Happy Hour. A classic restaurant promotion, if there ever was one. For those not familiar with Happy Hour, a restaurant offers specials, both drink and menu items (usually appetizers) for an hour (sometimes longer, but happy hours sounds silly), usually between 5pm-7pm. Happy hour is mean to draw in the after work crowd. You can upsell customers who come in for a discount beer, by offering them a dinner menu and the nightly specials, as they sit at the bar. Read more about affordable restaurant advertising.
Two-for-One. This is another promotion that has withstood the test of time. Customers love a bargain and two dinners for one price is no exception. The trick with two-for-one specials is to offer menu items with low food cost, which in turns keeps prices low. Pasta specials, chicken, inexpensive cuts of beef or pork and certain seafood are good options for two-for-one dinner deals. You can upsell two-for-one specials by adding dessert, coffee or a couple of drinks.
Wine or Beer Tasting Dinner. Wine tasting dinners are great promotions for slow seasons, like the end of winter when people are suffering from cabin fever. Your wine distributor can act as a sommelier and help you plan a prix fixe menu with the right pairing of wine. An artisan beer dinner is a good alternative to wine and will appeal to lovers of microbrew. Read more about how to plan a wine dinner.
Holidays. Holidays can be very lucrative promotions for restaurants. Offering a prix fixe menu for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or other special occasions is a good way to keep the kitchen out of the weeds during a dinner rush. Also carefully spacing your reservations will help the night go more smoothly and ensure that customers have an excellent dining experience.Check out this sample holiday menu.
Entertainment. Live music, open-mic nights, and stand-up comedy are just a few entertainment options that restaurants can try, to bring in more business.
Theme Dinners. A themed dinner menu is another restaurant promotion that can be hosted on a monthly or yearly basis. You can dovetail a themed dinner with a holiday, such as a chocolate themed dinner for Valentine’s Day, or host it during a slow season, to bring in more business. Themes could include something ethnic like Italian Night, Caribbean Cruise or Asian Fusion or feature local fare from regional farms.
Fundraisers. Partnering with community groups for fundraising is another way to bring in business while also doing a good deed. There are many different types of fundraising dinners. In some cases the restaurant donates a percent of the profits to charity. Other fundraisers might include selling tickets that cover the cost of food, with some of the proceeds going to charity.
Trivia. If you have a bar in your restaurant, trivia night can bring in a good mid-week crowd, especially in between sports seasons. Customers team up, and the winning team gets prizes, such as restaurant gift certificates, t-shirts, or pint glasses.
Contests. Offer prizes for the customer who comes up with the best new beer name or sandwich pairing. Even better than a free t-shirt is the bragging rights that come with winning.
Sports Events. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Superbowl, there are plenty of people who are. Offering dinner specials for the “Big Game” (whatever season and game that may be) to entice to people to eat out instead staying in. A fantasy sports team pool is another way that you can engage customers in a promotion, offering a cash reward (only if its legal- be sure to check your state laws) or other prizes.