Faced with TV commercial slots costing a quarter of a million dollars, and multifaceted, nationwide advertising campaigns from big chains, marketing
exposure for independent restaurants is often an uphill battle. With so much media static coming from the big names in the restaurant game it can be difficult to find and have your voice heard when running your own small establishment. Additionally, the little guys have less money to spend and face losing more if a campaign doesn’t perform at or above expectations.

Not being able to rely on hourly or even daily media coverage can only hinder an advertising campaign if you let it. You don’t need a bank account full of cash, top-of-the-line restaurant equipment, or a fully staffed marketing department to step up your game and sit at the table with the high stakes players. Without the pressure of needing each campaign to be a huge success, as most large chains do, you can take the weight off your shoulders and think outside the box.

Here are a few pointers to draw in customers and create successful marketing strategies:

Create a Little Controversy

Being controversial in your advertising efforts is a sure-fire way to garner attention, but doing so is a double-edged sword. While the added attention can be a great way to spread the word, the line between good and bad attention is growing increasingly thinner. By walking the line and dipping your toe into the edgy side of advertising you risk offending your customers by going too far.

The last thing you want to do is have to deal with backlash caused by an offending advertisement. Be creative, but keep a steady hand on the reins of your campaign and pull back if you feel you’re nearing unsteady ground. Be controversial enough to leave your mark, exercise the control to not draw metaphorical blood in the form of backlash, and realize that whispering your message subtly can be just as effective as shouting through a megaphone.


Not being able to fund repeating TV commercials shouldn’t deter you from creating a fun, visual, effective campaign. Diversify the places you advertise by getting your foot in the door wherever you can. Pamphlets, newspapers, billboards, online review sites, viral marketing, and social media are all extremely viable options for advertising opportunities.

This too can be a double-edged sword if not controlled. While branching out and advertising in unexpected places can be beneficial, overexposure can desensitize consumers and cause your material to drop into the category of background noise. Be sure each piece of your advertising plan, be it print or online, holds value to your customers and isn’t just another area for you to plant your logo.

Cultivate a Culture

Chances are if a potential customer forms an opinion of your establishment based on your advertising they’re going to expect certain things from you. Be it a unique environment, out-of-the-ordinary food offerings, or unexpected personal touches your message says a lot about your restaurant. It’s important to not only provide a positive message but you need to back it up with a reality. Fortunately, building personal relationships and an inviting atmosphere is
an advantage independent restaurant have over large chains.

Granted, cultivating and maintaining a culture that your customers find appealing takes work. As mentioned, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate into a realized restaurant concept. From outside advertising to the organization and font of your menu, the style of furniture you use, and the friendly faces customers see first, your marketing campaign should exemplify every aspect of how you want to be viewed by the public.

Don’t get discouraged that your restaurant doesn’t have a catchy baby back ribs jingle playing on television or that you don’t have a burger toting mascot to promote your specials. What successful advertising really boils down to is creating a desirable image and convincing your customers to buy into that image. If you’ve got all the right pieces in place you’ll be surprised how effectively you can beat out the local chain competition. You don’t need expensive gimmicks or a store every few blocks to entice potential customers. All you need is a smart marketing campaign, reliable people, and a determination to provide something other than a paint-by-numbers eatery.

Andrew Call provides blog insights regarding restaurant management and marketing at The Back Burner, which is written by the employees of Tundra Specialties, a company specializing in restaurant supply, parts, and a wide variety of food service equipment and sundries.