It's another industry myth worth busting.

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a new column from restaurant expert Monte Silva. More on the series can be found here. The first story, on Why Underpaying Restaurant Employees is a Recipe for Disaster, is here.

Restaurant marketing has evolved multiple times over the last two decades. The old model of restaurant marketing was to invest a lot of money in magazines, radio, or television ads. Many bought billboards and bus stop benches. Needless to say, this was very expensive and there was no way to track ROI (return on investment). This is where the False Belief that Marketing is expensive started.

Out of this marketing model sprang two less expensive ideas.

The first was Trade Marketing. This was used by restaurants to still buy ads on the old model mediums. However, instead of cash they traded gift cards from the restaurant. This lowered the price of marketing and was fairer because both sides were getting market value rather than payment of actual costs. 

COME JOIN ME: Monte is one of the many speakers at this year’s NextGen Restaurant Summit. Reserve your spot today!

The second new model was Gorilla Marketing. I used this model often in my early career. Once, I went to a department store in a mall that was next to my restaurant and I asked the department store manager if I could set up a table and give away chips and salsa and balloons to all of the customers in the store during their big 18-hour sales. The department store paid for the full-page ad in the LA Times and it only cost me food cost on chips and salsa and the cost of balloons. 

It worked magically because as you all know, chips and salsa are addictive, and it left the shoppers wanting more. Also, when every kid throughout the rest of the mall saw the balloons and cried for one, their unsuspecting mothers didn’t know they were free at the department store. So, they took their kids to my restaurant. My sales increased by over 20 percent on the days I did this.

Another time when I was the general manager for the Boundry, I made a deal with the GM of Nashville BMW.

I was tired of seeing BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus, and Range Rovers pulling up to my friend’s restaurant next door. So, I offered to sell the GM of Nashville BMW $100 gift cards at $50 so that he could give everyone that bought a BMW the month of December one of my gift cards. It only cost me $30 in cost of goods for a $100 gift card so even if everyone came in and used the gift card I still made money. 

Suddenly, BMWs were pulling up to valet and coming into my restaurant instead of the high-end Italian restaurant next door.  And as they pulled up their friends in Lexus, Mercedes, and  Range Rovers watched them come in my restaurant and decided to check us out. My marketing actually cost me nothing but gained a lot of new business.

Email marketing campaigns, third-party delivery, and SMS text marketing have also been popular forms of marketing in the last 10 years. Out of these I prefer email and SMS marketing because they are cheaper than giving up to 30 percent of your sale away to the third-party delivery service. I also like offering something special just to those email and text addresses and then track the ROI on it.

In 2010, I learned that not only are restaurants a brand but so are the owners, managers, and chefs. I was fascinated by brands like Chip & Joanna Gaines and Duck Dynasty. 

I shifted my marketing from marketing the restaurant brand to marketing my brand. I became known on a national level through magazine articles, podcasts, and social mediums like LinkedIn. This was great because if I changed restaurants, I didn’t have to start marketing the new restaurant all over. 

Likewise, when I became a restaurant coach during the pandemic, I already had a brand that people knew and trusted and was able to build a client list without spending a dime.

Today, there are so many ways to market yourself or your restaurant. There is LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TiKTok, and Clubhouse. You no longer have to wait to be discovered by a TV shower food critic. You can put out your own content and develop a following that rivals TV ratings. You can be a guest on podcasts or host your own podcast.

My column here at FSR is proof that anyone can market themselves or their restaurant. Many readers are finding out that I’m an Executive Restaurant Coach just from this column And, in September, I’ll be speaking at FSR’s NextGen Restaurant Summit in Atlanta.

Next month, I’m beginning a new opportunity to host a weekly restaurant news show on Sysco Canada’s SVK Media Network. 

Each time I leverage my skill set, I gain momentum. As the momentum builds, it costs less to market my coaching and training company.

So, you see, the false belief that marketing is expensive just isn’t true. Go out on a limb and make a YouTube or Tik Tok video. Reach out to a magazine editor and offer to write a column. Learn to leverage yourself to a point, like I did, where you don’t have to spend unnecessary money on advertising.

Expert Takes, Feature, Leader Insights, Marketing & Promotions