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 Restaurant Promotions Be Used as Marketing Tools?
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, increasing their lifetime value.
- Steering guests toward high-margin menu items.
- Encouraging guests to spend more than they might without a discount or special offer.
There’s real data that supports the value of promotions as a restaurant marketing tool. For example, a study by RetailMeNot found that 80 percent of diners will try a new restaurant if there’s some sort of deal or discount available. Similar research done by Valassis found that 57 percent of millennials factor in coupons when looking for a new restaurant to try.
What’s even more important for restaurant owners to learn and use to their advantage is the psychology of promotions in the restaurant industry—how science can help you create promotions that will increase your revenue, even as you give discounts to guests.
The Psychology of Restaurant Promotions and Discounts
Science shows that promotions can influence your guests’ thinking in a few important ways.
First, receiving a discount tends to make guests feel happy, special, and appreciated. And multiple studies have shown that when consumers are in a good mood, they tend to feel generous—and therefore spend more.
Time-sensitive promotions can create a sense of urgency for guests. Offering a limited-time discount might encourage a guest to visit your restaurant when they otherwise might not have, because they give in to FOMO (fear of missing out) about getting a good deal.
And finally, promotions can influence the way guests make purchasing decisions. A well-done promotion might:
- Encourage higher spending by getting guests to order add-ons, like alcoholic drinks or appetizers, they might not have paid full price for.
- Increase order totals, especially if you require a minimum spend to take advantage of a promotion.
In order to reap all these benefits, though, restaurateurs have to use promotions strategically. More on that below.
How to Use Restaurant Promotions — The Right Way
To maximize the return your restaurant sees from promotions, keep these rules in mind.
5 Rules for All Restaurant Promotions
- Know your customers. Many restaurants run unsuccessful promotions because what they’re offering doesn’t appeal to their customer base. Understanding some basic demographics about your existing and target customers can help you craft promotion strategies that will be appealing to them. For example, are your typical customers old, or young? Families, business professionals, or young, single people? What motivates them when they go out to eat? Are they looking for a certain experience? Trying a new cuisine? Trying to save money? Knowing the answers to these and similar questions can make or break a promotion.
- 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 making money, you may want to wait on promotions. Offering discounts when you can’t accommodate more business may actually hurt your bottom line.
- 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 boost your profits over time, as you gain new customers and keep loyal customers who return again and again. Keep the big picture in mind and give promotions time to work.
- 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.
- 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.
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. These can be time-sensitive to encourage more guests to take advantage of them. You can also offer a percentage-based, flat-off discount. Be sure to only offer discounts on high-margin items, so you don’t lose money on this type of promotion.
Events are a great way to get more guests to visit your restaurant. Consider booking a music event, hosting a trivia night, or showing a big sporting event—like the Superbowl—at your restaurant. Even a themed day, like Taco Tuesday, can be an incredibly effective promotion.
Holidays are a popular time to go out to eat, and restaurants can take advantage of that. Offer special deals for popular dining-out holidays like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
Word-of-mouth is a tried and true advertising strategy, and a loyalty program that rewards guests for referring their friends can really help spread the word about your restaurant. Rewards programs for repeat visitors are another popular promotion idea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Business Card Raffles
Want to partner with other local businesses to market to your entire community? A business card raffle with prizes like gift cards to local stores can help market your restaurant while building goodwill in your local business community.
There is no better way to turn first-time visitors into regulars than by offering an immediate incentive for guests to come back to your restaurant. 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 with Popmenu
While most 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 is a must for restaurants that want to make the most of their marketing.
Popmenu automates many marketing tasks, freeing up you and your staff from having to do them manually. Its SEO tools, Facebook page integration, and SMS marketing make it easy to find and reach your customers—and spread the word about your current promotions.
But Popmenu does so much more than just marketing. With Popmenu, you can:
- Build and manage a mobile-optimized website;
- Create an interactive online menu;
- Offer direct online ordering;
- Manage your restaurant waitlist;
- Offer contactless ordering and dining;
- Manage takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery orders.
Popmenu is the only all-in-one digital toolkit that’s made just for restaurants. Ready to see how Popmenu can revolutionize your restaurant’s promotions, marketing, and digital presence? Schedule a free demo today.