Make a comeback: Nine restaurant advertising ideas that work

By Diane Chiasson

We’ve all been experiencing the fallout of the current economic conditions and yet the experts continue to agree that advertising during slowdowns is still a good idea. Research shows that the large, successful corporations – including those in foodservice – have all maintained or increased advertising budgets from the previous year. And for good reason.

Now is the time to get ahead, since it is more than likely that your competitors will be cutting back on advertising of their own. Newspapers and other media outlets are slashing their advertising rates and you may be able to take advantage of lower prices from suppliers like printers and delivery services. Also, with the rise in popularity of new social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, the free advertising opportunities are endless.

With less competition and lower costs, now is the perfect time to kick-start your advertising efforts.

Here are a few things to consider before you start:

1. Identify your strongest products

Think of ways to put your operation’s strongest and most popular food or menu items front-and-centre. Use those products to draw customers into your restaurant.

2. Choose the right market

Make sure that your advertising campaign is targeting the right market, and the deals and offers you are advertising make sense for your potential customers. For example, don’t advertise “free delivery” if you do not deliver to all parts of the city/town in which you are advertising.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Repeat your message over and over again. Although you might think that customers find it annoying to see the same ad or message repeated over and over again, this is simply not true. The average person needs to see a product nine or ten times before it will be remembered. Repetition helps to make your operation feel both credible and familiar.

4. Use direct mail

Direct mail is a very cost-effective form of advertising that yields results. Research indicates that most people will dine within a 5 km radius of their home, so it is crucial to target that market in your area. Direct mail is also simple. If you are crunched for time or don’t know where to begin, there are several direct mail services that handle all the printing and mailing for you. Some services will even offer to help you write and design your postcard or flyer. Prices can be as low as a few pennies per home depending on volume.

5. Seek out free publicity

Invite local TV hosts and radio deejays into your restaurant for a free meal, and have them talk about your food, special deals and the great experience they had dining at your establishment. Send press releases to local newspapers with your latest menu additions. Write free articles and recipes for newspapers and magazines.

6. Check for reduced costs on media advertising

Call your local newspapers and radio and TV stations to see if they have cut their advertising rates, and buy up advertising time/space if the price is right. By “priming the pump” while ad buys are affordable, you’ll be in a better position when potential customers are ready to spend again.

7. Use Facebook to create events

Create a Facebook account, and encourage customers to add you as their friend. Facebook makes it easy to let your online friends know about special events and promotions, and you can update your operation’s “status” with daily specials or exciting new menu items.

8. “Tweet” your specials

Twitter is another great way to promote your operation online. If your restaurant offers food and drinks that cater to a younger crowd, get on the Twitter wagon. For example, if you offer a student lunch special, Twitter a different lunch special everyday right before lunchtime to draw students into your establishment. Because Twitter’s popularity is rising rapidly, you can build a good base of loyal customers who will appreciate your special offers.

9. Don’t forget about word of mouth

Ultimately, there is no better advertising than great word of mouth referrals. By offering great food and great customer service to every single person who walks through your door you boost your chances that that person will want to return for that same great experience! Even better, you make it more likely that they’ll bring back their friends, who will tell their friends, and so on, and so on …

About the author

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as the industry leader in providing innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655 or, or visit

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