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  • Writer's pictureWolstonbury Hospitality Consultant

How to grow your restaurant on a small marketing budget

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

So, you really need your hospitality business to grow, but you have to be smart with your budget. Sound familiar? You're not the only one. It is indeed a common problem. The good news is that it is actually possible. In fact, the constraints of a tight budget can force you to think more creatively about your sales and marketing strategy.

In this article, I'll deliver my top tips for driving sales in your restaurant at a local level, without a large investment.

Create fans to attract more fans

I have to start with the one fundamental principle that you can't ignore: your customers are your biggest and most trusted promoters. You can throw all the money you have at advertising, but if you get your basics right and absolutely blow your customers away with world class food and service they will be your biggest cheerleaders and will spread the word for you. Whatever you do, be consistent in using this as your guiding light.

Free marketing sounds ideal, but to get to this point you need to put in some work. It doesn't need much financial investment, just your steady, constant input. Here's how:

Make it personal

Make sure that your team understand 100% how important world-class service is. This all relies on building great relationships with your customers, and giving them what they need, every time. You need to know what it is they're looking for and then ensure that you hit the spot with their journey through your restaurant, including food, service and – most importantly – atmosphere. All of these together represent VALUE.

You've stood where your customers stand, so have a think – have you been to a restaurant that really engaged you in their service? So much so that you still talk about it to this day. What was it that stood out? In my experience, everyone usually has at least one great example of this, and it I am willing to bet that it was mainly due to the person that you interacted with and the stellar job they did to make you feel welcome, followed by fantastic food, service and atmosphere.

When customers feel that their needs and desires have not just been met, but surpassed, they're likely to return with their friends and family to share the experience. So be sure to encourage them to do this in your marketing communications and loyalty schemes, and make it an easy and obvious decision for them to celebrate special occasions in your restaurant.

Use the power of online tools

Make full use of TripAdvisor and other online tools such as Google and Facebook to drive online comments and feedback. TripAdvisor is a powerful, free marketing tool that you need to be using to your full advantage. Some basic actions that you should be taking are:

Ensure your details and content are correct, enticing and up-to-date.

Upload engaging and appetising images of both your food and the dining environment and atmosphere. Set people's expectations.

Drive comments from your customer base and feedback to climb up the ranks as much as you can.

Reply to selected reviews, including negative ones, to demonstrate that you value your customers' feedback.

Operational efficiency

While it's crucial that your team knows the importance of outstanding service, you can't place all responsibility on them to make it happen. You need to do your part to ensure that your operations actually enable them to deliver the outstanding, personal service that you need to grow your business.

Seek to make your operation flawlessly efficient, particularly if you are a volume business or if you have rushes that have high peak / trough periods. Ensure that you maximise those peaks to offset the troughs. But remember that your trough periods need to be super-efficient too! When you are quiet, you want to operate with minimal staff to protect costs, so their workflow needs to be even more efficient than normal.

Plan and prepare your business for the peak rushes to maximise quality and output as well as ease pressure on the team. This allows the team to concentrate and deliver more output, and to maintain the quality of their customer interaction. The more of their time you can free up by easing your operational flow, the more time they have to engage with the customers.

Use a loyalty scheme

There's a reason why loyalty schemes are still used today as an important sales tool - a good loyalty scheme can really bring great results. Especially with new-age schemes using apps. A word of warning though. A loyalty scheme will only work if you have all of the above in place. If your basics aren't there and you aren't delivering an outstanding service, you'll find it impossible to build loyalty.

And remember that loyalty schemes are there to reward loyalty, not as a discount.

Choose your discounts wisely. Don’t devalue your brand!

The more discounts you offer, the less valuable your product and service become. Seek to increase and communicate the value of your service as opposed to cutting on price.

When people choose not to pay for something, its because they don’t understand the value they are getting. If Rolls Royce didn’t communicate that their leather and paintwork is done by hand, a consumer wouldn't instinctively know the difference between a Rolls Royce and a leather Ford Mondeo. Once people understand what they are paying for and the value it brings they are more likely to part with their money.

If you feel you are having to discount more than you should be, something is potentially wrong with the way you are communicating the value of your offering. Sit down and work on addressing this straight away.

Build your local network

Tapping into the audience of other local businesses and organisations can be really valuable for both parties. Obviously, you're not going to be partnering up with direct competitors here, but building a network of like-minded peers, strategic partners and local community groups allows you to easily reach out to your target audience.

Not only that, peers can provide highly useful information about your local market. Strategic partners such as landlords, tube station managers, bar managers, advertising agencies etc can often give you extremely powerful advice, or even allow you free or low cost access to vital marketing resources. If you're based in a shopping centre, for example, you can often get brilliant exposure for free – in the beginning, at least.

Remember that building quality relationships is a two way process. Local community groups and initiatives provide a great opportunity to reach out to new customers whilst giving something back. Building a genuine relationship with local groups can help generate a lot of buzz for your restaurant through word of mouth. Return the favour by offering to host local events. Take a fun run, for example; offering your venue as a start/finish base can be of massive value to them while increasing local awareness about your business and improving your goodwill.

Set the ball rolling today by researching which of your local groups would be a good fit for you. What can you offer them in return? Think beyond the obvious, too. Are there any local employment agencies that seek to help support long term unemployment, for example?

Finally, be strategic with whom you choose to team up with, and be aware that these partnerships might not always pay off. Try to maximise the return by learning about their organisations, and explore how they might be able to add value to your business. If they can increase your reach by word of mouth, you'll be on to a good thing.

If you need a hand, feel free to get in touch.

Thanks for reading,


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