Why Marketing Your Restaurant is Not Expensive
It’s another industry myth worth busting.
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a new column by restaurant expert Monte Silva. You can find more about the series here. The first story, “Why Underpaying Restaurant Workers Is a Recipe for Disaster” is here.
Restaurant marketing has evolved several times over the past two decades. The old model of restaurant marketing was to invest big bucks in magazine, radio, or television advertising. Many bought billboards and bus stop benches. Of course, that was very expensive and there was no way to track the ROI (return on investment). This is where the false belief that marketing is expensive arose.
Two more cost-effective ideas emerged from this marketing model.
The first was Trade Marketing. This was used by restaurants to continue buying ads on the old model media. However, instead of cash, they traded gift cards from the restaurant. This reduced marketing costs and was fairer as both sides received market value rather than paying actual costs.
COME WITH: Monte is one of the many speakers at this year’s NextGen Restaurant Summit. Reserve your spot today!
The second new model was Gorilla Marketing. I used this model a lot in my early career. I once went into a department store in a mall that was next door to my restaurant and asked the department store manager if I could set up a table and give away chips, salsa, and balloons to all customers in the store during the big 18-hour sale. The department store paid for the full-page ad in the LA Times, only charging me the grocery cost of chips and salsa and the cost of balloons.
It worked like magic because as you all know, chips and salsa are addictive and keep shoppers wanting more. And when every kid in the rest of the mall saw the balloons and cried for one, their unsuspecting mothers didn’t know they were free in the mall. So they brought their kids to my restaurant. On the days I did this, my sales increased by over 20 percent.
Another time, when I was general manager of Boundry, I made a deal with the GM of Nashville BMW.
I was tired of seeing BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus and Range Rovers pulling up at my friend’s restaurant next door. So I offered to sell the Nashville GM $100 BMW gift cards for $50 so he could gift one of my gift cards to anyone who bought a BMW in December. For a $100 gift card, it only cost me $30 in merchandise cost. Even if everyone came and used the gift card, I still made money.
Suddenly BMWs pulled into the valet and came into my restaurant instead of the high-end Italian restaurant next door. And as they pulled up, their friends in Lexus, Mercedes and Range Rovers watched them come into my restaurant and decided to give us a try. My marketing didn’t actually cost me anything, but it brought me a lot of new business.
email marketing campaigns, Third Party DeliveryAnd SMS Text marketing has also been a popular form of marketing over the last 10 years. Of these, I prefer email and SMS marketing because they’re cheaper than giving away up to 30 percent of your sale to a third-party delivery service. I also like offering something special to just those email and SMS addresses and then tracking the ROI for that.
In 2010 I learned that not only restaurants are a brand, but also the owners, managers and chefs. I was fascinated by brands like Chip & Joanna Gaines and Duck Dynasty.
I have shifted my marketing from marketing the restaurant brand to Marketing my brand. Nationally, I’ve gained exposure through magazine articles, podcasts, and social media like LinkedIn. This was great because if I switched restaurants, I didn’t have to start marketing the new restaurant.
Also, when I became a restaurant coach during the pandemic, I already had a brand that people knew and trusted and was able to build a client list without spending a penny.
There are so many ways to market yourself or your restaurant these days. There’s LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TiKTok, and Clubhouse. You no longer have to wait to be spotted by a TV shower food critic. You can publish your own content and build a following that rivals TV ratings. You can be a guest on podcasts or host your own podcast.
My column here at FSR is proof that anyone can market themselves or their restaurant. Many readers will find out from this column alone that I am an Executive Restaurant Coach www.montesilvacoaching.com. And in September I will give a lecture FSR’s NextGen Restaurant Summit in Atlanta.
Next month, I’m starting a new opportunity to host a weekly restaurant news show on Sysco Canada’s SVK Media Network.
Every time I use my skills, I gain momentum. As momentum increases, it costs less to market my coaching and training business.
So you see, the false belief that marketing is expensive is simply not true. Dare and make a YouTube or Tik-Tok video. Contact a magazine editor and offer to write a column. Learn, as I did, how to leverage yourself to the point where you don’t have to spend money on advertising unnecessarily.