Now, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are breathing new life into cities and town centres. Established brands are expanding, scrappy new business owners are making their mark, and exciting food and drink brands are proving their worth.
It seems like there’s space for everyone, but it’s also a very competitive industry. How do you stand out from the crowd?
Even if you’re selling the best cold brew coffee, the most expertly mixed mojito, or the tastiest eggs benny around, without a solid and consistent marketing plan, you’ll be looking at a few too many empty chairs.
You’ll be pleased to hear that marketing for new food and drinks businesses doesn’t have to mean spending all your profits or doing a marketing degree. If you’re clear about who you are as a business, and where you want to be, then marketing should be a simple case of juggling time management and common sense decision-making.
These low-budget marketing ideas and trends for restaurants, bars, and cafes are a great jumping off point for your business. Whether you’re a brand new joint ready for customers or an established spot looking to make some changes, read on for our guide to inexpensive marketing ideas for your hospitality business.
Social media can be of the most simple, effective, and affordable marketing ideas for any business. The huge number of potential new customers on offer may tempt you into setting up an account on every social media platform around. But don’t be fooled into thinking your presence alone will be enough to get you noticed amongst the noise of social media content.
Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick just two or three platforms that work best for you, and commit to posting regular content and grow your following. It’s far better for a business to boss one social media platform than post irregular and unfocused content on many.
Once you’ve picked your platforms and got yourself a few followers, it’s time to think about exactly what you should post. Variety and quality are the most important things to focus on here.
If you have the budget, get a photographer to come along and shoot your dishes, drinks, and space. Or if you fancy yourself as an amateur photographer, set aside a quiet afternoon and get snapping.
You’ll have a great batch of high-quality pictures in a similar style that you can use for plenty of social media posts for the next few months. Much better than trying to get a picture of your most popular cocktail on the fly when you’re in the middle of a busy Sunday brunch service.
Video is incredibly popular and creates a lot of engagement. You shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity for awesome content, particularly because there’s so much movement with food and drink.
Get creative and have fun. You could even film a time lapse showing the preparation of one of your dishes or a shot of your barista creating some impressive latte art. Get those taste buds tingling and your followers won’t be able to resist coming in to try it for themselves.
No matter if you run a rustic country pub, city centre coffee cart, or fine dining restaurant, everyone is curious to get an insider’s look. Inviting your audience behind the scenes not only gives them the exclusive content they love, it also shows that your business is authentic and transparent.
Use social media to share photos and video that celebrate your passion for fresh ingredients, great preparation, and cool details. Instagram Stories is a great option for this type of content, it’s more casual and informal and can work in tandem with more structured and curated content on your Instagram grid.
Instagram is proven to be an important marketing tool for restaurants, especially for Millennials and Gen Z-ers. 30% of 18-35 years olds wouldn’t choose a restaurant if it had a weak Instagram presence. Make sure you impress the kids with these Instagram marketing tips:
Facebook’s capabilities for restaurant marketing are huge for both paid and organic content. Here’s some of the best tips to get the most out of this social media platform:
Twitter loves photos and video content just as much as the other social media platforms, so don’t scrimp on your visual content. There are other ways that you can use Twitter to connect with your customers as well:
User-Generated Content sounds like a complicated technical marketing term, but it really just means awesome free content, created by your customers and fans. UGC is a fantastic way to increase the content you have available to post across your social media platforms, with hardly any work or expense.
At first, you might need to use incentives like competitions or discounts to get your customers to share their photos and videos, but if you build an engaged following, it will start to grow naturally.
Think about the whole experience of your restaurant, bar or coffee shop, and find the right space for that “Instagrammable moment.” It could be some quirky decor, a bright mural, or a show-stopping dessert. You’ll soon see the tags and mentions roll in and (with permission!) you can celebrate your customers and reuse this unique content.
When you’re at the beginning of your journey of starting your business, branding should be one of the first things you consider as part of your marketing plan. Before you finalise your menu or organise the rota, you need to go back to basics and set out your mission statement. That is to say, identifying what makes your business unique, your company goals, and how you plan to achieve those goals.
Identifying your target audience is an essential part of this exercise as well. One technique to help you with this is to imagine your ideal customer - give them a name and create their whole backstory - job, income, interests, family. Whenever you have to make marketing decisions for your business, think of your customer persona, it’s much more effective than trying to create things for a faceless audience.
Consistency in branding for your bar, cafe or restaurant will help you to become recognised, memorable and established within the industry. Following the mission statement of your business, choose a good logo and brand colours that fit the right style, and make sure this goes across all platforms online, print, social media, signage and decor.
Branding is more than meets the eye, literally. Have you considered how much of an impact the right (or the wrong!) music can have in your restaurant or bar? The right music selection attracts the right crowds and can actually boost your food and drink sales too.
Two recent popular trends in restaurants and bars are customers’ interest in the local community and also a growing taste for smaller food and drink brands with unique elements. One way to jump aboard both of these trends is to partner up with local breweries in your area.
A Milwaukee bar, Bounce, takes this idea to new levels by listing the distance from the restaurant to each different brewery on their menu. A rotating roster of locally brewed craft beers will bring in beer buffs, engaged community members, and fellow small business owners.
If you can entice them to stay longer, and maybe become return customers, you’ll notice that these bar promotion ideas give a big return on investment.
Social proof is another one of those marketing terms that sounds more technical than it actually is. Put simply, it’s when your potential customers gain confidence in your business when they see other people using your services and giving good feedback.
This is by no means a fresh marketing idea, but in the age of social media and online review sites, it’s taken on a whole new level of importance. You shouldn’t feel daunted by the thought of reviews from the public on Google, Yelp, or Facebook, but embrace them as another creative restaurant marketing idea.
By keeping on top of all new reviews for your business, you can show that you’re active and engaged. Thank your customers for outstanding reviews, and respond to any negative ones quickly and clearly, maybe even offering a discount for the unhappy customer to return.
Some of the best marketing ideas for pubs and bars are tried and tested classics. Hosting regular events for sports fans is pretty much guaranteed to bring in the punters. You might want to position yourself as a venue for a certain sport, or a certain team to get a loyal following, or you could choose variety and show whatever’s popular at the time.
Who knows, you might discover that the German Handball league draws a big crowd in your town! As well as just screening sporting events, you can offer specials on food and drink, and host celebrations for local teams.
Traditional games are seeing something of a resurgence in modern bars. You only have to look at the popularity of cool London venues like Bounce, Swingers and Flight Club to see that any quirky or retro games are back.
If you don’t fancy revamping your whole restaurant to be a full size croquet lawn, why not hold some regular games nights. Board games, poker, or even the classic quiz night can have happy customers coming back again and again.
You may not realise at first just how many events happen in your community every week that could turn into affordable restaurant marketing ideas for your business. Check out social media and local papers and newsletters to find out what events are coming up in the area. If there’s a charity 5k happening, invite all runners to a complimentary dessert after the race. If there’s a local election happening, host a results party with a special menu.
Another way to use your connections with your local community is to reach out to nearby businesses and charities. If you’ve got the space, offer up a venue for meetings or talks during quiet service hours. Or how about inviting local business owners to a networking event? You never know who you might make an impression on.
Once your restaurant, pub or bar is doing business and you notice the ebb and flow of customers throughout the week you could consider setting up a calendar of theme nights. Now, this may bring up hazy memories of stale, smoke-filled rooms, and old Susan getting up to sing ‘9 to 5’ on the karaoke week in, week out, but things have changed!
Your theme nights can be whatever you want, there’s no rules to how you show your personality. Knitting Circles, Taco Tuesdays, Open Mic Nights. Think about what your target audience will love and set up a rotating schedule to encourage more regulars.
Customers love to feel like part of a club, and of course, customers also love discounts. Setting up a loyalty scheme is as simple as printing some business cards and buying a stamp, but the rewards you’ll get could be so much more.
That small piece of card in your customer's wallet could encourage them to walk that little bit further back to your coffee shop when they fancy their next latte, rather than choosing one of your competitors for convenience.
With so much emphasis placed on social media as the most important marketing tool, you may have overlooked some of the more traditional ways to promote your restaurant or bar in the media. Get in touch with your local paper or magazine and invite them to run a feature or review of your business.
If they’re impressed, you could offer to be a point of contact for their journalists when they're looking for a quote on any hospitality-related stories. Your business name will be printed thousands of times and your status in the community will get an impressive boost.
Sometimes, face-to-face communication is the most effective way to get your name out there. This is especially true when it comes to getting to know your local business peers. Take a walk around the streets nearby to your cafe or restaurant armed with some flyers and menus and introduce yourself to your neighbours.
Find businesses with common interests, for example, if your restaurant is focussed on healthy food, drop by the local gym or bike shop. Like-minded business owners will be happy to recommend you to their customers if you do the same. You can’t put a price on building community spirit.
There’s no excuse for not having a web presence for your restaurant, bar or coffee shop. Buying a domain, hosting a simple website theme can cost as little as a case or two of new pint glasses. Covering even just the basics on your website can make all the difference.
Customers want to see your opening times, location, contact information, menu, and prices. If you keep this updated and your site reflects your branding, you’re off to a great start. If you’re feeling more ambitious, update your site with news and offers too.
Building an email subscriber list is a highly effective marketing strategy that could really benefit your business if you manage it correctly. Email marketing shows impressive results for customer acquisition and retention, so it’s worth exploring.
Offering customers a discount code or exclusive offer, like a complimentary birthday cocktail, to signup to your email newsletter is a good way to grow your list. By sending regular reminders of events or new menu items directly to your customers’ inboxes they’ll be more likely to return more often.
As you can see from our marketing tips and trends, there are creative marketing ideas from the cutting edge of social media and old school ideas, tried and true. When you’re building your marketing plan, you can mix and match the techniques that work best for your business and your target audience.
Make marketing a regular part of your working day and you’ll see the benefits in no time. Spending just an hour each day checking social media, planning your next posts, responding to reviews, chatting to the local craft beer brewer, or handing out some flyers for your next event, will soon feel like easy tasks, rather than the stressful job that marketing once was.
If you have a passion for your business, your brand, and your industry, this will show in your marketing and your customers will respond to this. Find the right balance between being strategic and lighthearted in your approach and your hospitality business could reach farther than you think.