Ever since Kevin Costner famously said, “If you build it, they will come”, in the 1989 movie, A Field of Dreams, the words have taken on a more metaphorical meaning than his character had intended. Today, people casually throw the saying around to mean that your product/service/experience will market itself if it’s good enough. 

But let’s be clear: Costner was talking about a baseball field and nothing else. The rest of us living outside the movies still need to market what we build. There’s no excuse not to advertise your restaurant, even if your budget is extremely tight. If this is your situation, we’ve gathered some free advertising ideas to get your name out there, even on the tightest budget.

Set up your social media

The most straightforward free advertising idea to execute is to maximise your use of social media. Just because there are paid avenues to promote businesses on social media doesn’t mean that you can’t get ahead for free. Instagram is a great place to showcase your menu and atmosphere. You can use images and videos taken on your smartphone (lightly edited with free apps like Foodie and Snapseed) to tease your followers with engaging content. Hashtags are a powerful discoverability tool, so it’s essential to include as many relevant ones in your posts as possible. 

Start a newsletter

Do you have a database of your patrons’ (ethically acquired) contact information that’s just going to waste? Then it might be time to create your own newsletter campaign. Your restaurant’s newsletter could feature new menu items, special deals, competitions and anything else you want to communicate to your patrons – and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent. Canva has a gallery of free email newsletter templates for you to choose from and MailChimp’s free plan offers 12 000 sends to a list of up to 2 000 contacts a month. 

Get listed on Google

Google My Business allows you to set up your own Google Business account for your restaurant for free. You can add your restaurant’s address, business hours, contact details, website and link them to Google Maps. Every time someone searches for your restaurant (or keywords related to it), a card will be displayed at the top of the results page with all the vital information they need. Patrons can even upload their photos and submit Google reviews to help fellow diners make more informed decisions when choosing restaurants. 

Invite food bloggers

Food bloggers have a captive audience of readers eager to know their opinions – and you can tap into some of that influence. Entice a few food bloggers to visit your restaurant by offering them a free drink or dessert (tempting enough and not too bribe-y). Be sure to ask them to write honestly about their experience at your establishment. If the reviews are favourable, you’ll have a line of hungry converts at your restaurant. If not, and they highlight things you can improve on, you can invite them back and take the opportunity to redeem yourself.

Encourage word of mouth

One opinion that most people hold above any food blogger’s is an endorsement from someone you trust, like a friend or family member. Word of mouth is the oldest free advertising idea, after all. So think about introducing some kind of referral programme to your existing patrons. For example, they can earn rewards points whenever they refer someone to your restaurant and the new patron gets a discount on their first meal. People will probably recommend your restaurant anyway if they enjoyed their dining experience, but a little incentive never hurts. 

 For more insightful restaurant marketing tips, including how to use smart technology to stand out from your competition, download our free e-book, The Definitive 21st-century Restaurant Playbook.