4 Promotional Ideas That Actually Work

By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert

Running a promotion is a great way to get guests into your seats at your restaurant. It’s also a fun way to keep your loyal customer base engaged with events or specials that you have going on.

But where do you even start? When you Google “restaurant promotion ideas,” you get about 21 million search results. If that’s not overwhelming enough, how do you decide if any of these ideas actually work?

Let’s talk about four promotional ideas that deliver, and ones that will get customers into your restaurant.

1. Management Promotion Cards

This idea only works if you have managers that actually work the floor. If you have a manager who just sits in the office and hides during service, then this idea definitely won’t pull through.

With this promotion card, you have to have a really big claim. (“Best French Dip in Town” or “Best Dessert in LA” are a few examples.)

Your host will have to do a little work with this one by asking the right questions while your guests are being taken to their seats. Remember, your host is one of the most underrated positions in your restaurant, so this promotion really lets them shine.

The host must ask if this is the first time that the customer has been in before. If it’s their first time, the host will seat the customer and immediately inform the manager that this person is an all-new guest.

When the manager checks on the table, it’s vital that they ask how everything has tasted, how they have enjoyed their experience, etc. But before leaving, the manager asks questions like, “I see you got the French Dip! That’s the best in town! Did you know we were also known for our dessert? I’m sure you’re full, but I want to personally offer for you to come back next week and try one of our desserts!”

This is where you will hand over the promotion card that says “free dessert” and has the manager’s signature. First, you’ve invited them back next week. You’ve made the effort to get them back through your doors again for another experience. If done properly, they will have a hard time saying no and they may even bring others to experience it with them.

The investment isn’t costly and you’ll get them to start building the habit of coming to your restaurant.

2. Local Video Ads — Facebook and Instagram

This one is so much fun to do and a great way to interact with your customers on social media. At first, I didn’t think that this one would work, but when we tested it out, people were coming in saying how fun it was.

What you can do is shoot a quick 30-second video on an iPhone or video camera, inviting customers to come to your restaurant this week for a 10-percent discount or a free appetizer (as long as they mention the ad).

You can even have them put in their email address, so you get their contact info and can send them a reminder email the same day. I know I said that I’m a firm believer that discounting without a plan will put you out of business, but this has an end goal in sight.

Ten percent off will easily pay for the tax and will give the customer a sense of getting a deal. You can also make it a free beverage with purchase — just make sure it’s enough to get them through your doors.

It’s all about the personal invite.  

3. Loyalty Programs — Texting Promotions

Loyalty programs are a great way to engage with your audience and give them the perception that they’re getting free stuff (instead of using discounts), but in order to reach those rewards, they have to invest into other items.

Email is still a great way to keep in touch with your customer base, but it’s getting harder and harder to get your customers to open the emails up. They’ll sign up and then forget to open a few, which then puts your emails into their junk folder.

In a world filled with instant gratification, texting still has some of the highest open and click-through rates because it’s in the moment. People who are getting texts are getting texts from their friends, family, and Tinder notifications.

But if someone gets a text that says “We’ve noticed you haven’t been around the last 30 days. We miss you! Come back in for a free beverage with your meal!” or something along those lines, you’ll set yourself apart from competitors and show that you are thinking about them.

Now, with the right system in place, this can all be done on autopilot, so you aren’t having to log in every day to send these promotions. But what happens when you have ordered too much and your specials aren’t moving quick enough? Instead of wasting the product, shoot a text blast that says “Have you planned dinner yet? We are having a special on X dish — we would LOVE to see you tonight.”

This just reminds your customers who frequent your business that they matter, because the truth is they do matter, but it’s all in how you communicate it to them.

4. Instagram Promotions

This isn’t new or unique, but this one promotion is tried and true. Instagram is one of the biggest social media platforms for restaurants. If you aren’t on the platform, this is a great reason to build your following.

Have a “best photo” promotion. The customer that comes in and takes the best photo (that the restaurant re-grams onto their profile) gets a free meal! Make sure to tell them what hashtag to use so you can make sure that you see it!

This way, you’ll never run out of fresh content to put out onto Instagram and you’ll engage with your customers to promote your business. All for the cost of a single meal — at cost.

Try these promotions and get back to us! I would love to hear how these improved your business and your bottom line.