This content originally appeared on Back of House, an independent, unbiased platform helping operators find and filter the solutions they need to succeed.
No one opens a restaurant for it to sit empty. Many owners can’t see even a mostly full dining room without wondering how to get more people through the door. Shy of standing out front and flogging a menu, you have to wonder: How can I increase my customer base?
Fortunately, widening your customer base isn’t as tricky as it was even five years ago, especially in the restaurant industry. These days, the best restaurant marketing means getting creative, and staying upbeat. Everyone needs to eat, so your future customers are out there. Turning them into patrons can feel as satisfying as grinding out a flawless dinner service. Try a few of these methods to grow your restaurant’s customer base.
Match your restaurant with people on the (delivery) apps
In normal times, there’s nothing better than the sight of a packed dining room. But don’t let your four walls (or a pandemic) limit how many people you can serve: Delivery apps have become the go-to for growing your customer base. Most operators sign onto services like DoorDash and Uber Eats for the marketing platform as much as for the online ordering revenue stream.
Customers know they open an app and have their favorite meal brought straight to them, but they also love to browse. If customers see your restaurant when they’re scrolling through options for a night in, there’s a good chance they’ll consider you when they’re planning their next night out.
Launch a social media giveaway for your restaurant
Targeted ad campaigns are great on social media — unless you’re on a tight budget, in which case, good luck. Instead of paying a platform for a wider reach, leverage some freebies to attract customers: Run a giveaway on Instagram or Facebook to expand your audience without paying for views.
Offer up a free meal, gift card, or prize, then have customers enter by tagging two or three friends and liking the post. You’ll score a coveted word-of-mouth recommendation that will reach tons of new faces at a fraction of the cost of most restaurant social media marketing.
Set up a restaurant collaboration with your favorite local creative
Everyone’s in a collab these days, whether you’re in food trucks or high fashion. The model is perfect for restaurants, which have limitless options at their disposal. Collaborate with another restaurant, local business, or creative to get in front of a new audience and expand your reach.
Maybe that means working with a buzzy pastry chef to offer a new dessert, or tapping a local artist to make a one-off merch run. You and your collaborator share the audience (perhaps even with an Instagram takeover) and split the proceeds.
Put your restaurant at a live event
Social media may be how you project your image to the world, but person-to-person interaction can still be the easiest way to turn a stranger into a customer. And if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that people are starved for in-person face time in a world of virtual restaurant events.
This year, physically get in front of the public by taking part in local events. Look for the local harvest festival that everyone visits, or the food and wine festival that showcases restaurants in your area. Or a fundraiser where you could lend a hand. Don’t see one? Then roll out there and start one yourself. Some quality time with the public can kickstart a relationship with potential customers before they’ve even walked through your door.
Make your restaurant social media a two-way conversation
That drool-inducing photo of your best dish might rack up the likes, but leaning into the “social” side of social media can help you grow your restaurant’s customer base. Think of each post as an opportunity to win over people who may never have heard of your business. Respond to comments on your posts and foster the camaraderie you would if they were sitting in your dining room. You never know when a couple of perfectly placed emojis could wind up bringing a new stable of regulars in for a meal.
Win happy hour with the best offers
Ah, discounts. They’re the oldest gadget in the restaurant toolbox, but for good reason: They work. But you can’t just slap together a great happy hour any more than you can slouch your way into making a great omelet. Put some finesse on it and your effort will show in the results.
Instead of just slashing the price of drinks for a few hours, come up with a stand-out draw. Highlight your craft beer program by pairing brews with discounted oysters. Offer up a drink and a shareable appetizer combo that tempts after-work drinkers to stick around for dinner. Or focus on a different time of day by discounting certain dishes, drinks, or combos during lunch, brunch, or late-night. Imagine your ideal customer saying to a date or some friends, “I know a great happy hour.” Now figure out how to make that person feel like a genius for bringing their crew to your back patio.