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Getting people in the door is a top priority for every restaurant. Once customers visit your establishment for the first time, you must find a way to keep them coming back for more. An exciting restaurant promotion can help you achieve both goals — it’s a compelling incentive for both new and returning guests.

Not sure which deals will bring in business? Let’s take a look at some popular restaurant promotion ideas that Grubhub merchants have used to boost delivery, takeout, and in-person orders.

The importance of strategic restaurant promotions

If your customers are price-conscious, promotions can be a powerful restaurant marketing tool. In fact, available discounts are among the top factors consumers consider when choosing a restaurant. Millennials, in particular, love a good deal — 57% of people in this age group intentionally seek out restaurant promotions.

As with any effective sales and marketing tactic, the most successful restaurant promotion ideas are strategic. They’re designed specifically to meet the particular financial and psychological needs of your target audience. For example, a limited-time-only promotion creates a sense of scarcity and urgency; customers want to participate to avoid missing out. Two-for-one discounts and family meal deals make diners feel like savvy consumers, which can help overcome price hesitation.

Urgency is the psychological driver behind one of the most popular restaurant promotions: Taco Tuesday. Customers can get tacos any day of the week, but if they don’t come in on Tuesday, they’ll have to pay full price.

The way a restaurant promotion aligns with your brand can affect how customers perceive its value. If you run a fine dining restaurant, for example, discounts and specials might not feel appropriate. Instead, you might consider promotions that feel exclusive or interactive: sommelier-led wine tastings, for example, or a one-night-only visit from a guest chef. Casual restaurants are more likely to be successful with deals, loyalty programs, or celebrations.

15 restaurant promotion ideas

Ready to start driving business? Use these restaurant promotion ideas to inspire your next restaurant marketing campaign.

1. Add an eating challenge

Do you run a casual restaurant? Appeal to your most competitive customers with an eating challenge. If they consume an oversized item — an enormous burrito, for example, or a comically huge burger — within a specific timeframe, they can get it for free. Post your winners on social media to attract additional competitors.

2. Rotate happy hour specials

Get more business from the after-work crowd by adding creative app specials to your happy hour menu. Offer two beers and pretzel bites with cheese for a discounted price, for example, or discount all your appetizers by 25% between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. To keep guests on their toes, change your happy hour menu every week.

3. Work with a local influencer and a charity

Find a well-respected local influencer and work with them to create a promotion that benefits a nonprofit organization. Host a themed meal or add a new special to the menu and donate 10% of the profits to the charity. Everyone wins — the influencer gets a paycheck, you get more business, and the nonprofit gets a sizable donation. Plus, customers can spend money on delicious food knowing it’s going to a good cause.

4. Give away sports tickets

Buy a pair of tickets to a popular local sporting event and give them away in a random drawing. You can allow customers to sign up online or give an entry to everyone who dines at your restaurant during a specific period; it’s a great way to add more addresses to your email marketing list.

5. Create a loyalty program

Reward repeat customers by creating a restaurant loyalty program. Take your cue from coffee shops, which often offer a free drink after the purchase of 10. Don’t sell coffee? Offer a free meal after 15 visits, or provide $10 in credit for every $100 a customer spends. Sweeten the deal by sending loyal customers exclusive discount codes or coupons.

6. Celebrate the season

Brighten up the darkest part of winter with seasonal specials that give customers something to look forward to. Fun winter restaurant promotion ideas include seasonal menus and celebrations or food holidays, such as National Hot Sauce Day (January 22). Be sure to update your online ordering system to reflect the changes.

7. Run delivery promotions

Sometimes, customers just want to enjoy a cozy delivery or takeout meal at home. Entice them to choose you over a competitor by offering special deals. Offer free delivery for the first order, for example, or run a limited-time discount on one or two popular menu items.

8. Run a social media contest

The average internet user spends more than 2.5 hours on social media every day. Boost brand awareness — and drive more customers to your restaurant business — by hosting a contest on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. Keep it simple to encourage participation; run a caption contest for a funny behind-the-scenes photo, or ask followers to name your latest dessert. As a bonus, the bump in engagement could convince the social media algorithm to show your food posts to more people.

9. Host pop-up shops

Book a booth at a local festival or event and create a special menu that isn’t available anywhere else. Create a sandwich inspired by your best-selling entrée, or transform your cult-favorite charcuterie board into a charcuterie cone. Then, take beautiful photos of the new menu items and post them on social media to spread the word; tag the event to reach even more people. This promotion brings in more restaurant sales, gives existing customers a new way to try your food, and introduces potential customers to your brand in a low-key setting.

10. Tie a promotion to a TikTok trend

TikTok trends get a huge volume of traffic — capture some of those visitors by creating a deal inspired by the latest social media craze. Then, post a video about it. Keep it lighthearted and focus on the food, but don’t be afraid to be silly; social media users love authenticity. Make sure to use trending hashtags and audio to get more views, and use location tags to attract users in your area.

11. Start a chef’s choice special

A few times a year, set your chef free to design a special dish that’s available for one day only. Build suspense on social media before revealing the meal, and continue to hype it up leading to the big day. The combination of scarcity and the opportunity to experience completely new menu items will appeal to foodies and trend-followers alike.

12. Host a food and wine pairing

Hire a local sommelier to work with your chef on a food and wine pairing event. Before each course, ask the two to explain each selection to guests. The educational component makes the experience feel richer, so your customers will walk away feeling more knowledgeable.

13. Find an excuse to party

Host a themed party complete with a special menu, decorations, and entertainment. Guests can pay a flat fee to attend — the limited number of tickets creates a sense of exclusivity and excitement. This promotion adapts easily to the season and your unique restaurant vibe, so you can use it any time of year. Take plenty of photos and videos; they make great social media content.

14. Start a referral program

Recognize your best customers and find new guests with a private referral program. Hand-pick a few people to receive a unique booking code. When another person makes a reservation using that code, give the referrer a special gift, such as a free bottle of wine or a food credit. You can also welcome the new customer with a free dessert or another small surprise.

15. Expand your reach with SMS

Give customers an opportunity to earn exclusive deals by signing up for your SMS marketing list. Send out occasional restaurant promotions, making sure to include a link for online ordering. Experiment with timing; you might find customers respond well to takeout and food delivery discounts at 7 p.m. or lunch specials at 10:30 a.m. Don’t worry if your text list is smaller than your email marketing list or social media following — with the right deals, the conversion rate will probably be higher.

Utilizing Grubhub for your establishment’s promotions

When it’s tailored to your business and customer base, a restaurant promotion is one of the most effective restaurant marketing tools at your disposal. To maximize revenue, make sure to offer them to your in-house, takeout, and delivery customers. Not sure where to start? Consider partnering with Grubhub. In addition to online ordering technology, we offer built-in loyalty and promotions tools to help you publish special deals and reach new customers in your area. And with our integrated analytics, it’s a breeze to track the performance of each promotion. To see it in action, get started with Grubhub today.