5 Types of Restaurant Promotions and When to Use Them

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Looking to bring in new customers or convert infrequent visitors into loyal patrons? Using promotions strategically can help you achieve this.

The right promotions used at the right time can get more people in the door and keep them coming back. But knowing what type of promotion to use to achieve which goals is the key to success—and it can prove tricky.

In this post, we’ll share five types of restaurant promotions and explain the right circumstances in which to use them. Master these techniques and you’ll be on your way.

1.  The Promotion: Happy Hour Special

When to Use It: You want to boost traffic during slow times of the day.

You may have resigned yourself to the 4 p.m. lull. What can you really do about it? Well, you can promote a happy hour special and bring people flocking through the door—especially in college towns or areas where employees pass by after a long day at work.

POSsector.com recommends testing out a happy hour on weeknights between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. It doesn’t need to be just an hour, either. Experiment with different times and figure out what works well for your audience.

You can also experiment with different types of promotions. For example, in Boston, discounting liquor is illegal. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer a great appetizer special or $1 oysters to bring people in the door.

Other ideas include a half-price wine list, buy-one-get-one deals (which are very popular) or a cheap chef’s special. Consider the time of year, age of your patrons and what other restaurants and bars around you are serving to determine the optimal happy hour promotion.

2. The Promotion: Contest or Sweepstakes

When to Use It: You want to get people excited about your restaurant.

Contests and sweepstakes are often overlooked by restaurants as promotional tools but can be very effective, especially when amplified using social media. So what kind of contest should you hold? Again, it all depends on who your customers are.

One popular contest for bars is to give away an open bar for a group of friends. You can also raffle off a free meal, discounted drinks or even just a reservation on a really popular night like Valentine’s Day.

How should you execute the contest? First, figure out where your customers like to engage with you. If they’re active on social media, a Twitter or Instagram contest might work well (you can also look into Facebook, but their promotional rules can be quite strict.) If they’re more the pen-and-paper type, consider collecting business cards in a fishbowl or having them fill out a contest form when they pay the tab.

A contest can be a great way to inject some excitement into your customer base, and in some cases can encourage them to bring friends along or just increase word-of-mouth. Above all, remember to keep the contest simple and promote it widely.

3. The Promotion: Social Media-Based Coupons

When to Use It: You want to increase your engaged fans on social media.

Another way to use social media for promotions is to offer deals specifically to those who follow your social media accounts. This can be a great way to increase your following, which then allows you to communicate more readily with your customer base online.

For example, Einstein Bros Bagels was concerned when they saw their Facebook fan count beginning to slow down. To increase their audience, they used a restaurant promotion where they offered a coupon for a free bagel and cream cheese to anyone who “liked” their Facebook Page.

As a result, they saw a 1000 percent increase in fans in just a week (!) In total, they gained nearly 300,000 new fans and became the 54th most popular business on Facebook, no small feat.

The contest worked well because it made a reasonable demand of customers (“like” our page) and gave them a tangible benefit (a free bagel). When considering a social media contest, make sure that whatever you are giving away is valuable enough to incentivize fans to take the action you’re looking for.

4.The Promotion: Loyalty Rewards

When to Use It: You want to keep customers coming back.

Sometimes it’s easy to get customers in the door the first time but then they forget about your restaurant or choose other restaurants over yours on a regular basis. The problem? You aren’t building loyalty.

The good news, though, is that it’s never been easier to put together a successful loyalty program. Technology has made doing so a fast and low-cost option for restaurants who want to increase their loyal customer base.

Here are a few loyalty programs you can explore, courtesy of Wordstream.com:

When deciding which program to choose, consider usability and simplicity. Also look for programs that allow you to tailor your offers to specific customer personas, which will allow you to offer more relevant promotions and increase your chances of connecting with customers.

5. The Promotion: Limited-Time Offers

When to Use It: You want to drum up business during a slow time or piggyback on a popular event.

Finally, a classic restaurant promotion that is popular with many large fast food franchises but often forgotten about by smaller restaurants is the limited-time offer, or LTO. Limited-time offers can drive sales during slow periods or inject energy into your customer base by piggybacking on a popular national or local event. Some popular examples of successful LTOs include the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake and McRib.

Before you try out an LTO, take a moment to consider why limited-time offers are so successful with consumers. Basically, it comes down to human psychology. As TIME explains here, people often experience FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to time-sensitive promotions, which can drive them to purchase.

But the best limited-time offers also rely on people’s love of traditions. For example, many people love Pumpkin Spice Lattés from Starbucks because they have an emotional connection with the flavor and the sense of Fall arriving. Their nostalgia drives them to purchase.

In determining what kind of LTO to try out, consider what local events people get excited about and which national trends or holidays it makes sense for you to piggyback on.

Learn more about how to successfully execute an LTO promotion in our blog post here.

Promotions are a valuable tool in any restaurant’s marketing arsenal. They can help you reach new people, energize your existing customer base and build loyalty. Of course, you need to make sure you’re choosing the right promotions to achieve your goals.