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5 Ways Small Restaurants Can Bring in the Best Customers

Smaller eateries should develop strategies to ensure they stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Small restaurants can be cornerstones of the communities they serve, but it can be challenging for them to compete with bigger restaurants with larger marketing budgets. Yet with a few simple strategies, small restaurants can ensure they stand out in a crowded marketplace.  

Here are some ways small restaurant owners can make a little go a long way to maximize their marketing impact.

  1. Become Social Media Savvy 

Social media can be a cost-efficient marketing tool to reach and understand current and new customers. Social media is predicted to become an even bigger part of the overall dining experience in the future. Industry experts surveyed for the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry 2030 report predict that social media marketing will get more personal and localized in the restaurant of the future as the industry strives to deliver a customized experience at every touchpoint. 

For example, restaurants can consider using frequent-diner databases and loyalty programs for social media advertising and promotion.

  1. Create a Welcoming Environment Down to the Payment Choice 

Customers want to feel welcomed and enjoy their experience from start to finish. When it comes time to pay, one simple way to maximize customer spending potential is by making it clear that they can pay however they want to. From store decals to menu holders and check presenters, in-store signage helps all customers know they are welcome in your restaurant and can help drive sales. 

For example, according to a recent American Express survey, 54 percent of consumers surveyed report they're more likely to make a purchase when they see that their payment method is accepted on the storefront1. American Express makes it easy for merchants by providing complimentary signs and supplies.

  1. Appeal to Millennial Customers 

It has been reported that Millennials crave experiences over material goods, which presents small restaurants a unique opportunity to transform meals into dining experiences. Consider themed nights, cooking classes, invitations into the kitchen, outings to local farms or one-on-ones with the chef. 

  1. Capitalize on Tourism 

No matter where a business is based, restaurant leaders shouldn’t discount tourists and out-of-towners. Tourists are an especially important market for restaurants, as, about one in every four restaurant industry sales dollars is related to tourism, according to National Restaurant Association research. In addition to making a fine-dining experience as seamless as possible, the National Restaurant Association suggests cultivating community ambassadors for word-of-mouth recommendations to help keep visiting customers coming through the door. 

“One way to spread word-of-mouth recommendations is by inviting local ride-share and taxi drivers and tour guides in for a meal since they’re the ones getting asked most often where to eat,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge at National Restaurant Association. “When you get out-of-towners through your doors, you can capture new customers and they’ll recommend you, near and far.”

  1. Use Your Space in a New Way 

It’s not all just about getting customers in the door—restaurants must also focus on maximizing spending once customers are there and on bringing them back. Sometimes offering customers a new experience can go a long way, and it doesn’t necessarily require a big budget. Consider reimagining a portion of your space for customers to host private parties. 

For example, according to a recent study, American Express Card Members who had made purchases at restaurants in the prior three months are 70 percent more likely than U.S. Non-Card Members to report they have held a private party.

Whether it’s going the extra mile with service or offering customers a special space or experience, experimenting with new marketing techniques to reach valuable customers can help grow a restaurant. For more information on accepting American Express, visit the company’s website.


1Source: American Express commissioned internet panel survey conducted in December 2018 based on purchases made in the 3 months prior to the survey. “Consumers surveyed” consists of survey respondents who often look on the storefront to see whether or not their payment method is accepted when making purchases and either (1) reported that they have an American Express Card and used that card to make purchases in the prior 3 months; or (2) reported that they do not have an American Express Card and used Visa, MasterCard, Discover, debit cards, cash, check, direct transfer, or payment services to make purchases in the prior 3 months. Disclaimer: The trademarks used herein are the property of their respective owners.