people who follow other local similar restaurants, the closer to your place the better. Why? Because those people are very likely to be in your area, and while a few people might find it creepy, it will get you in front of potential diners.

A new Thai place followed my wife and me on Instagram, because we follow so many other neighborhood restaurants. I didn’t mind it, but she was a bit turned off by it. But you know what? We still ate there.

3. Claim any Yelp listings

Yelp may create a listing for you automatically, or you may need to set it up. Yelp isn’t as powerful as they used to be, but you should still list your restaurant there, or any other relevant directory sites like that.

Make sure never to give Yelp a dime, though, because their marketing upsells aren’t worth it. And yes, they may call you a million times to try to sell you marketing services, but just tell them you don’t have the budget for it now, and to try again in a year. That should hold them off, at least for a while.

4. Give new customers coupons to bring them back

Burger restaurant's coupon

Burger & Co handed out coupons to early diners to bring them back for more.

Whatever you’ve done to bring in a new customer, you’ve gotten them into your place. That’s the hardest part, actually getting them to convert that first time.

Besides great product and friendly service, how do you encourage them to come back?

Coupons are a good option. Even if they’re small, they can work.

That local burger place that inspired this article, they handed out coupons good for one dollar off a sandwich on the next visit. I used it within a week, honestly.

Besides a dollar amount off, what can you give away that costs you the less but has a good perceived value? For a burger place, free fries or a soda? For a coffee shop that sells food, how about a free drip coffee (so there’s no labor time, as opposed to a latte) with purchase of any food over a certain amount? Free dessert during dinner service?

Coupons are easy and cheap to get printed, and it’s easy to see how many were redeemed each day, and get an idea if that marketing is actually helping, as opposed to a lot of hard or impossible to quantify marketing ideas.

5. Encourage reviews

Restaurant Google reviews

You can't control your online reviews, but you can certainly encourage happy diners to leave a review to try to raise your average.

Your Google Map listing will show your Google reviews, so when someone raves about your food or compliments your service, definitely say “Oh, I’m thrilled to hear that! Feel free to review us on Google to help us out.” Your rating will show up in your listing, so encouraging good reviews to fight the bozos who just can’t ever be happy will help keep your average up.

And besides Google reviews, consider encouraging diners to review you at Yelp, and the other places that make a difference in your online presence.

6. Do a press release

The local free weekly newspaper talked about the opening of that local burger place, and while it probably didn’t drive a ton of diners on day #1, it definitely helps awareness, gets you a link to your site (good for SEO), and is free marketing.

7. Reach out to local food writers, influencers, and casual bloggers

Food bloggers as part of restaurant marketing

What bloggers have written about your local competition that you could contact?

Can you find Facebook groups related to your food category and your town?

“DFW Foodies Group”, “Philadelphia Cheesesteak Tour & Philly Foods”, “Nashville Restaurant Review”. Those are all real groups I found, as examples. Could you join groups relevant to your restaurant and invite the members over? Maybe offer a discount or a free drink if they let the cashier or server know that they saw it in the group?

Other than that, there are of course professional food writers and it’d be great if they gave you a good review, but what about more casual bloggers who write about local food? If you search for similar restaurants and go deeper in the search results, you should be able to find these writers and then you can contact them and encourage them to come out.

And who on Instagram lives in your area and posts food pictures? Do they have enough of a following that it could be worth the eyeballs if you offer them a comped meal, or at least a discount?

8. Google your competition

What other local restaurants overlap with what you’re doing? In order to figure out where you should list yourself online, simply look them up and see where they are listed, and then add yourself. This obviously works well with local independent restaurants, not Ruby Tuesdays.

Directories, lists of pet friendly places, restaurants with gluten free options, city specific sites, you’ll be surprised what all comes up, and you should add yourself to all of them (when applicable, of course, like with the pet friendly list example).

9. Introduce yourself to other local businesses who could recommend you

What other businesses are in the strip that your cafe is in, or the local area that your restaurant is in? Go over and introduce yourself to those business owners. They may have people ask them "what’s a good place to eat around here?” And those business owners could recommend your place, even if they haven’t eaten there themselves yet, just because you were friendly when you went to go say hello.

10. Add your menu to menu sites

Add your restaurant to menu websites

Make sure your menu can be found online, and not just at your own website

People will google “Burger Company Menu”, and your site with a well set-up menu that is mobile friendly should be the first result. But every other menu indexing site out there should have a good quality copy of your menu too.

And again, as a way to find out what menu sites you should be listed on, just start Googling your competitions’ names with “menu” to see who lists theirs, and then make sure you’re there as well.

Obviously as a restaurant owner, it’s not like you have millions of time to do all these marketing ideas, much less sleep, but try picking a couple to check yourself, and perhaps delegating the rest.

Need new shirts for your restaurant?

Does the quality of your restaurant shirts match your food quality? If not, they should!

Vacord specializes in quality shirt printing (while keeping pricing reasonable), and we'd love to print shirts for your restaurant if you need anything.

Check out our offerings for restaurant shirts, or get in touch for pricing or with questions.