Zero-Cost Marketing Ideas for Your Restaurant

In the last few years, there has been a new trend called zero-cost marketing. This new way to grow awareness for a brand or product is designed for small businesses to make the most return on their marketing efforts without significant investment. But what really is zero-cost marketing and how can you use it to build your customer base?

What is Zero Cost Marketing?

Zero Cost Marketing is where activities designed to promote a business, product, or service are undertaken but don’t actually cost anything. As such, the ROI of these marketing activities can be high compared to others where costs are incurred. It offers restaurants a chance to spread the word about their business without the risk that a cost will not be recovered.

However, it is important to understand that there is a cost to zero-cost marketing. When the term first came out, it only considered the external costs to the business. There are still significant internal costs to your business that need to be considered. For instance, social media is often regarded as one of the preferred zero-cost marketing techniques. It costs nothing to promote on the channels, and the returns can be valuable.

However, every minute that you spend on activity costs your business money in lost revenue or the wages of a staff member. Say you spent two hours a week on social media and you pay yourself on average $25 per hour, the cost per week is $50 or $2,600 per year.

Another common strategy that zero-cost marketers promote is guest blogging, where you have a blog published on another site. Again, the external cost is often zero, but the time to find, pitch, write, edit, and then promote the guest post has to be considered.

If any of these activities return you less than the value of your time during any one period, you are essentially making a loss on that marketing activity.

Is Zero Cost Marketing Worthwhile?

There are many benefits to zero-cost marketing. With the right techniques and skills, it can be highly effective and successful. However, you must develop the mindset that your activities do have an associated cost and to justify fully the time spent on these approaches.

It is also important to consider that many of the activities promoted as zero-cost marketing strategies are useful because they focus on communication channels where consumers and decision-makers like to spend their time and are engaging.

The fact that many of the activities are also free from external costs, means it can be easier to recoup expenditure and grow the business.

Some Zero-Cost Marketing Strategies for Your Restaurant

  1. Word-of-Mouth. Often overlooked is offering great customer experience. It starts with great food, excellent service, and a pleasant atmosphere. With the realities of Covid-19, cleanliness and safety are paramount. Customers that leave happy return more often. More than anything, word of mouth is one of the best and most cost-effective ways for you to draw attention to your brand. People trust the recommendation of their peers and therefore if you can get others to recommend your restaurant, you will have a successful business.
  2. Verify Your Restaurant’s Online Details Are Accurate. Eaters love to do research online – in fact, 89% of consumers research a restaurant online prior to dining. This is why it’s of vital importance that all your restaurant details are online and up-to-date, including address, phone number, operating hours post-Covid19, your current menu, etc. The stronger and more accurate your online details are, the better.
    • Get a Google My Business Your free Business Profile lets you easily connect with customers across Google Search and Maps. Read and respond to reviews from your customers, and post photos that show off what you do. According to Google, businesses that add photos to their Profiles receive 42% more requests for directions on Google Maps, and 35% more clicks through to their websites than businesses that don’t.
    • Grow your business with Yelp. Yelp has tremendous power in the restaurant industry. Having a strong backing of positive Yelp reviews is like having a flock of golden geese – reviews from Yelp can do wonders for your business. The most important thing to understand about Yelp is that people can and will review you, even if you don’t set up an account. For that reason, as a restaurant owner or manager you should absolutely be proactive and dress up your Yelp account, so it works for you, rather than against you.
    • Set up and maintain a Facebook business page is a great way to gather your customers, prospects, and fans to provide reviews, share opinions, voice concerns, and offer feedback. You can build a community on your Facebook page by:
      • Posting useful, relevant, and interesting links
      • Asking customers to contribute with comments
      • Organizing contests and promotions
      • Providing a place to leave reviews and other feedback
      • Offering incentives for activity on the page.
      • If the Facebook page you create for your restaurant brings people together, you will develop a loyal following that will bring success to your business.
  3. Maintain an Email Database. Email marketing is not only for digital marketers, local businesses can take advantage of it, too. Building a targeted list will produce better results for your restaurant business. Here are proven means to get it done effectively:
    • Often, people call in to make reservations, ask questions about your menu, cuisines, services, etc. Your restaurant team member taking the calls should get the caller’s mobile phone number, or/and email (in return for a special offer or discount).
    • You can give a voucher or discount coupon to customers who come to dine at your restaurant, on the condition they give their mobile phone/email.
    • Let customers drop their business cards into a bowl for a raffle. The reward can vary from a free lunch to a free dinner for two, whatever you feel like. Not only are the raffles fun, but they are a great way to build your email database.
    • Now that you have your database, be sure to make use of it by sending a monthly newsletter with offers and specials that your customers will enjoy. With your targeted list, you can either use a bulk SMS or email autoresponder to send your customers special bonuses/freebies, especially during occasions of their birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc.
  4. Take Awesome Food Photos. One of the very best ways to promote your restaurant online is with high-quality, drool-inducing photos. Visual content is in high demand online these days and having delicious looking photos on your website and across various social media outlets is essential for drawing hungry eyes.
  5. Offer a Loyalty Program. Partnering up with online food apps should be a consideration as part of your restaurant marketing plan. Partnering with online apps encourages visitors to check out your restaurant through gamification and customer loyalty programs, which offer visitors a free purchase or discount for visiting a certain number of times. Just look at how successful Starbucks has been with its loyalty program. Note that a partnership with an online food app is not required. Loyalty programs can be as simple as checkboxes on the back of a business card. For example, buy 6 lunches and the 7th one is free.
  6. Put Your Underutilized TVs to Work. 90% of the time, bar TV’s are showing something other than live sports. The TrueSyncTV network displays compelling short-clip videos, interspersed with venue-relevant advertising and content, curated to catch the patrons’ eye. Your restaurant gets a free, branded TV network that keeps patrons in their seats, resulting in larger average checks and returning customers. Never see an ad from one of your competitors:
    • TrueSyncTV is a new network that is designed specifically for bars and restaurants
    • The network is branded to your venue and is 100% FREE to you
    • Install of the media player is done by TrueSync (typically in 10 minutes or less per screen); there is no learning curve
    • You are in full control of when and on which screens the network plays (switch HDMI inputs to show live sports)
    • The network plays viral videos about 80% of the time (stuff that people spend hours watching), all without volume
    • You are given two minutes of free airtime per hour to promote your own specials and events


Zero-cost marketing does not really exist. There is always a cost for marketing activities, even if it is just the time you spend implementing the strategies. However, the strategies considered as zero-cost are still effective and could yield significant returns for your restaurant; just ensure you are using the right strategies to get the most from your time and effort.


Deba Wegner came to Washington in 1995 and established her company, Recipe for Success. She is a systems expert using various channels, focusing heavily on online resources, technology, and local store marketing. Deba is also a marketing consultant for the Restaurant Group which is a locally-owned hospitality consultant company here in WA.

Susie Bauer started her early career in the restaurant industry in marketing and is the owner of SLB Marketing. Susie works with a variety of restaurant companies across multiple states, creating marketing plans, managing social media and digital campaigns as well as coaching her clients in local store marketing and community outreach.  425.652.2709  425.652.2709

Rob Hill has a 25-year history of leading sales and marketing at several Venture Capital and private equity-backed companies. He uses a keen focus on execution and customer satisfaction to grow businesses. Rob is President and Board Member of True Sync MediaTrueSyncTV is offered for free to restaurants and bars and includes two minutes per hour of venue-specific advertising time. 720-469-8069 or our Washington Manager, John Suryan 425-765-2423

Gordon Schaeffer is the founder and President of BlueStar Group, an online marketing digital agency. Founded in 2002, BlueStar is a pioneer in online and search engine marketing working with restaurants and hospitality companies to craft online marketing strategies and marketing campaigns that attract dining guests.  Gordon 425.269.7023