In a seasonal industry, keeping your restaurant busy all year long is a challenge. We’ve put together a few tried-and-true marketing tactics you can use to combat the off-season blues.
The restaurant world is a seasonal one. Whether you’re a waterfront summer destination or a bustling après-ski bar, there’s going to be times of the year where you have plenty of customers coming through the door — and times where that’s not the case.
To keep your restaurant busy all year round, you have to promote it all year round.
That means incorporating marketing into both your dry seasons and your busy ones. Marketing can often fall by the wayside as a lower priority, but neglecting it only makes it more difficult to draw in new customers later on. Imagine that your marketing efforts are like a cyclist conquering a hill — you must pedal consistently, one foot after the other, to reach the top. You can go faster or slower if you want to, but pausing entirely will mean an even more taxing restart.
Marketing year-round also helps you get ahead of your competitors and could mean diners less familiar with your area earmark your restaurant for a future visit. By building a consistent promotion plan across the year, you can make sure your restaurant is always top of mind.
Here are a few workhorse marketing tactics that you can use anytime:
1. Advertise Your Restaurant
The best way to build up demand for your restaurant at any time of year is to advertise consistently. Especially if your restaurant is in a more seasonal location like in a ski resort town or by the ocean, you’ll want to make sure that you let folks know that you’re open in the offseason and that you stand out in the crowd during the busy periods.
Online advertising is a particularly good channel because it’s easy to dial up and down your efforts, just like speeding up or slowing down your cycling pace up the hill. Dialing up and down in this case means experimenting with different audiences and advertising channels to see what works best for you.
2. Create Partnerships within Your Community
Your restaurant’s success largely depends on its location and the community that you serve. Another way to keep your restaurant busy year-round is to work on building partnerships with members of the community, especially other businesses nearby.
- Put flyers at the nearby laundromat, dry cleaner, or other local store
- Ask nearby hotel concierges or apartment/housing complexes to recommend your restaurant
- Contact office managers to set up catering or delivery opportunities at local offices
- Work with nearby universities or colleges to create apprenticeships or a student discount
- Market yourself as a charity partner for local non-profits as a way to spread the word
- Participate in local versions of restaurant week or other government-sponsored campaigns
- Offer your space as a co-working area during the day
3. Hold an Event or Participate in a Pop-Up
Another way to get your restaurant busy is to hold an event or pop-up tasting at another location. This is a great opportunity to get creative based on your average customer — if you’re a family-friendly spot, you might want to try a kids character meal or an arts and crafts event, but if you’re more of a date-night destination, think about a wine tasting or special prix fixe menu for couples.
You could also try:
- Themed events celebrating specific holidays, like Mother’s Day or the New Year
- Giving customers a peek into the kitchen with cooking or baking classes
- Wine or beer tastings
- Experimenting with a meal outside of your normal offerings, like a special brunch
- Movie screenings, live music, or theatrical performances
- Games, like trivia night or poker tournaments
If the events go well, you could expand into more recurring event offerings, like corporate luncheons, birthday parties, or wedding receptions, which would bring in additional revenue for your business.
4. Institute an Email Marketing Program
Start collecting email addresses from your guests so you can increase repeat visits. You can build an email list by adding an email card to your check presenter, collecting email addresses through your online reservation system, or advertising your email list on social media or around your restaurant.
Email marketing allows you to build a relationship with a customer over time using a combination of triggered emails and one-off email campaigns. A triggered email is one you can set and forget that sends based on a specific behavior or time period. You can welcome new customers or send a birthday offer, for example.
A one-off send depends on what’s going on in your restaurant. Whether you want to promote a great event, new menu item, or a seasonal change like your patio opening, you can keep your customers excited to try your restaurant again and again. You can also send out weekly or monthly newsletter that rounds up everything that’s happening.
Learn more about setting up a great restaurant email marketing program here.
5. Build a Calendar of Promotions
If your restaurant is the type to offer promotions or discounts, it’s important to have a strategic calendar based on when your restaurant is busy or not. Having two-for-one margaritas or half-priced appetizers each week is a great start to building a consistent incentive to get diners through the door. But it’s a good idea to keep your promotions fresh and new as the seasons change to match the volume of customers you’re seeing in your restaurant.
Every restaurant is different, so you’ll have to experiment with what works for your bottom line and what will draw in customers or if you’ll want to offer the promotion for a certain amount of time or once a week.