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9 Marketing Strategies for Small Restaurants

Whether you’re a familiar town favorite or the hot new spot, these small restaurant marketing strategies are low-cost, low-effort ways to make a significant impact on your sales and visibility.

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Most people love to know about the small hidden gem with the best food in town. But as small restaurant owners, it’s not always in your best financial interest to stay entirely so secret!

The good news is, you don’t have to be a big name in the food industry to get yourself on the map in your area. From targeting locals to passersby through town, we have nine foolproof strategies to help you market your restaurant to the masses. 

The 9 Best Marketing Strategies for Small Restaurants

From driving more foot traffic through your doors to enhancing your digital footprint, we’ve put together nine actionable marketing strategies for your small restaurant. 

1. Get Active on Nextdoor

Nextdoor is a popular neighborhood-specific app that enables nearby residents to interact with each other, local public agencies, and businesses. To access your neighborhood’s community hub, you’ll verify your address and set up a free Business Page. Once your restaurant is registered, you can:

  • See your local promotions and share your own
  • Recommend your restaurant to friends and fellow neighbors
  • Write recommendations
  • Interact with your community and answer questions one on one

2. Invest in High-Quality Food Photography

There are many reasons why investing in a photographer, or a high-quality camera can benefit your restaurant. For starters, if you’re looking to upsell your customers, restaurants that switched from text menus to photo-based menus have demonstrated an average increase of 25% in their sales!

On social media, your photo quality also has a tremendous influence. 82% of people would buy a dish just because of how it looks in the picture, regardless of whether they wanted it in the first place!

Investing in a DSLR camera can ensure your feed stays mouthwatering enough to drive customers through the door with every post. 

3. Share Weekly Text Specials

Weekly SMS specials are a fun way to spice up your restaurant’s usual routines. They can even become something your customers look forward to hearing about if they’re shared regularly! 

Text messages are the perfect vehicle to share your restaurant’s weekly updates for a few reasons:

  • 98% of text messages are opened (90% of them within the first three minutes of receipt)
  • SMS marketing campaigns perform seven times better than email marketing campaigns
  • Coupons and specials delivered via SMS have redemption rates ten times higher than those of printed coupons

For the popular franchise Main Squeeze Juice Company, sending weekly text messages with specials was the primary marketing method to drive traffic through their doors. 

Today 3:19 PM
CUSTOMER APPRECIATION WEEK 4/15 – 4/21, $3 off bowls, $2 off smoothies, $1 off juices @ Main Squeeze Webster 820 Bay Area. While supplies last.

4. Offer Curbside Specials

If your restaurant hasn’t offered takeout services in the past, you may need to incentivize your dine-in customers to give it a try. An easy way to do this is to offer a special only available for pickup. 

Other unique ideas include meal kit services, family meal bundles, or grocery items! A deli in Charlotte, NC even offered a free roll of toilet paper with each order during the nationwide shortages in early 2020!

This exclusivity will set your curbside experience apart for existing customers and also inspire curiosity among new patrons. 

5. Invest in Local Sponsorship Opportunities 

If your eatery is more of a hometown-heavy operation, you may want to prioritize community visibility over digital. A great way to get your name out there is to sponsor local sports teams, organizations, fundraisers, or events! Get your name and logo on jerseys, playbills, and other community-building resources. 

Not only does this do more good in your community than placing an ad in the local paper, it also tends to come with some exclusivity. For example, the little league may only offer sponsorship to one group per industry, which can edge you out against the local competition. 

If you don’t have the budget for a sponsorship, you can always create a special around local sports games. For example, if your town has a hockey team, say for every goal the home team scores, take a dollar or two off a menu item on game days!

6. Encourage User Generated Content (UGC)

User-generated content refers to any content (photos, videos, blogs, testimonials, etc.) that has been created and published by unpaid contributors, aka your customers! Not only does UGC provide you with free marketing material, but it’s also worth its weight in gold in the court of public opinion. 

  • Consumers are 2.4 times more likely to view user-generated content as authentic compared to content created by brands 
  • 70% of consumers will consider customer reviews or ratings before making a decision
  • User-generated content is 20% more influential than any other kind of media when it comes to millennial buyers

Turning customers into spokespeople can take a bit of gentle nudging. But in the restaurant industry, there are more than a few ways to get started. 

  • Place a heavy emphasis on food presentation to create Instagram-worthy dishes
  • Add a branded hashtag to your menus, placemats, and table tents, and encourage diners to share their thoughts online with the tag
  • Create a keyword that, when texted in, provides a link to your Google or Yelp review page.
Today 8:25 AM
Thanks for dining at Mel’s! Leave us a review, and you’ll be entered to win a $50 gift card this month!

7. Claim Your Google Listing

A recent survey of 6,000 diners by OpenTable found that before eating at a restaurant:

  • 86% of patrons always or frequently research a menu online
  • 60% of patrons read reviews of the restaurant
  • 59% of patrons find the address and directions online

Google dominates the local restaurant search on these topics, so it’s crucial you keep your business profile up to date and optimized if you want your spot discovered by curious potential patrons.  

This begins with claiming your business on Google (they have a step-by-step for that here) and adding all the essential information:

8. Add Secret Menu Items

Big brands like Starbucks, McDonald’s, and In-N-Out Burger introduced the concept of secret menu items into the dining world. A secret menu is exactly what it sounds like, an order option not listed publicly, but instead spread around by word of mouth. 

Besides providing mystery and exclusivity, secret menu items are excellent at bringing people in your doors. For restaurants whose profit margins are being squeezed by food delivery apps, something like this could be what you need to keep your orders in-house. 

9. Host an Instagram Giveaway

Last but not least is the tried and true Instagram giveaway. We’ve already shared a few tools to help you level up your social media presence, but without a following, it lacks impact! Hands down, one of the fastest ways to start generating buzz on social media is through contests. 

Instagram accounts that hold contests can achieve 70% faster follower growth compared to those that don’t hold contests. Additionally, posts related to Instagram contests tend to earn roughly 64x more comments and 3.5x more likes when compared to ‘normal’ content.

Hosting a giveaway only takes a few simple steps:

  1. Determine how long the contest will run for and what the prize will be. For example, one week to enter, and the award is a $100 gift card. 
  2. Establish what qualifies as an entry. Popular solutions include: follow our account and tag a friend, repost this to your story, etc. 
  3. Post your photo and include all the information above in the caption. Be sure also to include any necessary legal terms and conditions. 
  4. Keep a spreadsheet of entries while your contest is live, or use a third-party tool like Appsorteos to pick a winner at the end!

💡SimpleTexting Tip: To save time, you could also set up a text-to-win keyword and instruct folks on your post to text it to win! With this method, you’ll not only collect contact information for future marketing campaigns, but our software will automatically pick a winner for you saving you countless hours of manual data input. 

If the last few years have brought anything to light, it’s that restaurants face a myriad of challenges each day. But with our help, we hope marketing won’t be one of them. And remember, if all else fails, this guy is always an option to put your spot on the map. 

Meghan Tocci
Meghan Tocci

Meghan Tocci is a content strategist at SimpleTexting. When she’s not writing about SaaS, she’s trying to teach her puppy Lou how to code. So far, not so good.

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