Why Most Promotions Fail
Most restaurant owners have tried to run a promotion at some point.
The process often looks like this:
- Create a discount.
- Highlight the discount in the restaurant and online.
- Run the offer for a while.
- Wonder whether or not it worked.
There are some big problems with this process:
- There’s often no strategy behind the promotion offer.
- The offer isn’t being sent out to the right people and places.
- There is no fixed window for running the promotion as an experiment.
- There is no system in place to track and measure the promotion results.
There are different ways to solve these problems, but to give you an idea, here’s one type of successful promotion campaign we run with many of our Owner.com restaurant partners:
- Create a limited-time offer for each customer based on order history.
- Send them a text or email with the offer details.
- Send one follow-up message the next day.
- Track who redeems these offers online and offline.
The Owner.com platform does all of these things automatically through our software, but you can do these manually as well.
What’s important is that at the end of this campaign, you understand exactly how successful your promotion was.
- Did your customers spend more than they usually do?
- Did your regulars bring in new customers with them?
- Was the campaign profitable despite the discounts?
These are the types of things you want to be evaluating when running a promotion.
When done correctly, great restaurant promotions get people in the door AND keep them coming back.
It takes all the hard work you are already putting into your restaurant business — all the branding, marketing, customer service, menu optimization, etc. — and makes it significantly more profitable.
We’ve seen many of our Owner.com restaurant partners double their monthly revenue within a year by adding in the right promotion strategies.
If you’re willing to experiment with some of these ideas, test their effectiveness, and then double down on what works, you can hit some incredible growth numbers over the next 12 months.
Viral Restaurant Promotion Ideas
The goal of running a restaurant promotion is to grab attention.
Most of the ideas in this guide focus on taking simple actions that will result in moderate bumps in attention. Many can be done repeatedly and only take a few minutes to set up.
In this section, however, we’re swinging for the fences. These viral promotion ideas will require a bit more creativity, time, or investment. They’re the types of things most restaurants aren’t willing to do, and as a result, they have the potential to result in massive growth for your restaurant business.
1. Threaten to Burn Your Customers’ Mouths
Did you know threatening your customers can be really profitable sometimes?
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.
In 2012, pizza chain Hell Pizza received international media coverage for launching the “Pizza Roulette” challenge, where customers could request to have 2 drops of ghost pepper chili sauce added to one slice of their pizza.
Hell Pizza had its biggest sales day of all time during this promotional event and saw an overall increase in sales at a time when the local economy was struggling.
It also put the chain’s name on the map internationally, making it a future tourist stop for the millions of people who heard about the event outside of New Zealand but were unable to visit during the two-month promotion window.
This is a great example of how running a challenge-type event for your customers can grab attention and increase sales. You don’t need to be this extreme, but the attention your event commands will often be directly proportional to how outlandish you’re willing to be.
2. Name a Menu Item After “Mexi Papa”
If you aren’t familiar with the term “micro-influencer,” it simply means someone who has a relatively small but very passionate niche following.
We aren’t talking about people who are household names or even newer influencers your kids might have heard of. We’re talking about someone like “Mexi Papa” who tries out local food places and has 137k Instagram followers.
To be honest, with over 100k followers, Mexi Papa might not even be considered “micro.” You can achieve great results with influencers who have well under 100k followers. At the same time, these types of accounts tend to grow so quickly that 100k followers nowadays is considered pretty small.
The rise of food bloggers and micro-influencers has been a mixed bag of experiences for restaurant owners. Every other week, we hear a new story about entitled influencers walking around demanding freebies.
But in reality, the vast majority of these individuals are just regular people who are passionate about food and working hard to create content to build what is essentially a media business.
And regardless of your feelings on the subject, there’s one thing we can all agree on: food businesses that understand how to work with these influencers frequently achieve some incredible marketing results.
The key to this type of restaurant marketing is understanding how to align your incentives with the influencers you are trying to work with.
- Exposure to new customers
- Exposure that drives real sales
- Exposure to new followers
- High-quality content that boosts their brand
One of our partners named Leo Mattias — owner of Cilantro Lime in downtown Los Angeles — has nailed this formula.
He reaches out to micro-influencers like Mexi Papa and offers to name a new menu item after them while inviting them for a fully filmed, behind-the-scenes tour.
This is a type of access most restaurants aren’t willing to provide, and it allows the influencer to get really great content for their brand while providing the restaurant with great exposure. In many cases, these types of collaborations only cost the restaurant some time and effort.
These campaigns have created a ton of buzz on Instagram for Cilantro Lime — helping them grow their own Instagram account to 60k followers — and more importantly, they’ve brought in a lot of new customers who otherwise wouldn’t have known about his restaurant.
3. Create an 80,000 Calorie Lasagna
What can we learn from 33 million people watching a video of random guys turning fast food into a giant lasagna?
The answer: people love a spectacle.
One of the great things about social media is you no longer have to guess about what draws attention. All you have to do is look around to see what gets people excited.
Hundreds of brands like Epic Meal Time have created multimillion-dollar media empires with over-the-top, showstopper meal creations that are more about the spectacle than the meal itself.
And while you don’t have the luxury of focusing solely on the spectacle when creating something people are going to pay to eat, creating something eye-catching and outlandish is a great way to attract viral attention.
Is there a showstopper dish you could create in-house that could really get people talking? Sit down with your chef and see what you can come up with to make a splash on social media.
4. Bring in a Popular Guest Chef
This restaurant promotion idea can potentially combine the benefits of both a showstopper meal and a micro-influencer.
20 years ago, bringing in a popular chef meant hiring a celebrity and required a massive budget.
It wasn’t a practical option for 99% of restaurants.
Today, thanks to sites like Youtube, Tiktok, and Instagram, there are millions of amateur, semi-pro, and professional chefs with large online followings. A large percentage of these chefs are solely online content creators and have never worked for a restaurant. They are struggling to monetize their following, and many of them are looking for ways to establish their cooking legitimacy offline.
It’s hard to overstate that drive to establish oneself offline. This desire can be felt in this video where Youtube megastar “Binging With Babish” — a multimillionaire content creator — spends time working in a commercial kitchen to test himself in a more traditional cooking environment.
This is a great opportunity for local restaurants to partner with popular online chefs who are looking to make offline moves that build their brand.
Here’s a very realistic scenario of what this could look like:
- Find a social media chef in your city with 50k or more social followers.
- Invite them to guest chef and create a limited-run item for your menu.
- Offer them a percentage of sales on that menu item.
- Plan a launch date and promote it like crazy.
This type of promotion has a ton of upside and very little downside, and I could see it being a staple strategy for restaurants five years from now.
5. Let Customers Flip a Coin for a Free Meal
In a low-margin industry like restaurants, the best promotions maximize perceived value while minimizing cost.
This is a concept the gambling industry has perfected, and we can take a page out of their book with a promotion where the house always wins.
The idea is super simple: offer people a 50/50 coin flip to win a free meal or menu item.
This is an incredible promotion technique:
- It has the same appeal to customers as being offered a free item.
- Only half of the participants will win, so you only pay out half the cost of fulfilling the offer.
- You provide a ton of entertainment value to customers as part of the offer.
It’s like slots but you win more often and get free food!
I ran a “Flip for a Burger” campaign just like this for a restaurant called JJ’s Grill. It ran every Monday night, and we’d have people drive up to 2 hours to come in and drink, watch Monday Night Football, and flip for a free burger.
Remember, your customers don’t know how much a promotion costs you. There are lots of opportunities to offer something that feels like a ton of value but doesn’t cost you much at all.
6. Make Your Customers Repeat Something Hilarious
Imagine telling a grown adult to say, “The captain’s berry crunchy today, ain’t he?”
… and then watching hundreds of adults walk into your restaurant and say that line out loud at the to-go pickup while dine-in customers look on and giggle.
This is what’s known as a “whisper campaign,” where you advertise a funny phrase customers can say in order to get a discount or freebie.
In this case, we were wanting to draw attention to the restaurant’s line of milkshakes, and anyone who said this phrase while picking up a fully-paid to-go order was given a free Captain Crunch Berry Blast milkshake.
Promotions like this are fun, funny, and endearing, and they provide some buzz and entertainment value rather than feeling like a sales technique.
7. Steal Your Competitors’ Loyal Customers
If you check your wallet right now, you probably have a handful of loyalty cards from various restaurants, cafes, or other businesses.
Most people do.
These cards are an opportunity to steal your competitors’ customers.
All you have to do is offer a low-cost freebie — for example, coffee — in exchange for loyalty cards from local companies. You could even offer better freebies for cards that have been marked with points.
This is a fun way to steal even loyal customers from your competitors while making the customer feel like you are trading them high-value food items rather than low-cost freebies.
8. Setup and a Selfie Station
One of the defining trends of social media is that people don’t just want an experience, they want to DOCUMENT that experience in a public, visible way.
There are a wide variety of motivations behind this, but if you can facilitate this documentation as a restaurant, you are going to get thousands of dollars worth of free advertising from the people who visit your restaurant.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to do this is to set up a selfie station.
A selfie station is an aesthetically pleasing backdrop designed and placed in a way that people can easily sit or stand in front of and take pictures of themselves (or have others take pictures of them).
Here’s a great example from Café La Jefa in Palm Springs, CA.
These photos (and hundreds more if you keep scrolling) were all taken and published by customers on their own individual Instagram accounts. This is for a very small, local cafe with just over 4,000 Instagram followers, and this one little wall is generating hundreds of free advertisements for their business.
With a little thrifting, you can do the same thing for less than $100.
9. Buy a Food Truck
A food truck is the perfect way to show up wherever the action is and put your brand and food in front of new people in your local area.
Food trucks are also relatively low cost, extremely lucrative, and double as an ongoing, mobile source of promotion for your restaurant.
In a 2017 study, 85% of surveyed food truck owners reported doing over $100k net each year from their truck. Imagine bringing in that extreme income while ALSO getting a bunch of those customers as repeat business at your restaurant.
That’s what I call a win-win.
10. Offer a Secret Menu
Continuing in the same vein of secret phrases, why not offer a secret menu as well?
In-N-Out is famous for its incredibly loyal following and brand awareness in areas that don’t even have the chain present. There isn’t a single In-N-Out location east of Texas, and yet nearly everyone on the East Coast has heard of the chain.
Perhaps most importantly, they are an example of a brand that leveraged a strong local fan base into becoming a national chain.
Two of the defining features of the In-N-Out brand are that their public menu is incredibly small and simple, AND their “secret” menu is well-documented and accepted seamlessly by staff the same as the public menu.
This is how you make a secret menu feel special. It’s treated like a normal menu BUT you only find out about it if a regular at the restaurant tells you about it or you see it being talked about in online communities.
You can also make this part of a loyalty program, where secret menu items are announced to and even decided by VIP members only.
11. Create Branded Merchandise
In 2017, KFC released a chicken-themed clothing line that SOLD OUT, chicken-flavored chocolate truffles for Mother’s Day, and wait for it, chicken-scented sunscreen.
Genius? Also yes.
One of the best ways to turn a local fan base into brand ambassadors is to create branded merchandise that they then wear wherever they go.
What do you think of when someone says Hard Rock Cafe? The t-shirts.
What’s a big reason people on the East Coast have heard of In-N-Out? The t-shirts.
People love to wear clothes connected to their favorite brands, and while merchandise probably won’t become a primary revenue driver, it’s a great way to turn local fans into national brand ambassadors… for free!
12. Give Away Something Huge and Expensive Sounding
Offering small freebies is a staple promotion strategy, and we’ll cover it in the next section, but it’s not going to make you go viral.
If you want to really stand out, you need to offer something big.
Well, Chick-fil-A grew to be one of the largest privately held companies in the world by offering a full year of free food to the first 100 visitors to each new location.
Every time a new location opened, people would camp out in the nights leading up to the opening, hoping to be one of the winners. This phenomenon was frequently covered by local press and resulted in millions of dollars in free advertising over the years.
This constant coverage continues to this day.
The key to running these types of promotions is the prize needs to “sound” expensive… not BE expensive.
You don’t need to give away a “year of free food” to 100 people to run a successful giveaway. You can do just one winner instead
What’s the cost of giving away 52 meals to one person for free?
What’s your cost for a typical lunch meal? $5? $8?
5 x 52 = $260
8 x 52 = $416
You can offer someone a chance to win a big “year supply of food” prize for just $200-400.
That’s a really compelling offer that doesn’t actually cost you that much money.
13. Surprise a Small Business in Your Community
Nearly half of all workers are employed by small businesses. This includes thousands of potential customers in your local area.
A great way to get in front of these customers and generate some viral buzz is to simply show up and provide food for free.
- The employees will be delighted and are very likely to mention the surprise free food to their friends and family.
- The ones who like the food will likely visit you again multiple times on their lunch break.
- The act of surprising workers with food will play well on social media.
- The act might get picked up by local news as a story of interest.
You could provide lunch for the entire staff of most small businesses at a very low cost. Try just showing up with enough food for 20 people, or if that results in some problems, try calling ahead and arranging things with the owner or office manager.
Start with small businesses, but you can also aim to give back to the community while gaining more attention when you provide food for teachers, nurses, and other employee groups that are highly regarded in the community.
14. Give Back to Your Community
On the topic of giving back, one of the best ways to gain attention in your community is to give something to that community.
Humans are reciprocal beings. We like to give back to people who are giving to us.
Regularly and visibly giving to the community and well-regarded groups in the community is a great way to make people feel like you are on their team rather than simply attempting to profit from their patronage.
This idea can tie in with our previous strategy as well.
For example, you could bring lunch to a local Teacher’s Association meeting and announce a larger gift or donation or offer you are providing for teachers in the area.
The key here is being genuine and offering something that feels meaningful. It’s important the group you are giving to feels honored rather than used as a marketing stunt.
15. Give Your Local Media a Call
Just like marketers, journalists are always looking for a good story. Give your local newspaper or TV station a call and see what sort of stories they might be looking for.
You’re an established part of the community, and the goodwill desire to help you succeed is usually there. It’s just a matter of finding an interesting focal point, so don’t hesitate to reach out and workshop some ideas to find an angle that works for both you and the reporter.
If a high-priced hot dog can get coverage, so can you.
Staple Restaurant Promotion Ideas
Sometimes the simplest things work the best. These promotion strategies are simple, proven, and can be used over and over again.
16. Offer a Percentage Discount
This is as simple as it gets, but percentage discount promotions are consistently the most profitable campaigns for our restaurant partners here at Owner.com.
Here’s an example from Deen’s Cheesesteak and Pizza in Houston, Texas.
These types of campaigns work for every restaurant and customer type.
The key is to run ads with strong copywriting that grabs attention and ask the user a question the customer will answer “yes” to in their head:
- Are you hungry?
- Do you love free food?
- Do you love saving money?
You also want to create some urgency by saying the quantity of offers is limited and on a first come, first serve basis, AND the promotion will only run for a limited time.
From there, it’s all about upselling discount customers into bigger order values, which our checkout system does for you automatically and very effectively.
17. Offer a Personalized Discount Based on Order History
While percentage discounts offered via Facebook ads have been our go-to for bringing new customers in the door, there’s another strategy that is so effective at re-engaging previous customers, we built it directly into the Owner.com platform.
The strategy is to offer a personalized discount based on the customer’s order history.
For our restaurant partners on the Owner.com platform, every online purchase is tracked, sourced, and matched, giving you a database of all your customers and allowing you to see what they’ve ordered from you in the past, their contact information, and which marketing channels originally sent them to your restaurant.
Our platform then automatically sends out periodic offers to each customer based on their order history.
For example, let’s say a customer orders Chicken Parmigiana around once per month and hasn’t tried any other dishes. At this restaurant, people who order Chicken Parmigiana often order the Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta as well.
Our software will take note of that and then automatically send the customer a discount offer for the Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta about two weeks after their Chicken Parmigiana order.
The goal is to increase the frequency of visits by around 50%, and it works like crazy.
Kirk’s Steakburgers in Campbell, CA increased monthly website sales from $10k to $14k in less than 2 months after adding in this re-engagement promotion strategy.
Here are their October sales:
And here’s their January sales:
While you can theoretically do stuff like this manually, it’s a lot of work, and it’s impossible if you are losing your customer data to third party delivery apps. Owner.com was built specifically to address these frustrations and help grow your restaurant business.
18. Create a Limited-Run Menu Item
Promotions are all about getting customers to take action, and few things motivate action quite like a deadline.
Limited run menu items are an ideal promotion strategy for a number of reasons:
- They get people in the door without losing margin to discounts.
- They let you more easily experiment with your menu.
- They play well on social media
- You can use them to pick up local media coverage like in the example below:
Regularly offering limited run items also opens the doors for additional promotions down the road.
You can run polls allowing customers to vote on which items to bring back (and possibly make voting a perk of your loyalty program), or you can simply take popular items and give them an encore.
19. Offer a Happy Hour Special
Happy hour specials are a niche staple that should be a near-universal practice for restaurants open during the afternoon.
They provide an affordable first-contact point for new customers, and they provide an easy focal point for ongoing promotion on social media.
When done correctly, Happy Hour ticket prices often average out higher than lunch tickets. The key is being strategic about the food you offer in addition to the drinks.
The #1 reason people attend Happy Hour is NOT actually for the discounted drinks:
If you run a more upscale restaurant, try offering scaled-down versions of your dinner menu at an enticing price point while keeping drink prices close to retail.
20. Offer a BOGO Deal
While BOGO (buy one, get one free) offers tend to be associated more with fast and casual restaurants, they can be used effectively by virtually any restaurant.
The key here is you need to get the customer’s contact information as early in the process as possible.
The following campaign resulted in the restaurant getting email addresses for 2,400 local consumers, getting 841 actual customers in the door, and generating $28,968.68 in net sales AFTER the discount was applied.
While the net sales from this campaign were great on their own, this only represents a fraction of the campaign’s success. The restaurant now has 2,400 people to reach out to with additional offers, AND a large chunk of those 841 customers are very likely to return.
The reach you get from offering a compelling promotion goes far beyond the actual people who walk in and redeem the deal.
21. Offer a Special Menu
70% of US households have pets.
40% of US households have kids.
Offering a special menu for the pets and/or kids your customers bring with them is a great way to show care and thoughtfulness and connect emotionally with your customers.
These menus and any little freebies or specials you attach with them make for an evergreen source of promotion as well. Check out this great example from Shake Shack:
Brands that connect on an emotional level get 200% more word of mouth marketing from their customers, and while there are certainly other ways to create an emotional connection, it’s hard to imagine anything easier or more reliable than simply creating a dedicated menu that caters to the most important little beings in someone’s life.
22. Offer a Freebie (No Purchase Required)
What do people like even better than a discount?
Free appetizer campaigns are another type of promotion that work really well for our Owner.com partners but require a bit more effort and intentionality. We had a ton of success running this type of campaign for Deen’s in Houston in addition to the previously mentioned percentage discount.
The key is finding a menu item that has a low cost and brings in a high margin — think chips and queso, fried pickles, fried onions, mozzarella sticks, salads, desserts, breadsticks, egg rolls, etc. If you can find something that can be given away sustainably, that allows you to consider the campaign for an ongoing promotion.
You can also limit the quantity of the free items given out, creating urgency to take advantage of the offer before it runs out.
23. Offer Business Card Giveaways (With a Modern Twist)
Business card giveaways are an old strategy, but just like many of the strategies in this category, they remain effective today.
The process is simple: offer customers a chance to win a free meal in exchange for dropping their business card in a bowl.
I like to up the ante a bit.
Make the prize a free meal for TWO and then advertise that you select a new card from the bowl every single week.
We want as many cards as possible because our modern twist takes advantage of every card we get. Instead of only messaging the winner, we send out an email to everyone who participates, offering them a discount in exchange for joining our loyalty program or simply our email list if we don’t have a full program.
When done correctly, email marketing brings in an insane 3,700% return on investment, and it’s one of the biggest reasons our restaurant partners frequently double their online sales within a year of joining us.
24. Offer Special Meals Designed to Be Shared
Family-sized meals have been a staple tool in the fast and fast-casual eatery toolbox for decades, but this concept remains underutilized elsewhere on the restaurant spectrum.
As we talked about earlier, people care a lot about the experience of eating out, and that experience is often deeply connected to the people they are eating out with.
When a person sees a discount offer, they think about price.
When a person sees a meal-for-two-offer, they think about sharing that meal with someone they know.
Offering shareable meals and preset, multi-course menus for specific group sizes is a great way to get people thinking about the experience they want to create and envisioning themselves having a great time with people they love at your restaurant.
25. Offer Samples Outside Your Restaurant & Around Town
It’s one thing to put up a sign with a picture of your food. It’s another thing entirely to put that food directly in potential customers’ mouths.
Offering samples is a great way to drive sales.
According to The Atlantic, free samples at stores like Costco can help boost sales considerably. “When we compare it to other in-store mediums … in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift,” says Giovanni DeMeo of Interactions, the company that runs Club Demonstration Services, Costco’s go-to sample vendor. In fact, in 2014, “Interactions’ beer samples at many national retailers on average boosted sales by 71 percent, and its samples of frozen pizza increased sales by 600 percent.”
If you have one or two dishes that always score big with customers, have a staff member outside the restaurant offering bite-sized samples to passersby.
If you didn’t opt for the food truck, you can also take a bunch of samples to events around town, advertising your restaurant with the tastiest promotion of all.
26. Collaborate With Other Restaurants
At first glance, collaborating with another restaurant might seem counterproductive.
Why would you help a competitor?
And that’s a mistake because the vast majority of restaurants are not really your competitors.
If someone is in the mood for Indian food, they are usually going to choose their favorite Indian place. Other curry-based or rice-driven cuisines might come to mind as an alternative, but you aren’t in danger of losing them to Burger King, DJ’s BBQ, or King’s Seafood House.
Your real competitors have the same or similar cuisine, the same or similar mood appeal, and the same or similar location.
Restaurants that aren’t in those categories can be amazing partners in collaborative marketing and cross-promotion.
There are a number of ways you can do this:
- Partner on a dish you offer at both restaurants
- Partner on a fusion popup
- Partner on social media
- Partner on restaurant week or similar event
- Offer discount coupons for each others’ restaurants
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so be creative. There’s almost never a downside to getting in front of a new audience of restaurant patrons.
27. Cross-Promote With Local Suppliers
Local ingredients, foods, and craft drinks tend to be more expensive, but they also tend to be very well received by local customers.
Choosing local suppliers, loudly advertising that fact, and collaborating with them provides a great focal point for ongoing promotion.
The key is to make a public note of these choices, whether it’s something advanced like a full-on partnership or something simple like tagging each other on Instagram.
If you are already sourcing local ingredients, foods, or drinks, reach out to the supplier and invite them to collaborate. Pro tip: it will be a lot easier to set something up if you have a clear game plan to propose from the beginning.
28. Cross-Promote With Other Local Businesses (With a Twist)
In addition to non-competing restaurants, there are tons of non-competing local businesses in your area that would love to cross-promote with you in order to mutually grow both businesses.
This isn’t an unusual idea on its own, but the way it’s implemented is usually pretty boring.
You can do a lot better than trading flyers.
One creative idea is to partner with businesses and organizations that need meeting space during your non-service or even low-service hours. This gets people in the door who will likely be interested in coming back later to try your food.
You could also arrange to serve food to the group as part of the agreement, either as a promotion or a paid service.
The point here is to be conscious of your assets and how you can use those assets to grab attention to your core business.
29. Participate in Restaurant Week & Other Local Events
Despite all that focus on non-competing businesses, sometimes it even makes sense to partner with your direct competitors.
Restaurant Week and similar local events are a great time to put competition aside and celebrate all the restaurants in your local area. This is where you really embrace the saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Restaurant Weeks are very popular and tend to get coverage from both social media and local media.
Hand out flyers, offer discounts, and encourage people to come in and try a dish made by the people in their own community.
30. Reward Staff for Excellence
It’s an understatement to say that your staff is your ultimate source of promotion.
If your restaurant is a great place to work, the entire service staff network in your city, plus all their friends and family, is going to know about it.
You know better than most how hard it is to find truly excellent employees, and that’s why one of the single best things you can do to promote your restaurant is consistently acknowledge, reward, and promote excellent employees.
While stuff like “Employee of the Month,” social media shoutouts, and employee discounts are better than nothing, you’ll want to go above and beyond the bare minimum if you want to be celebrated by your staff.
Get your staff involved in providing ideas for improving the restaurant, and then use those ideas. Offer individual and team bonuses when possible. Be conscientious with scheduling and allow added flexibility for longtime performers.
If you want to really go above and beyond, find out what would be personally meaningful to your top staff and try to give them that as best you can.
You’ll get the benefits back 10-fold.
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Holiday Promotion Ideas
Holidays can be a massive source of new business, but they also bring their fair share of competition. Every restaurant in your area is going to be running promotions and specials to compete for that holiday dining dash.
With that in mind, I’ve chosen the most successful promotion I’ve witnessed across ten different holidays and listed them for you in this section. If you’re seeking a winning promotion idea for any of the major holidays, look no further.
31. Offer a Bottomless Brunch For Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is THE most popular day of the year for dining out, averaging 75 million patrons each year.
And unlike other holidays, nobody goes into Mother’s Day looking to skimp on a cheap meal. This is a day to pull out all the stops and celebrate someone incredibly important and special. It’s a day when people are happy to pay for the right experience.
With that in mind, you don’t want to be offering discounts on Mother’s Day. You want to offer a great experience and charge a price that makes this an incredibly successful day for your restaurant.
One of the best promotions I’ve seen that fits the bill here is the “Bottomless Brunch.”
This phrase is intentionally vague but entails a limitless supply of alcohol. Mimosas or wine are great options here, where you can supply a large amount of drinks at a relatively low budget.
Add in a fixed menu to make things simple on your staff and simple for the customers, and you have the makings of a well-received Mother’s Day brunch experience that will bring in a ton of income, generate some buzz, and get new people into your restaurant after the holiday has ended.
32. Offer a “Grill-It-Yourself” Lunch Package For July 4th
July 4th is a huge holiday but not one that tends to pack out the average restaurant.
Most people are at home grilling.
Instead of ignoring this or trying to fight it, why not profit from it? Create a ready-to-grill, take-home package that people can order to make their cookout easier AND higher quality at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Here’s a perfect example from MKT Kitchen in Florida.
You can even offer to grill it yourself for people who want the cookout experience without needing to do any work.
With this sort of offer, you can tap into all that July 4th demand even if people don’t want to come into the restaurant. Owner.com will even let you advertise this sort of offer and provide commission-free delivery and in-store pickup, so you aren’t losing your margins in the process.
33. Offer a Prix Fixe Dinner Menu For Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is another day where diners are focused on treating someone special to an incredible experience. The demographic for this celebration tends to skew a bit younger, however, and while diners are willing to spend money, cost is still a consideration.
A prix fixe menu is the perfect fit for this holiday. It lets your customers receive an upscale experience while also providing a fixed price they can commit to before arriving at your restaurant.
Here’s a great promotion example from Crush Wine Bar & Restaurant in Texas.
While a prix fixe menu can help a portion of your diners stay within their budget, many will be open to additions and upsells, and that’s why it’s important to always have those available.
Offer upsells like wine pairing, main course upgrades, or special desserts to increase your average ticket size and make more money from the big spenders who visit your restaurant.
34. Collaborate With a Local Brewer For Father’s Day
This is probably a bit stereotypical, but dads love beer.
Dads also like learning about and then talking way too much about local brewers.
This is why a multi-course menu with a local beer pairing is one of the best holiday promotions I’ve seen in a long time. Here’s a great example run by Garden Kitchen and Nickel Beer Company in Southern California.
If you aren’t already connected with local brewers in your area, talk to your employees and regulars and find out which breweries they like. Reach out to as many as you can and find one that is interested in collaborating with you.
When running a collaboration, it’s important to make sure your incentives are aligned with the company you are partnering with. Look for a mutually beneficial collaboration that is going to help both businesses grow together, and make sure both companies are contributing to the promotion and being featured in any advertising you both run for the event.
35. Add Wine Pairing to Your Menu For New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is the perfect time for wine pairings.
It’s an evening associated with drinking and celebration, and it allows you to create a special experience while charging a premium fee. Customers love the convenience of simply showing up and experiencing the menu without needing to make wine decisions at each course.
Here’s a promotion example from Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar in North Carolina.
If you’ve never offered a wine pairing menu before, it’s not difficult. Start by choosing two or three signature dishes and then choose either one glass of wine or one bottle that best compliments the food. For example, your menu might offer three glasses of champagne, as well as a description of what dish they go with and why they pair well together.
36. Add a Special Kids Menu For Easter Sunday
Easter is a family holiday.
Those who celebrate it tend to do so with the entire family, and you can encourage families with children to choose your restaurant on Easter by providing them with a special, kid-friendly menu that is intentional rather than an afterthought.
Here’s a great example from Warren City Club in Atlanta.
The key here is to go a step beyond the normal kids fair of chicken fingers, fries, burgers, and pizza. The type of family that would choose your restaurant specifically for the kid’s menu is going to care about it being a special experience where their kids can enjoy something higher quality than they usually receive.
Offer something exceptional but still accessible to young kids and then advertise it heavily leading up to the event.
This is an especially great promotion option for restaurants looking to attract families year-round.
37. Host a Fun Halloween Event (Or Four)
Halloween is all about fun. It’s a great opportunity to throw a fun, Halloween-themed event and sell some food.
Or if you’re like Tavern At The Vogue in California, you can throw four events in one week!
Halloween events are more about decoration than anything else. You can do the same types of events you would do other times of the year, like trivia, karaoke, contests, and more — as long as you really put some effort into the décor.
You can also do stuff like menu item puns, random candies, fall-themed desserts, and so much more. If there is ever a holiday to just go nuts and have some fun, this is the one.
38. Rollout Irish Drink Specials For St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is usually the day when people head to their nearest Irish pub and grab some drinks.
The best way to tap into this demand is to roll out a little in-restaurant Irish pub of your own. After all, you don’t need to be a pub to offer Jameson shots, Heineken drafts, Paddy’s cocktails, and a selection of Irish stouts.
Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar nails this promotion in the following flier.
You can also offer smoothies, milkshakes, and mocktails for patrons who don’t want alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day.
Just remember to have your bar staffed appropriately for this rollout!
39. Run Buy-One-GIVE-One Donations For Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a celebration of gratitude, and for many, a time to think about those less fortunate. People want to give back, and you can help them do just that with a Buy-One-Give-One promotion.
This is similar to a BOGO offer, but instead of providing customers with a free meal with each purchase, that purchase results in your restaurant donating a meal to those in need, usually through a partnership with a local charity.
Here’s a great example from Eat My Lunch NZ in New Zealand.
This holiday season, empower your customers to help take care of their community through your restaurant’s Buy-One-Give-One donation campaign.
40. Give Your Customers a Gift For Christmas
Everybody likes gifts, especially around Christmas time. Offering a free gift during the month of December is a great way to tap into that Christmas energy.
You can offer a free appetizer. You can give away branded merchandise like Christmas-tree ornaments or cheap t-shirts. Or you can do something really simple like giving away a free item or two along with a connected purchase.
Here’s a very lowkey example of this from the national chain Wing Stop.
The idea here is to offer something low-cost to everyone. You can run a single-winner giveaway with a more noteworthy price any time. For Christmas, you want it to feel more like a gift than sweepstakes.
“Weekly Special” Promotion Ideas
It’s great to have something to look forward to, and whether or not most people are willing to admit it, they really want a measure of positive routine in their lives.
One of the best ways to create regulars is to have a weekly special they love, look forward to, and show up for week in and week out.
This is an incredibly pivotal promotion category — it can single-handedly define a restaurant’s brand — and so I want to devote an entire section to exploring some of the best weekly special ideas around.
41. Spin the Wheel Discount Night
People love to play games and they love a good spectacle.
One of the best strategies I’ve seen for a weekly special is a “spin the wheel” night where guests spin a wheel when they pay their bill and get a chance at winning prizes.
The bigger the wheel the better… no, seriously.
Prizes can include anything from free drinks to gift cards to branded t-shirts or whatever you have available. The night can also be enhanced with other types of games or anything that creates a game-like or carnival-like atmosphere.
42. Crazy Discount “Loss Leader” Night
A “loss leader” is an item you offer at a loss in order to get people in the door.
You’re already familiar with these types of promotions:
- $1 rib night
- Half-price burger or pizza night
- Free appetizer night
You’re offering something at such a crazy, attention-grabbing discount you’re going to lose money on it.
This is a phenomenal way to get people into your restaurant, but there’s a small catch.
When you offer freebies as a one-off promotion to get people in the door, you are planning to recoup that cost through repeat orders at full price or at a minor discount where you are still bringing in a profit.
When you offer freebies or loss leaders as a weekly special, it’s important to bring in a profit that night, because your goal is to get the same people coming back every week. You want to be strategic about the loss leader item and make sure it depends on additional orders to be enjoyed.
For example, $1 ribs and half-priced burgers are common choices, because they are rarely enjoyed by themselves, and customers are usually willing to buy high margin sides and drinks to go along with the meal.
Think outside the box here, and see if you can offer something that people don’t normally see.
43. Craft Beer Night
The craft beer market has absolutely blown up over the last five years, and it’s become the family-friendly version of more traditional alcohol-focused nights.
Craft beer is appreciated by a wide variety of people and can be paired with a wide variety of foods, making for a fun and interesting weekly experience.
To make your beer night special, choose a different selection of beers each week and include a description of why you chose it.
As an added twist, you can choose exclusively local beers once per month and make it a “Local Craft Beer” night. This will touch on some of the previous promotion ideas we’ve mentioned and allow you to tap into community pride and cross-promote with local breweries.
Another great addition is to provide branded mugs or glasses customers can order. Charge $20-30 for the mug and make it come with a $1 discount whenever they bring it in for Craft Beer night.
44. Customer Challenge Night
People love to be challenged.
“I bet you $30 you can’t finish 3 pounds of burger in one sitting.”
This is how you get people to show and order $30 mega-burgers.
This is also how you get people to eat 226 ribs in one sitting.
There are two directions you want to go with a weekly challenge or contest night.
You can either go for accessibility or inaccessibility.
Challenges that are nearly impossible are more spectacular and more likely to grab viral attention. Pair these with a notable prize. The Alamo burger challenge rewards customers with the meal being free, a branded t-shirt, and their picture on the winner’s wall.
Challenges that are accessible are more fun and more likely to create regulars. Offer smaller prizes most people are capable of winning.
45. Live Entertainment Night
Creating a desirable experience is a large part of growing a restaurant, and that’s why few things have the potential to define your brand like adding weekly live entertainment.
Live entertainment can take many different forms. Depending on your concept and the demographic you’re trying to reach, some ideas include:
- Live music
- Live comedy
- Live magic
- Live storytelling
The key here is to measure performance and either tie entertainer compensation to sales or make sure the bump in customers is justifying the expense.
46. Interactive Trivia Night
Trivia night combines a lot of what people like about game nights with what they love about live entertainment. If you have a good host, it’s part interactive game and part comedy show.
Trivia nights are great at pulling in regulars and can often appeal to a higher spending crowd than other types of activities.
They are also a great way to bring people through your doors for a midweek meal, and thanks to well-developed apps that automatically provide questions, take participant answers, and calculate scoring, they’re incredibly easy to run.
Some ideas to make these nights extra special include doing rotating themes, offering food and drink prizes for winners and runners up, and offering small discounts to all active participants.
Remember to use these nights to promote new menu items, specials occurring on other days, and anything else that could use some extra eyeballs.
47. Chef’s Choice Night
Sometimes it’s really nice to just show up and have someone else make all the choices for you.
A chef’s choice night is a weekly special where the chef will create a fixed, multi-course meal, and customers simply show up to enjoy the journey.
Given these nights are often presold and can be created in bulk, you are typically able to offer these at a compelling price point, further increasing the draw and encouraging customers to come back on a regular basis.
This type of weekly special is also a great opportunity to bring in guest chefs offering unique menus. The more variety you can provide from week to week, the more likely you are to get regulars.
48. Charity Proceeds Night
We’re sure you have a cause close to your heart, so why not let your customers know and invite them to participate?
Designating a weekly night where a percentage of profits go to a specific charity allows you to attract customers, give back to your community, and support great causes at the same time. It’s also really simple to run and doesn’t require any extra work on your part.
And while supporting a charity might not seem like a huge draw, 73% of Americans say they consider a company’s charitable contributions when making a purchase.
Charity proceeds nights are all upside and no downside.
49. Cooking Class Night
Your chefs might be staff members to you, but to many a foodie, they’re rock stars.
Invite your customers in for a cooking lesson with your chef, and we promise you, you’ll have a customer for life, all while charging them for the experience.
While this will likely work better as a monthly event for some restaurants, depending on your location and clientele, this could make for the perfect weekly event.
Cooking classes are great for date nights, friends’ nights out, or simply a different spin on the normal dining experience.
You might even consider trying a hybrid class, where you combine a light cooking lesson with a more typical dining experience, giving patrons the best of both worlds.
50. Customer Appreciation Night
Highlighting your customers is a great way to build rapport and make them feel like they’re family.
This practice also makes for a great weekly special.
Dedicate one day of the week to celebrating your customers all day long, including:
- Re-sharing customer social media posts tagging or mentioning your brand
- Posting content highlighting customer accomplishments or milestones
- Themed discounts connected to your customers
- Giveaway to a randomly selected regular
Most restaurants run these events once or twice a year and try to do something big.
But I think it’s worth trying to do this once per week or once per month, and doing something more in line with a weekly special.
Maybe even pair it with a more standard promotion offer. For example, you could make Wednesday nights “Customer Appreciation Night” and include a BOGO offer as a gift to customers.
BOGO offers are generally perceived as a better offer than a percentage discount or even a free appetizer, so assuming you only offer this deal on Customer Appreciation Night, it will end up feeling like… actual customer appreciation.
Loyalty Program Strategies
Regulars are the backbone of your business. The trick with creating a great loyalty program is to find something that coaxes more people from occasional purchases to frequent purchases without losing all your margins along the way.
Here are some great ideas for building out your restaurant’s loyalty program.
51. Create a “Part Of The Club” Feeling
The best way to get people coming back regularly is to make them feel like they are “part of the club,” and we want to make this feeling as accessible as possible.
Don’t make getting into the club a challenge. We want to get people in the club as quickly and easily as possible, and then make them reach for the biggest rewards.
A great way to do this is to use email or text signup as your entry point to the membership. Getting contact information is a huge marketing win for remarketing purposes, and it’s really easy and low cost for the customer.
The key here is providing that info and joining “the club” needs to feel like a big deal.
That’s why you should look to attach disproportionately large opportunities to that first level of membership. Take promotional events you would otherwise simply offer the general public and make them member-only, BUT all people need to do to become a member is simply signup via their email or phone number.
This creates a feeling of exclusivity while also making that feeling accessible to everyone.
You can apply this concept to the rest of the ideas in this category and really any of the ideas in this guide. Consider which promotions to run for all customers and which to attach to membership, motivating more people to sign up.
52. Offer Point-Based Rewards
You’ve seen this before. You might even be using it right now.
The power of a point system is in its simplicity. It’s really clear to the customer when they will be rewarded with a freebie or discount.
At least… it’s clear if you actually tell them how it works.
A lot of restaurants using a point system forget to tell their customers exactly how it works or help them track their points, which ultimately defeats the purpose of having the system in the first place.
Help customers track their points with either a physical item like a punch card or regular emails showing them how many points they’ve earned and what those points mean.
We have a point-based system built directly into our Owner.com platform, and it will automatically send out emails just like this to your customers after each purchase. Visualizing the points value from each action encourages customers to take more actions, and that’s the whole point of having a loyalty program.
53. Create a Referral Program
Regardless of which ideas you implement from this list, it’s always worth pairing your loyalty program with a referral program. We want to incentivize our most frequent patrons to spread the word about our restaurant and even bring people in with them.
The keyword there is “incentivize.”
A lot of referral programs don’t do a good job of making rewards immediate and compelling.
If you are using a point system, set it up so successful referrals result in a big point bonus you email the customer about and make a point of celebrating. We want to make that experience feel really great. We want to motivate that patron to continue referring people to our restaurant.
If you are offering any sort of the exclusive VIP rewards we talk about elsewhere on this list, make referrals a key entry point to the top rewards.
54. Behind-the-Scenes Tour Night
People love getting a behind-the-scenes look at the places they frequent, and restaurants are no exception. This is especially true for foodies, who already love learning about the origins of different foods, as well as how to prepare them.
A great way to reward your loyal patrons and engage your local foodie community is to host recurring Behind-the-Scenes Tour nights, where you can introduce customers to your history, tell them how you prepare some of your most popular dishes, and give them an idea of what it takes to run your restaurant on a daily basis.
If you have an open kitchen, let people watch from nearby tables so they can see their meals being prepared.
This is also the perfect promotional opportunity for cross-promoting with other businesses looking to get their names out there, like local farmers or specialty goods producers you partner with. Consider inviting these partners along on your tour nights so customers can learn more about their offerings as well.
Rotating local partners into the event will also keep it interesting for customers who want to return multiple times.
55. Incentivize Your Customers to Tag You Online
Having your customers tag you on social media while visiting your restaurant is a great way to get exposure to new customers.
Make a habit of re-sharing these types of posts from your restaurant account and put a little note in your menu saying you often give out spot prizes for people who tag you while they’re at the restaurant.
A few times a week, randomly pick a customer who has tagged you and surprise their table with free drinks or a free dessert.
You can also run this as more of an ongoing picture contest.
Either way, this is a great strategy to get exposure to new customers AND create loyal customers who are eager to return to your restaurant again.
56. Celebrate Your Local Area
This one is less about an offer you run and more about how you present your brand. It’s all about emotional engagement with your customers.
Put up some local memorabilia, such as old sports photos, photos of local celebrities, or famous stories from your community’s past. You can also take photos of your customers and add them to the walls.
You could even dig up that first photo you took of yourself outside your restaurant.
It’s all local history your customers can identify with, and it will create a connection that goes deeper than a transaction. This sort of deeper engagement is an important part of creating real loyalty from your customers that goes beyond the food they are purchasing.
57. Host Exclusive Events for Members
As we’ve talked about throughout this guide, creating the right experience is incredibly important in growing a restaurant.
Just like a popup allows you to experiment with creating a new experience, you can achieve something similar while also building customer loyalty by holding exclusive dining events for members.
The goal here is to create special, exclusive experiences people rave about and look forward to attending.
If you have a smaller customer base, try what we talked about earlier and attach these events to the lowest membership tier, where anyone who signs up via email or phone number can join the fun. These types of events will really make members feel like they’re “in the club.”
If you’ve reached the point where inviting all would bring in more customers than you could handle in a single evening, move access to the event to the next tier of membership. Quarterly or bi-yearly events are the perfect VIP bonus for outstanding patrons.
58. Ask Your Customers to Vote Back an Old Dish
Every one of your customers has opinions about your menu.
And I can promise you they would LOVE to weigh-in and have some influence on the direction of that menu.
Providing opportunities for customers to interact with and influence your business is both a great promotion tool and a great way to build loyalty.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to invite customers to vote back an old dish.
If you already use limited-run menu items as a promotion tool — which I highly recommend — this becomes really easy and even systematic. You can periodically take previously run items and invite your customers to vote on what to bring back.
Attach this to the entry level of your loyalty program to motivate more people to signup, but only if you are doing it periodically.
If you don’t offer limited-run items, rummage around your old menus and look for dishes that were popular back in the day. It might even be somethin retro like fondue.
Then you can put a poll on social media and ask your customers to vote for their favorite dish from yesteryear.
This is a great way to get some online word-of-mouth marketing, and customers will feel more emotionally connected to your business after having the chance to influence a real, tangible decision you make for the restaurant.
59. Surprise Your Loyal Customers
There’s something really special about a surprise.
The vast majority of promotions you will run depend on the customer expecting them. The promotion only works when you create the expectation to then motivate an action by the customer.
And this is why adding in a completely unexpected surprise here and there can be so special.
There are a lot of ways you can do this:
- Throw in an unexpected free item on their 2nd delivery order through your website.
- You can send out a surprise gift on members’ birthdays.
- Walk up and say hi if you’ve noticed them come into the restaurant a few times and then comp their dessert.
- Throw a surprise “on the house” night where customers have an item from their order made free without forewarning.
You can do this sporadically, but if you can find a more systematic way to do this within your customers’ first few experiences with the restaurant, it can significantly increase loyalty.
It’s important to make the surprise really obvious. If you are including free items in a delivery package, for example, wrap this item in a flier that says “Surprise” and explicitly explains they are being given a free item as a thank you.
60. Create A Website-Only Delivery Offer
One of the biggest problems restaurants face today is delivery commissions on 3rd party apps.
30% fees typically wipe out your margins, and even worse, the delivery companies steal your customer data rather than giving it to you, so you can’t even follow up with those customers and make the money back via repeat business.
This was the original reason we built Owner.com, which allows restaurants to do commission-free deliveries through their website, while still using 3rd party driver networks.
Yes, seriously, it’s as great as it sounds.
But whether you are using Owner.com or have set up direct-orders on your website via another method, getting people to actually use your website instead of the third party apps can be tricky.
We’ve found the best way to approach this is to offer incentives for direct orders.
When a new restaurant partner starts with us, we design and print out 1,000 fliers for them to package in deliveries prepared for 3rd party app orders. These fliers offer a discount to the recipient that can only be redeemed via the direct-order system.
Once they enter the restaurant’s website, we use a very smooth, sophisticated checkout experience to upsell them on additional items and get them into the restaurant’s loyalty program.
This is how we consistently turn 3rd-party app users into loyal, commission-free customers for our restaurant partners.
Our all-in-one-platform helps you take back control of your online presence, drive direct sales, save money on fees, and manage everything in one place. Schedule a demo to see the platform in action and discover why our new restaurant partners increase online sales by an average of 270% in their first three months using Owner.com.Schedule A Demo
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