Whether you’ve just opened a new restaurant or your existing restaurant needs a boost in customers, restaurant promotion is a must. Luckily, there are plenty of specials that will get customers in the door and filling seats.
Some restaurant owners worry that offering specials and promotions will hurt their bottom line, but when done correctly, a promotional deal can be extremely lucrative, bring new customers in, and build loyalty with those customers so that they come back.
We’ve come up with a list of the best restaurant promotions and specials to try out. These specials are not one-size-fits-all, but you’re sure to find a new idea to try at your restaurant.
If your restaurant hasn’t opened yet, the opening of a restaurant is a great opportunity to introduce your new business and build a customer base! There are plenty of great grand opening ideas or soft opening ideas, but you can also offer a promotional deal to get them in the door.
Promotions could include discounts, free items, or other specials. One example is Wawa, the quick serve deli chain. When opening a new location, they offer free coffee for everyone that comes. This brings a huge amount of customers in, and most are likely to buy something else while they’re there.
Loyalty programs are a great way to keep customers coming back after an initial visit. If it fits the style of your restaurant, a loyalty program can encourage repeat customers and build customer relationships.
The key to a successful loyalty offering is to find a balance between an enticing deal for customers and a good profit margin for your business. You shouldn’t offer a discount that is too generous and loses money in the long run.
Common loyalty programs include buy 9 items, get the 10th free – this is good for small items like coffee or ice cream, but probably not for full meals. Bars can offer loyalty specials for attending a certain amount of happy hours. A bar or brewery offering craft beers could even offer a special after a customer tries each beer on the menu (hopefully not in one sitting).
Happy Hour Specials
Happy hour is one of the most popular specials around! A happy hour special could include beverage discounts, food specials, or both. Typically only bars or restaurants that serve alcohol offer happy hour, but non-alcoholic happy hours could work as well.
Your happy hour special can include a blanket discount, or discounts on specific drinks and food items. You can also do different happy hour specials for each day of the week, or just have the same happy hour deals each day. Many restaurants only offer happy hour on weekdays, since weekends are usually busy on their own.
Just as we mentioned above, you can offer different specials for each day of the week. This can coincide with happy hour, or it can be a special of its own.
Often, weekday specials are for a different type of food or drink each day of the week. Many restaurants use alliteration, for example: Margarita Monday, Taco Tuesday, and so on. This is not required, of course, it just makes it catchy and easy to remember.
If a certain day of the week is particularly quiet, you could offer a special exclusively on that day. Crowded days and times don’t need promotions, since your restaurant is already busy during that time. Use a special to promote a day/time where your crowd is lacking.
Many restaurants are successful at dinner, but struggle to fill seats for lunch. This isn’t necessarily a problem – if you can afford to keep less staff on the clock during lunch and it’s still profitable, that might be just fine.
If you are looking to populate lunch, this is a great time to offer a special promotion. Popular lunch specials include soup, sandwich, and salad combo deals or other such light fare. Whatever the offer is, a lunch promotion can help fill your restaurant during quiet hours. <
Is your restaurant open for Saturday and Sunday brunch? Brunch is very popular right now, so hopping on this trend can be a great move for your restaurant.
One of the most common and popular brunch promotions is bottomless mimosas or bloody Marys. Offer these drink specials at lunch and require that customers also buy food, and your brunch will very likely draw a crowd.
Before offering “bottomless” drinks, check your state and local laws to ensure that this is a legal offer. Some liquor laws prohibit this kind of special. In lieu of this, you could simply offer discounted brunch drinks, or allow BYOB at lunch and charge for juice to mix with or a corkage fee.
Holiday specials can be extremely effective, as many customers are looking for holiday dining plans already. There are plenty of holidays that you can use for a special, but some of the most popular holidays for restaurants include:
- Valentine’s Day
- St. Patrick’s Day
- Mother’s Day
- Memorial Day
- Father’s Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Black Friday
- Veteran’s Day
- New Year’s Eve or Day
Some holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, may work better as seasonal deals as opposed to promotions on the day of, since many people spend those days with family (and your restaurant may be closed!).
Consider the type of holiday and what you may want to promote. Valentine’s Day is a great day for a couple’s dinner promotion, while Saint Patrick’s Day is better for bars promoting beer or whiskey specials.
Working with a local organization or nonprofit group can bring new customers in and give your business a good, charitable reputation. There are various ways to work with charities, and often many will reach out to you. If there is a specific issue in your neighborhood, raising money in support can unite your business with the community and attract new customers, all while making money.
Many charity promotions give a certain percentage of proceeds for the night to the organization in need. You can also use a guest bartender to earn money for a local organization – a member or several members can bartend, which also cuts down on staffing costs for the event.
Charity or community events are great because they usually draw a crowd with little effort on your part. Typically, the organization or guest bartenders will promote the event for you and share with their friends, so you can sit back while the crowd pours in. Just be sure to price the discount or donation so that you don’t lose money on the event.
Local Event Specials
Use big events in your area to draw in crowds. Sporting events are a big draw, especially for a sports bar or restaurant that typically plays games on their televisions. Offer deals during the game and you’re sure to draw a crowd – just make sure they don’t get too rowdy.
Sports aren’t the only option, however. Other big events in your area can be opportunities to attract customers with specials. If you’re near a concert venue, offering pre or post concert deals is an option. Partner with any big event in your area and try to use their marketing and audience to draw people to your bar or restaurant.
Menu Item Promotions
Similar to weekday promotions where you offer certain deals, you can also promote specific menu items. This deal could be on a specific day, or run for a full month.
One way to promote menu items is to offer exciting, rotating menu items. Come up with an innovative dish to draw in customers! If it’s offered for a limited time, people may be more inclined to visit soon. You can offer a deal on this item, or keep it full price and hope that the appeal is enough on its own.
One idea for a burger restaurant, for example, is a “Burger of the Month” that is only available for that month. With a unique and unusual menu item, you can bring in crowds simply by sharing it on your website and social media.
Food Blogger or Influencer Event
Invite local food bloggers or foodie influencers to your restaurant. Offer them free or discounted food in exchange for free press on their websites or social media channels! While offering free products may seem counter-productive, getting exposure online to a food-based audience can be great for business, especially if you’re just starting out.
Business Card Raffle
A somewhat old-school but still viable promotion is a business card raffle. Customers can put their business card in a fishbowl or some other receptacle, and once a month you pick a card and offer a reward to the winner. The winner could receive a free meal, or simply a discount. You can draw cards weekly, monthly, or less often if you’re offering a bigger reward.
Nowadays, not everyone carries business cards. A solution to this issue is to have small cards available for customers to fill out their information. Ask for name, phone number, and email.
A raffle will bring customers back to your restaurant and build loyalty. It can also be useful for collecting information. Once you have the email addresses for customers, you can add them to your email marketing campaign and send them other promotions or offers to come back.
Industry night generally means offering a discount to other professionals in your industry, including other restaurant employees, restaurant owners, or others in the hospitality field like local hotel staff. If you’re in an area with lots of local businesses, you can choose to include business owners in your community as well.
Hosting an industry night builds camaraderie among local businesses and hospitality workers. It also brings customers in, and even with a decent discount, it can be profitable. This tactic can build good standing with your business neighbors and lead to repeat customers. Industry night can be a regularly scheduled event or a less common but special deal.
Coupon for Next Visit
To get customers to return, offer them a discount off of their next visit at the end of their meal. This is like a one-time loyalty program. The coupon will get them to come back a second time, and may turn them into regular customers. It doesn’t have to be a huge discount – even $10 or 10% off their next meal can be enough incentive to come back.
Online Order or Delivery Promotions
If your restaurant delivers or works with an online ordering platform, offer promotions on delivery to keep the orders coming in. You can offer free delivery, $5 off, or other discounts. When people order out, they’re often looking for deals – especially when delivery fees are skyrocketing. Offering small savings can seriously increase your take-out revenue.
Restaurant Promotion 101
Now that you have plenty of new ideas to try, how do you know which will work best for your business? You may have to learn through trial and error in some cases, but first consider what makes sense for your business.
Which Promotion is Best for My Restaurant?
Consider the following factors when choosing a promotion for your restaurant:
Who are your customers? What type of customers would be drawn to or enjoy your restaurant? Consider who you’re trying to bring in with each promotion. Your branding, restaurant aesthetic, and what you serve will come into play here.
An upscale restaurant probably won’t want to promote the Superbowl or St. Patrick’s Day – those promotions work best for bars.
Your Restaurant’s Pain Points
What are you trying to solve with this promotion? Is it a quiet time of day where you aren’t making money? Or a certain area of your menu that never gets ordered?
Use your promotion to solve the areas where your restaurant is struggling. If Tuesdays are dead, start a Tuesday special. If no one orders your appetizers, try running an appetizer special. Figure out where your restaurant could use a jumpstart and create specials to improve those areas.
Your Restaurant’s Goals
What is the goal of your special? In some cases, it may be simple: revenue. In others, however, you may be looking to build customer loyalty and increase repeat customers. Or, maybe you want to get more first-time customers through the door. Perhaps all you’re looking for is good press, in which case the food blogger event may work.
Think about what you’re trying to achieve. It may be all of these things and more, but know what the goal of each promotion is so that you can track the results.
How To Keep Specials Profitable
You may be thinking, “How can I offer all of these specials and stay profitable?” First of all – don’t offer too many specials at once. If you used every idea on this list at once, it might hurt your business.
Know your profit margins on anything you offer a deal on. Offering specials obviously means you’ll be making less on those items, but ensure that you’re still profiting off of the sales. If you aren’t profiting, it may not be worthwhile – unless it’s worth the good press and customer loyalty.
Use a food cost calculator to check that your discounted costs are still profitable.
How do you promote special offers?
Each promotion may need a different strategy to get the word out. Generally speaking, promote your specials on your website, social media, and with signage at your restaurant.