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It’s quite possible that the last time you made a budget for your restaurant was when you put together your original restaurant business plan.

Once you actually became a restaurant owner, it likely became more challenging to go back and revisit all those charts and graphs. A budget doesn’t have to be chiseled in stone, it should be something you periodically review to make sure it’s still realistic and working for you.

If you haven’t done it in awhile, it’s time to review your restaurant budget in three key steps.

1- Evaluate your current reality.

One of the trickiest line items to calculate when it comes to restaurant expenses is your marketing budget. Beyond just setting a number—anyone can make an educated guess and make it work—you have to figure out what’s working (and what isn’t) along the way to really optimize your spending which is probably the hardest part.

We recommend that you look at what you’ve got going on right now. Pull all your numbers from past years, and also your original restaurant business plan.


One of the trickiest line items to calculate when it comes to restaurant expenses is your marketing budget.


  • What matches?
  • Where were you off in your estimations?
  • What did you overlook completely?
  • Do you notice any trends?

If you’ve gotten to the place where you’re ready to take a cold, hard look at your restaurant marketing report and boost what’s working and cut what isn’t you’re probably looking for a little guidance as along the way, right?

Not sure where to look? Here are some quick tips on how to evaluate your restaurant marketing budget.

Here is how to review your restaurant marketing budget to ensure that your marketing investment is working for you, not against you.

Step 1: Calculate the ROI

First things first. Before you can evaluate anything, you have to know that the ROI is for every line item in your marketing budget. The tough part is that there’s no clear-cut right and wrong way to calculate ROI, which is also the good thing about it. The key is defining what is important to you and what your marketing plan needs to achieve. As Rewards Network explains, “ROI can be seen different ways and depends on what the marketing expense is. As a restaurant owner, you will typically look at ROI as it relates to top line revenue and bottom line profits.”

Step 2: Auditing

Once you know what is important for you in terms of return on investment, the next step is an audit of your marketing plan to figure out what exactly is helping you achieve your goals and what might be falling flat. Restaurant Engine explains that your marketing audit needs to be “a comprehensive systematic, unbiased evaluation of your restaurant’s marketing.” That means that even if you love Facebook ads because they’re easy to run if they’re not producing a solid return on investment then you’ve got to seriously consider whether or not you should continue doing them, even if you love them.

Step 3: Replace the old with the new

Once you’ve sorted out what is working from what isn’t, the next step is to replace what isn’t working with either more of what is working or new strategies to try out and evaluate later. A few things to consider, according to Restaurant Engine, are:

  • Your website. Is it user-friendly enough? If that’s the space that’s lagging, you’ve got to optimize rather than eliminate because you simply can’t forgo a website these days.
  • Social media. Take a look at each one of the platforms you’re using individually. Try giving paid ads a try if you haven’t yet.
  • Email marketing. If you haven’t tried it yet, start. If you are doing email marketing but finding lackluster results, troubleshoot the issue and consider bringing in a pro to help.
  • Print media. We know what you’re thinking, but print media isn’t dead. It can actually be highly effective for reaching certain populations of potential customers depending on who you’re targeting.
  • Special events. Not all advertising is direct. Consider participating in food festivals and other events around your city that can help to get your name out there.

social media for restaurants

2- Plan your new reality.

Using this data, reevaluate your original restaurant budget and create one that is more realistic for this point in time. Work off your real data, and also include factors beyond your control such as increased labor costs and rising food costs.

Okay, so maybe you’ve realized that your marketing budget isn’t as big as you thought.

Restaurant marketing used to come with a hard cost and predetermined ad budgets. Because marketing has evolved, though, so have these budgets, which are shrinking as technology gets better and resources become more accessible.

Here are five ways to make the best of a small(er) restaurant budget.

1. Get yourself a good logo

Spend time with Photoshop or even free software like Gimp or Paint.net to come up with a mockup or even a final version of a logo you like that suits your brand. Create a high-resolution version for print. If you have a few bucks to spend, 99Designs.com is a design marketplace where you pitch your business to designers and tell them how much you’re willing to pay for a logo, and they come up with mockups for you to review. You only pay when they create one that you love.


Because marketing has evolved, though, so have these budgets, which are shrinking as technology gets better and resources become more accessible.


2. Create a loyalty program that’s measurable

Loyalty programs consisting of paper cards, stamps, and incentives are a thing of the past. You now have the ability to track the spending habits of customers, incentivize them to return, and personally thank them for doing business with you without spending an extra penny on payment processing.

3. Create take-home materials that remind them of you

You might be thinking of refrigerator magnets and matchbooks here, but even more, affordable take-home items are available. Consider Pinterest as a source of inspiration.

According to this post on WordofMouth.org, a thrift shop in the hot city of Austin, Texas, gives out fans to their customers, who, in turn, presumably walk around the city waving an ad for their business.

4. Update your website

This doesn’t need to be costly either.

5. Start to love social media

Don’t tweet or post to your customers without seeing what sticks. Come up with a plan for testing out new promotional strategies and headline formulas. Too busy? Assign an employee to be your new brand ambassador and ask them to take photos and videos around the store or behind the scenes in the kitchen.

Ask them to track which tweets and Facebook posts performed best by using tools like Hootsuite or Bitly. Then, choose your best ones and repeat. The best part? It’s all free.

Okay, okay. Restaurant social media. The elephant in the room. How are you supposed to use this “free” network when giants like McDonald’s are dumping thousands into their campaigns?

3 ways your local restaurant can beat McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut with social media.

Get the Guide to Effective Restaurant Marketing to find out how the best restaurants market themselves and for tips on creating your own successful marketing strategy.

Download Now

Social media has quickly become one of the easiest ways for people to get in touch with each other; in fact, 72% of the entire U.S. population is on social media in some way, shape, or form. Social media is the cheapest way to build your restaurant’s brand, and conveniently, most of your current and future guests are using it daily.

Your restaurant is probably already on social media: 9 out of 10 restaurants are these days. Social media is no longer a trend, but a necessity for independently run restaurants, as well as a huge marketing opportunity.

There are 3 restaurant brands that stand out from the rest when it comes to having a strong online presence:

  1. McDonald’s
  2. KFC
  3. Pizza Hut


Social media is the cheapest way to build your restaurant’s brand, and conveniently, most of your current and future guests are using it daily.


But, you don’t have to fear these brands. You can learn from them! Here’s what we learned from these big brands, and what your restaurant can do TODAY do to improve your social media plan.

1- Be social (it’s social media, after all!)

You’ve probably heard the word “engagement” thrown around when people start bringing up social media. You know better than anyone how to stay engaging in a conversation. Think about just how you talk to your most loyal guests.

guest taking photo of food for instagram

Social media is basically the same thing, instead of using your mouth and body, and talking to another person, you are typing and using a computer. Just keep that same idea in your mind when you are scrolling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Although these big brands produce tons of content each and every day to keep their social networks updated. But the best brands, no matter how big produce content that their fans truly value. Think about who is eating at your restaurant? What do they like? What do they think is funny? And most importantly, what are they going to share?

2- Grow with your community

Where are you located? What is the culture like there? The culture of a geographic area is awesome, because everyone can relate to it, and you can connect with your fans on a very personal level. This is your advantage to these big brands, who have a national audience. Create meaningful experiences for your fans with content that is relevant and meaningful. Check out what is going on locally, and promote it, then these groups with talking back to you on social, and possibly even recommend you!

Great ideas. Show me an example of what my restaurant can do right now.

It’s all about your guests.

Your guests are the reason you get to do what you love every day. What do they want? Try posting something like this, and allow them to comment their ideas.

Nonetheless, despite these great ideas and inspiration from big brands, restaurant social media can feel a bit, well, overwhelming. With so many networks and so little time, where do you start, budget aside?

tipped money management

As a restaurant owner it’s easy to be pressured into a big, expensive advertising campaign, but if your budget is already tight, then you’re probably looking for more cost-effective means.

Here are four tips for optimizing your marketing budget on social media.

  1. Facebook Ads

Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world with over 500 million users, each of whom on average spends 1 hour daily on Facebook. Because your potential customers have shared many personal details about themselves in their profiles, Facebook allows you to target specific audiences with your advertisements.

For instance, you can have your advertisement shown only to people within 10 miles of a certain zip code and have listed “fine dining” as an interest. Facebook does advertising rates per click, which makes marketing a restaurant easy and affordable if you are on a tight advertising budget.

  1. Twitter Specials

Twitter allows users to send (“tweet”) messages up to 140 characters to their friends (“followers”) who often receive these tweets on their mobile devices. Many entrepreneurs still do not understand Twitter, but the savvy ones have already found proven ways to increase business using it.

  1. Foursquare Loyalty Specials

Foursquare allows users to broadcast their location when visiting a business (“checking in”) to other friends on the network. This allows people to more easily find their friends or be found by others while out on the town.

  1. Google Business Listings

Most customers are going to Google you before they make contact, which means your appearance on their search engine is the first impression for many customers. You may not be able to control which reviews show up from Yelp or CitySearch in the listings, but with Google Business you can at least claim your business and show up above the third-party listings. Google Business allows you to register your company, provide photos, post business hours, and link to your website.

restaurant guests dining

Businesses listed on Google Places have 37% better sales on average than unlisted businesses. Best of all, registering your business is entirely free. Make sure your Web presence on Google is a strong one!

3- Live your new reality.

Finally, devise a system to help you stay on budget and on track. Set up a schedule to review how you are doing with your restaurant budget, to make sure you’re sticking to it. Rely on your restaurant POS software to guide you. Maybe monthly works for you, or even quarterly. If number crunching doesn’t come naturally to you, check out some apps you can put right on your phone to help you stay on track.


Finally, devise a system to help you stay on budget and on track. Set up a schedule to review how you are doing with your restaurant budget, to make sure you’re sticking to it. Rely on your restaurant POS software to guide you.


When working on your new budget keep in mind these often overlooked expenses.

  1. Dues and fees: Do you belong to a neighborhood association? Do any of your credit cards or banks charge you fees? Does your rent have additional costs associated with garbage collection or common area maintenance? These can add up quickly if you forget to include them.
  2. Office supplies: Your attention may be focused on the kitchen and the dining room, but you’ll also have expenses for the work that makes it all happen. This can include your laptop and phone, as well as the WiFi to keep them running. You also have hosting fees associated with your website and possibly fees associated with your newsletter service. Don’t forget all those other boring things like printer ink, pens, and paper.
  3. Social Media: I know you’re thinking that the benefit of social media is that it’s free to sign up and use, right? But that is exactly why a lot of restaurateurs don’t account for the hidden costs that go into successful social media use. The biggest one is someone’s time who has the skills to effectively use social media. Also, more and more social media platforms are making it challenging for businesses to operate solely without using some of their paid features, so budget for some ads, sponsored content, and post boosts.
  4. The unexpected: No matter how well you plan, there are always going to be surprise expenses along the way. They could be something tangible like a fridge breaking and be needing a fast repair or replacement, or something less tangible like a weekend blizzard with a parking ban. Always keep a chunk of money set aside for surprises, and be sure to replenish that fund when you eventually use it.

An accurate restaurant budget that you can stick to takes a lot of pressure off of you when you think about how to start a restaurant, but it also is a long-term necessity. With a restaurant budget in place, now you’re free to focus on the important things, like delivering delicious food with excellent restaurant customer service.

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In a perfect world, Theresa would spend her days reading good books and writing all the time... and she'd own all the shoes her heart desired. When she's not on the hunt for shoes, you can find this Rhode Island transplant on the hunt for food that comes close to "Long Island". Her favorite? Caffe Dolce Vita in Providence's historic Federal Hill.
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