Skip navigation
restaurant-influencer.jpg RossHelen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Straightforward email marketing campaigns are only used by 56% of independent operators.

How independent restaurant operators can improve their marketing

Opportunities abound on social media and with local influence, but traditional press matters too

Competing with the marketing reach of large chain restaurants can seem like a daunting task for independent operators, and 20% of those surveyed by Nation’s Restaurant News listed making their marketing more effective and impactful as one of their top three business objectives for 2024. That’s about the same percentage as those prioritizing increasing average check and average unit volume.

But there are plenty of marketing tools on the table that most independent operators aren’t using. Even straightforward email marketing campaigns are only used by 56% of independent operators, compared to more than 80% of chains, according to NRN research. A similar divide exists in text messaging: Nearly half, 47%, of chain restaurants use texts as part of their marketing, but just 32% of independent restaurateurs do.

There are many ways to get in front of customers, from traditional fliers in mailboxes and sponsorship of community events to more modern approaches, such as creating original content on YouTube channels or paying for advertising on social media.

I’d say it’s pretty much about finding the right spends on the right digital platforms and auditing every quarter using data and analytics,” said Kris Carpenter, marketing manager of The Firehouse Restaurant in Sacramento, Calif.

Tools certainly exist to do that analysis — ask your point-of-sales provider — but you also have to take your time to see what works, Carpenter said.

“[Run] promos for long enough to get people’s attention,” he said. “A lot of folks in the local restaurant community try something for a week and if it doesn’t work they scrap it. You usually need to run a promo for a long time (possibly even years) for it to really start working.

Jeffrey Kingman, founder and principal of BRANDgrater, a brand communications agency based in Atlanta, said measuring how different kinds of marketing work, and adjusting based on that analysis, is key to a successful approach.

“Always be optimizing,” he said in summary.

For paid media, advertising on Google Ads and Meta (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, etc.) is inexpensive and runs nonstop, but it’s also useful to consider paying “local food micro influencers, but be specific on results and expectations.”

Domenico Sacramone, owner of Sac’s Place in the New York City neighborhood of Astoria, in Queens, said a good publicist can help put you in touch with those local influencers. He also suggested working with your business improvement district to piggyback on their marketing campaigns.

Although it’s a brave new world when it comes to social media, cultivating local journalists continues to be important, Kingman said. That means holding events designed to attract their attention and making yourself available to them when they need quotes for stories they’re working on.

Carl Sobocinski, founder of the Table 301 restaurant group, which operates six restaurants in Greenville, S.C., agreed that catering to local media is important.

"With more than 200 restaurants in the downtown [Greenville] area alone, it's imperative to stay on the media's radar, and not just when we need them," he said. "We host everything from local media-only preview events to seasonal tastings, and are always offering tickets or seats for our special events and anniversary parties. I always try to say ‘yes’ when they reach out to us for a quote or interview for a story they are working on about policy, the industry, restaurant week, and more. That way, when we do need them or have something that we need to get out there, they are going to take our calls and help us out."

Tracy Nieporent, director of marketing for the Myriad Restaurant Group in New York City, which includes Tribeca Grill, three Nobu locations, and Daily Burger at Madison Square Garden, said developing relationships with neighbors is well worth the effort, but so is making sure your restaurants have points of distinction.

“Good citizenship is important — sponsoring little league, youth soccer, local schools…”
 he said noting that Myriad has been operating in the New York’s Tribeca neighborhood since 1985, when it was an off-the-beaten-path part of the city. “What’s most important is having something original and special to offer — inspired food, a great wine list, and authentic hospitality.”

Check out more from this package here:

Dissecting the challenges of restaurant menu innovation in 2024

How restaurant operators balance food costs and pricing amid inflation

Hiring and retaining back-of-the-house restaurant staff remain key challenges for operators


Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

TAGS: Marketing
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.