12 restaurant promotion ideas and strategies that work in 2023

Not all promotion strategies are right for every restaurant. Even the most creative restaurant promotion ideas won’t increase sales if they’re poorly planned and executed. And if restaurant owners don’t put restaurant marketing efforts behind a promotion, the best concepts can stall.

Before launching any new menu promotion idea, it’s a good idea to go back to basics and get clear a few basic points first.

Quick links
What are restaurant promotions?
Who is the target guest?
What is the goal?
What does the data show?
Start a loyalty program
Online ordering
Piggyback on events
Buy X, get Y free
Guest chef or pop up
Personalize offers
Influencer event
Social promotion
Jump on seasonal trends
Industry night
Invite guests back

What are restaurant promotions?

A restaurant promotion can be any special offer to guests at a restaurant. Many restaurant owners offer a percentage off a meal or specific menu item. These offers typically last for a limited time. To make the promotion irresistible, give guests something they consider valuable for free. The trick is making sure the tactic boosts sales instead of cutting into revenue.

Remember, a restaurant promotion doesn’t have to be a deal or discount. It’s anything worthy of shouting from the rooftops. For a fine dining Italian restaurant, it could be that fresh truffle supplements are available at a premium price for a limited time. For a family restaurant, it could be a kid-friendly event happening in the parking lot.

Who is the target guest?

Before creating any restaurant promotion, it’s helpful to identify the specific people it’s meant to bring in the door. Your customer base likely has many categories of guests. Getting clear on who you’re trying to attract with a promotion helps make it more effective. Is it for families? The after-work crowd? People who enjoy early dinners? Theater goers? Wine lovers? Picturing a specific regular who falls into the group you want to target with your promotion will help you brainstorm the kind of promotion ideas most likely to delight them.

What is the goal?

Every promotion must have a goal. For the record, it isn’t always to bring in more revenue. Other reasons to run a promotion include getting the restaurant’s name out there in the media. It can be a way to help new people discover the restaurant. Word of mouth is a solid goal. Promotions can also simply reward the most loyal regulars. And of course, a promotion can increase covers and sales. When you know the goal, it will help you design a promotion to achieve it.

What does the data show?

Crunching the numbers can reveal the best promotion ideas. Look at what menu items aren’t selling briskly. Offering them at a discount might reveal if they’re priced too high to move. (If they don’t sell even at a discount, it may be time to rethink offering that idea. This is good information, too.)

Look at shift occupancy reports to find the less busy times. Target promotions to these lulls. It could be a happy hour, a late-night special, or coffee break promotion, depending on the time of day.

With that research and thinking done, it’s time to design your next restaurant promotion. These ideas and examples can help get your creative juices flowing.

Start a loyalty program

Every restaurant prizes its loyal customers. Show them how much they mean to you with a loyalty program. Try something traditional by giving guests every 10th burger on the house, or throw a thank-you cocktail party every quarter for your biggest spending regulars. Whatever type of promotion you choose, rewarding customer loyalty builds connections with regulars. You can even create a secret loyalty program to make it effortless for guests.

Online ordering

People are so crazy about online ordering that it makes sense to promote heavily if you have it. The promotion can be as straightforward as sharing the links through social media and emails. If you want to sweeten the deal, throw in a free menu item or a small percentage off the delivery charge to entice people to order.

Piggyback on events

There’s no shortage of holidays and special occasions to tie restaurant promotions to. Create a wings and dip extravaganza for the Superbowl or host a ticketed experience with a special carbo-loading menu for the night before your city’s marathon or town’s 10K. Both national holidays and tiny local festivals bring opportunities for creative and profitable restaurant promotions.

Buy X, get Y free

This classic promotion works better for casual spots than fine dining restaurants. It’s a simple matter of offering a freebie with the purchase of a full-price menu item. Some classic combos are a free order of fries with a pub burger or a free ice cream with an entree. It’s a good opportunity to induce guests to menu items that they typically resist ordering. Free desserts are a crowd-pleaser.

Guest chef or pop up

In recent years, people have flocked to pop-up restaurants and events. For an established restaurant, the style of promotion could mean inviting a guest chef into the kitchen to create a special menu. If you can work with the chef from a popular food truck in your area, it’s sure to get attention and draw those who want the best of both worlds: the fun of street food in the comfort of a sit-down restaurant.

Personalize offers

Promotions don’t need to be one size fits all. With access to guest data and order history, you can slice and dice your list to offer highly personalized promotions. For example, you could email people on their birthday with a code for a free order of their favorite dessert to celebrate. Identify guests who have spent the most on bottles of wine to promote a wine pairing dinner. Create a special prix fixe event and offer a discount to guests who’ve enjoyed multi-course menus in the past.

Influencer event

When it’s time to introduce a new chef or launch a new menu, consider inviting the food bloggers and social media influencers to an exclusive media preview dinner. To get the most mileage out of this event, provide a photography station with a ring light so guests can take appealing photos of the dishes to share online. Create a hashtag and offer a prize for the most comments or shares of an image from the night.

Social promotion

Hopefully you’re using social media on a daily basis to promote what’s going on at the restaurant, as 62% of consumers follow food and beverage companies on social media to discover restaurants, according to a survey from OpenTable. It’s also a great place to actually run a promotion. Consider offering a free dessert or side dish to those who share a post about the restaurant. Or, post a dish with the caption that everyone who comments and tags a friend gets a chance to win that dish when you pick a number at random at a later time to select the winner. You can also enter everyone who shares out a post to their own network into a drawing for a free dinner.

Love it or hate it, that annual pumpkin spiced latte craze shows how much people love their seasonal foods. Plant your flag in hot cocoa, apple cider donuts, and watermelon salad and promote those seasonal specialties any chance you get, with or without discounting the items.

Industry night

Don’t forget about the restaurant community when you’re planning to offer a discount. If you happen to be open Monday or Tuesday night when many other restaurants close, this is a good time to run an industry night. Offer half-price beers, $1 oysters, and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Invite a guest bartender to step behind the bar and generate buzz. If you’re closed on Monday and Tuesday nights, a late-night industry happy hour is another good way to go. Cooks and servers want to grab drinks and snacks after work, too, regardless of the time of day.

Invite guests back

One of the best uses of all those email addresses you’ve collected from guests is sending them a personalized, special offer when it’s been a while since they’ve dined at the restaurant. Try a “we miss you” campaign to offer guests who haven’t visited in 90 days or more a 20% discount on their next visit. Personalized restaurant promotions like this enhance your connection with guests and help create long-term loyalty.

Whatever your business goals, there’s a restaurant promotion that can help reach them. Use this list to spark some inspiration. With a little research and strategic thinking, you can plan a restaurant promotion your guests will love.

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