Marketing Part 3: Low-Cost Ways to Build Customer Traffic

The function of a business is to acquire and maintain customers. The goal is to make money. I couldn’t agree more. And so I’ve collected some of the best time-tested-and-true tips, tricks and techniques to help you bring new business to your operation.

The function of a business is to acquire and maintain customers. The goal is to make money. I couldn’t agree more. And so I’ve collected some of the best time-tested-and-true tips, tricks and techniques to help you bring new business to your operation. But remember, getting customers in once is only half of the equation. Treating them to a quality experience and excellent service when they’re inside your four walls is the most important other half. Here’s some cost-effective ideas. Which ones work best? The ones you use!


This tried but true method for soliciting new or repeat business is a restaurant classic and works equally well in a supermarket deli. Place a fishbowl by your front door or on your deli case with a sign that says, “Please drop in your business card and/or e-mail address for a weekly drawing for a free lunch (or dinner) for two. Add your birthdate for a special gift.” The drawing doesn’t have to be random. Carefully review each card before choosing a winner, and ask yourself this question: “Which person here is most likely to bring me the most business?” When you spot the card from a decision-maker with a lot of employees within a short drive of your restaurant, declare a winner, and make that call! That free lunch pays for itself many times over. Now draw a truly random card and feel better about the process. Put all the names, businesses, and birthdays from the cards that didn’t “win” into your database software for your seasonal, special occasion and email lists, and start collecting again for next week’s winner.

Write five handwritten thank-you notes a day

You know you don’t have time to write five handwritten thank-you notes each day and so do your customers. That’s why they’ll appreciate it so much. In this age of “faster-harder-smarter-more,” your customers will appreciate the greatest gift you can give-your time-with the thoughtfulness of hand-penned note. Want to add even more flair to the gesture? Enclose a quick-pick Lotto ticket for the next drawing and remark how customers are million- dollar assets to your business. You’ve got a database. Use it.

Market to your invisible customers

Distributor sales reps, delivery people, meter readers, postal workers and vending-machine stockers are all potential customers, so be sure to treat those folks with courtesy and respect. Offer gift certificates or free appetizer coupons to encourage them to dine with you or patronize your takeout business. P.S. Those folks are also keen observers of how safely your team handles your food and physical inventory behind the scenes.

Borrow the best ideas

The best business owners are shameless “thieves” in terms of “borrowing” good ideas. Pay attention to what other restaurants, bars, nightclubs, supermarkets, and retail stores are doing to attract new customers in your marketplace and encourage your staff to collect information/flyers, etc. and share it with you. After all, they go out to more bars, restaurants, grocery stores, nightclubs, and other businesses collectively in a month than you could in an entire year. Encourage them to note and share unique promotions, and collect flyers or ads. Especially encourage them to ask their friends or family that work at other restaurants or stores about what their employers are doing to externally increase customer traffic as well as what they’re doing internally promote employee loyalty. Steal the other guy’s strategies to improve service, increase sales, or stage effective employee contests and rewards at your place. Then adapt, innovate, and improve on those ideas.

Deliver free food to morning or afternoon drive-time DJs:

Want your restaurant and food quality broadcast to your marketplace without having to buy expensive radio ads? Get up early and prepare some of your signature items, grab a couple of T-shirts and hats (if you sell merchandise) and take them to the local radio station early a.m. drive-time disc jockeys. Pick your best-looking and most articulate employees, and dress them up neatly in your restaurant’s logo-ed clothing. The DJs are appreciative, always dig in right away, and usually wax poetic about the great food-and your operation-to their tens of thousands of listeners in the key drive-time periods. That’s some serious free advertising. It can pay off with tons of free publicity. By the way, you could always trade out your Gift Certificates with the station for ongoing advertising if you’re interested.

Customer bounty program

Have employees hand out special cards with their names on them. Each card is good for one free appetizer, or sandwich, or dessert, or beverage. You chose. But wait, don’t stop there, because if you’ve tried this idea in the past, you know that the results can be disappointing (many new customers redeem the coupons for the free item but purchase little-or nothing-else.) Why? You overlooked the most important step. Make sure that you record and post the total check average or purchase of each redeemed card on a list next to each employee’s name. Reward the team members whose customers had the highest total purchases among the cards redeemed, not just the person who had the most cards redeemed. Your staff may be motivated to suggestively sell more to the card recipients during their “free” visit.

Website marketing: 17 Things to Include On Your Website:

A fun, visual design with lots of graphics and white spaces

Go anywhere on the site within 3 clicks

Name, address, including state

Phone number including area code

History/Concept description

Directions for getting there

Menus, including prices

All the services you offer (takeout/catering/delivery, etc)

Awards and recognition

Wine list if applicable

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Chef and/or owner profiles

Key contacts including e-mail addresses and titles

Brands you feature on your menu

Job Applications

Links to good reviews

Gift card purchasing

“Buy a drink for a friend” sign

Post a chalkboard behind the bar that encourages patrons to buy a drink or an appetizer for a friend who isn’t there. Then write the customer’s name and the item waiting for them on the chalkboard legibly with colored chalk. All your other customers see it as they visit the bar, and many impulsively will buy a drink or appetizer for someone they know who isn’t there. When the new customer comes in and “cashes in,” erase the name from the chalkboard. Obviously, the drink buyer pays in advance and encourages the friend to visit your restaurant/bar ASAP.

Make charitable events win-win

If a local group is looking to hold a fund-raising dinner, why not volunteer your restaurant? You donate 25 to 50 percent of the proceeds to the charity, they do all the marketing and word-of-mouth. Be sure you distribute gift certificates or “buy-one-get-one” lunch coupons to all the charity diners to promote repeat business. And make sure that both your cheerful staff and friendly managers are introducing themselves to all the first time guests.

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