20 free advertising ideas for restaurants

In this 8-minute read:

  • Free ways to advertise your restaurant online
  • Free ways to advertise in your community

Let’s be real here, advertising can get expensive! We know it, you know it, everyone knows it. But it’s also so important for gaining exposure, and ultimately more customers, for your restaurant. We don’t believe that you must have a huge marketing budget to gain some awesome reach, though. Here are 20 free ways that you can advertise your restaurant locally as you’re starting out. 

Get more customers and keep them loyal with reputation management software. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

1. Claim your online business profiles

The internet is a wonderful place where huge companies like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor have created free platforms for businesses to list their information in order to create the best user experience possible. So take advantage! These online profiles determine how your restaurant shows up in these different search engines. Help your customers and your business by claiming your online profiles. 

We even have some tutorials ready for you:

2. Get and respond to customer reviews

Online reviews are crucial nowadays for converting new customers. Keep up good business practices, have great customer service, and serve awesome food and you should have no problem getting some really good reviews. But happy customers don’t always think to leave good reviews and sometimes need a little nudge in the right direction. 

Here are some ideas to get new reviews:

  • Ask for them! (Especially after you hear someone raving about their favorite menu item.)
  • Put up a sign that encourages customers to leave reviews (just try to avoid incentivizing customers with gift cards or giveaways because Google does not like that). 
  • Include a link to your online review platforms in their email receipt
  • Include instructions to leave a review on all receipts

Once the reviews start coming in, it’s important to respond to them too. Interact with and engage your customers! This shows that you love what you do, and ultimately that’s what most people want from their restaurant experience. Plus, new research from Womply shows that businesses that regularly respond to reviews earn up to 49% more revenue!

Go deeper: How to get more online reviews for your restaurant

3. Post your restaurant on free listing websites

There are tons of free advertising sites for restaurants out there. Take advantage of this and start getting your restaurant listed on these websites. We’ve even got your first list of 25 restaurant listing websites ready to go!

Click here to read 25 free listing sites every restaurant should be on

4. Create a free website 

Disclaimer: Websites are never 100% free if you want to own your domain or need it to be hosted, but they can come pretty close to it. 

While free websites aren’t always the most desirable, they are great when you’re on a budget crunch. And there are plenty of ways to create a pretty nice looking website for free. 

Here are a few of our favorites:

Customers typically want to see menus, pricing, photos, and to get a vibe for your restaurant before making the decision to sit down and eat there. Include all of this on your website and make it easily accessible in your online listings.

5. Boost your SEO 

Get your website in front of more customers with the help of search engine optimization (SEO). This is basically how you get any website to show up on Google and other search engines. Claiming your Google Business listing and other online listings sites are a great first step. 

Click here for some more free ways to boost your local search rankings

6. Participate in forums

Online forums like Quora and Reddit, and especially local community forums, can help to promote your restaurant. Create an account and search for questions about things that are relevant to your restaurant, maybe “how to cook the perfect pizza” or “best ways to boil an egg.” Post some helpful answers and at the end add an invite to come try out your restaurant. 

You can also write up your own articles or post entertaining how-to videos on these platforms. If that kind of content goes viral, you’ll have people coming from all over just to see the cool place that produced that content (and of course to try your awesome food). 

7. Write a blog

Blogs are great for boosting SEO as well as providing helpful content that promotes your restaurant and gives value to online users. 

Here are some blog ideas you can use for your restaurant:

  • Share photos from a community event you participated in 
  • Write a helpful how-to article (how to boil an egg properly, perhaps) 
  • Create a video tutorial 
  • Share recipes (no secrets, of course)

8. Build up your social media presence

Make sure your restaurant is active on social media. This is an incredibly beneficial way to promote brand awareness and to take advantage of the power of “shares” and “likes” on the internet. Setup a Facebook business page, Instagram account, YouTube account, Snapchat, etc. and go crazy. Just make sure that you have someone who is actively posting to these whatever accounts you choose—at least a few times a week is a great goal to have here. 

Some ideas for your social shares:

  • Your food, of course
  • New menu items
  • Sweet deals
  • Employee favorites 
  • Customer favorites (tag them!)

9. Join your local chamber of commerce

Most communities have a local chamber of commerce. Find yours and ask to get your restaurant listed on their website. They typically provide some free resources for local businesses like promotional materials and marketing tips to help you get your restaurant off the ground. 

10. Host local events at your restaurant

Have you ever done a paint night or slam poetry contest? Try hosting some local events to give community members a fun night to look forward to. Blast that event on social media, share with everyone you know, and post about it on your blog! Not only do these events excite customers, but they’re likely to buy food and drink while participating and come back for more events.

Here are some ideas for events you could try:

  • Paint night by a local artist 
  • Karaoke night
  • Live bands
  • Art galleries
  • Wine tasting
  • Host a fundraiser

11. Ask customers for feedback

Beyond asking for online reviews, you can send out surveys or ask customers for feedback in-store. You could even have a customer feedback jar or box in the restaurant. This might not directly promote your business publicly (except when customers see your jar full of feedback), but it can help you know where you can improve and what your customers already love about your restaurant. 

12. Start a loyalty program

Who doesn’t love a good deal? Start a loyalty program to provide dedicated customers with some awesome incentives to keep coming back. There are a few free resources out there, like Loyverse, or you could always start with the punchcard route. 

Check out 6 elements of an effective customer loyalty program to help you get started. 

13. Host a webinar

Embrace the live video capabilities of Facebook and YouTube and host a webinar for your dedicated followers (and maybe even gain a few more). Host a Q&A with your head chef, do a tutorial on how to plate food with perfection, or share the fun history of how your restaurant got started. 

14. Volunteer in the community

Get major brownie points with some good ole fashioned philanthropy. Customers love to see the restaurants they frequent out and about in the community. Volunteer at 5k in the summer and hand out drinks and snacks from your restaurant, join community holiday parades, or host a fundraiser at your restaurant.

15. Host a cooking class

Show off your skills (without giving away your secrets) by hosting a cooking class at your restaurant. Share it on Facebook, post flyers, and get the word out. Show off your fun side and that you want to be involved.

16. Celebrate funky holidays with sweet offers

Ever heard of “National Doughnut Day”? Krispy Kreme is a prime example of going above and beyond to celebrate their national holiday with free doughnuts at all of their locations on National Doughnut Day. Find the national day that resonates best with your restaurant and do something fun, whether that’s offering a fun discount or giving away free treats to people who dress up a certain way. And share it on social media and your website!

17. Print out flyers and hand them out like crazy

Never underestimate the power of flyers. Design some for your restaurant that promote an upcoming event or fun deals or just that you’re new to town and want to get to know the community. You could even ask local college students in a graphic design program to help out—it’s good portfolio piece for them and free promotional material for you. 

18. Make a free promotional video

Make a fun promotional video and post it on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, your website, and anywhere else you can think of. Cool resources like Biteable will help you create a free video that is sure to impress. 

19. Post on Craigslist

Create a comical Craigslist post to give your restaurant some more exposure. Things like this can go viral and keep the customers wanting more. Look to find other opportunities for free local online classifieds, too.  

20. Let local organizations/groups use your space

Everyone wants a cool place to hold meetings. Let book clubs, community board meetings, PTA meetings, and other local groups reserve a space at your restaurant to have their monthly meeting. They’ll order food and tell others where they hold their meetings, leaving more people wanting to do the same. 

Try some or all of these tips and see what works best for your restaurant. Want some inexpensive ways to maximize the benefit of your online reviews and help manage the listings that we mentioned? Womply’s small business software can help you save time and gain more customers. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

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