How to Market Your Restaurant Without Spending Any Money

A man during a live facebook transmission
Consider trying something new, like “going live” on Instagram. Your chef could talk about how you’re preparing fan-favorite dishes that travel well for pickup and delivery.

Determine what you want to say, where you’re going to say it, and how you’re going to connect that message to the community around you.

Marketing is the creative process of attracting potential customers to your business. It involves anticipating, identifying, and satisfying customers’ needs and wants, convincing the audience that your business is the best solution for them or inspiring them to try something when they didn’t know what they were looking for.

While many marketing methods have an elevated price tag — and budgets are currently tighter than ever — there are a number of ways to ensure you’re connecting with your customers without breaking the bank or even spending a dime.

Create a clear, concise and consistent message 

Every marketing campaign should have three key elements: be straightforward, keep it short and sweet, and make sure you’re saying the same thing everywhere. During COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to hit these touch points when communicating your current operations and how customers can transact with you. We suggest keeping it between two and five sentences — it is the ideal length to be complete, direct, and punchy.

Think about what elements of your business need to be shared with your customer base. Are you offering curbside pickup or contactless delivery? Do you have multiple delivery platforms for extended delivery coverage? What is your preferred method for how customers order and pay? Do you have any specials or promotions going on?

If you are creating new and unique offers — such as batched cocktails, family sized meals, or DIY food kits — communicate them prominently. They were created out of a need during these abnormal times, so clearly stating that need is an important way to stay top of mind in your community and generate empathy from your customers. 

Communicate your message on all platforms

Once you’ve solidified your COVID-19 message, share it everywhere. Window signs are a direct way to communicate that you’re open. Even if you have a bustling kitchen serving carry out and delivery orders, your restaurant might look closed from the street. Prominent signage that communicates how to order will draw the attention of people driving by on their way to the grocery store or home from an essential job.

To increase online traffic and transactions, try a pop-up message on your website, an updated home page, or a special section on your site informing customers how COVID-19 has impacted your operation. Include a call to action, like linking to the best way to start an online order or how to purchase a gift card.

For example on Yelp, the customizable COVID-19 banner provides a prominent way to let users know the status of your current operations. This complimentary feature can be updated at any time to reflect time-sensitive details — in the same way you’d update a sign in the front window of your physical location.

The restaurant tool Yelp Connect is also being leveraged to send updates and information to loyal customers directly on the app. Through May 25, Connect is one of many features being offered for free on Yelp as part of the relief plan.

Social media is a great visual storytelling platform; it can used frequently, and it’s free! You can authentically connect with your community by sharing photos and videos of your restaurant and showing how things have changed for you and your business.

Consider trying something new, like “going live” on Instagram. You could have your chef talk about how you’re preparing fan-favorite dishes that travel well for pickup and delivery. Some operators are hosting virtual cooking classes or sharing videos of their bartender creating a specialty cocktail or teaching a mixology class.

Collaborate and create shareable experiences

As a restaurant, you’re a staple in your community. Your regulars want to continue to enjoy their favorite dishes, and others who may have not tried you are on the lookout for restaurants they can feel good about supporting.

To spread the word, consider teaming up with other bars or restaurants in the area who are operating during the Coronavirus. By combining offers you can share your customer bases and online audiences — and hopefully gain new fans.

Promoting menu items and special offers in fun, shareable formats is another fantastic way to spread your message throughout the community. If you have photogenic packaging or an eye-catching concept like do-it-yourself cookie kits, your customers will want to share that experience with their friends and followers.

Let them know how to mention you, and then sit back and watch your popularity spread. Be sure to engage with those responses and repost too.

Marketing without a big budget is always possible with a bit of creativity and innovation. Create a clear message, communicate it across all your free platforms, and collaborate to spread the word. If you’re looking for more tips during these challenging times, check out these small business marketing and operational tips during COVID-19.