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The challenges never end for restaurant owners. The Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) is declining, with current trends and expectations for the future pulling it down. When the National Restaurant Association looked deeper into the numbers, both store sales and customer traffic showed a net decline.

But being a restaurateur is a calling, a passion. It’s time to use that passion and commitment to get creative about your marketing.

Enter guerilla marketing.

When you need to shake things up, rolling out a guerilla marketing campaign can be the spark. Guerilla marketing is generally defined as fun, funny rule-breaking, attention-demanding tactics that ­­– ideally – take more creativity than money to execute.

Low to no cost is usually considered a necessary part of a guerilla marketing campaign. It doesn’t have to be if you have some funds to invest. The marker is really that the return on the guerilla campaign far outpaces whatever you do spend.

That’s because successful guerilla marketing opens up three distinct streams of potential customers and revenue. First, you have the people who directly engage with your guerilla marketing. When you have an effective campaign, this group of people can’t help but mention it to others. You already know the power of word of mouth marketing, especially for restaurants. A strong guerilla campaign creates a roving band of ambassadors for your restaurant.

Last, you can get your restaurant some free press. You don’t need national coverage to have press that brings in new diners and reconnects you with past regulars. You don’t have to leave press coverage to chance. If you have some local blogger and reporter contacts, share with them photos or information about what you’re doing.

So how do you get started? Great question.


The central characteristic of a guerilla campaign itself is that it strikes a strong, positive, emotional response. So anything that might entertain, surprise, shock (in a good way), laugh marks itself as a good potential tactic.

A second potential emotional target that’s effective for restaurant guerilla marketing is nostalgia. The emotional response could still be high energy – like hanging a disco ball and having a 70s night. But it could also be more subdued, and even make people nostalgic for something they never got to experience. Hire some jitterbug dancers and put up USO posters for Veteran’s Day.

Which brings me to the second key point to keep in mind when brainstorming a campaign – it has to be consistent with your brand and your personas.

By definition, guerilla campaigns come at things a bit sideways. You still want to keep your specific personas and brand in mind, but you want to come up with new ways to think about, express, and connect with them. So dress up nights may not work for your restaurant. That’s fine.

If your place already has a distinct feel, you can focus on other elements. You can build a guerilla campaign based on anything from your overall brand down to a specific menu item. Is there an unorthodox way to promote your signature dish? Are your Wednesday night bookings always in the tank? Have you lost your high dollar, multi-course, bottle of wine, date night couples?

So now I’ll share the third important point about putting together a guerilla campaign – you still need to stick to some marketing basics. That means have a defined purpose for the campaign; know what you’re trying to achieve. Just saying, “oh, that’s funny,” and rolling it out isn’t going to get you far.

Understand who you want to attract, why the tactic or offer will appeal to them, and what results you hope to see. In fact, this is where you should start to provide a foundation for the brainstorming that comes next.


  1. Create a unique “pop-up” drink or dish

You can tie this to a unique location or do it within your restaurant. If you have slow periods at the restaurant you’re trying to fill, use social media to promote a pop-up dish or drink that’s only available for a few hours. Make it fantastic and memorable.

If you want to use this tactic to expand your customer base to new places, make it an actual physical pop-up shop. Clearly you can’t serve your entire menu. Pick a killer street app or drink and pick your spot. If you want, tie this tactic with trick #2.

  1. Show up at a popular event

A local festival or outside the park at a big game – any event that also attracts your target market. Link your activity to whatever the event is. This is a subset of guerilla marketing called “ambush marketing.” Pringles perfected the ambush marketing campaign by showing up at Wimbledon handing out free Pringles with a note on their familiar tubular packaging explaining that these were not tennis balls.

Now that takes some money. You can do something similar with a smaller budget by having special cups or napkins printed up with a slogan or graphic that finds a funny, memorable way to connect your restaurant with the event.

  1. Street/Wall projection

Graffiti is always the go-to idea for guerilla marketing tactics. It’s cheap and impermanent, which lets you push the edges a bit. It’s not a bad thought. There are potential legal issues, but you can bake the vandalism fine into your budget if you’re content to risk it. Although you may not want to risk it, or graffiti might not fit your brand.

If you want to avoid legal issues and get a bit more creative, you can use a light projection onto the street or against a wall. Think the Batman logo blazoned across the sky. You can rent a projector.

Because a light projection is even less permanent than graffiti, you can build some suspense. Show up in neighborhoods or places that appeal to your personas. Start with something mysterious. Don’t out yourself right away. See if you can get some buzz going on local blogs that these projections are all about.

  1. Snapchat story or Instagram video

Create webisodes about life at your restaurant and post them on Snapchat and/or Instagram, depending on where your personas hangout. No video has to be more than 8 seconds long. They can be real peeks behind the curtain or featuring regular customers who agree to participate. Or you can script a silly story.

When you make it a regular feature or webisode series, you give people a reason to continue to search out, consume, and share your content. Use your other social media profiles to promote it, and ask staff to do the same.

  1. Have signs up at restaurant that encourage current customers to share

There are a couple different ways you can go with this one. One is to have a really clever sign up somewhere that people will naturally share via social media.

If it suits your restaurant’s décor, you can have fun, slick signs up elsewhere that promote a branded hashtag and asks patrons to share their best food porn from your place. This sort of user-generated content not only gets your customers to promote your restaurant, but creates a steady stream of content you can promote on your social media profiles as well.

  1. Roll out the performance art

Movement and action always attract attention. I suggested some jitterbug dancers earlier on. If you have them in your patio area or front sidewalk, that will attract attention.

Are you a bit more upscale? Hire a music student violinist to perform. Make the food the performance art.

The key is action. Action gets attention.

  1. Stickers, posters or pins

You have a few options here as well. You can put up stickers and posters around town that are more art than ad. Striking or funny images that grab attention, with your restaurant included. It can be a crazy or beautiful take on your logo, or just a clever image that’s relevant to your brand.

For some ideas on how to look at your logo in a new way, think of it like the popularity of throwback jerseys worn by professional teams, or the Game of Throning of everything. It’s just a new way – yet still relevant – of presenting your restaurant logo or branding.

Last, you can ask people to contribute their own designs. Put out the idea and see how creative people get. You can work this tactic along with tip #8.

  1. Run a contest

This isn’t the old “drop a business card in a bowl for a free lunch” type contest. Give it a bit more thought than that. Draw on tip #5 and run a contest for the best customer food porn. Don’t just give them a free meal, make the reward that you’ll feature their image in a new ad or specialty menu.

Take a page from Hell’s Kitchen and run an in-restaurant contest where blindfolded people have to taste and identify ingredients or dishes. Make sure you video any in-restaurant contests so you can execute tip #4 as well.

  1. Treasure hunt

A treasure hunt around town takes some time, thought, and planning. If you come up with an intriguing premise for the hunt, it can be worth the effort. You post clues online clues to hidden items placed throughout your city. Pick items and locations that have some meaning to your restaurant, brand, and treasure hunt premise.

You don’t need to limit the treasure hunt to a single winner. You can have different ways to win different prizes. Prizes could have coupon codes, any swag you already produce for your restaurant, or entrée to a more exclusive level of treasure hunt play.

  1. Stay on top of your social media so you can find that great customer story to work

Monitor social media, not just your mentions or branded hashtags, to find the great customer stories you can tap into. Or to uncover new trends or interests, or whatever is buzzing right now. You can use the information you find either as inspiration for one of the guerilla marketing tips here, or to take you in a direction you never would have thought of.

Here’s a list of great tools you can use to find out what’s happening on social media in your geographic area. Uncover user generated content that might not be hashtagged, or find out what event is gaining a lot traction that you can ambush.

Guerilla marketing always costs in sweat equity, so put in the investment here to find out what sort of guerilla tactic is going to work for your market.

The best guerilla marketing campaigns give people a reason to talk about you in a good way. They inspire people to share online content about whatever you’re doing or roping them in to do.

They can cost very little or you can invest a lot. Either way, the creativity, lasting impression, and marketing return on an effective guerilla marketing campaign can make it the most memorable, successful marketing effort you roll out. United Capital Source can help finance your marketing initiatives. Get all the information on business loans for restaurants and hospitality here!

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