Advertise and Promote Your Restaurant for Free

When it comes to free advertising, restaurants should be eating up all they can get. So it’s more important than ever to use every possible means of advertising to your advantage—especially free advertising.

Making sure every possible customer out there knows about you and wants to come to your restaurant is critical to restaurant survival, but advertising money can be hard to scrounge up thanks to high overhead costs and rail-thin budgets (and the other thing we don't want to talk about).  

Luckily, there are many of ways to advertise your restaurant for free. Free advertising for restaurants can come in many different shapes and appear from unexpected places. There’s no such thing as overexposure in terms of restaurant marketing: give yourself every possible advantage with free advertising from many sources. 

Keep reading to find out exactly how to advertise and promote your restaurant for free, so that you can get back to what you do best: making incredible food and keeping customers happy. 

Restaurant open signs

8 Ways to Advertise and Promote Your Restaurant for Free

1. Social Media

Hate it or love it, social media is here to stay. The good news is it can work wonders in terms of free advertising for restaurants—if you use it well. Post regularly and actively on all social media platforms available to you. Use every form of content you can, including videos, photos, going live, and more. When people interact with your social media, interact back. 

The larger your social media presence, the wider net you’ll cast for customers and the more free advertising you’ll get. You don’t need to pay a social media marketing manager for this; as long as you’re posting authentic content a few times a week, you’ll have the social media presence you need to drive up likes and shares and get free advertising. 

Restaurants should post everything from new menu items to pop-up deals, customer reviews, events, customer favourites, staff spotlights, behind the scenes content, blogs, and more. 

You’ll also be able to gain valuable feedback directly from your customers to improve your restaurant. Restaurants need to accept and embrace social media and the move to digital. Otherwise, you could quickly fall behind other restaurants that understand technology is no longer a differentiator, but the bare minimum.

Soon, it’ll be your customers standing on chairs to get the drool-worthy pic of your grub for Insta—not you. 

Social media options

2. Free Offers

No business owner loves giving anything for free, but customers sure love getting free stuff, so this is one way to get the free advertisement restaurants need. 

Be strategic about it though, or you could start jeopardizing your bottom line. Posting online or a sign outside about a free side with any meal, or a free appetizer with the purchase of a bottle can be simple enough to drive some traffic to your restaurant on slower days. Chances are, customers will end up spending more than what they need for the free offer so that free item will more than pay for itself. 

Another tactic is to offer customers a free dessert or appetizer by posting about your restaurant to their social media or for posting an online review. People love recommendations from those they trust, so you could easily get a wave of new customers from each post, all for the lowly cost of a dessert. 

Free advertising from your customers is one of the best forms there is and there’s no underestimating the power of word-of-mouth.

3. Loyalty Programs

Customers love racking up points in exchange for buying something, so loyalty programs are a great way to bring in repeat loyal customers. Creating your own loyalty program is fine, but it’s even better to team up with online apps that actually advertise your restaurant for free. 

These apps also help expose your restaurant to people that might not have considered you otherwise, or tourists just passing through the area. 

4. Email List

Kicking it old school with an email list is nothing to scoff at: any free advertising is good advertising. Collecting emails can be as simple as grabbing them from online reservations, feedback cards, dropping business cards in bowls, or from loyalty programs, and sending out a weekly or monthly newsletter doesn’t take up very much time. 

Emails are a great way to share discounts, news, menu updates, and more. You can also send out birthday coupons over email, because everyone loves to feel special and remembered on their birthday.

Important: Make sure you always are getting customers’ consent first before storing their information and emailing them, or else you could get in hot water with Canadian anti-spam regulations. 

5. Business Partnerships

Partnering up with other local businesses is a win-win; you both get free advertising with each other’s customer base for very little effort. Find local businesses that relate to yours, like offering dinner and a movie with a local theatre, a healthy lunch after a class at a local gym, etc. Customers love discounts and deals, not to mention when easy decisions are made for them, like where to eat after a workout. 

Working with local farms is not only a great way to support the local economy, but also to set yourself apart from the competition. It often doesn’t cost very much more (and can even be more cost effective) than not buying local, and customers love to know that the food they’re eating is locally sourced. The farms in turn are more likely to promote your restaurant for free since it helps boost their business. It might also attract more tourists to your restaurant, so they can try local food. 

You should already be partnering up a food delivery services. More and more customers prefer online interactions and delivery services, so jumping on that bandwagon is definitely a good call. Food delivery apps are also a form of free advertising, suggesting your restaurant to customers that might not otherwise have found you. 

Farmer, gym and florist business partnerships for restaurants

6. Community Involvement

Working with the community is a great way to bring awareness to your restaurant. Customers will appreciate your restaurant more, and you’ll get to subtly advertise your restaurant while doing good for your community. Great ways to get involved include:

   •  Donating food to homeless shelters
   •  Donating the proceeds from a certain menu item to charity
   •  Volunteering with your staff at fundraising events
   •  Offer up your space for a charity event
   •  Hand out drinks and food from your restaurant at fundraising events
   •  Support local sports teams

    There are no shortages of ways you can get involved in the community, and it often costs you nothing but time and ingredients. Customers will appreciate and support you more, and you’ll get a major brand boost from these activities. 

    Restaurant community involvement opportunities

    7. Building a Blog

    Having a website is key: customers want to be able to find out more about your restaurant, and seeing nothing but Yelp reviews on the web when they search your restaurant doesn’t speak highly of your reputation or business authority. 

    Plus, with a website, you have a fantastic new avenue for free advertising for your restaurant. Writing blogs is a great way to boost engagement and get people interested in your restaurant and brand. You can write about anything, from recipes to staff profiles, video how-to’s and funny moments behind the scenes—whatever you think might resound with your audience and keep them thinking about you. 

    Plus, with online marketing tricks like SEO that you can learn and master yourself, you can get your website and blog seen by even more potential customers and search engines. 

    8. Reviews

    Good reviews are absolutely key for your business to thrive. Getting happy customers to review your restaurant is so important, but not always the easiest thing to do. Giving a free offer in return for a review is a smart tactic when you’re working to build up some good reviews online. 

    Another tact: simply asking customers before they leave to review your restaurant works wonders; you can also put this in writing on coasters, menus, placemats, and signage around your restaurant. 

    A great way to get more reviews is to message influential food bloggers and offer them a free meal (or at least a drink/appetizer) in return for a review. If their review is positive (and why wouldn’t it be?), it will help create awareness and demand for your restaurant among their followers. 

    Getting profiled or reviewed in the local paper is great restaurant marketing. It might be as simple as phoning the paper and asking for it; one call, and you could easily secure yourself some valuable free advertising and local exposure. 

    Leaving review online

    The Takeaway on Free Advertising for Businesses

    Restaurants should do anything and everything to boost restaurant marketing with all the competition out there. Plus, every dollar that you save with free advertising can be poured back into making your restaurant even better for your customers. 

    Keep an open mind and a keen eye out for any opportunities for free advertising; restaurants that don’t take advantage of the gifts of word-of-mouth, customer reviews, social media, and more could suffer in the long run. 

    Help your restaurant thrive and grow without spending a cent on advertising thanks to these easy tips and tricks for free advertising for restaurants.

    Written by River Street Writing