Restaurants are looking at marketing from a new perspective in today’s uncertain times, and need a way to spread the word about offers without a marketing budget. With revenue and profits down for most restaurants, it’s time to get creative with content marketing campaigns, social media, and the free tools available to business owners for no-cost advertisement.

Now is not the time to stop marketing and close up shop, it’s time to double your efforts and keep providing people with delicious meals. Your customers want to hear from you a survey conducted on March 8, 2020, found that 56% of consumers want to hear from you now, and they want to know what steps you’re taking to ensure you’ll be around after the pandemic. Your customers are worried about you, and they want to support you. Show them how they can help by getting your message out with these free marketing tactics and tools.

Here’s what other industry leaders in foodservice are doing to market their business with little to no budget for marketing.

Even Big Chains Use Free Marketing Tools

Most restaurants spend a large percentage of their revenue on ad spend, in 2018, Panera Bread spent 56 million according to Statista, and they were on the low end. The biggest ad spends in 2018 for restaurants came from McDonald’s with a whopping $761 Million in ad spend according to Statista’s results. While these large restaurant chains have enormous budgets for their ad spend, they’re still taking advantage of no-cost advertising and marketing campaigns, which is a great place to start when you’re on a tight budget for your restaurant.

Panera is reaching its audience on Facebook with engaging posts like this one outlining their new Panera grocery program. Getting the word out to local consumers who share an interest in what your restaurant offers is the primary goal of free marketing tactics, and Panera owns their pivot to provide groceries via delivery. In contrast, many grocery stores are low on stock of essential items.

Ways to market without a marketing budget

These are no-cost ways to get your restaurant’s information in front of your target audience and start taking more curbside pickup and delivery orders.

Location Tagging and Hashtag Campaigns in Social Media Posts

When you use location tagging and hashtags, you open your social media posts up to new viewers and focus on those who are in your area and interested in your offers. You can tag your own restaurant’s address, but what’s even more compelling is using a hashtag for your city and surrounding areas where you can deliver.

Trending hashtags helping restaurants during COVID-19

    #takeouttuesday – Restaurants are banding together with this hashtag to encourage takeout orders on Tuesdays. Add this hashtag to posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to reach new customers that are searching for this promotion.

    #greatamericantakeout – Check out how Jack in the Box is storming Twitter with this hashtag and keeping the orders coming.

    #[yourcity]delivery – This one is a bit like location tagging, but instead add the city you’re in and delivery to your hashtags to reach customers searching for delivery options in your area.

Show Customers How You’re Keeping Them Safe

As we stated earlier, customers want to hear from you now, and what they want is to feel assured their health is a priority when they order from you. This is a great time to show them rather than tell them, like El Pollo Loco did in this Instagram Post highlighting their sealed delivery bags. The restaurant told it’s supporters, “Our delivery bags are sealed to be tamper-free for your safety. El Pollo Loco Delivery.” Such a simple message can go far to show your compassion for your customers, when people feel their needs are put first, they are more compelled to support your brand.

Go Live on Social Media

Going live on social media is the number one way to reach more people with your restaurant’s message. You can host impromptu live videos of kitchen staff preparing meals while using safety precautions, of deliveries going out, or even ask me anything live video so you can address your customers’ concerns as they come up.

Use your live videos to drive customers to an order portal, and be sure to attach a link to your order page to your live video.

Utilize Google My Business Features

Update your COVID-19 posts in Google My Business to add an online order option. This is a simple step you can take that will put you above other restaurants who have not added this option to their GMB profile yet. For a more in-depth look, Google My Business features, and local search results boosts, check out Lavu’s comprehensive guide to local SEO here.

Let Your Restaurant Patrons Serve Others With Your Meals

When nothing is within our control for the majority of the public, they look for ways to serve others and bring back a sense of power. Consumers want to support brands they trust and those that share their values. Across the world, more people are becoming food insecure each day as a result of COVID-19, but the good news is you’re in a position to help. Let your customers know they can gift a meal to a friend, or set up hospital deliveries to support local healthcare workers as Sauce Pizzeria did.

Email Sequences to Your Current List and Loyalty Members

Take your email list and your loyalty members list and start sending email sequences showing your current promotions during COVID-19. Right now is not the time to pay for more leads, but instead to get your loyal customers to support you. At a minimum, update your email list subscribers on your COVID-19 response measures and give them peace of mind.

 Looking for tools to help you market your restaurant with ease of use? Check out our previous article: Restaurant Technology for Marketing and Customer Engagement