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Marketing your business

Whatever the size of your business, from a chain of restaurants to a sandwich delivery service, a small café or an events catering company, marketing is vitally important to stand out from the competition and ensure you have a constant stream of new customers.

Marketing is a huge area, encompassing many different disciplines including direct mail, advertising, website presence, public relations and loyalty schemes. Here is a brief guide to marketing tactics.


It may seem obvious, but make sure you have the largest, clearest and cleverest sign you can.


Make sure people know you are open. Offer them a special offer such as 15% off an entrée the first week you’re open or something similar.


Hand out samples of your muffins, speciality bread or canapés to people in the street. Tell people about the outlet when they stop to grab a sample – invite them to visit the restaurant and give them a flyer. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay demonstrated this tactic successfully in the TV series “Kitchen Nightmares” where he helps restaurants in trouble. If you run a catering company, invite potential clients to your premises for a sampling.

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Ensure you have a simple website that shows people your menu, what kind of payment you accept, operating hours and so on. This is a great marketing tool. Stephen Thompson, chef/proprietor of 114 The Arch in Leeds, said his first booking came by email and he continues to receive bookings this way. Depending on your budget, you can download website templates from the Internet or hire a website designer to help you. You could set up a section on the website where customers can log in and write a review.


From time to time, it may be a good idea to advertise in your local paper especially if you have something special to promote such as Christmas menus, Mother’s Day menus and so on. Many areas now have websites, which are the online equivalent of a local paper, so this may be another option. Your local Council will have a website, so see whether you can be listed under “restaurants”, or whichever area is appropriate for you.


Pick up the phone and invite businesses to try out your catering business. Get a list of potential clients from and start dialling. Cold calling can be a tedious business, but sometimes it reaps rewards. Have something special to talk about like a new menu, chef or service.

Public Relations Stunts

Grab local media attention. If your restaurant serves the best roast chicken, get a couple of staff to dress up as chickens and walk around the area. Do whatever it takes to get noticed and hand out menus and cards. Invite a local celebrity or footballer to dine at your restaurant. You could also invite journalists from the local papers and magazines to visit your restaurant so they can write about it. If you want publicity, it’s really not that hard to think up or create a story that will, hopefully, interest your local media and result in your business profile being raised.

Customer database

Make sure you collect business cards. Invite people to put their cards into a bowl, which means they will be entered into a free prize draw to win, say, a bottle of wine or a meal. These details can be entered onto your database for future mail shots. Feedback cards are another idea. Again, offer a prize draw and ask for other personal details in addition to email address and mobile phone number, such as date of birth, favourite drink, dish or table. Email them a special coupon three weeks before their birthday.

Happy customersAttracting customers is your key business objective

Look after customers

Keep customers happy and they will keep coming back. What’s more they will tell their friends – word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools.

Direct Mail

Despite the age of email and the Internet, people still enjoy receiving something in the post. A well-presented flyer that is eye-catching and bold, with an incentive to visit your restaurant or use your service (10% off first order or similar) can work wonders.

Organisations such as Thomson Directories can supply names and addresses of local advertisers, who may well want to visit your establishment, on a disk or labels in return for a small fee. Royal Mail also offers a bulk mailing service.

Loyalty Programmes

Look after existing customers and make sure they keep coming back. Offer them something for free after they’ve bought ten items at your restaurant or a discount if they use your catering company a second or third time. Restaurants can give out vouchers to encourage repeat custom, which can be useful on quiet nights.


Hold wine tastings, cookery demonstrations, themed nights and other fun events to give customers a reason to come to your venue at a time when business is usually slow. Catering businesses can hold events like this so that potential customers can see first-hand the type of food the company serves. These events can also be used to attract press coverage – especially if a local celebrity, the local Mayor, MP or footballer can be persuaded to attend.


Once you have your customer database up and running, it’s a good idea to send customers regular e-newsletters so they can be kept up to date with new developments. Be mindful about privacy and always include “unsubscribe instructions” in case customers don’t want to receive your newsletter. Include light items such as new staff, the chef’s tips on cooking pasta and so on rather than making it completely ‘hard sell’ – although some details about new promotions and menus will be useful. A picture tells a thousand words so do include a couple in the newsletter.


Join one or two local networking groups in your area – especially if you are a new business. The local Chamber of Commerce may be useful or there are groups such as Business Networking International that operate once a week at breakfast meetings. There, you have 60 seconds, or similar, to talk about your business and at the end of the meeting, businesses give each other referrals. Ask if you can attend your local chapter’s Visitors’ Day to see if it would work for you.Social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook allow subscribers to form an online community – you could set up a page and invite people who eat or drink at your outlet to join in – some venues are already doing this.

Further information
Chartered Institute of Marketing
Chartered Institute of Public Relations

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