How to Get Free PR: 4 Strategies to Fill Restaurant Seats


The doors are open! The cake is baked! The beers are cold! It’s time to alert the press – so you do. Twenty emails to different media outlets later, you’re left refreshing your email, like a bad date, waiting for a response that will never come.


Unfortunately, press isn’t easy to come by anymore. Just as audiences are bombarded by content, advertisements and grand openings, so too are the journalists and media who create that content. While it’s easy to pay for advertising - less time consuming, less guesswork, less effort - many restaurants are on a budget and paid ad placements typically don’t carry as much weight or portray as much authenticity as great PR. 


In PR, there are three types of media coverage you can go after: 


1. Earned Media

Also known as word of mouth – or status update, article, blog post, Instagram photo, or review. Essentially, earned media is any third party conversation happening about your restaurant. 


2. Owned Media 

This is media that you can control like your website, your blog or your restaurant’s social media channels.


3. Paid Media

Advertisements, paid SEM, paid influencers, paid content promotion.


In this article, we’ll give you four strategies you can employ to capitalize on the first one, earned media.



Tap Into the “New” Food Critic: The Influencer

In an interview with prominent food influencer @food.diva, we learned that contacting and getting food influencers in the door is a lot easier than you might think. 


For example, @food.diva has +12,000 devout followers, and while yes, she does run her page now like a business, it is also something of a passion project. She cares about promoting small, start-up restaurants and she genuinely enjoys doing so, often just in exchange for some good fare. 


“I want to talk about the places where my followers will be like, ‘Oh I didn’t even know this place was down the street from my house’ or, ‘Oh I didn’t know they serve ice cream.’ I’m more into posting about new services and start-ups. Some Instagrammers will post a food diary – I just post about the things that left an impression on me.” 


How can restaurants access her and her 12,000+ followers? Directly through an Instagram message, through her agent or through a PR firm. For restaurants on a budget who prefer to bypass the agency or PR firm, Instagram direct message is the best point of contact. 


She explains, “Some restaurant owners look up the email address [in her bio] and see that 4249 is an agency. For numerous reasons, they might prefer not to go through an agency, so they take a shot at direct messaging me with an invitation – something like ‘lunch is on us!’”


While of course, social media influencers always welcome monetary incentives, it is possible to get an influencer in the doors without a cash exchange. Many influencers, like @food.diva, became influential because of the genuine interest and passion for the food projects they take on. They care about promoting good food and small businesses so if your offering appeals to their brand, a free meal might be enough to get them through the door. 


@food.diva says, “I’d say there is no compensation involved for about 70% of my posts. It might be because I’m not as strict as some of the other influencers. Some won’t do a project unless there’s compensation involved. But overall, there’s usually some sort of exchange whether there’s food or monetary or a gift card.”


The bottom-line here? Be selective and strategic about the influencer you choose to invite. Perhaps look beyond the big 10K+ numbers and find niche influencers with a following of a couple thousand. Are you a burger joint in NYC? A cupcake shop in Toronto? Look for Instagrammers with (relatively) smaller followings but high like counts. Larger influencers may come with a price tag, but someone with a small number of highly invested followers might be twice as influential because their audience is more specific in both their interests and their location.


2. Be the Answer: Pitch Your Expertise To Reporters Who Are Looking

The oldest trick in the PR strategy book is to create a carefully curated list of journalists – otherwise known as a media list - and pitch story ideas to match their specific area of expertise. Unfortunately, unless there’s a pre-existing relationship or luck involved, much of the time pitches are often filed in the story archives for later, lost in an infinite and growing digital filing abyss. 


The key to pitching is to choose the right person to pitch to – or better: have those people reach out to you. Here are three websites that facilitate this two-way relationship.


HARO (Help a Reporter Out) 

HARO is a free service, which allows journalists to reach out to the public for real-life expertise when they’re looking to build a given story. Reporters send out requests and you, as an expert, have the opportunity to respond and thus, be included in their article. The one rule? You must actually be an expert – or respond with expertise from someone on your team. 


Pitchrate and SourceBottle

Similarly to HARO, Pitchrate and SourceBottle also connect reporters to experts and sources. Pitchrate differentiates itself by allowing experts to upload bylined articles for journalists to access rather than delivering journalist inquiries to potential experts. SourceBottle maintains a similar call and response model to HARO, but also allows businesses willing to spend a little dough to publish a “request.” A “request” is defined as “a paid post placed on the site by a subscriber requesting something - generally giveaways (for gift bags), prizes (for competitions) OR case studies for media pitches.”


3. Join Forces: Co-opetition

If you haven’t heard, co-opetition is the new competition. It’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of strategy that involves you getting nice and cozy with neighboring businesses, leveraging each other's assets in order to expand and share your audiences. This could mean anything from joining forces to host an event, featuring each other’s products, or promoting each other on social media. 


For example: If you’re a dine-in restaurant, consider partnering with a local bakery and offer a special on dessert. In exchange, give the bakery coupons to distribute on your behalf. 



At the heart of PR is relationship building. Luckily, most restaurant industry professionals have a natural knack for forging those bonds. By building these relationships, sharing expertise, and narrowing in on the people and tools who can help your brand and give it additional exposure, you can tap into audiences who would have otherwise been lost to the shuffle. 


About the Author

Andrea Victory

Andrea was a Content Marketing Specialist and Editor at TouchBistro where she wrote about restaurant and dining trends, restaurant management, and food culture. A self-affirmed food geek, Andrea devours cookbooks and food blogs. She also knows how to make a killer kale salad.

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