This article is part of our Restaurant Business Startup Guide—a curated list of articles to help you plan, start, and grow your restaurant business!

The restaurant business will see an uptick in sales this year—according to the National Restaurant Association, sales are expected to hit $709.2 billion in 2015. The report indicates that the recovering economy is making it easier for people to eat out more frequently.

To make sure some of that newly flowing cash comes into your restaurant, you’ll want to up your marketing game. To help you attract new customers, we’ve put together a list of 18 affordable marketing ideas that you can use to fill your bar and booths.

Go local

To start, let’s talk about the marketing options that are in your backyard. To get your name out there, think of ways to give back to the community. Here are a few ideas:

1. Sponsor a local team

From Little League to hockey, consider sponsoring a team. The team could be named after your restaurant, or your logo could be on their uniforms. You’ll not only get exposure, but you’ll also be supporting your community in the process.

2. Donate to charities

Your restaurant could team up with a local charity. Maybe your restaurant could provide food for the charity’s annual gala, or maybe you can set up a schedule for your employees to volunteer at a local food shelf.

If you don’t want to make a big commitment, donate to smaller fundraisers, like silent auctions, when you’re asked. Again, it’s a win-win. Your restaurant gets exposure and you help your community. 

3. Join the local chamber of commerce

Just about every community has a chamber of commerce that promotes local businesses in the area. Not only can you network, but you can also offer to cater or host chamber events.

Host an event

Hosting an event gives customers an added incentive to come to your restaurant. Here are a few easy-to-host events that will attract a crowd:

4. Host a customer appreciation event

Show customers that you care by hosting an appreciation event. Offer deals on food and drinks to get people lining up at the door.

5. Have a grand opening

If you just opened your doors, host a grand opening. It’s a simple way to encourage people to try out your restaurant. Consider offering a deal on a sampler platter so people can taste test several dishes.

6. Offer live music

Bring in some local talent on the weekends to entertain your guests. Get your customers involved in the process, too, by asking them to vote for the band they want to hear on your Facebook page.

7. Host a holiday or theme party

Consider hosting a party centered around a holiday, an event like the Super Bowl, or an aspect of popular culture—for example, a restaurant in Wisconsin hosted a Man Men dinner, based on the hit TV show. 

To make sure you pack the house for your events, here are a few advertising suggestions to get the word out:

  • Post on social media
  • Make use of outside signage
  • Consider investing in a reusable banner for outside
  • Give existing customers a drink coupon for an upcoming event
  • Ask your employees to share the event on their social sites
  • Consider hanging flyers on community bulletin boards

Try social media advertising

Social media is a powerful tool that can attract new customers. Most restaurants have a social media presence, but spending a little money on advertising can increase your fan base and engagement. Here are a few options:

8. Twitter advertising

If you’re new to social advertising, Twitter is a good place to start. Its ad types are simple to understand and create. You can select targeted audiences and set a budget that works for your restaurant.

9. Facebook advertising 

Facebook ads get a little more complicated, only because there are more options for you to select from. Like Twitter, you can select targeted audiences and set a budget. 

Before setting up accounts, check out this article from Hootsuite that gives you an in-depth look at advertising options on both Facebook and Twitter.

Use email marketing

Don’t underestimate the power of email. You could turn a prospective customer into a paying customer with the right message.

Here’s what you need to do:

10. Collect email addresses

Collect email addresses wherever you can. When you’re at a local tasting event, business meeting, or trade show, make sure you have an email sign up sheet.

You should also collect email addresses on your business website. You can create a sign up form easily on your website with no help from a web designer. Try third party sites like Pippity. For a small yearly fee, you can add a pop up form to your website that collects email addresses.

11. Send a variety of emails

You can send special offers, like 50 percent off two drinks or half-off appetizers, to entice new customers to come in. When you’re hosting an event, send invitations via email. Email marketing is great for attracting new customers, but it’s also helpful in retaining customers.

If you’re sending bulk emails, you’ll want to look into using an email service provider like MailChimp or VerticalResponse.

Create business listings online

Help customers find your business online by creating a business listing on several sites. Think of these sites like a modern day yellow pages.

12. Yelp

Yelp is one of the most popular online directories for restaurants, mainly because of its review system. It not only provides customers with basic business information, but it also allows customers to rate your place and leave feedback.

If you want to set up a Yelp page for your business, here’s a link to get started.

13. Foursquare

You’ve seen people “check-in” to places in your Facebook feed, right? Well, you can set up an account on Foursquare so your customers can check-in while they eat. When people check-in, it’s shared with their fans, which gets your name out to a whole new group of possible customers. You can sign up for Foursquare here.

14. Restavista

Customers can use Restavista to find a restaurant based on their needs. Let’s say a customer is looking for a lobster dinner. The customer can search for specific cuisine in the area, and of course, as an owner, you want your restaurant to pop up in the search results.

To do so, you’ll need to set up an account. It’s a newer social tool, but one you want to keep an eye on.

15.  Whitepages

With Whitepages you can create a profile page that offers vital information about your restaurant. There’s no rating or review system—it’s strictly information like location, business hours, and a description of your establishment. It’s geared toward mobile devices, so smartphone users can tap on the phone number and instantly call for reservations.

Here’s what a profile page looks like. You can learn how to set up your account here.

A lot of the directory sites are similar to Whitepages. These sites are more of the “set it and forget it” type. You input the information once for customers to find, but there isn’t any upkeep to them. Yellowpages and Yellowbook are two other options.

Get free media attention

Nothing stirs up new customers like a little media attention. A little blurb in an online newspaper or a quick story on the local five o’clock news could bring in some new customers.

Here are three ways to get free media attention:

16. Send a press release to local news outlets

If you’re hosting an event or teaming up with a nonprofit, take a minute to draft a quick press release and send it to your local news stations. If you need a little help, this article gives you step-by-step instructions on how to craft a press release. It’s best to email it directly to a reporter or an assignment editor, rather than a generic newsroom email account.

17. Contact reporters with timely opinions

Reporters are always looking for a local angle to a story. If you’re willing to talk about a particular topic that could impact the restaurant business, send an email to a local reporter with your opinion. For example, if your city is changing liquor license requirements and you have an opinion about it, reach out to your local newsroom. You could be part of a front-page story.

18. Sign up for HARO

To get media attention outside of your community, you can turn to HARO, or Help a Reporter Out. When you sign up, you’ll get an email everyday with a list of stories that reporters are working on and need sources for. If a story resonates with you, you can send an email directly to the reporter, and you may be interviewed for the story. This kind of publicity can improve your search engine rankings so new customers can find you quickly online.

What kind of marketing tools do you use to get customers in the door? Share your thoughts and experiences with other restaurant owners in the comment section below.

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AvatarLisa Furgison

Lisa Furgison is a journalist with a decade of experience in all facets of media.