Marketing Part 1: Low-Cost Ways to Build Customer Traffic

External marketing that involves media buying and spending via advertising tends to be expensive. So here’s a few ideas on how to drive more customer traffic in to your businesses without having to spend any money on media advertising. Call it local store marketing or guerilla marketing, but whatever you call it, it’s a big payoff in exchange for putting a little wear on your manager’s soles…

Restaurants can sell food and beverage through 3 different store openings: the front, side and back doors. Walk-in customers are served through the front door, drive-through/carside/takeout business is served through the side door (or window) and the back door can generate off-site/banquet/catering business. Most foodservice operations focus their external marketing (advertising and promotion) and internal marketing (service and selling) on only the front and side doors. So let’s talk about ways to maximize our marketing dollars to build more business through every door…without spending advertising dollars. Are you ready for some Shoe Leather Marketing? Here’s 23 ways to drag a bag and beat the street to build more business. Review the list with your managers. I don’t suggest you (or they) try every idea; instead think of it as a cafeteria-style approach to marketing; pick and choose what you want, leave the rest here.

ABM (Always Be Marketing)

This is rule number one. Marketing is a philosophy, not a department.

Banquet Halls

Visit your local banquet halls, even if they already have a kitchen, and introduce yourself and your company. Talk about what you do, and how you can help them provide what they may not be able to offer their customers (like use of your extra dining room or meeting room on nights they get double-booked.)

Event Planners

These people make their living by having connections and knowing where to go to put together the perfect occasion for their customers. Get on their radar and in their rolodex.

Limited Service hotels

These budget-priced hostelries often provide a complimentary breakfast, but may need the services of your kitchen to provide lunches, snacks, or dinner for business meetings. Stop by, meet the manager, see where the opportunity lies.

“Celebrity” Fundraisers

Contact your local schools’ sports or theater departments or local charitable organizations or clubs. Offer to co-sponsor a fundraising event on a slow night where they promote patronage at your place and you kickback 20% of the receipts to their cause. Invite the group’s principals to act as secondary greeters or servers. Be sure to brainstorm ways that they can maximize attendance by direct and indirect marketing to their members and members families and friends.


They know who’s moving into your neighborhood before anyone else. Befriend them, get them to drop menus or free meal cards off to their new customers. Ditto for moving companies and moving company drivers.

Coupons in Church Bulletins

Interest groups and communities of users are the new geography, much more so than “zip codes” or neighborhoods. This marketing technique is cost-effective with sometimes surprising results. Plus, it’s trackable.

Sell Gift Cards as school fundraisers

Get students and faculty to promote and sell gift cards from your operation to parents, relatives and friends. Split a percentage of the sales with the school or organization.

Silent Auction Gift Baskets

Choose fundraising events that attract the kind of customers you want to market to and participate with attractive gift baskets that feature your menu, a gift card and any appropriate retail merchandise you sell.

Parade of Homes

Have your gift baskets or menus featured on the kitchen counters of the Parade of Homes in your area.

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