Crafting novel menu additions—whether a daily dinner special or weekly lunch item—takes time and energy, but it’s a great way to gauge the success of a dish without having to commit to it full-time. But what are the best ways to entice guests to order a limited edition dish?
Restaurant owners weigh in with their four tried and true marketing strategies for successfully promoting a menu special. If you’re looking for restaurant menu ideas, and you’re not incorporating these practices, you’re giving away revenue.
1. Classic Chalkboard
For owner DJ Naylor of Celtic Crossing, an Irish restaurant and pub in Memphis, Tennessee, few strategies can get passersby into a restaurant quicker than a well-placed chalkboard with tempting specials.
“In our experience, we have found placing a chalkboard at the entrance with details of the new menu item written on it really makes an impact,” says Naylor. “Having the information clearly visible to guests when they walk in is imperative. If they are aware of the new menu item prior to looking at the menu, you have the chance to sell them on the dish before they set their mind (and tastebuds) on something else.”
Chalkboard marketing for restaurants doesn’t just have to be a list of specials. Let the budding artist on your team them take charge of the board and make it beautiful. Unleash your wit. Especially funny or provocative boards may even make it onto the internet, extending your brand (and menu specials) even further.
Placing a chalkboard at the entrance with details of the new menu item written on it really makes an impact.
Another benefit to inexpensive and easily edited signage: If you’re running frequent specials, it’s easier for your staff to keep the specials updated so you don’t run the risk of disappointing guests by having to tell them that, sorry, that baked stuffed lobster was actually last week’s special.
2. Knowledgeable Wait Staff
If well-placed, easy to read signage is step one for promoting a special, then your wait staff is your second line of attack.
“First and foremost, train and inspire your staff about the new menu item,” says Sally Srok, previously of the Family Coppola, who managed a resort, two wineries and four restaurants. “Have them taste it, smell it, touch it and experience it. Invite them to get involved with the preparation. When they can speak from the heart to their customers about the new item, the customers won’t be able to resist their recommendation.”
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Peter Lopez, director of operations at Shooters Waterfront in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, agrees.
“Promoting a new menu item starts internally first,” he says. “When promoting a new menu item, you have to sweep your culinary and sales team off their feet first. Your culinary team has to prepare and cook the new menu item with love.”
3. Social Media
You can describe the special all you want on chalkboards, and have your staff do an amazing job at selling it, but few things beat a beautiful picture of the dish.
“Personally, I think social media is the best way to get the word out about a new menu item, especially when you get a great photo of the dish you created up. I find that people really respond to it,” says Mike Haggerty, executive chef of Sea Salt Nashville, the Music City’s newest French-inspired seafood restaurant.
His restaurant gets huge responses from customers who see Sea Salt’s daily specials posted on Instagram, and he recommends Instagram especially to a new restaurateur looking to get the word out there.
“Food pictures do really great, and they call someone in to come try them out,” says Haggerty. “We also have rotating seasonal menus here at Sea Salt Nashville, which we typically post on Facebook when they come out. It is a great way to get someone thinking about dinner when they are scrolling through their feed during lunch hour.
4. Social Influencers
Social media can be a solo mission, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are looking to boost a seasonal menu, identify key social media influencers in your local food scene, and ask them to come in and to try the specials.
“The most powerful thing in promoting new items and wines for us has been social media. Whether it’s doing a boosted post or partnering with a social media influencer, it’s easily the most cost-effective way to get your name out there,” said Matt Tunstall, owner of Stems & Skins, a wine bar, and restaurant in North Charleston, South Carolina. Recently, they added a new Aperitivo Hour special to the menu, and Tunstall says the feedback has been fantastic.
But what, at the end of the day, makes a special successful?
“Running a special has to be exactly that: special,” says Lopez. “Special ingredients, special plating, special cooking techniques, special pricing. Put a limit to how many you have to sell to make it ‘special.’”