Before we begin, I know what you could be thinking.

“Deals & Promotions? NO Thanks! They never work. I tried Groupon once and it tanked my margins, and only attracted cheap deal-shoppers who would never become loyal to my restaurant!”

But set that thought aside for a moment, because we have a list of 9 ways to structure your restaurant’s promotions in a way that will increase sales, increase ticket averages, and get customers coming back for more. Better yet, we’ll also give you some general guidance on how to create these campaigns entirely on your own.

4 Rules for Successful Restaurant Promotions

Understand Your Own Business Challenges

The whole purpose of a restaurant promotion is to help your restaurant generate more sales, and help you overcome issues that are unique to your restaurant. Because if you’re just running promotions for the sake of running promotions, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You need to have a clear goal and outcome you want to achieve.

While talking with your staff can help identify some organizational problems, underlying problems are better identified by digging into the data available within your restaurant’s POS system.

Maybe you find that there’s are certain menu items that are rarely ordered, or that there is a certain time each day that your staff is sitting on their hands. Maybe consider offering discounts on your menu items that aren’t moving as well, or try promoting a happy hour during those slow times.

Who’s Your Ideal Customer?

Before you dive into specific plans for restaurant marketing, it is useful to point out that no campaign is effective without first recognizing, assessing and knowing your current customers and target market. Running a sale that doesn’t seduce the consumer is a huge waste of time, yet it happens a lot, sadly.

Ask yourself questions like: Is your restaurant close to offices, apartments, or college campuses? Is there a stadium nearby? Are your customers typically younger or older? Do a lot of families visit your restaurant? What entices your customers: do they want to experience new things, try interesting foods, eat on a budget or something else? Find out the right answers and you will discover restaurant marketing strategies that will inspire repeat visits with ease.

Do you want Revenue or PR?

Usually, people believe that a restaurant promotion has only one function – increase sales. Of course, this is important in most cases. However, your campaign may have a different goal: to create a news-worthy opportunity to spread awareness.

For certain businesses, PR campaigns like these may have a greater effect than income-focused advertisements. This is because they can create brand awareness that goes beyond the dollars and cents.

Think about it: a sales-oriented offer that gives visitors a deal on a menu item or reduces their total bill during a specific time frame will only benefit your business as long as the deal is active. Yet news has a much longer lifespan, and may even attract visits to your business weeks or even months from the first date of publication, based on when someone sees catches the news.

Try to connect with a local journalist to arrange a few press events all through the year to give the company a boost during the year on a regular basis.

Understand Your Margins

Ultimately, as we already know, understanding the margins of each menu item–including food and beverage–is crucial. It helps you think of unique packages or deals that earn you the profitability you want. For starters, you could always hand out free appetizers for a short period of time to all of your customers but maybe it’d be smarter instead to offer them a free appetizer if they also buy an entree.

As a general rule of thumb, promoting a menu item with a higher profit margin is the ideal way to transition a guest into the remainder of your menu. Nonetheless, it is more important to know your margins fully so that you know how much you’re able to discount, but also so that you can make smarter purchase decisions and find ways to further your inventory.

1. Just Get Them In Your Door

One foolproof method is to discount a portion of your menu that is loaded with items that are not commonly ordered by themselves–such as sweets, desserts, and soups. The thought is that somebody will stop in for the steeply discounted piece, but will end up buying a number of other things before they pay their bill. Such deals are often referred to as “get them in the house,” as they are used to bringing in someone to make their first order, and encouraging them to buy more.

2. The Slow Times

Slow times throughout the day can kill your profitability because your labor costs aren’t being offset by sales. During these slow times, try running a special promotional offer. This will drive more sales during slower times, and when your staff isn’t being fully utilized.

3. Get Involved with Your Community

When a promotion addresses local issues or challenges within your community or something buzz-worthy, it’s a great way to help drum up more new business. Even something as simple as allowing a local organization to use your space can be a great way to leverage their networks. Not only that, but they’ll likely do all the promoting for you!

If you’d prefer to not host events, then maybe consider sharing your profits with a group or organization in need. You can donate a portion of your profits that you earn during a specific time-frame and use this as a promotional tactic.

4. Bundling and Fixed Price Offerings

This one is centered around knowing your customers and what they’ll buy or won’t buy. Many POS systems for restaurants will allow you to find out how each menu item is doing with detailed inventory reports – allowing you to leverage this unique promotional offer.

Basically, you’ll bundle an average-priced item with another menu item that is more expensive and may feel out-of-reach for most patrons to your restaurant. For instance, bundling a seafood dinner for two with a high-priced wine or champagne. Or maybe you bundle a fixed-priced item with a couple of addons that a customer wouldn’t usually buy. Then you discount the fixed-price menu item by 10-20%.

5. Offers Centered Around Loyalty

Give your patrons a good reason to keep coming back to your restaurant. The crucial part is choosing the right balance and a suitable offer to make it worthwhile for you. This requires you to know your margins well, otherwise, you could do more harm than good. But, if done right, it can be extremely beneficial to drive sales as well as getting more customers to opt-in to your loyalty program.

6. Holiday Promos

This one is easy. Simply pick your favorite holiday to celebrate and get creative with how you can celebrate these special days with your customers. A surefire way to get more customers in your seats. Not only that, these promotions are a great way to get customers sharing with their family and friends and tagging you on social media.

7. Take Advantage of a Big Local Event

If there’s a big event happening nearby, such as a concert, or local sporting event, plan a promotion around it! This type of promotion will help generate awareness for your restaurant and drive more business. It may give you an opportunity to reach an audience you otherwise may have never reached. Essentially, you’re taking advantage of the event’s marketing and leveraging it to promote your restaurant.

8. Get Customers to Buy in Bulk

Another simple one. If a guest buys a large amount of a specific item you sell, they will receive a discounted item or free product. Similar to how the loyalty-focused promotion works, the important thing here is to understand your margins. Offer a small discount based on the quantity they purchase.

9. Grand Openings or New Menu Items

The final promotional idea is centered around opening a new location or launching a special new menu item. After investing in new menu development efforts or a new location, a successful promotion and the resulting boost in sales can help offset any potential lost revenue early on.

Feel inspired?

We hope you enjoyed this short list of promotion ideas for your restaurant. The most effective marketing efforts are rooted in a solid plan and strategy, and that’s why it’s important to have a marketing plan for your restaurant.

Download our Restaurant Marketing Checklist to get you started down the right path for growing your restaurant with measurable results!