18 Proven Restaurant Promotion Ideas That Work [2024]

This is your complete guide to restaurant promotion, packed full of proven ideas that have helped real local restaurants grow their business.

15 min. read
February 22, 2024

Key takeaways

  • Restaurant promotion is key to attracting new customers, keeping current ones and driving sales. 
  • The best restaurant promotion makes customers feel special, engaged, and rewarded with discounts and offers.  
  • Give personalized discounts based on order history, create exclusive experiences, and maintain consistency in branding and communication to attract and retain loyal customers who become your restaurant's biggest advocates.

Restaurant promotions aren't just about getting people through the door (though that's a big part of it) — they're also about building buzz, fostering loyalty, and keeping those cash registers ringing. If you’re looking for ways to make this happen and grow your restaurant — you’re in luck. This guide is packed full of proven ideas that have worked for real, local restaurants just like yours.

I’ve worked closely with thousands of restaurant owners over the last few years, and these are the exact promotion strategies they’ve used to grow consistently — month in and month out — with many achieving their goal of expanding to multiple new locations.

Read more to learn 18 ways you can take advantage of restaurant promotion and attract customers to drive sales. 

1. Offer Loyalty Rewards 

Connect with your customers (and get them to spend more money with you) and add a loyalty program — it’s a quick and easy way to offer promotions and discounts and give appreciation for their business. 

Offering loyalty programs is a fantastic restaurant promotion idea that I recommend for several reasons:

  • Encourages repeat business: Loyalty programs get customers to keep coming back by offering enticing rewards or discounts for frequent visits. 
  • Increases customer engagement: By participating in a loyalty program, customers feel more engaged with your restaurant. They're not just dining; they're actively working towards earning rewards, which can increase their investment in your brand.
  • Fosters customer loyalty: Loyalty programs foster a sense of appreciation and value among customers. When they feel rewarded for their loyalty, they're more likely to continue choosing your restaurant over competitors.
  • Drives sales: Loyalty programs can increase sales by encouraging customers to spend more to reach reward thresholds or by promoting special offers exclusive to program members. 

Loyalty programs offer a valuable opportunity for us to learn from what's already proven successful — Starbucks and Chipotle have already cracked the code on this.

At Owner, for example, we simply take the best practices from these successful chains and tailor them to fit local restaurants.

Example: Samos Oaxaca used Owner.com to start a loyalty program that has helped increase sales by over $150,000.

Screenshot of Samos Oaxaca website

Samos Oaxaca uses Owner.com to run their loyalty program.

2. Partner With Third-Party Apps

You can add a lot of revenue to your bottom line by partnering with third-party apps to help with your restaurant promotion, like DoorDash. These apps have millions of users — that’s a lot of eyeballs (and hungry stomachs) you can tap into. Some smart ways to partner with an app like DoorDash, Uber Eats, or GrubHub and attract new customers include: 

  • Running ads in-app
  • Providing benefits for first-time customers, like free delivery 
  • Offering discounted or bundled items from your menu 

While this should help you get new people to try your food, you don’t want to only rely on third-party apps. Once the word is out that your restaurant is legit, focusing your efforts on your own direct online channel will help save you money. For example, we built Owner to help restaurant owners build their own delivery system with commission-free deliveries through their website while still using third-party driver networks. Yes, seriously, it’s as great as it sounds.

Example: Talkin’ Tacos partnered with Owner for help with their sales. After creating its own delivery system, the business has seen a 970% growth and a +$2,000,000 increase in sales.

3. Give a Personalized Discount Based on Order History 

Promoting to your existing customers is just as important as promoting to get new customers, if not more. This is because getting a new customer can cost up to five times more than keeping an existing one. So, do you want to know a cool trick to keep your current customers coming back for more? Personalized discounts based on their past orders. 

Think about it like this: You know how sometimes you get a special deal for being a loyal customer? Well, we can do the same for your restaurant. By looking at what your customers love to order, you can tailor discounts just for them, making them feel extra special — and boosting your sales in return. 

For instance, you can use Owner.com’s automated marketing to collect your customers' info and past orders easily. Plus, you can bring back old customers by offering them discounts.

Example: Use data from your loyalty program to fuel upsells as Chipotle does — they recently have found a way to take their customers’ order history and turn that information into personalized upsell items at checkout. 

4. Make Your Customers Famous on Instagram

People love a bit of digital validation, so why not give it to them on your restaurant’s Instagram by making them famous for a day? Encourage your customers to post pictures of your delicious-looking meals and pick a winner once a week/month for a free meal. Having your customers do this simple act keeps them engaged and happy with their freebie, and you get easy restaurant promotion in return.  

Be sure to praise them for their fine choice in dining as well as their photography skills. So why does this work? 

  • It’s great for customer retention: Keeping just 5% of your customer base will increase your profitability by 75%. That’s a smart restaurant marketing plan.
  • It’s great word of mouth: This is free advertising from your customers themselves. There is no better advertising than word of mouth, which means new customers are guaranteed.

We live in odd times when some people enjoy taking photos of their food - perhaps even more than eating it. Let your snap-happy foodies do some free restaurant promotion for you by encouraging them to share their images on Instagram. 

Example: White Castle’s Instagram page is the perfect example of a brand that highlights user-generated content — they frequently repost customer photos and tag them, which is a prime opportunity to make them feel special and connected to your brand. Doing this can help you retain them and keep them spending.  

5. Let Your Customers Peek Behind the Curtain

You may see your restaurant as just a normal business, but to a diner, there is always a little bit of intrigue about what happens behind the scenes. If you have a new dish, that’s your new baby to show the world. 

A screenshot of Uchi Restaurant's employee spotlight Instagram post

If you get a new staff member, proudly introduce them to your customers. Peel back the curtain just a little bit, and they’ll feel much more connected to you.

Example: Consider adding an “employee spotlight” post on your social media for new or current employees — this can showcase some fun facts about them, which can be a fun way for your customers to learn more about who runs the business.  

6. Pop-Up Somewhere Unexpected

We’re willing to bet your community has a reasonably busy calendar of events throughout the year, especially in the warmer months. Places to set up a small pop-up restaurant could be places like: 

  • Craft festivals
  • Food markets
  • Music events

It’s a terrific restaurant promotion, as it’s only a short-term investment, and you get a brand new audience to try your food. You’ll also plant the seed to attract them through your restaurant doors later on.

Example: Dos Gringos Mexican Kitchen has food trucks as their pop-up idea so that they can service guests from virtually anywhere, which helps them acquire new customers and make more sales. 

7. Get on Top of Your Google My Business Listing 

Picture this — a potential customer is feeling hunger pangs, and they Google your restaurant name, but they can’t see your opening hours right away. Just like that, you’ve lost them. That may sound over the top, but people expect this information immediately, or they’ll simply lose patience and move on.

That’s why you should use Google My Business (GMB) so you can make sure your customers have everything they need to find you. Google is so important to your restaurant that we created this guide on restaurant SEO.

Learn how you can set up your restaurant on Google My Business for free in my video below: 

Example: Doo-Dah Diner provides a solid example of what a GMB listing should look like — they include contact details, address, hours, a link to the menu and more to help customers find information a lot quicker.  

8. Answer That Bad Review 

Look, we get it. Reading people’s complaints about your restaurant isn’t high up on your daily to-do list. But even if it’s a trivial complaint, responding to their criticism in a meaningful and friendly way is a powerful restaurant promotion tool for your reputation. This is something that should be high priority, as 53% of customers expect businesses to follow up on a bad review within one week. 

Check out my helpful video on how to get more sales on Yelp, which includes my top tips for how to respond. Returning customers will always be your best customers, so by looking after them, you will see familiar faces filling tables consistently every night and adding to your sales.

Example: Coriander Indian and Euro Kitchen does a good job of responding to bad reviews in a kind and apologetic way, offering to take the conversation offline to resolve the issue:

A screenshot of a review response on Coriander Indian and Euro Kitchen's Yelp profile.

9. Provide 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. These types of campaigns work for every restaurant and customer type. The key is to run ads with strong copywriting that grabs attention and asks 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.

Example: Deen’s Cheesesteak and Pizza offered a promotion where customers receive 20% off their next online order by the next day, which took advantage of the limited-time offer approach: 

A screenshot of a discount promotion from Deen's Cheesesteak and Pizza

10. Host a Customer Challenge or Contest

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 up to your restaurant and order $30 mega-burgers. 

Nearly impossible challenges are more spectacular and more likely to grab viral attention. To get customers to participate, pair these with a notable prize. Challenges that are accessible are more fun and more likely to create regulars. Offer smaller prizes most people are capable of winning.

Example: Wintzell’s Oyster House challenges their customers to an oyster-eating contest, where they have to eat the previous record holder’s amount of oysters in one hour (the record was 421 oysters in 2010!). Winners get a $25 check and get added to the list of oyster-eating champions.


11. Take Advantage of the Holidays 

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. You could do things like: 

  • Offer bottomless brunch on Mother’s Day. 
  • Promote a “grill-it-yourself” lunch package for July 4th.
  • Feature a prix fixe dinner menu for Valentine's Day.
  • Collaborate with a local brewer for Father’s Day.
  • Add wine pairings to your menu for New Year's Eve.

Being a restaurant owner can be busy, so I would recommend using Owner — the platform can help automate holiday promotions for you. 

Example: McDonald’s has famously released its green shamrock shakes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for the past 50 years to increase sales.

12. Support a Charity 

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 goes to a specific charity allows you to: 

  • Attract customers.
  • Give back to your community.
  • Support great causes. 

It’s also effortless to run and doesn’t require heavy lifting. And while supporting a charity might not seem like a huge draw, 75% of Americans say they consider a company’s charitable contributions when making a purchase.

Example: Consider running a holiday restaurant promotion that drives sales and gives back. Etihad’s Indian restaurant ran a program on Martin Luther King Day that donated a meal to the hungry for every meal ordered at the restaurant — make sure this is a low-cost meal so you don’t dip too much into your revenue. 

13. Go Viral

Getting your restaurant to go viral can be a game-changer for your business, but it often requires a combination of creativity, strategic restaurant marketing, and providing an exceptional customer experience. 

Here are some tips to help you achieve viral success:

  • Create a crazy and out-of-the-ordinary food item that will get people’s attention, like a giant pizza.
  • Host a popular chef at your restaurant and make a YouTube video out of it.  
  • Set up a selfie station in your restaurant to attract people who want to take a picture and repost it. 
  • Name a menu item after a micro-influencer — we’re talking about someone like “Mexi Papa” who tries out local food places and has 137k Instagram followers:

A screenshot of Mexi Papa Adventures Instagram profile.

It doesn’t have to be complicated — you can do something simple as long as it captures attention. Just make sure it’s something unique, memorable, and bound to get social media abuzz with exposure for your restaurant. 

Talkin’ Tacos is a joint that does a great job of this — their TikTok videos have gotten millions of views for their posts highlighting their visually friendly food and cool kitchen processes. Consider capturing and posting similar moments for your restaurant to help with your promotion efforts!    

Example: This one is for the adventurous only! Pizza chain Hell Pizza famously served up a restaurant promotion where customers could order any pizza and opt into their “Pizza Roulette challenge.” Tongue blistering, one slice of that pizza would be doused with a chili sauce they claimed to be as hot as police pepper spray. 

14. 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.

Example: 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.

A screenshot of a bogo deal

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.

15. Mix Things Up With a Secret Menu 

How about creating a secret menu item? You know, something special that only the insiders know about. This could be a unique dish that's only available upon request for those in the know. It creates a sense of exclusivity and excitement, encouraging customers to come back to discover what's new and hidden. 

Try promoting it through word-of-mouth, social media posts, or even by leaving subtle hints around your restaurant. It's a fun way to engage your customers and keep them intrigued about what other surprises your restaurant has in store.

Example: In-N-Out brands 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. 

A screenshot of In n Out's secret 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.

16. 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 several 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.

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.

Example: Shake Shack regularly introduces new and innovative menu items for a limited time, such as special burgers, shakes, or desserts. One time, they partnered with Milk Bar to create unique shakes made with Milk Bar’s baked goods.  

17. Offer a Special Menu

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.

Brands that connect on an emotional level tend to get 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.

Example: The Presley offers a special menu for dogs, featuring a “Puppuccino”, different fresh meat options, and a “Presley Pawtner Bowl” that includes carrots, cauliflower, sweet potato, and spinach. They’re likely to draw in many pet-lover customers with this simple yet thoughtful addition.   

18. Give Away Something Huge and Expensive Sounding

Offering small freebies is a staple promotion strategy, but it’s not going to make you go viral. If you want to really stand out, you need to offer something big. How 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. 

Example: McDonald's has run various Monopoly-themed promotions over the years where customers can win cash prizes, cars, vacations, and other valuable items by collecting game pieces from their food purchases.

Make Your Promotions Irresistible and Completely Automated 

The key to promoting your restaurant is to make each customer feel valued and appreciated, spark excitement and establish loyalty to keep them coming back for more unforgettable dining experiences.

If you’re ready to showcase a website that helps you take full control over your online sales, check out Owner.com. It can help automate the promotion of your restaurant and make online ordering easier for you and your customers.  

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Adam Guild is the CEO of Owner, a restaurant marketing platform that makes online growth easy for restaurants.


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