The right marketing gets your restaurant’s name out there farther than where you expect it to reach. It’s a business strategy that helps you reel in customers whether old or new to check out what you are offering. It doesn’t matter whether you are a small business or a conglomerate. Marketing, when done right, will help you draw in sales.

Marketing your business involves a lot of careful planning to grab people’s attention. One marketing strategy that does this best is the use of social media. Social media marketing is an effective way to get your business well-known. More than 1 in 3 users admitted to checking out a brand on social media when they’re interested to learn more about them.

Marketing can also be expensive which is why some have probably opted out to invest in a good marketing strategy. But here are 11 no-cost marketing ideas you can do for your restaurant that is sure to drive in customers this 2021:

Start a Cooking Show

Why is this at the top of our list of free marketing opportunities? As a restaurant owner, you’ve got everything you need to create a cooking show that’s popular in your area and even globally. You’ve got a commercial kitchen and cooking equipment. A dedicated location to cook. And the skills to cook delicious meals and share that culinary knowledge with others.

If you’re able to be consistent hosting a show the sky truly is the limit for you. As you see in the examples below, a cooking show can be parlayed into cookbooks, sponsorships, in addition to driving more revenue and interest in your own restaurant. Don’t let food bloggers be the only ones to cash in on this opportunity!

Have you ever seen a Tasty branded video? It’s those cooking videos on the internet that shows you how a dish is done from scratch but fast-forwarded so you don’t have to wait a long time to see the results. The formula for these videos is simple, but also hard to stop watching once you get started. Even though the video speed is accelerated, the quality is exceptional and you learn a lot about how to make a recipe in under a minute. This is one approach you could take with your own show.

Of course these videos from Tasty are slick and well edited. Thankfully, you won’t need to hire a video editor to start building a following online by making videos like this. There are plenty of popular online chefs doing live videos with nothing more than an iPhone. One of the best I’ve seen implementing this strategy is Gaby Dalkin from What’s Gabby Cooking. You can watch one of Gaby’s videos below.

If you follow Gaby’s Instagram page, you can join her live weekly cooking classes usually broadcast from her kitchen. These cooking classes are informal and fun. You get the vibe you’re watching a friend cook you dinner. Gaby is usually wearing a sweatshirt for her weekly show. And guess what? The program is awesome and is one of my wife’s favorite programs to watch each week.

Keep in mind that Gaby’s net worth is estimated between $1 – $5 million dollars too. Don’t be fooled by those casual demeanor and friendly videos. Gaby is running a real business that makes money through advertising, sponsorships with brands like LuLulemon, selling cookbooks and a line of spices / flavored olive oils in partnership with William’s Sonoma. Gaby has built a media empire teaching other people how to cook online.

What won’t you need?

Fancy lighting or recording equipment. If you’ve got a recent version of the iPhone you’ve got everything you need to record and publish one a cooking show online. Thanks to websites like YouTube Live or Instagram, you can host your show for free.

This is literally the approach Gaby uses in her weekly Instagram shows. Gaby’s husband holds up the iPhone, hits record, and the show begins. There’s no special lighting or audio equipment setup for these videos.

Tips for Hosting Your Own Cooking Show

Videos like these can be short. If you can teach someone an entire recipe in 15 – 30 minutes that’s all you need. Here are a few compelling topics restaurant owners could cover on a weekly basis: 

  • Share how to make a recipe from the menu at the restaurant.
  • Teach the proper way to use a chef knife or other cooking tool.
  • Share recipes from the test kitchen that you are thinking about adding to the menu. This is a smart way to get feedback on new menu items.
  • Teach a technique like French cooking or other technique your viewers might find interesting.

A key piece of hosting a cooking show like this work is maintaining a consistent schedule. It’s important to host your cooking show at the same time each week so followers know when and where to tune in. You could publish a live cooking show or a prerecorded show similar to what you see on broadcast cooking television like The Food Network.

Did you know that “How to cook that” is considered one of the top 10 search keywords or phrases on YouTube? If you’d like to get your restaurant out there, you can sample how one of your dishes is made. You can also partner up with a food brand or cooking equipment company so they can sponsor your ingredients.

Share Food Photos on Social Media

Did you know that food is a popular topics on Instagram? A staggering 39% of Instagram users in the UK are fans of food content. You can capitalize on this interest by sharing food photos from your restaurant on social media. By using the right hashtags, you can garner likes and followings for your social media page to help you reach more diners.

The best part of this approach as a restaurant owner is that this approach won’t take you much additional time to execute. You’re already cooking dozens of attractively plated dishes each night. All you need to do is capture these images using your iPhone. If you don’t think you have time to do this yourself, you could enlist one of your cooks or a manager to do this marketing work for you. You might be surprised at how good your staff could be at sharing and promoting your business.

Related Reading: How I Converted a House into a Fully Licensed Restaurant

Keep in mind that you need to post quality photos that look appetizing. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be learned quickly by following a few guiding principles to food photography. If you want to learn more about taking better food photos for your restaurant, check out our how-to guide. 

Aside from food photos, consider sharing images that demonstrate what else your restaurant is up to. Do you offer catering services? Share photos online of the event you just catered. Do you offer packed lunches? Post photos meals all packed up. Do you work with a non-profit to help fundraise? Share your experience working with these groups. These photos give your customers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into your business.

Cross Promoting Other Businesses

Cross promoting other businesses on social media or through a real world partnership is a time-tested marketing strategy for restaurants. For instance, do you remember seeing Marvel’s Avengers on bags of Doritos? Or when Google released Android 4.4 and named it KitKat? KitKat then made 50 million chocolate bars in Android shapes to help cross promote the phone. These are two examples of big business using cross promotion to drive awareness to something.

But you don’t need to be a Fortune 1,000 company for this concept to work. What you can do for your small business is to partner up with another and simply promote each other on social media. You could also work on a specialty meal or beverage together. You see this happen all the time with microbreweries. Two small breweries will come together to make a collaboration beer. As a result of these collaborations, both companies can benefit by more people discovering their beer.

If you catered food for a company, you can post the event and tag the company’s social media page. Likewise, the company will post on theirs tagging your handle as the main caterer for the event. In the end, both parties benefit from cross-promotion without spending a dime.

Email Newsletter

Email newsletters are updates from your business emailed to your customers. These newsletter updates can include coupons, new items on the menu, limited-time offers, or any event you’d like your customers to know about. There are free newsletter services for a limited number of emails which you can use to start. At the time of writing, MailChimp will allow you to create a newsletter with 2,000 subscribers before charging for their service.

Sending out an email newsletter is an effective marketing idea you can use. Based on my own experience running a newsletter, it’s not uncommon for email sends to get a 20% open rate. This means there’s a good chance your customers will open and actually read the message if it’s interesting and valuable.

Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are a great way to encourage more repeat restaurant visits. These programs make your customers feel like they are a part of your family in which you take care of them by giving them incentives. For instance, a membership card that offers a large free basket of fries every time your customers purchase two dishes is one compelling example.

Loyalty programs are very effective based on industry reports. According to Wirecard, 75% of customers would choose to purchase from a business after they receive their rewards from a loyalty program.

You can offer a round of drinks, free soup, a plate of pizza, and many more for your restaurant’s loyalty program. Check your restaurant POS system to see if there are any loyalty program options built into the system. Most modern POS systems allow you to start a loyalty program with the single click of a mouse.

Online Reviews

Did you know 93% of customers rely on reviews before decision where to eat? This is why it’s important to have your restaurant listed on review sites where customers can leave feedback. Asking for more online reviews is a total no brainer for an independent restaurant owner. After all, a few less than stellar reviews can really impact your bottom line by hurting the number of new sales.

There a number of high-traffic restaurant reviews sites where you can list your business free of charge. Google My Business is arguably the most important account you can create to gain visibility across an average monthly traffic of 158.03 million. You should also register for Yelp where setting up a basic business profile is free.


Blogging continues to be relevant. It’s known that 77% of internet readers and users still read blogs and businesses who write and post blogs receive 97% more clicks to their sites. I speak from experience managing this website that consistent blogging can be one of the best ways to get more people to discover you longterm.

Adding a blog section for your food business is effective since it allows your customers to engage in what you’re up to. Do you plan on releasing a new salad for the summer? Blog about it and share a story behind the refreshing new salad. Are you planning an event? Talk about it and invite your customers. All of these can be strong topics for upcoming blog posts.

If I had my choice, I would say start a cooking show before starting a written restaurant blog. You’ll get traction faster with a video cooking show. Plus, people are able to establish a deeper connection with you more quickly on video by seeing you and hearing your voice.


Don’t judge a book by its cover the saying goes. While that may be true, people perceive items with appealing packaging to be more valuable. 7 out of 10 customers agree the style and design of packaging influence their decision to purchase an item. Knowing this you should be looking for ways to maximize marketing space on things like pizza boxes, to-go containers, and disposable cups.

Here are a some ways you can improve the branding of your containers or paper products: 

  • Include a menu of items your guests might want to drive.
  • Advertise weekly specials or theme nights.
  • Include a coupon for the next order on the pizza box.
  • Publish funny slogans or taglines that can make the experience dining at your restaurant more memorable.

To take this a step further you can make sure your staff wears uniforms reflecting the store’s brand. Include business contact information on your cake boxes. Have your store’s logo visible outside and inside the store. Take a good hard look at everything inside your restaurant from a brand consistency perspective.

Food Delivery Service

If your food business isn’t tied up with a food delivery service then you should probably consider signing up for one. A reported 87% of Americans say third party food delivery services make their lives more convenient. On the business side, third party food delivery services also make your life easier since they can send more customers your way without spending on advertising.

One food delivery service you’re probably familiar with is Uber Eats. This service is valued at $20 billion and operating in more than 670 cities.

Though signing up for these delivery services require you to pay activation fees and takes commissions from your orders, you might want to keep tabs on promos wherein activation fees may be discounted or offered for free. If you’re looking for a way to bolster sales, this is a channel worth testing. If you discover it’s not worth the effort you can always discontinue working with the platform.


Coupons are a timeless way for restaurants to generate more sales. After all, who doesn’t appreciate a good deal? These are given away in print or digitally with social media or a newsletter. Some restaurants use coupons as a primary marketing strategy to get more customers or encourage repeat visits.

According to a report by Valassis in 2019, 92% of customers use coupons regularly. Be creative in offering promos in your coupons such as getting a freebie or a discount when they refer a friend to your business. This approach encourages new customers to try your restaurant.

Joint Venture

Having a joint business venture is a lot like the cross-promotion marketing strategy mentioned above. But this one can lead to more direct sales.

For instance, if you’re a bakery and you could partner with a local coffee shop. You could sell packaged coffee beans from the coffee shop at your bakery. In turn, the coffee shop would sell your muffins. Ideally, both businesses end up making more money through this type of agreement.

Related Reading: Menu & Recipe Cost Template: Download Free Spreadsheet

You can also do one with charity events. You can sell your products with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. If you’re selling at a charity hosted event, you can increase your sales and donate to a good cause. This works best if you have a high-margin food product like shaved ice, hot dogs, or coffee as a few examples.

So there you have it. Our top free marketing ideas for an independent restaurant. Which one of these ideas do you plan to test in your business?

Online Presence

Your online presence is as important as your physical presence, probably more so in this digital age. So making sure you can be found, people can see what you do, people can see what you offer are things that no marketer should ignore.

Google+ is one of the biggest marketing tools you can use for free. Registering your business on Google+ means that your business is searchable, and your full details appear in the Google sidebar, including photos, whenever anyone searches for you. This greatly improves your online presence so that people see you more.

You should also ensure that your menu is available online, because, more so in the digital age, people eat with their eyes first. And if they can find your menu online, then there is a greater chance they will choose you to eat at, since they can see if you have what they are looking for. Not having a menu online these days can mark the beginning of the end of a restaurant business.

And remember that social media is for more than just posting photos of great food. You can also promote your restaurant for free, include photos of your awesome staff to show the human aspect of the business, and provide another platform for reviews and customer content.

Want to start your own food business?

Hey! 👋I’m Brett Lindenberg, the founder of Food Truck Empire.

We interview successful founders and share the stories behind their food trucks, restaurants, food and beverage brands. By sharing these stories, I want to help others get started.

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