How Do Restaurants Attract New Customers?

new customers paying at restaurantOpening a restaurant comes with a smorgasbord of challenges, and one of the top ones is attracting new customers to your brand-new business. Even if a restaurant is part of a well-known franchise or opening under an existing name with new management, getting people in the door can be a tough sell.

The main focus for new restaurants should be to let the general public know what they have to offer, according to an article on The Art Institute’s (AI) website. One main way to do that is with marketing, marketing, and more marketing.

What does marketing do?

Marketing brings awareness to the restaurant, with the overall goal of enticing customers to come on by and give it a try, the AI says. New restaurants may want to pay particular attention to playing up anything that makes this new restaurant especially attractive or different from its competitors.

Perhaps it’s the only joint in town that serves up escargot or other exotic fare. Maybe it has a live band every Thursday or a team of singing waiters every night. The atmosphere could be an enticement, especially if the restaurant features unusual or must-see attractions like a live shark tank, an indoor waterfall, or an outdoor garden café.

What type of marketing works best for new restaurants?

While a popular form of marketing has been to target a specific audience, new restaurants may do better with mass marketing, according to a report from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research. Unless the restaurant specifically caters to a certain group, such as vegetarians, reaching out to a wider audience may be more effective than attempting to find or create a niche.

The report found that restaurant customers tend to move freely among restaurants that share the same size customer base. That means people who eat at a restaurant that has a great number of customers, such as McDonald’s, are generally equally as open to eating at another restaurant that has an equally large number of customers, such as a Subway sandwich shop.

Likewise, people who patronize restaurants with smaller customer bases are typically open to others of the same size. The concept seemed to hold true even if the restaurants that had similar customer numbers had very different foods, atmospheres, and prices. The bottom line for new restaurants would be to provide the widest appeal possible to the largest number of people.

What’s the best way for new restaurants to increase appeal?

Word-of-mouth is an excellent form of increasing appeal, especially for new restaurants that do not have an established track record. That means focusing on making each new customer want to run out and tell his or her friends how great this brand-new restaurant is.

Online reviews can be a great way to do this, which means a new restaurant should invest the time and manpower necessary to set up accounts on social media sites as well as sites that allow local business reviews. Since new customers may need a bit of incentive to pass the word around, the restaurant can offer a discount or other promotion for every review someone writes on a specific site.

The best way to ensure those reviews will be positive is to simply offer the best. The key elements to fulfill for a customer are providing excellent food, excellent service, and excellent prices. Top that off with a pleasant atmosphere and people may be more than happy to pass around a good word.

What about promotions?

Promotions are another way to entice people into a new restaurant, especially if it’s a deal they feel they cannot afford to miss. Promotions can appear online, in local newspapers or magazines in print, or posted around town on fliers and handouts.

Free food ranks right up there as one of the most enticing promotions. While restaurant owners don’t need to stand out in the street and pass out escargot samples, they can offer coupons for a buy-one-get-one-free dinner or a free side dish or beverage with every meal.

Discounts are another good way to drum up business, as are various other promotions that are as enticing as they are creative. Standard fare includes a focus on holidays, such as a special Mother’s Day brunch or Valentine’s prime rib, or events that are important to the community, such as a college football special for a big, local game day.

Restaurants may offer discounts or free drinks for dressing up on Halloween or wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. Once again, the more eye-catching and enticing the promotion, the more people it is likely to reach.

Current events provide another promotional arena, with restaurants setting up specials where people eat for a good cause. For exzmple, a percentage of a specific day’s or week’s profits goes toward helping the local animal shelter, a nationwide charity, or worldwide relief efforts after a natural disaster.

Regardless of the marketing tactic restaurant owners choose, getting people in the door is only the first step. That step needs to be followed with fabulous service, prices, and food that make people want to keep coming back.

  1. John Housefield

    Nice article!

    We see successes using attractive local direct mail marketing through the USPS…
    people with incomes are still attracted to their “old fashion” mailboxes. ;)

    P.S. – 97% of American’s are considered coupon users!

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