Every bar or restaurant owner wants to attract new customers and keep them coming back. Traditional marketing methods are a great starting point. Here’s an overview of traditional tactics to consider.

Direct Mail

Mailing postcards or flyers with special offers creates awareness of your bar or restaurant and entices people to give it a try. You can target recipients by neighborhood, or you can rent mailing lists from list brokers. These allow you to segment prospects by income, age, whether they have children and other factors, so you can target only the customers that are most likely to visit your venue.

The Postal Service recently launched a program, “Every Door Direct Mail,” which is ideal for restaurants. For as little as 14.5 cents per piece, you can saturate a neighborhood (delivery is by zip code), without having to buy a list of names or addresses—and your mailer is delivered with the daily mail.

There are also direct mail services that send special offers for local businesses in mailers of coupons to nearby residents. As you get new customers, or as customers call your restaurant for delivery orders, gather their information so you can build your own direct mail list.


Advertising on radio, cable TV or in local newspapers can target both new and returning customers. To determine the best place to advertise, contact the ad sales departments of the publications or stations and ask for a media kit. Many publications and stations now post their media kits online. The ad sales rep should be able to tell you how well the outlet’s audience matches the demographics of your target market. For instance, if your bar targets young hipsters, you would probably want your ads to run on an “indie” radio or online radio station; if your restaurant caters to seniors or businesspeople, you might want your ads to run on news radio.

Study the ads your competitors run to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes the media outlet can help create your ad and provide advice. Develop a system for tracking ad results, such as including a code on each print ad that customers clip and bring in for a free appetizer, or asking radio listeners to mention a code to get two-for-one drinks. This way you can tell where new customers are coming from and which advertising venues are most effective.


Special events at your bar or restaurant create excitement that draws new customers and keeps regulars coming back. A restaurant could offer a special monthly dinner featuring dishes that aren’t on the regular menu. A gastropub could hold Monday night beer tastings highlighting different local breweries.

“Shop local” events, created by groups of merchants in a particular area, draw customers with a festive environment and special deals. Team with other bars and restaurants in your area to hold a “Taste of the City” or “Stroll and Shop” event where local restaurants and bars sell samples of food and drink. Since these events are usually held outside, you can still accommodate customers inside your bar or restaurant as well.

Be sure to publicize your event to your customer list, via signage or flyers in your establishment, using social media and to local media (see “Public relations” below). 

Public Relations

Local newspapers, magazines and bloggers are always looking for bars and restaurants to tell their readers about. Find out which reporters or reviewers cover restaurants or the nightlife scene in your area. Create a list of relevant media contacts, and send them press releases and emails to keep them posted about upcoming events, special celebrations and news at your bar or restaurant.


Are you trying to attract business customers, such as companies that might want catering services; salespeople looking for good eateries to take clients for a business lunch, dinner or night on the town; or companies seeking to rent out a banquet room for an upcoming special event? Visit local business networking events to seek out new prospects. Attend chamber of commerce meetings, leads clubs, or any event that attracts businesspeople who might patronize your establishment. Bring plenty of business cards and consider handing out cards good for a half-price meal, free drink or other special offer.


Referrals from regular customers are one of the biggest sources of new business for successful bars and restaurants. The best time to get referrals is when you know the customer is happy with your service, so along with the bill, present customers with a coupon encouraging referrals, such as two-for-one meals or drinks if customers bring a friend.

To maximize the effectiveness of these methods, think about ways to integrate them. For instance, host a “bring a friend” event at your restaurant (event), encouraging regular customers to bring someone who has never eaten there before (referral) to enjoy a special menu. You could use direct mail and print advertising to tell people about the event. Finally, you could publicize the event to local media (PR). The more tactics you incorporate, the more successful your efforts will be.



Networking, referrals and public relations are low-cost/no -cost methods of marketing.



Direct mail and advertising can cost more than newer marketing methods such as social media.


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About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and SmallBizDaily.com.

CEO, GrowBiz Media