7 Creative Marketing Ideas for Restaurants That Will Fry Your Competition

16 Jan

The restaurant industry is full of competition. You can have the best location, the most mouthwatering food, and amazing ambiance for your customers, and still go under because nobody knows you exist.

You have to spread the word and more importantly, get happy customers to talk about your delicious food, service, and more.

In this article, we’ll share some of the top creative marketing ideas for restaurants. Use these expert insights to revamp your restaurant marketing strategy, attract high paying customers, and grow your business.

7 Innovative Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

Idea #1 Brian’s VIP Program

Like most restaurant owners, Brian Alvarez struggles to market and run his business at the same time. There just isn’t enough time to schedule social media posts and manage the business.

After years of marketing trial and error, he decided to create a VIP Club. Brian wanted a marketing program that was easy to manage, would increase sales, and make sure that his customers received something special and felt valued.

EZ Texting’s text message software makes it quick and easy for Brian to send special deals throughout the week to the VIP Club Members. He also uses his other marketing channels like email and his website to invite people to sign up for the VIP club.

After they sign up, he sends them promotions like:

Discount Coupons

A $5 off coupon midweek when business is slower. He requires a minimum purchase, so he doesn’t lose money on the deal. An average of 40 to 70 people redeem this coupon weekly.

Fresh Catch Special Announcements

Occasionally, Brian’s Place will serve a special fish catch-of-the-week. He snaps a quick picture using our convenient and easy to use MMS messaging feature. He sells out 3x faster when he sends this message to his VIP club.

Special Event Announcements

Occasionally, the restaurant hosts special events. Each week, Alvarez sends a special text reminder, outlining this week's happenings. He also sends a message on the day of the event. These event announcements are designed to build anticipation and excitement.

Idea #2 The Paris Creperie Responds to Reviews

Reviews are a big part of restaurant marketing. Too many bad reviews can force you to have to close your doors.

Responding to reviewers may not initially cross your mind as a solid marketing strategy, but it can make a significant impact on your business. The Paris Creperie in Brookline, MA does a great job of continually monitoring their Yelp reviews.

While they may not answer every one, they do make an effort to respond to a large portion of both the negative and positive reviews.

Negative Reviews

In this negative review, the manager’s helpful and diplomatic response was able to get the reviewer to upgrade his 2-star review to a 3-star.


Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

Positive Reviews

The manager also took the time to respond to positive reviews like this one and thank them for leaving the review.

Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

The Strategy

By responding to the positive reviewers, he encourages more people to leave positive reviews. People want to be heard. When a manager or authority figure takes the time to acknowledge them, it makes them feel special and appreciated. Because of this, they are more likely to:

  • Bring friends and family along for future visits
  • Encourage others to leave positive reviews
  • Refer this restaurant to other people
  • Write more positive reviews on other platforms like Facebook and Google

By responding to negative reviews, he shows that he appreciates the feedback. He allows their voice to be heard and is able to work to remedy the situation.

In some cases, like the one shown above, people will even change their reviews so you can keep your overall rating higher. But even when that doesn’t happen, he still shows other people that he is listening.

When someone else comes and reads the reviews, they are more confident that they will have a better experience because they see that the manager pays attention to his customers and takes their feedback seriously.

Idea #3 Wendy’s Record-Setting Tweets

Responding to customers also extends to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. In 2017, Wendy’s started applying significant sass to their Twitter marketing.

Responding to Fans

Wendy’s responded to a pretty basic tweet challenging a fan. That post set the record for the most retweeted post of all time —3.6 million!

Carter didn’t expect to live up to the challenge, but he tried anyway. Within a month he was on the Ellen Show. Later, Carter was in a Katy Perry music video. Plus, he got a year’s worth of free nuggets from Wendy’s.

Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

Trolling the Competition

Wendy’s didn’t stop at merely engaging with fans. They even went after their competitors with their eyes set squarely on McDonald’s.

When McDonald’s announced that they would be making some of their hamburgers with fresh beef nationwide starting in May, Wendy’s social media team swooped in like the annoying smaller cousin to give them grief.

To give you some background info — McDonald’s is much larger than Wendy's — with over 37k restaurants around the world to Wendy’s roughly 6,500.

Before the announcement, the folks that run Wendy’s Twitter account had been continuously trolling McDonald’s — especially about their frozen beef. They even ran an entire Super Bowl campaign that used text from McDonald’s own website as ammunition.

After the announcement of the switch to real beef, they had a response online within an hour.

Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

Then when McDonald’s accidentally posted a tweet that still had placeholder content in it, Wendy’s was there a few hours later with a witty retort, and then they kept it going in the conversation with everyone else that responded.

Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

The Strategy

When asked about their new sassy and rebellious tone, one of Wendy’s spokespeople told Entrepreneur that “We see ourselves as a challenger with charm, so we can take advantage of opportunities to engage with our fans in a very different way from our competitors.”

The Text Marketing Playbook for Restaurants

Idea #4 Couch Tomato Cafe Goes Mobile

Craig Mosmen owns a family-style restaurant in Philadelphia, PA. They offer wraps, gourmet pizzas, and more for take-out delivery.

Like Brian’s Place, they tried a lot of marketing over the years with mixed success. They did things like direct mail, online ads, local papers, magazines, coupon books, and more. He found that he was able to track success with the coupon books because he could tell which ones were being redeemed.

He knew that SMS marketing would give him similar trackable results as well as the ability to offer limited time and just-in-time promotions. That’s when he signed up for EZ Texting.

Mosmen collected customers’ phone numbers through a simple paper form. Additionally, after customers paid their bill, Mosmen offered a quick verbal reminder to sign up.

He had 5,000 contacts in his database when he sent this text message campaign to his subscribers.

*Special Offer* til March 31st; mention text -

FREE QUESADILLAS with purchase of any Pizza AND Salad!!


The Result

He sent this message just 7 days before March 31st, so everyone had a limited amount of time to redeem it. (This would not have been possible with coupon books.)

To track the ROI, Mosmen added up the tickets from Friday during that week. He estimated that they had an extra 70 orders compared to a typical Friday.

His average order is $15, so that meant that he made an additional $1,050 on just one of the 7 nights that this campaign was running.

Mosmen said this campaign was so successful that he plans to run a new one each month. He wants to keep the offers a novelty so they won’t know what to expect in the next one.

Idea #5 Starbucks Invites Fans to do Product Design

In 2014, Starbucks invited fans to create a design for their limited edition coffee cup. They asked users to submit their photos of their cup designs to Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #whitecupcontest.

The winner of the contest would see their cup featured and they would receive $300.

Here are just a few of the designs that were submitted and featured on their Pinterest Page.

The Strategy

User-generated content is any content that has been created and published online by unpaid contributors or fans. This includes photos, videos, testimonials, social posts, blog posts, and any other medium that allows them to express their opinions.

Essentially, UGC is when the fans are promoting the brand.

It puts customers front and center and shows that the brand is customer-centric. It builds trust in other followers and fans that will trust what is said by other people more than they trust what comes directly from the brand.

  • 86% of millennials say that user-generated content is a good indicator of the quality of a brand.
  • 68% of social media users between the ages of 18 and 24 take into account information shared on social media when making a purchasing decision.

Starbucks used this campaign to turn their followers into a community. People came together to design this cup.

Customers posted videos on YouTube of themselves designing the cups and chatted with their viewers. People published numerous blog articles talking about the cup challenge and showing off their favorite pictures. Several years later and people are still talking about the challenge.


Idea #6 Dog Haus Does Everything Doggone Good!

Dog Haus is a national chain that is doing a lot of things right when it comes to restaurant marketing. They started out on the west coast in and around L.A. and moved to the east coast with their New York location this year.

Most of their food is oversized sausage sandwiches, hot dogs, and hamburgers that are loaded with flavors paired with delicious milkshakes. But their marketing is what truly sets them apart and earned them a spot on this list.

A Menu Full of Personality

According to Toast, it’s essential that you establish your restaurant’s personality. The way you speak and act make up the identity of your restaurant as much, if not more than, your name and decor.

Since Dog Haus is basically serving an elevated hot dog, sausage dog, and burger dishes, they can get pretty creative with the food names without making it too complicated on the patrons to figure out what they are ordering.

This allows them to dish out a hearty helping of personality as soon as you hit their menu. You’ll find cleverly labeled entrees like:

  • Das Brat - bratwurst, caramelized onions, sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard
  • The Fonz - spicy italian pastrami, cheddar cheese sauce
  • Thai Fighter - spicy thai currywurst, wild arugula, pickled jalapenos, spicy basil aioli
  • Cocky Balboa - italian chicken & mozzarella sausage, wild arugula, pickled peppers, spicy basil aioli
  • The Mensch Burger - white american cheese, pickles, pastrami, haus slaw, 1000 island
  • Holy Aioli Burger - white american cheese, smoked bacon, caramelized onions, garlic aioli
  • The Hangover Burger - white american cheese, smoked bacon, haus chili, fried egg, mayo

Shine the Spotlight with Celebrities

Dog Haus knows how to leverage celebrity relationships. They served James Beard award-winning Chef Alex Seidel’s “Lambda Lambda Lambda” that included a lamb and pork sausage topped with tzatziki, feta, diced onions, tomatoes, and pickles.

To make it even more amazing, they partnered this with a donation on all sales of this dog to No Kid Hungry. Seidel even promoted it on his own Instagram account where he has over 4k followers.

Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

They even launched the “Kick-Ass Chef” Collaboration series where they partner with the “most kick-ass chefs in the industry to bring you the tastiest culinary creations you’ve never tried.”

These chefs are tasked with creating a signature hot dog, burger, or shake creation that will be featured on the menu for two months.

More than just a star-studded campaign, Dog Haus encourages celebrity participants to promote their unique creations. This also creates a lot of buzz around a limited time offer.

These extraordinary creations are only available for two months, and then they are gone. Studies have shown that applying urgency and scarcity to your menu items can increase sales by as much as 332%.

Donating to Charity

Personality… star chefs… and they give to charity. It’s no surprise that they have grown so quickly.

The founders began with a simple concept in 2010. After opening up for franchising and signing a deal with American Development Partners, they have plans to grow from a few dozen locations in a few states to over 450 locations across the country and growing.

  • Every time someone orders one of their limited time celebrity creations, they donate $1 to No Kid Hungry.
  • They also have fundraising options for their local community. You can request a Dine Out fundraiser at the location of your choice. During your event window, they will donate 20% of all sales to your organization.
    • They provide a flyer that you can print and distribute to invite people to come.
    • During the event, your guests will present the flyer.
    • After the event, you’ll receive a check for 20% of the sales.

Contributing to a charity is more than just a good deed. According to a 2012 study, 72% of consumers recommend a business that contributes to charity over one that doesn’t.

Idea #7 Domino’s Game Night for the Win!

Domino’s Franchise owner, Ryan Swanson, knew that he had a successful brand to stand on and that he had everything that he needed in place to please his customers. He is located in the college town around the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s campus and knows that his franchise should focus on the 25k enrolled students.

Because Mr. Swanson likes to make marketing decisions based on data, he conducted focus groups to identify the best ways to reach the students.

Group after group said that Facebook was the best place to reach them. They determined that:

  • His audience is students that like pizza
  • They are driven by price
  • And whose loyalty to another pizza place could be swayed

He set a goal to attract every one of those students to his Facebook group where he could promote offers to them.

He started by using the school’s basketball arena to reach them. Each game attracts over 3,000 students — so he had a captive audience.

To start with, he bought ad space on the arena’s screens. He ran ads that showed the franchise’s web address — which he had redirected to the Facebook group. The announcers would read the advertisement while it was displayed for 30 to 60 seconds.

He found that students were not going to jot down a website address or visit a website during the game and wanted to find a way to reach them. The Switch to SMS That’s when he switched to text message marketing using EZ Texting’s software. He made some changes to the advertisements that were displayed on the screen. They were changed to tell people that anyone that texted 49ER to 313131 would get a free pizza.

After they sent that text message, they received a reply back that said:

“To get FREE pizza join our facebook group at UNCCDominos.com once you join post a message (I GOT A TEXT) & you will get FREE pizza code Reply STOP 49ER 2 Optout”

Every time he runs this ad or similar ones he sees another 100 to 200 opt-ins and nearly all of those join the Facebook group to get the deal.

By the end of the semester, the Facebook group had collected nearly 2,000 fans. They had also added another 850 students their SMS marketing list.

The Strategy

The people in the Facebook group have access to discounted menu items. Plus, being a member of the SMS list is even better with more discounts.

He can send out messages that are timely and relevant, like:

“49er Fans get 50% OFF ALL MENU PRICE PIZZAS & Bread Sides All day TODAY for playoffs! Coupon Code (FACE50).Call us at -------”

“The sales at the store,” Mr. Swanson says, “when we send text messages, or [use them to] drive people to Facebook, are unprecedented.”M

By combining SMS and Facebook’s Group features, he was able to accomplish both of his goals - growing the Facebook group and selling more pizza.

Marketing Ideas for Restaurants: What to Do Next?

Throughout this post, you’ve seen a lot of different marketing ideas for restaurants and hopefully found some inspiration.

You could:

  • Build a VIP program and use text marketing to connect with your customers as Brian’s Place did.
  • Take a lesson on patron appreciation from The Paris Creperie and respond to reviews.
  • Let your personality shine through on social Media like Wendy’s.
  • Break from the traditional ads and use text marketing to offer limited time offers to your subscribers like Couch Tomato.
  • Learn from Starbucks and get your customers to start generating content for you.
  • Go all-in on personality, star appeal, and community support like Dog Haus.
  • Use text marketing to grow your Facebook Group like Domino’s.

SMS is a powerful strategy and has been used successfully by several of the companies on this list. If you want to learn more about how to integrate it into your marketing campaigns, then check out our guide, 5 Ways to Integrate SMS Marketing with the Rest of Your Campaign.

You will learn how to execute strategies like the companies on this list, including boosting conversions with effective calls-to-action, promoting your offers on multiple channels, and using unique content to make every medium valuable.

The Text Marketing Playbook for Restaurants

Photo: Getty Images: NoSystem images

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