Restaurant Marketing On A Shoestring

restaurant marketing on a shoestring budget food service industry advertising

Times have never been tougher for the restaurant industry, but with no business rates and VAT at 5% for food / soft drinks for the next few months, it is still possible to make money. Here are some tips for effective marketing without a huge investment. 

Free Meals 

Use free meals at your restaurant as a marketing currency – used carefully they will create goodwill and help with your marketing reach – getting your message out to your target markets at a fraction of the cost of advertising. We would recommend using them as follows: 


Giving away meals for 2 or 4 people can really help you grow your social media followers – it’s something you should do most months as it always increases your reach, but could also be used to increase your email database as well. These competitions can be done on your restaurant’s social media accounts, but you can also offer competition prizes to local press and influencers. Used effectively, a few free meals will mean your restaurant brand messages will reach thousands of new people. 

Influencers / Bloggers 

Offer free meals to influencers and bloggers in exchange for social media coverage and blogs. Generally people with over 10,000 followers will try and charge for coverage, but a meal for 2 people offered to a few influencers with 8,000 followers for example will still be beneficial. Bloggers will also help with your SEO by writing reviews and linking to your website. You could use a restaurant marketing agency who will have contacts with lots of key influencers, but it’s not hard to build a database yourself – it just takes a bit of time. 

Local Businesses 

Offer a free meal to a local business to give to a member of staff who’s recently excelled or for when a particular target is reached. This will create a lot of goodwill and word of mouth as employees throughout the company will talk about it. 

Local Charities 

There have been so many amazing stories of people going above and beyond for those in need in the community. Approach a local charity and offer a few free meals for a fundraising effort or to reward people. With less people travelling right now, focusing on your local community will help establish your restaurant as a key pillar of that community – the national chains don’t do this, but you can use a few free meals to create a lot more trade. 


Printing fliers is extremely cheap and when you’re quiet send staff to hand them either on the street or put through letterboxes. Offers that expire in a few weeks work best. Use a restaurant branding agency to ensure the design is eye catching with a clear and enticing message. 

Email Marketing 

For databases under 2,500 contacts you can send free email newsletters via providers like Email Octopus. Encourage diners to leave email addresses by running a competition (see above) and regularly update your database by downloading opt in contacts from Opentable, Quandoo and Bookatable. Don’t over send as people will unsubscribe, once every 2 weeks is fine as long as it’s interesting and relevant. Special offers and set menus as well as recipes are generally the best content. 

Google Customer Intent 

Competing for your main keywords with a Google AdWords campaign will be expensive, therefore we’d recommend a Customer Intent Campaign instead. By supplying Google with a list of your competitor’s website as well as images and text, Google will show your ads on it’s display network (eg YouTube) to people it thinks will be interested in your restaurant. Typically the price per click for these campaigns can be as low as 2p. The ad could be a general one about the restaurant or for a specific promotion or offer.

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