FORTUNE Small Business:

Tips for promoting a new restaurant

Try these tried-and-true methods, and a few more.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: What are your suggestions on promoting a new bar/restaurant?

- Peter Jovanovich, Hamilton, Ontario

Dear Peter: The first thing to remember is that the competition is stiff in the bar and restaurant industry. In the United States alone, there are 1 million restaurants.

So it's important to focus on what's unique and different about your business, says Aaron Allen, CEO of restaurant consulting firm Quantified Marketing Group in Orlando, Fla.

Like people, every joint has its own personality that must be communicated to your target market.

"Define how the brand should walk, talk, act and behave," Allen says. "It will be easier to align the operations and marketing with this in place."

Your employees should be "walking billboards" for your brand, adds Ron Yudd, a restaurant consultant based in Gaithesburg, Md.

Hire "outgoing, passionate people who love to pass the word about something new and exciting," Yudd says.

Once your brand identity is firmly in place, it's time to educate the market about your property. Transform your customers into friends and unofficial consultants who help sell your business.

Collect patrons' contact information and keep them updated on restaurant happenings via email. Create special promotions around themes or events important to your loyal customers, advises Yudd.

That strategy worked well for Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles, which is frequented by Hollywood film and TV writers.

When the Writers' Guild of America went on strike in November, Campanile chef and owner Mark Peel launched a promotion to draw midweek crowds. On Wednesdays, anyone with a writers' union card could bring in a table full of guests, and everyone got a three-course meal for half-price.

"It's definitely our thank-you back to our community," Peel says. "Wednesdays have been packed ever since."

Yudd also advises restaurant and bar owners to get involved with charities and community outreach events. Supply the food or give away promotional items at these events.

And then there's advertising and marketing. Allen says you should direct at least 10% of your marketing budget to public relations. Anyone with a checkbook can buy an ad, but not every restaurant gets free press coverage, he says.

Another 20% should go to digital marketing, which includes email commercials, viral campaigns and (well-produced) videos for your website, Allen says.

And of course, word of mouth - whether in person or online - remains the Holy Grail of restaurant marketing.

"Turn your brand into a story so it travels well," Allen says. "He who has the best story wins!"  To top of page

How can Peter promote his restaurant? Give him ideas here.

A quick question from FSB: For a future story, we would like to find business owners who routinely sleep no more than 4 to 6 hours per night. If you're a night-owl entrepreneur, write to Anne Fisher at and tell us how you adapted to your current schedule.

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