5 Promotional Ideas to Try in 2016


You’ve handed out more free desserts than you can count, tried a buy-one-get-one deal, and even paid your host double to dress up as your mascot and dance in front of your restaurant holding a sign. Alas, nothing seems to be working. New business ain’t comin', and if it is, they’re only there for the all-you-can-eat crab legs, which surprise, surprise, is actually causing you to lose money.


Whether you’re out of ideas or just looking to try something new, here are five ideas to jumpstart your restaurant marketing and drive engagement this year.


1. Guess What’s on My Spoon/Bowl/Plate

The idea: A quick and dirty social media contest to drive engagement.


How to: Post a close up image of a smoothie, salad, dish or dessert to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and have your social following guess what’s on it. The first person to guess the ingredients correctly wins!





2. Crowd Sourced Dishes

The idea: This one’s a bit more complicated. Have your guests and digital following submit a recipe that will be featured on your menu.


How to: You can make this as engaging or as simple as you’d like. First, solicit recipes from your guests and digital following that match your restaurant brand. (Think of the Lays Potato Chips “Do Us a Flavor” contest.) Determine three finalists. Then your options are limitless:

Tasting contest: Run a special tasting menu with a sample of the three dishes on the menu. Have guests vote on which dish they liked best.

Put it to the digital masses: Simply post a picture of the dish on your social media pages and have a digital vote.  

Make it an event: Have each finalist prepare the meal for a panel of judges. Film the whole thing. Put it on YouTube. Promote digitally.

Once the winning dish has been determined, put it on the menu, or run it as an extended special.



3. Guerilla Food Drop

The idea: If they don’t come to you, go to them! Gordon Ramsay did it first. Drive local business by spontaneously dropping off your signature dishes at neighboring businesses.


How to: Do some research and find out how many employees work at an office or business in your neighborhood. Then, drop off a lunch-size sampling of your chosen dish for the staff of the office you’re targeting. Don’t forget to include a list of ingredients with your delivery and account for allergies. Everyone likes free stuff – especially, when it trumps a brown bag lunch!



4. Sidewalk Stand

The idea: Take a cue from hot dog vendors everywhere, the smells of a sidewalk street meat works! Now customize it for your brand.


How to: On a sunny day in a busy area around lunchtime, prepare your most delicious smelling dish, sidewalk style. Bust out the BBQ and your recyclable take away gear and get your product into the mouths of those wandering your area.  There’s no better way to generate interest than tantalizing the senses both taste and smell. Either give away samples or charge at a lower cost and pair the dish with a coupon card as an additional incentive.



5. Free Food For Life

The idea: Make a fan for life by giving one select winner a free meal every day for the rest of their earthly days. On the way to selecting the individual who will occupy this coveted spot, collect as many emails as possible and increase your brand recognition.


How to: We have to credit the kind folks at healthy Boston-based fast casual chain, b.good for the inspiration behind this promotional idea. Their contest recipe is simple: entrants apply to get free food for life, b.good chooses finalists, they put it to a public vote, and the person with the most votes wins. In one such contest, b.good had entrants name their food truck and put the name finalists to a public vote.


To get the word out, they used social media. To gather contestant information, they hosted a submission form on their website. For the simple trade of an email address and a short application, entrants could win a free meal every day for life and that was enough appeal to generate a whole slew of eager entrants.


Along the way, anyone who voted for one of the entrants received a free smoothie coupon and, in a further effort to increase engagement, the contest requirements also called for finalists to use their own social media channels to promote their entry.


This type of contest benefits you in a few ways:

  1. The finalists inadvertently promote your restaurant on their social channels in their effort to win.

  2. You collect a ton of emails and contact information from contestants and voters for future promotions and marketing efforts.

  3. You might give out a few freebies, but you generate a ton of good will and the upselling potential is limitless. For example, if someone redeems their free smoothie at lunchtime, selling them on a veggie bowl is not out of the question!


The coolest thing about this contest? Our very own Taylor Moore, member of the TouchBistro marketing team, won this contest for b.good’s Queen West location in Toronto and we’re all super jealous!


The best way to generate interest and fill seats is to get people involved. The  experience of your restaurant doesn’t have to start and end at the dining room table. As creative as you are with your dishes, be creative with your marketing too!




About the Author

Jackie Prange

Jackie is a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro. She covers the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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