How Not to Advertise Your Restaurant – 10 Ways

Running a restaurant is expensive. Advertising is expensive. With steep costs and tricky metrics, I tend to assume that restaurateurs want to make the most of their limited advertising budgets. However, since I see the same mistakes over and over, I have to figure that restaurateurs prefer to spend their time meditating in the peace and quiet of their empty restaurants. Therefore, without further ado, I present you with ten tips you can follow to NOT advertise your restaurant. 

1. Alienate your customers

Who wants to appeal to a wide range of customers? It’s way better to just discriminate against folks who want to spend their hard-earned money on your food and drinks. To scare away the customers you do have, follow Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad playbook. Simply attack a whole group of people who are known to spend a lot of money on food and drinks (ahem, hipsters), and make sure they never come back. If you can, insult them and their facial hair. That’s called “extreme market segmentation.”

2. Keep new menu items and deals a secret

So you spent a lot of time creating new, enticing menus? You did market research to figure out what your customers want to order? Whatever. Your new menu items are so delicious that you should just keep them to yourself. To make the least of your advertising budget, make sure you don’t highlight your new specials or food pairings—and make sure those tricky servers of yours don’t upsell the new items either.

3. Skip building a website

Sure, you could design a restaurant website so that potential customers can look up your hours, events, and menu items… but that’s boring. It’s waaay better to be a puzzle and keep your customers guessing. The only surprise you won’t encounter is lost profits. You will have seen that coming.

4. Forget about social media

Social media, smoshal media. (That sounded a lot better in my mind.) Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can connect you directly with your customers, but that’s way more trouble than it’s worth. After all, who wants to talk to them anyway? All they do is give helpful advice and “tag” you when they take pictures of your beautiful food. Sheesh. It would be so much better if those pesky customers ate their meals somewhere else.

5. Refuse to give samples

Giving away food for free is a dumb idea. I mean, your business model is based on selling food, right? There might be some psycho-babble about how giving away free samples makes people feel like they should be nice and buy something, but whatever. Who cares? You made your food to make money off of it, so if they want to sample something, they should pay for it.

6. Ignore Yelp

It sucks when people honestly review your site online and provide you with free, semi-anonymous feedback. Addressing guest concerns or considering their suggestions takes up so much time that it’s not even worth it. Plus, it’s not like anyone looks at those sites. It doesn’t matter what diners think—your restaurant is all about you.

7. Cover up your windows all the time

Looking like a condemned restaurant is awesome. I mean, that’s what you really wanted when you started this business, right?

—Okay, seriously, I have to break character for a second here. I actually see this all the time and it confuses the heck out of me. Why would you black out your windows if your restaurant is fully functioning? Unless your restaurant clientele observes religious restrictions that forbid outsiders from seeing them as they eat, there is no reason for your restaurant to look like it’s been banned by the health department. Stop doing that. Please. (Now back into character.)

8. Snub community activities

Community-building activities like pancake breakfasts, outreach programs, and school fundraisers are relatively low cost and high exposure, and they also make you look like a rockstar to your potential customers. Lame. Those things take up too much time, and it’s not like thousands of people show up to them or anything.

9. Work in isolation

You’re a lone wolf. You’re doing your own thing. I get that. There may be a bunch of apartments, hospitals, hotels, or laundromats near your restaurant, but building a partnership with these establishments in order to sell more food is way too much effort. Customers = bleh.

10. Understock

Truly imaginative chefs actually, er, imagine their menu items. It’s only those cut-and-dried, boring, money-making restaurants that keep the ingredients they need in stock at all times. C’mon, we all know that the best part of your servers’ job is when they get to tell people that the entire menu is 86’d.


If you like wasting money on advertising that gets you nowhere, these tips should really help you achieve your goals. However, if you want to get the most bang for your buck, I’d suggest you make sure you have the opposite of these steps in place before your plan your next campaign.

What are the worst restaurant advertising mistakes you’ve seen? Share them on Twitter: @UncorkdMenus

Photo licensed by B Rosen