“How do I attract more customers to my restaurant?” It’s a perennial question for restaurateurs in pursuit of restaurant marketing ideas and promotional ideas—what attracts customers to a restaurant and how can I get more customers to my restaurant?

I reached out to several restaurant experts to find out about the top creative restaurant marketing ideas and trends for the coming year. They also shared insight on how restaurant owners can tap into their own unique brand of marketing creativity, even if they don’t consider themselves “creative.”

Thanks to their feedback, by the end of this article,

•    you’ll get actionable insight into what’s trending today in restaurant marketing

•    you’ll know how to get creative, and stay that way, with your own marketing efforts

•    you’ll get 8 free tools and one essential marketing strategy to dramatically improve all your promotional efforts.

Perhaps more than any other small business, restaurants must provide an immersive sensory experience that appeals to their customers’ sight, taste, touch, hearing, feeling, and intellect. It’s a passionate, demanding business with lessons and inspiration that apply not just to restaurants, but to any small business niche.

To add to the challenge, restaurant marketers aim at a moving target, with customer demographics and preferences sometimes changing faster than the White House West Wing.

And yes, I know that most business owners are afflicted with, and distracted by, “bright, shiny object syndrome,” especially if it’s the latest “thing.” My point in showcasing what’s new and trendy is not to distract. The point is to fashion these and other ideas into something you can act on, with the purpose of increasing your restaurant’s profit.

Let’s get started.

(If you’re coming back, you can skip to a subsequent section in the article by clicking on the section titles below. If you want to download this article to read later, click “Get the PDF” in the dropdown banner at the top of the page for a pdf.)

Restaurant Marketing Trends for the Coming Year

What Attracts Customers to a Restaurant?

How Important is Creativity in Restaurant Marketing?

How to Get Creative and Stay Creative in Marketing Your Restaurant

How to Get Exponentially Better Results from Your Restaurant Promotion Ideas

Maintain an Influential Restaurant Marketing Strategy with These Free Online Tools

Creative Marketing Ideas for Restaurants

We’ll lead with examples of unusual (but not necessarily new) restaurant concepts and promotions, followed by marketing trends our restaurant insiders expect to see in the coming year.

Of course, you’re probably not going to change your restaurant’s concept. The point is that you can use these conceptual ideas as a launching pad for tactics you might incorporate into fun restaurant promotion ideas of your own.

Restaurant Profit with a Purpose

Brian Shelman of Consolidated Foodservice, a restaurant equipment and supply company, mentions two creative restaurant marketing tactics he’s encountered recently. Each one combines business with social justice.

One is the “pay what you want” method. You dine, then pay what you want or what you can afford. If you can’t afford the full amount or any amount, you can offer to work in exchange for food. You can also pay more to subsidize those who can’t afford to pay.

Another is the “pay it forward” method, such as that found at Karma Kitchen. From Karma’s website,

“Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you. That’s Karma Kitchen, a volunteer-driven experiment in generosity.”

Karma started in 2007 and is still going strong with their philosophy of gratitude.

Whether either is a sustainable marketing approach for your business doesn’t matter. The point is to ask how you can adapt it for yourself.

Can you get inspiration from the idea of aligning profit with a purpose? For example, could you have your own “pay it forward” or a “pay what you can” day? 

Bugging Out

Steve Cartledge is Sales and Marketing Manager for Total QSR Ltd, a restaurant equipment supplier in the UK. He also has a background as a chef in French, English, and Spanish restaurants.

His take on this year’s restaurant trends is not for the squeamish.

unusual restaurant food trends

“As I wrote in my ‘Would You Put Insects on Your Menu’ blog earlier this month, I suggested that very soon, the Great British public could follow the lead of 2 billion people around the globe and begin to soften to the idea of introducing insects in to their diet.”

As compelling a case as he makes, I suspect that customer emotions will be hard to sway, at least in the USA. Yet for the daringly creative, it’s certainly another niche market to explore. Or as Cartledge says,

“Maybe, as with most food fads, we need a pioneer. A Jamie Oliver of the bug world. Someone who can champion this resource and take this concept to the masses, maybe with appetizing dishes such as Dung Beetle Delight or Cockroach Surprise.”

You might not be inclined to put bugs on your menu, but you can ask yourself, “What daring things can we do on our menu?” If people are eating bugs, how far can you push your limits?

Dinner in the Sky

restaurant marketing dinner in the sky

Imagine having dinner at a table suspended from a crane, 160 feet in the air. Incredibly, the Dinner in the Sky restaurant concept has taken hold in more than 40 countries. But they took it to a much higher level (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).

They offer their facilities for:

  1. photo opportunities
  2. chefs in the sky
  3. commercial and music videos
  4. press events
  5. TV shows
  6. newscasters
  7. marriages
  8. holiday events
  9. B2B events, and
  10. corporate branding opportunities.

The point is that they took a single, crazy idea (dinner in the sky) and expanded it 10 ways. How can you do the same for your restaurant? Is there one popular thing that works well at your restaurant for which you can create 10 variations?

El Diablo – Cooking on a Volcano

How about a restaurant on top of an active volcano? From the travel blog CuriousHalt,

“If you are cooking on top of an active volcano, basking in the heat of the pits of fire from the depths of the Earth, having the hell fire bow down to you and become a stove for you, nothing is really too much anymore.”

Is there a geographic feature near you that you can tie into your restaurant or your menu?

Dine in the Dark

There is a well-known European chain of restaurants, Dans Le Noir?, that offers dine-in-the-dark experiences. It is, according to their website, “A sensory journey. Dining in pitch darkness, being hosted and served by a visually impaired waiter will change your perspective of the world by inverting your point of view. It is a sensory experience that awakens your senses and enables you to completely re-evaluate your perception of taste and smell.”

Instead of a play on the visual, what about a play on the other senses? “Dine in the Ice Dining Room, the coldest restaurant in the state.” Or “Dine in the hottest/wettest/driest/highest restaurant…”

How can you adapt their unique selling proposition to your restaurant? Is it something you can try as a one-time premium event? Or change it to “dine at sunrise,” “dine under the full moon,” or “dine at sunset on the lake.”

Restaurant Marketing Trends for the Coming Year

Unique restaurant concepts like those above are one source of marketing inspiration.

Another source can be found in trending strategies and technologies. Here’s what our restaurant insiders see on the horizon for the coming year.

whats happening restaurant marketing this year

Direct Mail Marketing Making a Comeback at Restaurants?

AJ Beltis sees plenty of marketing ideas in his position at Toast, a popular supplier of an all-in-one restaurant point-of-sale system.  He’s witnessing the possible emergence of an old-school marketing technique—direct mail.

“It wasn’t always unique, but direct mail ads may stand out for restaurants that see the value in it. We found data suggesting $167 in direct mail marketing can lead to over $2,100 in sales. With many restaurants competing in the sea of digital and social media marketing, direct mail efforts might be the more unique way to stand out in 2018.”

Beltis continues with two restaurant advertisement examples that show how “ordinary” restaurant holiday ideas can be adapted for nearly any kind of restaurant.

“I personally love the creative holiday-themed campaigns. Tuscan Kitchen skips the norm of dads eating free on Father’s Day and extends the offer to grandpas – upping the table size by one or two more people and appealing to multi-generational families celebrating.

For Valentine’s Day, Hooter’s threw away the notion of love to call in the recently heartbroken by shredding pictures of their exes.

Looking at what your competition is doing on these days and totally differentiating your offer as opposed to copying it really does make a difference.”

Cryptocurrency Payments and Rewards Programs for Your Restaurant

cryptocurrency trends in restaurants

From Brian Shelman at Consolidated Foods,

“An unusual trend that we are expecting to see in 2018 is more establishments accepting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin due to their increase in popularity.  With Bitcoin being featured on a recent episode of “The Big Bang Theory”, it is safe to say that cryptocurrency is here to stay.”

There’s more evidence of restaurant cryptocurrency use from trendhunter.com,

“Hooters just announced a new cryptocurrency restaurant rewards option which will launch at select locations. Chanticleer Holdings, which currently runs several Hooters franchises as well as a handful of other restaurant chains in the U.S., has recently unveiled a rewards program that essentially has customers mining cryptocurrency just by eating at one of the company’s owned chains.”

Continuing Power in Social Media Marketing for Restaurants

Kristi Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at Compeat, sees continuing potential for the effective use of social media at restaurants.

“The power of social media is substantial for restaurants to connect with their local community and drive referrals. It is not about “posting” on social but is more about engaging with customers in a way that encourages return visits and even more importantly encourages them to share with friends and family. So make it interesting.

Another powerful tool for many restaurants is mobile advertising where you can target individuals that are literally within a few miles of your restaurant at any given time.”

Speaking from the Australian-based Cloudwaitress.com, manager Tarun Ramesh laments the fact that he sees too many clients under-utilizing their Facebook pages. They’ll set up a company page, post a few things, and let it slide.

“If restaurants can learn to utilize the targeted marketing tools available to them, such as Facebook advertising, they can target their specific customer with pinpoint precision. Such advertising is cost effective and delivers great results. Plus it’s straight forward enough that most people can start working on it right away.”

Low-Cost Guerrilla Marketing Techniques for Restaurants

Jennifer Day is Customer Insights Manager for Compeat.com, who specialize in restaurant management software.

“Restaurant marketing is tough. Smaller operators do not have the budget for traditional marketing and advertising.  And it is almost impossible to track the ROI on traditional ads and mailers.

However, I still believe that old-school tactics such as posting flyers at colleges, teaming up with other local businesses (dinner and a movie or local theater and drink specials) and sponsoring local events really do work.

I think that the inexpensive (or free) online and social media marketing will continue to grow. If done correctly, it works.  It is not just about making a website and hoping people will come across it. They need to be active on every social media platform and sign up for every search engine and review website to increase SEO.”

Collaboration with Restaurant Industry Colleagues

Caroline Cox is Content Marketing Manager at Gather Technologies, a provider of event-management software for the restaurant and food industry.

“I see a lot of collaboration, as well as a greater attempt to really meet customers where they are. It’s great to target customers who are coming through your doors, but you can also attract new customers through avenues like social media and local publications.

An emphasis on marketing is key: You can have great food and a perfect venue, but if you don’t prioritize marketing, you’re not reaching your full potential.”

Restaurant Payment, Food Delivery, and Menu Apps

Restaurant and small business coach Michael Hartzell sees the following emerging trends this year, with a caution.

“Something that continues to spread is push notification on mobile phones when within a radius of the restaurant.  This is an ‘idea’ but for most restaurants not one they should pursue (though many will pay and hope).

Another is payment options such as Apple Pay. The easier we make it for someone to pay, the better the transaction.  With Amazon Go leading the way for a grab and go shopping experience, they will not be the last.

Consider how Amazon is delivering groceries, and grocery stores are already offering delivery, restaurants are also moving to delivery via Uber Eats.

Menus are no longer limited to old worn paper with finger prints from the last guest.  The option to change specials by the hour, promote products with dynamic photos will continue to make an impact on check averages and happy guests with Tablet Menus.

These trends may or may not be an opportunity for restaurants. Trends look shiny, but restaurateurs may be missing something much more valuable in their specific market.”

How to Benefit from Restaurant Marketing Trends

Ok, so we know it’s fun to look at what’s hot in restaurant marketing strategies, concepts, and promotional ideas. How can you make more money in your restaurant from other people’s ideas?

Allow me to explain by going back to the question we posed in the beginning.

What Attracts Customers to a Restaurant?

Before you figure out how to get more customers in your restaurant, it helps to understand what attracts them. To do that, you need to paint a picture of your ideal restaurant customer.

Some of you might object and say you can simply survey your customers to find out what draws them to you. Yes, you can and should do that. Nevertheless, for survey results to make sense, they still depend on who you want and need as an ideal customer.

For example, what happens if your current customers are not the kind of customers you want? Let’s say you’ve been running a lot of price-cutting dinner promotions. Your profit margins are down, and you know you don’t want, and can’t survive on, a restaurant full of price-shoppers who only show up when they have a coupon.

Your survey will thus paint a picture of the kind of customer you don’t want. That’s why you benefit more by creating customer profiles, also called customer personas or customer avatars. Profiles describe a detailed version of your most desirable customers. It’s likely you’ll have multiple personas to work from.

If you haven’t worked with customer personas before, you can download a Free Customer Persona Worksheet here to get you started.

how to create restauran customer avatar (buyer personas)

Once you know WHO you want, there are two things you can do to lay the groundwork for how to attract more restaurant customers with your creative marketing campaigns.

First, survey people who fit the profile. Ask these ideal customers why they are attracted to your restaurant. This is important—you never want to lose sight of what differentiates you. You never want to sacrifice your uniqueness in pursuit of creative or trendy ideas from elsewhere.

Ask them what they would like you to do to get them to come back more frequently. Ask them what they would like to see you offer that you currently don’t.

Michael Hartzell has this advice about learning from your customers:

“Listen to the customers, watch their body language and listen to when they ‘cheer’. They are the best source for ideas—and they are real vs. conceptual.  The best ideas come from ‘customer comment cards’ (which are now review sites and electronic shares). 

Too often I kicked myself when hearing someone with a bad experience share their story, which lead to ‘Why didn’t I realize that? Why didn’t I notice?’ Decades ago we turned every ‘negative comment’ to one that was a celebration. We learned to celebrate that someone was willing to risk conflict, take the time and effort, and share their bad experience.”

As you get a deeper understanding of what attracts (and repels) your ideal customers, you’ll include this in your campaigns.

Secondly, read restaurant trade publications and blogs to find out what’s trending in the industry. Use these as a brainstorming resource, just as you’re doing with this article.

Are there trending promotions that appeal to your ideal customer? Ask your customers about an interesting idea to see how they respond. Then follow through with a test before you commit to a full-scale campaign.

How Important is Creativity in Restaurant Marketing?

creativity in restaurant marketing

Is it necessary to be creative, or can you just borrow successful ideas?

In The Importance of Creativity in Business from the Northeastern University Graduate Program blog, the author says,

“Creativity is a crucial first step that needs to be prioritized by senior leadership. A survey by IBM of more than 1,500 chief executive officers shows consensus: Creativity was ranked as the number one factor for future business success—above management discipline, integrity, and even vision.”

Yet in this era of Big Data in which there is unlimited market research data available, it’s tempting to just plug a lot of relevant data into a campaign template and roll it out. One ad I just saw says “dive deep into customer data” to make your data powerful.

But to succeed in business, data must be more than just powerful. It should have your unique imprint.

In my experience, one of the most neglected Unique Selling Propositions (USP) is available in the form of the business owners themselves. Too often, a restaurant or other small business owner struggles to find their USP outside of themselves, typically in the form of features, services, benefits, trends, etc. Too often they end  up commoditized because they appear to be like everyone else.

But there is one thing your competitors will never have that makes you unique, and that is YOU. You, and by default your company’s culture, make your restaurant unique.

Says Brian Shelman of Consolidated Foodservice,

“Creativity is very important. Most people today can pick out a copy-cat but they will pay attention when a marketing campaign gains traction and is successful.  Above all else, know your audience, know your customers, share your story and make yourself the hero!”

No one on earth can copy who you are.

AJ Beltis, Content Marketing Specialist for Toast says,

“You can’t expect to offer the same promotion idea or advertise in the exact same way as a competitor and see outstanding results. You need to live your brand outside of your restaurant walls – that includes online and in all of your marketing work. Continue to be unique and it will pay off.”

Creativity is engaging, and people ultimately become customers for emotional reasons. We all like to believe we make decisions rationally, but the fact is that emotions rule our decisions, especially purchases.

the best marketing taps into human emotions

In How Emotions Influence What We Buy on PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Peter Noel Murray, a specialist in the psychological drivers of consumer behavior, offers compelling evidence to back this up.

He writes,

“The influential role of emotion in consumer behavior is well documented:

•    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences), rather than information (brand attributes, features, and facts).

•    Advertising research reveals that the consumer’s emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on their reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content — by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.

•    Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that ‘likeability’ is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.

•    Studies show that positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments, which are based on a brand’s attributes.”

Caroline Cox of Gather echoes the sentiment: “I think creativity is crucial, particularly in marketing. People respond to authenticity, so if you’re recycling the same old ideas and tactics, you’re less likely to increase your reach.”

As business owners, data appeals to our rational minds. We’re all about the numbers—revenues, table turn, average check, costs, profit margins, and so on. Granted, these are important for running your business.

But that’s not what attracts more customers. We attract more restaurant customers by tapping into emotion. People connect with people.

One of the best ways to do this is to include yourself in your marketing, thus making it uniquely yours.

How to Get Creative and Stay Creative in Marketing Your Restaurant

When I say the word “creative,” the first thing that might pop into your mind is an artist or musician type of person. Although the word has an artistic connotation, the dictionary defines it as “relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something.”

We’re all creative in the sense that every one of us has our own set of gifts and talents.

Creativity is also a choice.

No, it doesn’t mean you’re going to decide to paint the next Sistine Chapel.

It does mean you can decide to see things differently, to innovate. As a restaurant owner, you can indeed decide to enlist the gifts and talents of your staff in creating promotions that will be uniquely yours. It’s up to you.

(There are personality assessments available such as the Core Values Index and the DiSC® Profile that reveal how a person is hard-wired. It’s a pragmatic way to get the right people in the right roles in your company.)

Creativity is a bit less daunting when you consider that most “new” ideas are simply new combinations of old ideas.

Cryptocurrency for instance, is not an entirely new idea. It’s money (a very old idea) combined with internet technology (a relatively new idea).

Tarun Ramesh from Cloudwaitress offers up a small caution about creativity and technology. As experts in online ordering technology, they too often see restaurant owners who get too creative in an attempt to save a few bucks.

For example, a random freelancer says  he can create an ordering app for $500, and the owner ends up losing sleep and far more money in an attempt to get it right.

“Don’t underestimate the challenge of developing or maintaining what may seem to be a simple software,” advises Tarun.

Software as a service (subscription-based software) allows low-price entry points for high-capability software. Tarun continues, “I recommend all business owners take the time to digitize their business and automate as much as possible.”

In short, make the decision to be creative, use technology, but temper it with good judgment.

 Next, we show you how to multiply the power of that creative effort.

How to Get Exponentially Better Results from Your Restaurant Marketing Ideas

A predominant theme in our restaurant experts’ comments has to do with the importance of a superior restaurant culture. You can implement the best restaurant promotion ever, but without enthusiasm and buy-in from your staff, it’s doomed.

importance of culture in restaurant marketing

According to Michael Hartzell,

“When a restaurant is shared word-of-mouth (or word-of-click), it is because of the heart & soul of the team, their obsession with delivering smiles. This again comes back to the right people on the team. The best ideas, the most creative thoughts are useless if the staff is just showing up.”

The key, as we’ve said, is to make your campaigns and promotions your own. Hartzell continues,

“After hundreds of campaigns and so many years…those that stood out were not based on the perfect idea or campaign planned by a corporation (or by me). The most fun were campaigns the employees became excited about and put their heart and soul into, because they mattered.  They changed a campaign from ‘a plan/list of activities’ into a mission.”

Bruce Shelman mirrors this sentiment with regard to the countless restaurant operations that Consolidated has worked with, as well as with their own internal team.

“It is a total TEAM effort.  Truly, together everyone achieves more.  I prefer picking the brains of our crew members that interact with our customers on a regular basis.  They keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry and are truly an invaluable asset.”

Donald Burns in his book Your Restaurant Sucks, talks about culture as a river. Its source is you as the owner or chef running the restaurant.

“Culture is emotional energy that is created and nurtured through habits, learning, sharing, structure, and connection…When you get a group of people together a culture within that group will develop. It’s a natural law. If you don’t take an active role in the creation of your restaurant culture, you’re likely to get one that you don’t want.

The biggest obstacle in the river of culture is negativity. Negativity breeds complacency. Complacency invites mediocrity. Mediocrity is death to your restaurant.”

Does every restaurant owner know that culture is this important? Probably.

Does every restaurant have a great team? No.

Just review your own dining-out experiences for evidence of the widespread nature of the problem. Then turn the mirror on yourself and your team for an honest self-appraisal.

Another vital way to improve your restaurant marketing effort hinges on strategy.

There’s a marketing truism that says there are only three ways to increase sales:

1.    Get new customers
2.    Sell more frequently to existing customers (get them to come back more often)
3.    Increase the average transaction amount

Yet the primary focus for most small business owners is getting new customers.

A Hubspot marketing study showed that 63% of companies said their biggest marketing challenge is “generating traffic and leads.” 70% said their top priority in the coming year is “converting leads to customers.”

Yes, nearly everyone is gung-ho to get new customers in creative ways, especially if you just opened a new restaurant.

However, once you get them in the doors, it’s just as important to incorporate the other two legs of our marketing tripod:

1.    Figure out creative ways to get customers to come back to you more frequently.

2.    Figure out creative ways to get them to spend more with you each time they do.

When you do all three simultaneously, it’s possible to get incredibly fast growth in sales and profits. The chart below illustrates why this is so powerful.

example of geometric sales growth

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you have 100 customers, who spend an average of $100, 10 times a year. That’s $100,000.

If you increase your new customers by 10%, that gives you a sales increase to $110,000.

Now let’s also increase the average transaction, and the average number of transactions by 10% each. You’ll see an increase in revenue to $133,100. That’s a 33% increase versus a 10%. That’s the power of working on all three ideas simultaneously.

There are two ways to use this information.

1) When you’re planning strategy and brainstorming promotional ideas, incorporate all three legs of the marketing tripod in your planning.

2) When you implement a new marketing tactic, ask yourself if the tactic can be applied to the other two legs of the marketing tripod.

For example, we talked about cryptocurrencies as a new trend for restaurants in the coming year. The fact that you decide to accept cryptocurrencies will probably attract new customers as you promote it. That’s one leg—getting new customers.

How do you get them to return more frequently? Perhaps a crypto-reward program or club—that’s two legs. How do you get them to spend more each time? Perhaps you offer bonus points or other value-added when they spend above a certain amount—that’s three legs.

Next, we talk about some easy (and free) ways to keep your marketing edge sharp.

Maintain an Influential Restaurant Marketing Strategy with These Free Online Tools

Whether you have a social media strategy for your restaurant or not, you’re still part of the online scene. Your customers are posting on Facebook, tweeting, Instagramming, and leaving reviews.

One of the main purposes of a sound social media strategy for your restaurant is to connect with your customers. It’s an ongoing conversation. Engaged customers and fans are more likely to be repeat customers.

Social media pages for your restaurant are free to set up. If you want to compete at the highest level, I consider them a requirement. (You can read more about getting started with restaurant social media marketing with this post suggested by Jennifer Day of Compeat.com.)

It’s up to you to start the conversation and one of the best ways to do that is by knowing what they’re thinking and talking about. You already know some of that because ideally you know your customers, maybe on a first-name basis.

That’s great, yet you can expand this vital customer knowledge with the free marketing tools below. In a sense, you can almost read your customer’s minds. Find out what they’re thinking about today and talk about it on your social media pages.

When you find something that really engages your ideal customer, you can use that in a larger campaign, such as a direct mail promotion.

Here are the tools, along with some marketing examples.

Google Trends and Google News

Use Google Trends and Google News Headlines to see what people are reading about and searching for today.
How do you use this on your social media pages?

Tie in to a trending story, preferably a positive one.  As I’m writing this, the Oscars just happened last night. They’re a perfect opportunity to create a tie-in to a trending event.

For example, if you have a nice dine-in restaurant, you could easily create your own red-carpet evening at the Oscars. Set up televisions and a good sound system for everyone to watch the show after dinner. Cocktails and dinner before the show, dessert as the show starts.

When you do a promo that’s tied to a trending story, it’s easier to connect with people because the trending topic is on their mind. They’re talking about it around the water cooler.

Below is a screenshot of today’s Google Trends results, showing March Madness, Guns in America, and Oscars 2018. You could, for example, create an ongoing series of unique March Madness restaurant promotions. Avoid controversial subjects. Your restaurant is a place where customers come to feel good. Don’t drag them down with negative news tie-ins.

restaurant marketing Google Trends search
You see a few music mentions with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and some heavy metal bands. What could you do to tie in to them?

Also check your local news outlets to see what’s trending. For example, if there’s a big snow storm in your area and you’re still delivering takeout, let it be known. That’s newsworthy and might even get covered by major local news outlets.

At the top of the page there is a dropdown box (circled in the image below) in which you can select a category to narrow it down—business, entertainment, health, sci/tech, sports or top stories.

how to use Google Trends categories restaurant marketing

LinkedIn Daily Rundown

Similar to Google Trends, the LinkedIn Daily Rundown is a list of trending stories for the day from the LinkedIn editors. Use their hashtags to search LinkedIn to get different perspectives on any given trending topic. When you tie your restaurant into a hot, trending topic, your restaurant gets to ride the wave.


AnswerThePublic is one of my favorite marketing research tools. Enter a topic and you’ll get a list of questions that people are currently asking on search engines about that topic.

For example, I entered “restaurants” and got 189 questions or terms recently searched.

answerthepublic restaurant marketing ideas

Basically, you can read your customers’ minds and then answer their questions. For example, the “how” and “why” questions are great for coming up with ideas for social media posts.

•    How restaurants fold napkins
•    How restaurants cook their food so fast
•    Why restaurants close Monday
•    How restaurants cook pasta

Answer any one of these in a social media post and you’ll connect with your audience because the topic is already on their minds.


Ubersuggest is another keyword research tool. Most people use it for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns but you can use it to determine what to talk about on your restaurant’s social media pages and to guide your marketing campaign decisions. (Google Adwords is a more robust alternative, but you need to have your AdWords account set up. Ubersuggest is free and a bit easier to use for our purposes here.)

ubersuggest restaurants good food results

Enter a single keyword and it will give you a huge list of variations and related words. It includes search volume, cost per click, and competitive intelligence.

Use the top-searched keywords to see what’s trending. Then use related keywords to come up with various ways to talk about your subject.

For example, I entered “restaurants” again, with 1,047 results delivered. Sorting by Search Volume, here are some results to work with from the top 50:

•    best restaurants near me
•    good restaurants near me
•    good food near me
•    best restaurants
•    best food near me

Right off the bat, these results are giving me two things to use:

1) Make sure you’re on all the local search directories, especially Google My Business. And make sure your site is mobile optimized. People are looking on their phones for food nearby.

2) Get your customers to talk about your “good food” or how you’re the “best restaurant.” Encourage them to leave comments on your social pages and on review sites. Then add this to your website, too. If you have a blog, try to work those terms into your articles.

For example, if you won any cooking contests, you could write an article about that. Talk about how you have the “best food” or “best restaurant” for your specialty, or include customer comments about “good food.”

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

Portent’s Content Idea Generator is definitely for those with a free-wheeling, artsy creative streak. When you enter a noun, it will serve up a headline. I entered “restaurants” in the subject field. (Use the reload button to get new suggestions.)

Portents Idea Generator restaurant marketing example

The first five results I got:

•    Save Your Marriage Using Only Restaurants
•    5 Things About Restaurants Your Kids Don’t Want You to Know
•    Shocking Ways Restaurants Will Make You Better in Bed
•    What the Amish Can Teach You About Restaurants
•    How Restaurants are Part of a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

You get the idea. It’s a little wacky, but it’s a great way to start thinking in new ways about even the most mundane of topics. Take their suggestions and run with them to make them your own. Then use the headlines and topic in your social media posts.

Then, when you get a hot headline that gets a lot of engagement, try it in a bigger campaign.

Hubspot Blog Ideas Generator

Hubspot’s marketing tool works like Portent’s, except here you insert up to 3 nouns instead of one. The results can be a bit strange and need editing, but as with Portent’s, they will get you thinking.

Google Analytics

Install Google Analytics on your website if you haven’t already done so. It gives you detailed insight on how many visitors you have, where they’re from geographically, their social media origins, low long they stay, and how many pages they view.

How does this help your marketing planning?

You get feedback on what’s working or not. From a creative angle, you get demographic detail that can point out market segments you might be neglecting or under-serving.

For example, let’s say you have a restaurant in Baltimore and you get a lot of website visitors from Germany. Upon investigation you discover that a German company has a big branch office near you and your restaurant is popular with them. You could create a special offer for employees and guests of that company.

Or you might discover that an age group you thought was outside your demographic, are actually frequent visitors to your site. Find out why and use it.

Restaurant Marketing Mind Map

restaurant marketing mind map

A mind map is simply a way to visualize a complex project or group of ideas at a glance. It’s similar to an old-fashioned outline in that it uses headings, topics, sub-topics, etc. The difference is that instead of being presented over several pages, it’s presented on a single page in a graphic format.

For instance, our restaurant marketing mind map lists 103 restaurant marketing activities in 10 categories. That’s a lot of stuff to view in outline format, but very easy to digest in visual format.

You can download a Free copy of your Restaurant Marketing Mindmap here.


Unique and trending restaurant marketing tactics are an awesome source of inspiration. It’s important to turn that inspiration into action to attract more customers to your restaurant.

Use these ideas to create new restaurant marketing campaigns that are uniquely your own.

Be sure to enlist your staff in your new creative ventures and turn to their strengths for exponentially better results. Everyone on your team has uniquely creative gifts to offer. You, as the owner, are the only one who can decide to make that happen.

Know your restaurant’s ideal customers inside and out. Use the marketing research tools listed above to get inside their minds. Use the tools to get creative and stay creative.

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Andre Palko Owner
Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker™ and its free weekly e-newsletter. He is dedicated to delivering award-winning marketing and content that helps business owners thrive in any economy.