How To Market Your Restaurant or Coffee Shop

Singapore noodlesBehind every college restaurant is a dream. A dream where people book weeks in advance, every table is full, the food and service is brilliant and the profits roll in.

The truth is often different. The restaurant business is tough. There is competition on every corner and however good your food and service might be you have to be brilliant at marketing as well.

Having a restaurant in an FE establishment doesn’t make you immune to these problems.  If anything it makes it harder.

Most “real world” restaurants, cafes and coffee shops fail within two years of opening. But it needn’t be like this.

Often there is nothing wrong with the food, service or ambiance. Often it is purely down to poor marketing.

Marketing isn’t difficult. It needn’t cost a fortune. But if you are going to learn how to market your restaurant you will need to learn a few simple marketing strategies and techniques ……… just like the Restaurant Marketing Strategies listed below.

1. Location is important and it is often said that the three most important things about your business is location, location, location; and there is some truth in it but …….. being able to find your restaurant and being able to park is just as important.  And that is sometimes a challenge for FE.

When I say being able to find your restaurant it isn’t just being able to find it physically if it is down a side street or at the end of a long country road. It is as much about people knowing there is a restaurant for them to dine at and let’s face it none of us think of a college restaurant when thinking about eating out.  So don’t imagine that you will be booked solid from day one unless you market aggressively and ensure people know you exist.

So before the official opening invite a few people to your restaurant, send them a copy of your an advert or leaflet and then ask them how easy it was to find you.

Get some feedback on how easy it was to find the area you are in, the particular street and your premises.

Check if your directions are clear and if your external and internal signage was easy to follow.

Then ask them about the advert or leaflet you sent them. Does it describe your restaurant correctly? Is it clear that your restaurant is a college restaurant and that student swill cook and serve the food.

There are hundreds of questions to ask at this stage and you only get one chance to get it right.

Your Restaurant’s Online Location

Location can also be viewed in another context. Can people find you online and is your website attractive? Or is it hidden amongst a list of courses and other college collateral?  In an age when people Google for all sorts of information, including the location of hotels, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops you need to be visible not only with your on website but also via directories, Google Maps and Google Earth.

Whenever I travel for business or leisure I use these tools to find locations to stay or eat in. For example on a recent trip to Menton on the French Riviera I searched Google Maps for a hotel close to my client. I managed to find a family run hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant in the next street – so I could forget finding a taxi to take me between hotel and having to find somewhere to entertain my client – my choice was as easy as looking at a map.  Likewise going to visit a new client in Edinburgh I was able to go online and find a coffee shop in the next street; it was so much easier to be able to arrive 30 mins early and have a coffee before the meeting rather than rush from the airport straight into a meeting.


2. Produce some Flyers. You need to make sure people know you’re opening, or indeed are already open.  The question is how are you going to distribute your flyers? 10,000 flyers sat in a box at the back of the marketing office will do you no good at all. You need a way to distribute them that will attract attention. You might decide to put one through every letterbox in the town and could include a special offer; something like a free bottle of house wine with every dinner booking.


3. Alternatively, and more exciting, how about offering free samples of your food? After all it is the food they will come to you for, so go into the streets, or to local events, and give samples to people. If it is as good as you think they will book a table as they taste it … if you ask them.

As they eat your samples tell them about the restaurant and students.  If they don’t book a table immediately ask them if you can send them next week’s special offer and get their contact details.

Once you have their details you can contact them regularly with offers. Restaurateurs often neglect obtaining customer and prospect contact details and yet it is a low cost way to market and can provide extremely cost effective marketing results.


4. PR or Public Relations is a really effective low cost way of marketing your restaurant. You can send media releases to your local papers and radio station or run some events that will attract attention. We’ve already mentioned one – offering free samples. Think about how you might link your free sample event with a media release. Offering free samples on its own isn’t much of a story for the media but if you can make it more exciting in some way the local media will be more interested. Can you get a local personality or celebrity involved? It could be anyone from a famous cookery writer to your local MP – the MP will be cheaper and will want to be seen supporting local businesses.

Consider other ways to get in the media. Could you hold some sort of competition? It could be for a genuine Guinness World Record or be something ridiculous like the International Spaghetti Knitting Championships! It could even become an annual event.

What ever happens ensure your name is up in lights, hand out plenty of menus and samples, take bookings and get those contact details.


5. Once you have bookings and people are flocking to your establishment you need to provide Incredible Customer Service. Giving people incredible customer service is essential if you want them to come again and also tell their friends about how good your restaurant is.

Nearly every restaurant gives free chocolates with the bill but how many give a flower to the ladies. This isn’t expensive but will be remembered for weeks.

It doesn’t matter how many free gifts you give away in some respects. The most memorable evenings are those where the host is courteous and thoughtful and treats you like royalty.


6. Promotions and themed evenings are a great way to keep people interested and coming back for more. Offer special themed dinners, hosted wine tastings and guest chefs to give people a reason to come to the restaurant on the quieter nights.  I know working around the syllabus makes this a challenge but is is possible

The great thing about these events is that they are essentially self-financing as people pay to attend them.


7. Customer Comment Cards allow you to find out what customers really think – ask them if their food is OK during the meal and some will say “great” even if they hate it – they just don’t want a fuss. Give them a Comment Card and they are likely to be more forthcoming.

Comment cards also allow you to collect names, email addresses and special dates like anniversaries and birthdays of your customers.

Next year you can email them a special coupon 3 weeks before their special day and, even if they don’t rebook for that event, the chances are they will book another date anyway.

Once you have their contact details you can also send out special offers throughout the year …… comment cards do more than just gather comments.


8. E-marketing isn’t just about having a great website. Certainly you need a good site that encourages people to sign up to your newsletter where you tell them about food and drink 85% of the time …..  and special offers 15% of the time ….  as well as showing your menu, prices and opening hours.

You also need to consider the other e-marketing tools at your disposal.

Think about using Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. I recommend Google Adwords as the best system – it is faster, lower cost and easier to use than other PPC systems.

You should also consider Google Maps. A few years ago no one searched Google Maps for a restaurant but they do today. When I am on holiday I often pull up a map of the area and search for restaurants. It is a quick and easy way to see where they are located and to see what reviews they have – ideal if you are a stranger to the area.

There are literally hundreds of ways you can market online and as most cost nothing what so ever … or very little … you should think carefully before spending too much on this.


9. Newsletters have been mentioned previously but are so important it is worth spending more time on them.

Newsletters should live up to their name …. They should provide news. I don’t mean news of your latest special offer; I mean something that will interest people and bring them back again and again. For example you could include an article about how you source some of your food. How about  a piece about sourcing truffles or a particular wine in France? It quickly  becomes a travel and food feature and will provide loads of interest.  You could even tie this promo in with the travel and tourism courses!

Another piece on where you obtain your veg locally or why you choose farmhouse Cheddar rather than a mass produced product will say a lot about your ethos.

It is quite permissible to mention special offers and events (after all selling is how you fill the restaurant) but you don’t want the newsletter to be perceived as a hard selling tool. The more enjoyable it is the better….. people will follow up on your offers more readily if you link your piece on cheese to an event or new dish rather than give the hard sell.


10. I started by saying that however great your food you could still fail. But lets remember that your aim should be to provide great food and service. If you do this then your reputation will spread. Word of Mouth is the greatest form of marketing known to mankind. Not only is it free but people hearing it believe it because people that experienced what you have to offer told them and enjoyed it enough to tell them.

These Top Ten FE Restaurant Marketing Strategies are a small sample of the hundreds of marketing strategies and channels you can use to market your college restaurant . For more information contact me now.