Restaurant Marketing

Restaurant promotions are a powerful marketing tool

Restaurant promotions are a straightforward yet powerful marketing tool many restaurateurs overlook. Here’s how to get the most out of promotions.

In 1887, Coca-Cola became the first food brand to use a promotion by distributing a coupon for a free glass of Coke. In a promotion that ran for 25 years, Coke gave away 8.5 million glasses and built a global brand with a loyal following in the process. By being the first major company to use a promotion as a marketing tool, Coke laid the groundwork for the future of restaurant promotions.

It may seem counterintuitive. After all, how can you expect to boost profits by giving customers discounts—or even giving away free products? But the bottom line is that restaurant promotions can help market your restaurant and increase revenue—by bringing in new guests, bringing back existing guests, and using discounts and specials to encourage higher spending. Here’s how.

How can promotions help with restaurant marketing?

Restaurant promotions can help market your restaurant in a variety of important ways:

  • Enticing new guests to visit your restaurant for the first time.
  • Encouraging past guests to make a repeat visit.
  • Steering guests toward high-margin menu items.
  • Encouraging guests to spend more than they otherwise might without a discount or special offer.

There’s real data that supports the value of promotions as a restaurant marketing tool. We found that customers are 55% more likely to dine with you once they sign up for a mailing list, and including offers for less busy times of the week, off peak hours, or smaller portions can make them even more likely to visit.

We also found that customers are interested in receiving marketing communications, especially for their birthday, upcoming events, or when their favorite dish is back on the menu. So, sweetening the deal with a special discount or offer can be the cherry on top of an email that encourages a guest to visit your restaurant.

How to use restaurant promotions — the right way

To maximize the return your restaurant sees from promotions, keep these rules in mind.

6 rules for all restaurant promotions

  1. Know your customers. Many restaurants run unsuccessful promotions because what they’re offering doesn’t appeal to their customer base. Understanding some of the common actions that your existing and target customers are taking can help you craft promotion strategies that will be appealing to them. For example, are your typical customers ordering on the weekdays or weekends? What specific menu items are they ordering? How often are they placing online orders? What links are they clicking on your website to learn more about your restaurant, menu, or services? Knowing the answers to these and similar questions can make or break a promotion.
  1. Use promotions when business needs a boost, not when it’s going well. If your restaurant is already busy every day, receiving plenty of online orders and on-premise visits, you may want to wait on promotions. Offering discounts when you can’t accommodate more business may actually hurt your bottom line.
  1. Think about your big-picture goals. Running a restaurant promotion as a marketing strategy may not pay off right away. This is a long-term strategy that should grow your sales over time as you gain new customers and keep loyal customers. Remember your long-term goals and be patient if you don’t see results right away.
  1. Know your margins. This may be the most important rule for restaurant promotions. Calculate the cost to make every dish on your menu, from drinks to appetizers to entrees to desserts. Subtract the cost from the selling price to calculate your profit margin for each dish. When you offer promotions, this will help you target items with higher margins to discount, so your restaurant doesn’t lose money on discounted items.
  1. Promote your promotions. Promotions don’t work if your guests don’t know about them. Take advantage of every channel possible—your website, social media, email list, newsletters, receipts, menu, even telling dine-in guests in-person—to spread the word.
  2. Automate your communications. Promotions are most effective when sent at the perfect time, but it can be incredibly time consuming to wish every guest a happy birthday or remind them that their favorite dish has returned to their menu. We recommended automating email communications with systems that keep track of this information for you, sending guests messages (with enticing offers) at the perfect time.

13 restaurant promotion ideas

With those rules in mind, let’s look at 13 unique restaurant promotion ideas that any eatery can use for marketing and boosting revenue.


Some of the most effective strategies are the simplest: Start by offering discounts. There are various types of discounts you can create based on the needs of your restaurant. You can try time-sensitive messages to boost a specific part of your business, for example, weekday lunch sales. You could also offer a percentage based discount on a popular, high margin menu item to increase sales in general. BOGO (buy one, get one) discounts are a great way to push sales for low selling or new menu items. 

Manjé Caribbean saw tremendous success with discounting. They provided customers 20% off their next online order to increase online sales. As a result, their online ordering revenue increased by 46% in one month!

In order to maximize your results, share these discounts through email and text message communications and be sure to include a link that goes directly to your online ordering page with the offer already in the customer’s cart. As an added bonus, incentivizing guests to sign up for your email list by offering discounts is a great way to grow your contact list!


Events are a great way to get more guests to visit your restaurant. Consider booking a local musician or band, hosting a trivia night, or showing a big sporting event at your restaurant. Even a themed day, like Taco Tuesday, can be an incredibly effective promotion.

On top of in person events, consider creating an ordering event for any major holidays like Mother’s Day, 4th of July, or Thanksgiving! These are similar to catering packages, but instead of a large selection for an individual guests, you provide a limited offering—sometimes even a single dish—for a large number of guests. Some restaurants will even use them to sell tickets for tastings events or musical acts. 

Wild Fig BBQ promoted barbeque packages for Thanksgiving, taking pre-orders for party packs using ordering events. For the holiday, Wild Fig earned over 50 orders, totaling over $9,500 in online sales.


Speaking of holidays, they are the perfect time to take advantage of hungry diners looking for an easy and delicious meal. Creating special offerings for holidays where guests prefer to dine-out, like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, are a great way to encourage visits from guests. For example, Sushi Zushi provided guests free chocolate covered strawberries for every customer that diner with them on Valentine’s Day.

Loyalty programs

Acknowledging and rewarding customers who visit your restaurant a large number of times can go a long way to making them feel special and incentivize more repeat visits. Even something as simple as a 10% discount or a free appetizer can go a long way to encouraging guests to visit more often.

Special deals

Guests love getting a deal, whether it’s buy-one-get-one, drink specials, a free dessert, or free delivery.

If you’re hesitant to give away goods or services while trying to boost your revenue, consider this: a Nielson study found that the average happy hour check was $8 more than the average daytime check, after happy hour discounts were applied.


Eating out with a family or group can quickly become expensive. That’s why combo deals are so popular. Entice families to visit your restaurant with a family meal deal, or attract groups with family-style dining.

Weekday specials

The weekends tend to be some of the busiest times for restaurants, leaving many struggling to fill tables during the week. If your goal is to attract more guests on weekdays, a weekday-only special could do the trick.

Off-hour promotions

The same goes for off-peak times, like the late afternoon hours in between the lunch and dinner rushes. If you’re trying to boost profits during these times, offer discounts to diners who visit during times that tend to be slow, like 3-5 p.m. Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie uses off-hour promotions to drive business for their restaurant. They created a recurring email offer to drive business on their slower days. The results? Over $23,000 in online sales from that one discount.

Menu item specials

A classic move for restaurants that want to boost profits is offering “chef’s specials.” These are rotating special dishes that typically have high margins. The limited-time feeling of a nightly special often encourages guests to order it.

Ongoing birthday promotions

When it comes to marketing, there are few things easier and more foolproof than setting up automatic emails for birthdays. Don’t forget to attach an offer for a free dessert of appetizer when setting up your automatic birthday email, to encourage the customer to celebrate with you! Just set it and earn.

Next-visit coupons

Immediate incentives are one of the best ways to turn first-time visitors into returning guests. One way to do this is by offering a next-visit coupon to every party that comes in the door.

Social media contests

The success of professional influencers shows us the power of social media marketing. Use your restaurant’s social media to hold a contest or giveaway, with a free meal as a prize.

Lunch takeout specials

Is your restaurant near office buildings or a busy business district? Attract the lunch crowd by offering lunch specials that are fast and easy to pick up. Even better if you can offer online ordering for the busy working crowd.

Restaurant promotions made easy 

While many of these restaurant promotions are pretty straightforward and accessible for most restaurants, running any kind of marketing campaign takes time—something those of us in the restaurant industry know is always in short supply.

That’s why Popmenu Boost is a must for restaurants that want to make the most of their marketing.

With Popmenu Boost, you get access to one of our marketing experts. They’ll help you build and execute on a marketing strategy designed to drives sales and increase brand awareness in your community. 

Take the guessing out of your marketing with Popmenu Boost and let our expert team of marketing professionals take care of:

  • Marketing and branding strategy consulting
  • Photography
  • Custom content creation for SMS, email and social media
  • Website management
  • Best in class reporting
  • And so much more!

Schedule a free demo today.

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