Restaurant Marketing

Bring in Customers on a Small Marketing Budget

In a world where those with the largest marketing budgets tend to grab the largest piece of the pie when it comes to profit, how do the smaller restaurants manage to break through and grab some of the attention? While larger billboards and flyers can have a large impact, the impact of effective digital marketing and social media management, paired with promotional programs, contesting, and loyalty programs, should not be underestimated. In the following article, we’re going to go over the most effective low-cost solutions to bring in a larger chunk of your potential customer base. Let’s dive in!



Facebook, for the greater part of the past decade, has been seen as a social network juggernaut, and especially so when it comes to advertising. While this may be true, that does not mean your dollar can’t be just as effective as those with large advertising budgets, as Facebook has a number of features that provides you with an opportunity to show yourself to potential customers.

While it may not seem like a large amount, $10/post can have a substantial impact when targeted at the right demographic. While content is important, how you target that content is key to maximizing your effectiveness and achieving ROI. You’ll be able to target with parameters as wide as just your location and specific age ranges, or you can narrow it all the way down to buying behavior and interests. In addition to the targeting features, Facebook’s ability to add photos, videos, and links allows you to showcase your products, the atmosphere, and provide somewhere for people to make reservations (if your establishment allows for them).

Now, while Facebook provides for the ability to add photos and videos, its sister app, Instagram, provides videos and photos at the forefront, emphasizing creativity and the visual aspects of people and brands more-so than Facebook.



Want to showcase the best looking of your dishes? Maybe let your customers see the live music that’s being played on weekends? Instagram allows you to do just that, all at no additional cost. If you’ve got a creative member of staff that is willing to take on the task, they can use their skills to help develop the online identity of your brand. There are a number of free tools available that can be used to create different graphics and videos in order to build that identity, and create a following for your restaurant. Unlike Facebook, where you have to pay in order for your restaurant’s posts to be seen by more than a small number of people, Instagram provides a method that only requires time and work.

As Facebook and Instagram are sister companies, and their advertising platforms are both run through Facebook’s Business Manager, you do have the opportunity to have reservation links available in both posts and Instagram Stories, using the same targeting features as Facebook. If you have enough budget to incorporate these into your overall strategy, they can be highly beneficial to be seen by those not following your restaurant currently.



While not forgotten, Twitter is a dual edged sword for both personal and professional accounts. It’s another platform that provides free or cheap visibility for your restaurant, but can be volatile depending on those following, or seeing your tweets. In addition to this, it can be difficult to target your potential customer base. While Twitter does have an advertising platform, the ability to easily falsify information makes it less effective to use than Facebook or Instagram. This makes it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts, as people may have multiple accounts. You do have the ability to add links, photos, and videos to your posts in the same way as Facebook, though video quality does tend to be reduced. There are aspects of Twitter that can help your restaurant’s website appear higher in Google search results, though they typically require someone with a specialized background in SEO.

A recommendation for Twitter would be to post content that is specific to your business, but nothing that could be seen as polarizing or possibly confrontational.



One of the most successful methods to bring in a new customers is contesting. This doesn’t need to be a contest for a trip, or something grand, it could be as simple as a night out at your restaurant, or a free entrée; whatever you decide to offer, it should be within your means, and may even help you get rid of some inventory that is slower to move by offering a specific dish that uses those ingredients. Contesting done properly can go viral on little to no budget depending on the type of contest, the content, and the prizing.


When selecting the contest type, you’ll need to consider the regulations in place on each of the networks, as some will try to limit spam. Some examples of successful contesting campaigns include:

  • Like and Share
  • Tag Your Friends
  • Share Your Experience
  • Retweet and Like
  • Retweet and Tag Your Friends

This promotes shareability of your campaign. Now not only is the function of the campaign important, but the form is equally as important in getting the word out. If hiring a graphic designer is not possible, see if any of your staff would like to take on the challenge of creating these materials.


While contesting works terrifically, having a steady lineup of promotions will help to draw in and retain customers. If the promotions are popular amongst your customers, they’ll continue to return. These can be anything from discounted wings, to a dedicated chef’s menu once a week, or live entertainment. Whatever the promotion is, it should reflect the intended atmosphere of your restaurant. By creating enticing promotions you don’t necessarily need a large advertising budget, you just have to tap into your market research and find what your customers want. This can also serve a secondary purpose of helping to offload some inventory that has a low amount of turnover.

Having a great established set of promotions can help a restaurant stand out from the competition, and help build customer loyalty.


Loyalty Programs

If you develop a following (which you should!), a loyalty program can help facilitate regular customers returning on a much more regular basis to either earn rewards or fulfill the requirements, such as every 7 coffees you earn a free one, or earning reward points for every dollar or every purchase. These programs allow you to track specific customer behaviors, and examine how loyal your customers are. You don’t have to break the bank on rewards either, simply ensure they are enough to keep customers coming back in order to achieve them, such as a free dessert or entrée.


As you can see, there are a number of different options available to bring in customers on a smaller advertising and marketing budget. You don’t need to break the bank, you just need to think outside the box and figure out what will bring the most attention to your restaurant in a positive way.

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