Are you getting ready to invite guests back into your dining room after a long Coronavirus closure? A few social media posts and an email might be enough to bring your regulars back in the door — but don’t miss the marketing opportunities of a full-blown restaurant reopening.

This is a chance to generate enthusiasm among your fans as well as to invite new people to come check out your restaurant. Here are some ideas to spice up your restaurant marketing and get your name mentioned all over town.

Get the tools and guidance you need to find new customers and keep your regulars coming back for more.

Create an event

Building a full-fledged event around your “Grand Reopening” is a great way to generate publicity and attract new business. An event can be simple — just choose a date to call your “Grand Reopening” — but there are a lot of fun additions you should consider.

‌Entertainment

For example, you might hire a small band, string quartet, or harp player — whatever supports your ambiance — to provide live music. If you’re running an ethnic restaurant, bring in traditional dancers and musicians for a full show.

‌Free samples

Offer bite-size free samples of your appetizers or desserts, either at a “tasting table” or by having servers periodically stroll around with trays of food.

‌Event-only items

Offer limited-edition cocktails or appetizers that will only be available at this event (or for the first week after your restaurant reopening).

‌Specials

Create drink specials, appetizer discounts, prix fixe menus, and other specials. You may want to create a menu insert for your event with a list of your limited-edition items and specials.

Amazon red carpet backdrop for a selfie station
Red carpet backdrops, like this one from Amazon, are the foundation of a fun selfie station.

Selfie station

Hire a local photo booth operator or ask an Instagram aficionado to help you create a selfie station. This will encourage your guests to mention or tag you on social media. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up a tripod with a camera clip to hold phones.
  • Put up a cute backdrop, or create a red-carpet area. 
  • Make sure the lighting is flattering.
  • Offer a selection of fun props related to your brand (think sombreros for a Mexican restaurant, bellydance hip scarves for Mediterranean food, fishing poles for a seafood restaurant).
  • Make cute signs — like “Chubby yet sexy” or “I brake for oysters” — that people can hold up for their photos. Be sure your logo is prominent on the signs.

Prize drawings

Hand out tickets to everyone as they enter and hold hourly drawings for door prizes. Here are some ideas:

  • A bottle of wine
  • A free cocktail
  • Gift certificate for a future dinner
  • One night of personal chef service from your chef
  • An item related to your menu (locally sourced cheeses that you serve, bottled sauces you offer, etc)
  • Cultural items related to your cuisine (textiles, dance classes, music CDs, etc.)
  • A locally-sourced gift basket

Consider a new menu item

Whether you choose to tie it in with an event or not, your restaurant reopening is the perfect time to introduce a new menu item you’ve been considering.

This will give your regulars a reason to hurry back, and you’ll have the opportunity to include mouthwatering food photography with all your outreach materials. Including a new menu item might help you get attention from local restaurant media in a market crowded with competitors who are also opening back up.

Update your website

You should definitely update your website to reflect your restaurant reopening. And if you’re hosting an event, create a landing page on your site with a prominent link from — and to — your home page, menu page, and other popular pages on your site.

Include details about the event, any changes in menu items or hours, and a photo gallery of your restaurant and popular dishes. You can use this page for all your promotions about the reopening.

If you won’t be hosting an event, you may not want to create a separate page. In that case, be sure to highlight the reopening information in a box at the top of each page.

While you’re visiting your site, check that the hours and other details are up to date on all your pages. Now is a good time to freshen up your website with some new images of menu items, updated images and bios of your employees, and blog posts about getting ready to reopen.

If your website is outdated and you’re afraid you don’t have time to get it done before your reopening, don’t worry, the designers at Constant Contact can build your website for you, just like they did for Sweet Tomatoes Pizza!

Update your listings

If your restaurant is on any of the listing sites — and it should be — make sure to update your listing to show your new hours, menu, and other pertinent information. It’s also a good idea to upload fresh new images of menu items and your restaurant — especially if you’ve done any updating during the closure.

Promote your restaurant reopening

Now that you know what you’re going to do for your reopening and you’ve updated your menu and your website, it’s time to start promoting your reopening.

Be social about it

Only a handful of your social media followers are probably seeing any single post, so remember to post many times in the weeks leading up to your reopening event to create enthusiasm about it.

Even if you’re not dressing up your reopening into a full-fledged party, it’s a good idea to create a Facebook event for your reopening night. You’ll be able to invite all your contacts individually, which may reach a lot of people who don’t check their feeds regularly and wouldn’t see your posts.

Share the event page nearly every day on your feed, and consider promoting it with paid ads using Facebook’s “Boost an event” feature.

Create multiple posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest as well. Use food and ambiance images and include a link to the event page of your website — or your homepage if you’re not creating an event page.

For your restaurant’s Instagram posts, create some simple graphics in Canva with the restaurant reopening details. Again, share multiple times using local hashtags to make sure you reach your full audience.

Invite your email list

Whether you choose to frame your restaurant reopening as an event or not, be sure to let your restaurant email subscribers know what’s happening.

If you use Constant Contact email marketing, you can sit down one time and write an automated series of emails to send in the days leading up to the reopening.

Include local media

Media folks, like local magazine editors and newspaper stringers, often complain about spending all their time behind a desk writing about fun things to do in the city. They love being invited to events.

Compile a list of people who’ve written about your restaurant in the past for local newspapers, magazines, and websites. You might want to choose a competing restaurant that you consider similar to your own and see who has given them positive coverage as well.

Send them each a personalized invitation to your reopening, either by email or snail mail. Feel free to include a little perk, like a certificate for a free dessert, cocktail, or even an entire meal.

Involve the influencers

Have you created any relationships with social media influencers yet? Influencer marketing is a very hot trend and if a popular local influencer posts about your restaurant, you could have dozens of new followers within minutes, and new faces in your restaurant the next day.

People with tens of thousands of followers usually get paid to mention brands in their posts, but smaller, up-and-coming influencers might still be excited to get a little free food and special treatment.

To find them, look up local foodie hashtags and see who is posting about them. Choose a few people who have between 3k and 8k followers (depending on the size of your city) and invite them for a free dinner.

Tell them that you noticed them as up-and-coming influencers, and you’d love to find out if they might get excited enough about your food to create a post or two.

Post on Google My Business

If you’re not already aware of Google My Business (GMB), now is the time to learn. GMB is a free tool from Google that gives you some control over how your restaurant appears in maps and other local listings.

GMB also lets you share images, updates, and posts. Create several posts about your upcoming restaurant reopening and share them in the weeks leading up to the big day.

Promote your restaurant reopening on Yelp

screenshot of creating an event on Yelp
Just click the “Create an Event” button in the Yelp event area to add your listing.

Did you know that you can create a free event listing on Yelp? Go to the events area, click on “Create an Event,” and fill in the details about your reopening.

Yelpers are often very serious restaurant patrons, and a Yelp event listing is a great way to reach them.

Submit calendar listings

What publications and websites do you use to find local events? Make a list, and ask a few of your friends or employees where they look as well. The website for each company should have contact information for the calendar editor — be sure to include them when you send press releases.

Send out press releases

These days, press releases are usually emails, but they still follow a standard format.

At the top, write:

  • PRESS RELEASE
  • For Immediate Release
  • Date: [date]
  • CONTACT: (your name, e-mail, phone number)

Then very briefly summarize the details of your event: 

  • Event title:
  • Date:
  • Hours: 
  • Location:
  • Brief one-paragraph description

‌Make it very easy for a busy writer to find the who, what, when, where, and why of your event at the top.

Below that, you can write out a longer description of what you have planned and why it’s newsworthy. Limit yourself to four or five short paragraphs with space in-between to make your email look readable — a wall of text can be overwhelming.

Including a couple of high-quality images with your release will boost your chances of getting an editor’s attention.

Invest in advertising

All of the above ideas are free, or very low cost. But if you have a little money to invest, you can promote your event even further with paid restaurant advertising.

Constant Contact has tools to help you create ads for Google and social media with a few simple clicks. You might also want to consider offline advertising, like distributing neighborhood flyers or buying newspaper or radio ads.

A full-fledged marketing campaign for your restaurant reopening

Now you know how to frame your reopening as an event and create an entire marketing campaign surrounding it. Broadcasting your restaurant reopening over social media, by email, through influencer marketing, and on local media will give you great coverage and attract lots of new patrons to come in and experience your menu and ambiance. So, go ahead, pick a date, and make your reopening one to remember.