The days of hanging your menu outside your front door and waiting for new customers to arrive has all but disappeared. The perception of how restaurants should grow customer base has changed throughout the years. The evolution in food service marketing has become tremendously sophisticated. Fierce competition has caused restaurants to seek marketing alternatives in order to survive and prosper.

In today’s environment, it is not enough for restaurants to rely on just the quality and reputation of the food service, but they must also create an image and brand to generate and sustain their customer base. A good reputation is still the cornerstone of success. However, to grow the food service big enough to earn that reputation, a new restaurant must think outside the box. That reputation will come as a direct result of the restaurant’s ability to market himself or herself in the community. Food service is business just like any other sector, and restaurants need to apply the same principals and strategies to be profitable as other businesses.

Through the years, I have advised restaurant owners on how to grow their food services. Implementing the following marketing strategies will enable you to accomplish these goals and help create new sources of revenue.

Step 1: Target marketing

Target marketing is a direct and affordable way of attracting new customers. Unlike mass marketing where restaurant owners spend a significant amount of money on marketing to a broad audience, target marketing allows restaurant owners to shrink their marketing budget and reach customers they are actually targeting. There are lists of names and addresses within a certain zip code or within a certain geographic radius of your food service. These lists are categorically defined by demographics or life-changing events. A restaurant can narrow down the population by selecting a number of different criteria. He or she may be interested in introducing your food menu to new residents and/or certain consumer profiles. For example, if you have a food service that focuses on fine dining and you are located in a wealthy area, you may want to target a specific group such as individuals between the ages of 35-65 with incomes of over $100,000 for certain cosmetic procedures. In today’s competitive environment and tough economic times, it is important for restaurants to spend their marketing dollars wisely. Target marketing will help you to focus your efforts and spend your advertising budget more efficiently.

Step 2: Utilization of brochures and business cards.

Brochures situated in your menu and on every table customer-sited can also be an effective marketing tool that establishes an image and attracts new customers to your food service. Information regarding specific nutrition facts or take home recipe available can be an informative educational tool that creates awareness about your food service. A brief summary of the restaurant(s), the history of the food service, and a description of your feature menu will create an image that today’s customers are seeking when choosing dining places. Moreover, displaying your business cards in your reception area keeps your name intact. customers will have access to your information for future reference.

Step 3: Website and Internet marketing

A website is an essential key ingredient that provides information and transparency to a food service. The Internet is a permanent part of our lives and will only continue to grow and shape the way we live. More and more customers turn to the Internet to find restaurants. Your Website should create an image that is consistent with who you are and what your food service represents. It should list all of the food you offer and information about them so that customers can learn about your food service with a simple click of the mouse. Things such as personal bio, office hours, food services overview, menu details, payment policies, and even the ability to make appointments online should all be easily accessible to everyone that uses your site. Flexible hours of operation are highly recommended.

The objective is to impress and educate your new potential customer so they can make an informed decision and call for a table booking. Having your Web site positioned and appearing in the hierarchy of the top five slots of a search engine, such as Google and Bing, is crucial to attracting new customers. Hire an SEO expert that specializes in search engine optimization (“SEO”) to get your restaurant to naturally appear on specific searches. For example, if a Mongolian barbecue restaurant from Philadelphia wants to have the first Web site listing to appear when a potential customer searches “Mongolian food in Philadelphia,” an SEO company such as ours can help him or her achieve that goal.user-friendly and interactive site will enable a customer to communicate their requests to you directly, creating interaction via the Web. Creating a Website and making sure it is relevant and accessible is probably the most important marketing tool at a restaurant’s disposal.

Step 4: E-mail marketing

Accumulating e-mail addresses of your existing customers is a vital tool to a successful marketing campaign. It is not only an effective and cost-cutting method of staying in touch with your existing customers, but it can also be used to send booking reminders, promotional offers, and birthday wishes to them. E-mail marketing saves postage, printing costs, and enables communication instantly. In the age of smart phone, your e-mail campaigns are surely a cost-effective and direct way to market to your customers. Did you ever consider the administrative and economic advantages of confirming customers’ appointments using e-mail? The time saved will allow staff members to be more productive in other areas.

Step 5: Marketing to your existing customer base

Analyzing and marketing to your existing customer base is another excellent method for generating additional revenue. Use of what we call the “3 I” system will make this much easier: “Identify, Isolate, and Initiate” procedures that generate the greatest income and market them to your customers. Ideally, you should promote those holiday events and offers that can be given to existing customers. Reminders sent to existing customers for an annual checkup via letters, postcards, or e-mail aid in bringing the customer back to the restaurant. Sending imprinted calendars, pens, and magnetic advertising will keep your name visible. Creating special offers during the holiday season or one-time discounts will draw customers the to selective menu and, ultimately, generate more income for you, the restaurant.

Step 6: Office appearance and attitude

A restaurant is a direct reflection of the image he or she is trying to exhibit. The space in which you food service plays an important role in how your customers perceive you. A clean and dinning-friendly environment goes a long way. Staffs with a great attitude are also essential to your success. Have your staff greet your customers courteously, professionally, and with a cheerful attitude. After all, the first person a customer meets plays a crucial role in establishing comfort and confidence. Try to make your front door waiting area as user-friendly as possibly. Make sure that your restaurant is Internet accessible. All of these little details will go a long way to adding to your bottom line.

Step 7: Referrals

Restaurants need a referral base in order to thrive. Getting that new customer as a referral from existing customers requires a relationship-building technique. You first have to identify which areas and customers you think will recommend your restaurant. You then have to initiate a strategy to accomplish those goals.

How can a restaurant implement these marketing strategies? Utilize your internal staff, hire a marketing person, hire a marketing company, or just implement some of these steps. The goal is to increase your profits and be rewarded for all of the years of schooling you went through and all the hours you have spent in your food service. Remember, your competitors are evolving, so why shouldn’t you change for the better as well?

Dennis Li is the founder of, a fully integrated search engine optimization marketing firm created to serve the needs of restaurants nationwide. focuses on designing and implementing marketing programs tailored to the specific needs of each restaurant owner through the use of targeted marketing.