Low Budget Marketing Ideas for Your Restaurant

Competition in the food service industry is fierce and even more so in this economy. Much like in most businesses, restaurants are not very forgiving towards failure. As a small business/restaurant start-up owner, you have dreams and ambitions for success but may currently lack the finances for expensive advertisement, unlike your competitors who have been operational a lot longer. To compete on the same level but on a lower budget, you will have to market smarter which requires extensive research on low budget marketing costs for small businesses along with a small restaurant business plan.

Prioritizing Your Goals

There are myriads of restaurant marketing ideas to use and execute but you need to find an approach that works best for your business. In efforts to attract new customers and increase your cash flow, the first thing you may think to do is to send out emails or hire a consultant. While these restaurant marketing ideas may be good and effective, your competitors are already using them and these concepts can be very pricey. You may struggle to find investors at the moment but you can rest assure that there are budget friendly restaurant marketing ideas that will work in your favor to help fill for your bar area as well as bar stools restaurant tables and restaurant booths for your dining room. Ensuring consistent daily sales should be your primary focus because they will determine your weekly, monthly and annually average profits.

Determining the Average Restaurant Marketing Budget

If you weren’t driven by competition to succeed, you would have never considered working in the restaurant business. As it is with most industries, competition in the restaurant business is fierce. Even if you are a novice restaurateur, you can lead the pack and remain relevant in the digital centric world we live in with a well thought-out marketing and advertisement plan. If your budget allows, you can recruit a reputable digital agency partner to help you with your restaurant promotions and sales. But if you don’t have the budget to spend on advertisement right now, you need to know how much you can spend on restaurant marketing and where.


There is no one size fits all when it comes to the cost of marketing budget. While a restaurant marketing budget typical covers the cost of advertisement, public relations and sales promotions, expenses vary based on the size of the restaurant, its annual sales and how much and often your competitors are advertising. If you are just beginning to open up your very first restaurant, you may need to devote your budget to marketing. Many new businesses invest between 20 to 30 percent of their finances in marketing during the first two years. If you are purchasing a well-established existing business, however, you may only need to allocate 7 to 10 percent of your revenue to marketing. This budget should be split between brand development costs and promotion costs.

Calculating Percentage of Sales to Draw a Business Plan

The percentage of sales earned is the most common method to base your marketing budget on. You can base your calculations on sales units, past sales, or projections for future sales. The advantage of this method has for your business is that your marketing budget will decline in response to a slow quarter. While it is recommended to allocate 5 to 7 percent of your sales to advertisement, you should consider using a more precise calculation. You would first need to calculate 10 to 12 percent of your annual projected sales and then multiply each number by your gross markup percentage – the ratio of your product costs to your selling price. Once you have made those calculations, you can next deduct your rent or mortgage payment from each number. The remaining balance represents the amount of cash you should set aside for your restaurant marketing budget.


Once you’ve already established a budget, all you have left to do is to develop a small restaurant business plan. In fact, your marketing budget should be an integral component of your business plan; outlining costs of accomplishing marketing goals within a certain timeframe. A business plan and budget does not need to be fixed or inflexible. At times, you may find yourself having to throw in an unplanned campaign or event. Subsequently, knowing whether your spending is helping you fulfill your goals outranks in importance to sticking to your budget. The purpose of a business plan is to measure your spending as well as the impact sales activities have on your bottom line. A plan enables you to compare tactics and analyze seasonal effects on restaurant sales. Marketing plans should be maintained on an annual basis at minimum and reviewed as well as updated when launching a new menu item or when the landscape changes.

Knowing What Your Objectives Are

You may be a restaurant brand entering the market for the first time or a veteran looking to increase your restaurant’s bottom-line. But one thing is certain though. You can’t chart a marketing budget, or plan for that matter, without having goals. Such hopes, desires and objectives can be:

  • Generating awareness of your restaurant brand.
  • Increase foot traffic including repeat visits.
  • Entice first time visits to your restaurant.
  • Promote new menu items.
  • Encourage customers to order online.
  • Get diners to subscribe to your restaurant email marketing list
  • Win a James Beard Award.

While you might be overwhelmed by the broad list of goals you feel are crucial to your restaurant marketing, perhaps you should prioritize with the first 3 objectives in that list. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and make sure to address the entire list from the start. Hence, clarifying your restaurant’s objectives can make your marketing efforts profitable.

Getting Active on Social Media

If you are not actively promoting your restaurant’s website and business online, you may want to reconsider. Social media is thought to give small/independent businesses a louder voice. In other words, it’s nearly impossible for you as a small restaurant owner to successfully compete with other restaurants without a strong social media presence. There are a range of social media platforms to choose from but you are not required to use all of them. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram tend to be effective online marketing tools which many restaurants use but ultimately you should find a network that best suits your brand.


With social media, you can quickly get to know the kind of audience your brand caters to, learn more about your industry, and discover a social marketing technique that works best for you. But the only way to differentiate your restaurant from your competitors is only share relevant information on these social channels. Your relevance is appraised by the quality of content you generate and share on these networks. Visual content is especially in high demand and restaurants with a strong social media presence as part of their restaurant marketing plan are the ones that are most prosperous. And with social media marketing strategies being the driving force of sales and traffic in today’s world, discounting social media would be suicidal for your business as the competition in the food industry continues to intensify.

Engaging with Food Bloggers

When you are a new restaurant, generating reviews and hype about your business on your own may be difficult enough. Approaching a food blogger to help you bring media attention to your restaurant seems very daunting. Inviting bloggers to dine at your restaurant for a free meal or appetizer and have them critique their experience is a great way to get online press. Some bloggers may be unwilling to accept your offer but the more persistent (without being aggressive) you are the better chances you will have of receiving positive feedback and piquing more interest from viewers online.


Many prominent food bloggers have big followings and grabbing their attention can have a tremendous impact on your restaurant. Although you can’t outright ask them for a positive review as that would be dishonest, it’s perfectly fine to ask them for their objective input of your restaurant. Even just a small write up or the mere mention from a celebrity blogger can be advantageous for your promotional efforts.

Live Locations