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You don’t need to be a restaurant owner to know that more customers equals more business. But with so many restaurants competing against each other, what does it take to stand out from the crowd?

The short answer is simple: restaurant marketing. Whether you’ve just opened a local restaurant or you’re an industry veteran, executing an effective marketing plan is key to attracting potential customers. However, it’s also easier said than done — especially if you’re a beginner. 

That’s why we’ve put together this guide. Here, we’ll walk you through the process of becoming a successful restaurant marketer. From the basics of planning to a list of creative restaurant marketing ideas, let’s explore everything you need to get started.

What is restaurant marketing?

As a restaurant owner, you’re facing two significant challenges: keeping existing customers happy while also driving potential customers to your business. And to top it all off, you’re simultaneously competing with over a million restaurants in the crowded American food industry.

With so little wiggle room, it’s no wonder that an estimated 90% of new restaurants fail within their first year. Key to beating these odds and maintaining a successful business is differentiating your restaurant and communicating your value proposition to the public — that’s restaurant marketing in a nutshell.

More specifically, restaurant marketing refers to the series of actions restaurants take to engage with their target audience and develop a positive customer relationship. Ultimately, the objective is to generate repeat business and long-term customer loyalty. Simply put, it’s how you keep your diners hungry for more.

Why market your restaurant?

With the right combination of marketing strategy, planning, and execution, restaurant marketing can be used to:

  • Increase revenue potential by driving traffic to your restaurant.
  • Foster loyalty and maximize customer lifetime value.
  • Generate brand awareness in your target market.
  • Keep diners engaged through outbound content and communication.
  • Express your brand personality and values.
  • Create new opportunities to grow your business.
  • Develop deeper relationships with your customers and community.

Traditional vs. digital marketing

Before you begin your first venture as a restaurant marketer, it’s important to understand the different approaches. Restaurant marketing can be broken down into two categories: traditional and digital.

Traditional marketing strategies use offline methods to engage with customers. These might include word-of-mouth, direct mail, radio and television advertising. Essentially, anything that isn’t linked to the internet might be considered traditional.

Although these methods still have their time and place, traditional strategies may not be the most practical way to start your first marketing campaign. Here are some of the biggest disadvantages of traditional marketing:

  • Cost: Some strategies may cost too much for a restaurant owner, especially if they operate a small business. Print ads, for example, can range from $2,000 to $160,000.
  • Measurability: It’s difficult to quantify how effective a tactic like a radio ad or a billboard may be, and it’s even harder to calculate the return on investment.
  • Difficulty: Traditional methods require more effort to produce and often take much longer to plan and execute.

On the other hand, digital marketing relies on the internet. Think social media, Google ads and paid search. These strategies tend to produce several undeniable benefits:

  • Lower cost: Digital ads are generally far less expensive than offline strategies, meaning the ROI is also typically higher. More importantly, restaurants of any size can launch a marketing campaign without breaking the bank.
  • Expansive reach: Restaurant marketing is about going where your customers are. And now more than ever, they’re spending their time online. In fact, 90% of diners research a restaurant online before dining, and 57% view restaurant websites before deciding where to eat. Digital marketing allows you to meet customers in the middle and win their business.
  • Increased engagement: A customer can easily access a restaurant and engage with the brand through their choice of marketing channel, such as email or social media. Whether they’re sharing a post or asking a question, there’s almost no limit to how a diner might interact with your brand.
  • Traceability: Not only can robust analytics easily measure the effectiveness of digital campaigns, but they can trace the customer journey from start to finish. In other words, you can better understand how your customers interact with your restaurant over the internet.
  • Personalization: It’s much easier to personalize a digital marketing campaign because detailed customer analytics enable you to segment your audience more effectively. In turn, you can tailor a marketing campaign or promotion to that segment and generate a better customer experience that leaves a lasting impression.

Most importantly, digital marketing is simpler to plan and execute. And why’s that significant? Because it means you get to do what you do best and focus on the food.

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Creating a restaurant marketing plan

If you’re a first-time restaurant marketer, launching a campaign may seem like a daunting task. That’s why it’s essential to create an effective marketing plan.

A restaurant marketing plan is a timeline of events that outlines the details of your marketing campaign. It includes all of the activities and strategies you are going to execute throughout the year and provides an overview of their most critical elements.

Why is it necessary to create a marketing plan? Because if you don’t, things can get messy. Promoting your business without a marketing plan is a bit like cooking without a recipe — it’s easy to make mistakes, the timing may be off and the end result probably won’t go down the way you hoped. But by creating a plan of action, you can keep everything organized and cook up something truly special.

5 essential elements of a restaurant marketing plan

1. Marketing goals

The first and most important piece of information that should be included in a marketing plan is your objective. What do you want your marketing campaign to accomplish? 

Answering this question will help you set the tone for your entire marketing effort moving forward. A marketing goal should be specific and measurable so you can determine whether or not your campaign is a success. Therefore, establishing a goal directly determines the indicators you’ll use when analyzing performance. Without a goal, you can’t measure the value of your work.

Identify an objective that makes sense for your restaurant. Here’s a list of some goals you may choose to work toward:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Lead generation.
  • Customer acquisition.
  • Website traffic.
  • Social media engagement.
  • Revenue.

For example, let’s say you want to increase loyalty program sign-ups 20% by the end of the year. With this goal in mind, you can tailor your marketing and start your campaign in the right direction.

2. Marketing budget

How much are you willing to spend on your marketing campaign? A good rule of thumb is that your marketing budget should be between 3% and 6% of your sales. 

Where you fall in that range will depend on your marketing mix. Are you using strictly digital marketing, or a mix of both digital and traditional? As mentioned, the cost of traditional campaigns may be prohibitive for a small business. Digital marketing activities are much friendlier to your budget. 

It’s also critical to factor in the size of your target audience. The bigger the market, the bigger the budget you’ll require to cast a wide net and secure a new customer.

3. Marketing strategy

The activities and promotions you run during a marketing campaign are collectively known as a restaurant marketing strategy. The point of a marketing strategy is to concentrate your marketing effort in a way that will most effectively achieve your objectives.

It’s important to note that not there is no one-size-fits-all restaurant marketing strategy. More likely, you’ll identify a combination of approaches that can work towards one or multiple goals simultaneously. 

4. Campaign schedule and duration

How long will it take to complete the marketing campaign? When will key marketing activities take place, and where does each marketing strategy begin?

These questions are a core part of the marketing plan. Knowing the schedule and duration of your program will help you keep track of events and ensure everything is running smoothly when it should be.

5. Target audience

Knowing your customers is one of the most important ingredients for restaurant marketing success. Develop buyer personas for each segment of your target audience to glean insights around how they might feel about your campaign.

A buyer persona is an imaginary model of your average customer. Creating personas is a great tool for tailoring promotions and activities for the best reception. If you have a point-of-sale system in place, you may already have access to diner data. 

This information can help you isolate clusters of existing customers and attach corresponding characteristics for each persona. Include information about their average spend per order, their likes and dislikes, choice of marketing channel and other details that can help you understand their habits.

Restaurant marketing strategies and ideas

Not sure where to begin? Don’t worry — we’ve put together a list of creative restaurant marketing ideas to get you started.

Here are the best restaurant marketing ideas and strategies you can implement today:

Increase exposure through online ordering

Nowadays, diners aren’t relying on word of mouth or newspaper reviews to discover their new favorite culinary hotspots. With the rise of the internet, digital channels have enabled customers to find a fresh place to eat in more ways than ever before. 

Online ordering platforms like Grubhub help 33+ million diners discover new restaurants. More importantly, it’s where restaurants like yours can acquire a new customer. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 independent restaurant operators surveyed who use Grubhub agree that Grubhub Marketplace provides a new or additional marketing channel that empowers them to reach potential customers.

Listing your restaurant on an online ordering platform increases your exposure to your target audience and can drive traffic to your business through pickup, delivery and more.

Build a restaurant website that’s representative of your brand

According to one comprehensive survey, 77% of diners visit a restaurant website before dining in or ordering takeout. What’s more, 68% have actually been discouraged from visiting a restaurant because of its poor website experience.

Thus, your website is easily one of the most important restaurant marketing resources at your disposal. Ensure your restaurant website is easy to read, simple to navigate and has a fresh look and feel. The last thing you want is a potential new customer being turned off because they equate your old, stale website with your food.

Not sure where to start? If you’re a Grubhub Marketplace customer, you can easily launch your own online ordering site through Grubhub Direct. Your menu, photos and logos are automatically imported into Grubhub Direct, meaning you can get off the ground running in no time. Better yet, you can customize your website to match your brand and deliver a consistent experience to your customers.

Engage customers with social media marketing

Social media is a must-have restaurant marketing tool. Never has there been a marketing channel with the breadth and immense potential of social media. Think about it: There are over 1 billion active monthly users on Instagram alone — and they’re only the second largest social media platform behind Facebook.

Restaurants can leverage social media for many beneficial engagements, including:

  • Posting photos of menu items.
  • Sharing seasonal, daily or weekly items.
  • Showcasing customer content.
  • Communicating with customers.

Additionally, social media can also be used to conduct paid advertising. For example, paying to promote Facebook ads can extend your reach to a wider audience. Social media platforms give you the ability to customize the length of your paid campaign and what type of audience you want to target based on how much you’re willing to spend.

Practice outreach through email marketing

Email marketing is especially effective because it allows you to engage customers who’ve signed up for email updates or physically dined in your restaurant. According to one report, 87% of diners want to receive emails about special offers and discounts.

That said, it’s important not to spam your diners. Too many emails could frustrate customers and risk losing their business. Start by considering how often you’ll send out an email blast, the type of email you want to send and whether or not it provides value to the customer.

Showcase your food with professional photography

Restaurants that follow best practices for menu design — including high-quality pictures — receive up to 70% more orders and 65% higher sales compared to restaurants without menu photos. In other words, food photography makes a difference.

Make sure your menu items are represented in a way that showcases their best features. Implement good lighting, composition and an interesting background to capture audience attention. Edit out any excessive white space and ensure there’s nothing distracting or messy in the image. Post these photos on your online menu, import them into your online ordering system, and share them across your social media channels to drive engagement.

Whether using a professional photographer or doing it on your own, quality photos are a staple restaurant marketing strategy for businesses of any size. Luckily, when you join Grubhub you receive a professional menu photoshoot — completely free of charge.

Encourage repeat visits with a loyalty program

Value-minded consumers are always looking for incentive to spend their money as efficiently as possible. One of the best ways to reward customer loyalty and encourage a new customer to dine with you again is by launching your own loyalty program.

When diners order takeout or delivery from your restaurant, reward them with discounts on their next purchase or an exclusive promotion. This is where loyalty programs and email marketing go hand in hand. Some online ordering apps even allow restaurants to gamify the dining experience by offering guests a free purchase or discount after a certain number of visits.

Drive online traffic with local SEO and Google Business

SEO — search engine optimization — is the process of optimizing your restaurant website so that it ranks higher on search engine response pages, such as Google. Most people don’t search past the first one or two pages of Google, meaning you better be ranking where your target audience can find you. 

Local SEO is a great way to market a local restaurant. Why? Because global chains are more focused on reaching a global audience. A good way to improve your local SEO is by optimizing your Google Business profile — a free listing that connects businesses with customers through Google Search and Maps. 

Here are a few key factors that influence your Google Business listing:

  • Embedding a Google Map of your location on your website.
  • Publishing content specific to your location.
  • Soliciting online reviews of your restaurant.
  • Including social media links in your listing.

Reputation marketing

According to a study shared by Inc.com, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. So why not showcase your more positive examples?

Sharing positive reviews is a great way to convert potential customers into existing customers. Post them to your social media and on your website where diners are likely to see them. On the other hand, there’s also an art to bad reviews. Responding to negative feedback might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually a great way to show how much you care about the customer experience.

Influencer marketing

Don’t underestimate the power of an internet influencer — someone with a large enough following to sway public opinion. Invite local influencers to try your restaurant and show it off to their fans in exchange for a posting fee.

Or, invite food bloggers to cover your restaurant. Sharing their blog with your audience can increase exposure and generate buzz around your brand.

Simplify restaurant marketing with Grubhub

When it comes to restaurant marketing, there’s a lot to consider. Navigating the many strategies and responsibilities associated with restaurant marketing isn’t easy, especially on your own. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to be. When you work with an online ordering provider like Grubhub, you gain instant access to 33+ million potential customers. Listing your restaurant on Grubhub Marketplace opens the door for you to reach a bigger audience and grow your business. As participating Grubhub Marketplace restaurant, you can leverage free marketing tools, including:

  • Ratings and reviews: Engage with customers and attract a new following by responding directly to customer reviews on your menu page.
  • Promotion and loyalty tools: Promote your brand on the Grubhub app and website or send out personalized email blasts to your loyal customers — either way, we set you up with the tools you need to boost your sales without breaking the bank.
  • Free professional photoshoot: Grubhub Marketplace restaurants gain a free menu photoshoot — the perfect way to showcase your food with mouth-watering photos of your hottest menu items.

And with the ability to launch your own branded online ordering site through Grubhub Direct, you can truly maximize your exposure and optimize your marketing efforts. Tailor your promotions using robust customer data and increase brand awareness — no marketing commission guaranteed.

Take Salt Lake City’s Pearl Express, for example. In the first six months of using Grubhub Direct, Pearl Express saw a 195% increase in sales on the Grubhub platform. Most of these sales are incremental because Grubhub Direct has enabled Pearl Express to reach new customers who ordered from their website or through their Google Business listing.

With a Grubhub partnership, you can start marketing your restaurant regardless of the size of your business or depth of your budget. That’s why nearly 9 out of 10 restaurant operators surveyed agree that Grubhub delivers high ROI to the restaurant — higher than the competitor average.

By incorporating these restaurant marketing ideas into your overall strategy, you’ll maximize your reach and wow a new audience of potential customers. And with Grubhub, you don’t have to do it alone.


Ready to get started? Join Grubhub Marketplace today.

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